BORN TO GLORIFY GOD
By Rev. Loh Soon Choy
This is a daring thesis for our jubilee reflection. Far from being mere rhetoric and jargon, its truth can be demonstrated from Scriptures and, with some clarifications, from history. It is therefore NOT presumptuous IF we prayerfully and humbly, but intelligently, claim it for our EFCM (Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia). For the glory goes to God.
What Glorifying God Involves in Scripture
The gospels can be said to be Christ’s “passion narrative extended (written) backwards”. Being not strictly biographies of Christ, their purpose is to show how Christ came to glorify God through his loving, sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. Jesus came “not to be ministered to but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:15) Glorifying God for Christ involves sacrificial suffering and redemptive death on the cross.
There are numerous other examples of how Jesus prepared his disciples for his death and to “take up (their) cross (to) follow (him).“ He gave them various divine promises of supernatural help to overcome the world – the indwelling, guidance, enabling and ministry of God the Holy Spirit (John chapters 14-16).
This tremendous list of divine promises was extended, reinforced and sealed in his mighty High Priestly Prayer in John 17 in which 21 out of 26 verses were for the disciples (vs 6-19) and the future church (vs 20-26). The sacred list includes their special unity and relationship to the Triune Godhead, the empowerment of God the Son and God the Father himself with the sanctification of his Truth and his Word (vs 17).
Such a high view of the nature, calling and mission of the disciples and Church is in keeping with the rest of the New Testament – and especially the letters of Paul and the unforgettable promise of Jesus that ”the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt.16.18-19). It is also often faithfully reflected in our Christian worship songs, praise and prayers.
The Testimony of History
History has been manipulated for ideological, political and propaganda purposes. So, we must treat history as a Social Science. Its findings are then open to critical rational investigation and revision based on the latest available data. The Christian historian can still combine faith and reason in three honourable ways:
(i) Faith claims must be rationally and historically demonstrated
We can admit with famous Yale professor of history Kenneth Scott Latourette that “faith is not fully demonstrable or it would not be faith. Yet faith must be placed alongside ascertained fact, where fact can be had and submitted to reason. Fact and reason cannot tell all, but they must be invoked.” (A History of the Expansion of Christianity, Vol. 7 – Advance Through Storm, p.483).
(ii) Christ’s “doctrine of the two harvests”
A second way comes from Christ’s Parable of the Wheat (good) and the Weeds (bad). (Matt. 13:14-30, 36-43) The two harvests will grow together but only at harvest time can they be distinguished by the “harvesting angels who will cast the weeds into the fire”.
The doctrine helps when we wonder why the Church has often dragged God’s name through the mud (for which there will be judgment, as implied in Christ’s parable). Notice that the worst atrocities (e.g. the Nazi holocaust) have happened in ‘Christian’ territories and in Christian eras. The issues are many and complicated unless we simplistically assert that they happened because Christendom at times rejected, for example, the sanctification that comes from God’s truths and God’s word promised in John 17 above and in so doing, rejected the high priestly prayer shield of the Son of God.
Yet positively, we cannot deny the great achievement – the harvest of wheat – of the Church in history. The achievement can be identified in many fields, traceable to the development of the scientific spirit in God’s Creation or Culture Mandate to Adam (Gen. 1.26-28) and to the Old Testament ethics and attitudes towards the Creator, His Creation and the social order expressed in the Ten Commandments and moral laws of the OT, which have universal applications.
These things were foundational to the many achievements we take for granted in science and technology; education and medicine; politics and government; a general social, moral and intellectual uplift; and the arts and human rights. But in the words of the parable, the enemy (Satan) sows a harvest of hostile weeds. Thankfully, as a great Christian historian, Herbert Butterfield, could discern further into this parable:
“One of the clearest and most concrete of the facts of history is the fact that men of spiritual resources may not only redeem catastrophe but turn it into a great creative moment.” (Cited from John Briggs’ article “God, Time and History” in The History of Christianity – Lion Handbook, p.25).
Briggs added, “The two harvests belong together – the harvest of wheat is not despite the tares, but because of them. As it becomes clear that all the pain, rejection and suffering is worthwhile, so history finds its meaning.”
(iii) God Entrusted His Reputation To “Ordinary People”
This last approach uniquely highlights God’s sacrificial, transforming love and the gospel of his grace. Citing Philip Yancey here:
“Dorothy Sayers has said that God underwent three great humiliations in his efforts to rescue the human race. The first was the Incarnation, when he took on the confines of a physical body. The second was the Cross, when he suffered the ignominy of public execution. The third humiliation… is the Church. In an awesome act of self-denial God entrusted his reputation to ordinary people.” (Disappointment with God, Zondervan, 1992, p.147.)
Today’s technology and social media can make “ordinary people” extraordinarily powerful. But that is still under the natural order to which technology and science belong. More profound would be the deep, ancient, divine wisdom and power the world would call “foolishness” which enabled “ordinary people” as in Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Ring, to destroy the evil in Mordor when powerful, heroic, magical or immortal creatures could not do so by themselves!
Such is the “foolishness” of God (1 Cor.1:25) to entrust his reputation and mission to save the world to the ordinary people who make up His Church as salt and light in the various “mountains” of civil society and state. Is this not a great encouragement to our EFCM?
We conclude with some historical illustrations from the modern era of Christian World Mission, specifically on education alone (1900s-2000 A.D.) because that is perhaps what we are most familiar with. For space constraints we omit our own East Malaysian revivals, the miraculous church growths in Korea and Communist China in the 1960s to the 1980s. These spontaneous people movements and community transformations have been the subjects of serious studies and well featured in our churches. So, we feature the less familiar countries below to have a larger picture of how God can use the Church to glorify Himself.
We also have to omit the issues that come with revivals – the rapidity of church growths and unexpected diversity such as was seen also in the New Testament and thereafter, resulting in so many denominations. Please note again we could illustrate only from the last century (ending 2000 A.D.) and have to remind ourselves that the scenarios for the countries mentioned have changed since then – an apt and humbling reminder that the Christian faith expands in “spurts and starts” including its power to “frog leap” (as observed by Andrew Walls) from its one-time heartlands to totally new frontiers under the sovereignty of God and, perhaps, also according to the faithfulness his “ordinary people”.
Using basically Latourette’s seven-volume history mentioned above and the Appendix in v.7 (pp. 507-533) by renowned missiologist Ralph Winter, we now highlight in approximate chronological order some features of our unparalleled history below.
- By 1910, there were 180,000 secondary and college students in Christian schools worldwide. The vast majority of African schools were Christian. The largest engineering school in Latin America was Christian, and the list continues.
- In 1960, when 2,000 missionaries were flown out of Belgian Congo and the newspapers predicted a return to the Dark Ages, there were already well over 10,000 Protestant churches comprising one-seventh of the population. Roman Catholic churches were even more. Few churches missed a single Sunday Service. National leadership bloomed.
- In 1962, Latourette himself wrote, “In land after land the Christian churches grew and were increasingly self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating…” (ibid, p.515). Many western Christians had little idea what was happening. For example in Korea alone, their medical missionaries had trained 3,000 highly skilled doctors, or that Indonesia had more Presbyterian/Reformed Christians than in the US.
- In 1971, in his World Christian Handbook, David Barrett tabulated 6,000 such indigenous movements in Africa with one million of the Kimbangist Church alone. Taiwan too had two such fast growing churches and likewise the South American Pentecostal churches. These latter outnumbered all other Protestant churches two to one, notably in Brazil, Chile, Mexico.
- By 2000 A.D., David Barret had already projected in 1969 that Africa would be 46% Christian. This was another “one of the most spectacular stories in history” to be matched by the fantastic church growth in Indonesia, Korea and China (where estimates of new converts could be between 50 to 70 million in spite of communism).
So are we ‘ordinary people’ in EFCM born to glorify God?
What answer can we give but a convincing “Hallelujah” in spite of the accompanying cost and Cross of discipleship whether we are in Malaysia or elsewhere.
As Philip Yancey says, “Jesus likened the kingdom to small things – salt on meat, yeast in bread, a tiny seed in the garden – as if to emphasise we dare not judge the gospel’s impact by numbers.” Or we might add “by its mega church plans and celebrity leaders alone”.
A page later, after contrasting the failure of imposed force by the West on Iraq and Afghanistan to Nelson Mandela’s success in South Africa with just his strong faith and moral authority backed by Bishop Desmond Tutu, Yancey continues,
“Why did God let Hitler do so much damage, or Stalin and Mao? Why doesn’t (he) take a more active role…? I think… God did take an active and forceful role in the past, yet it failed to produce lasting faith among the Israelites… God consistently tilts towards human freedom… we have no sure answer… For whatever reason, God chooses to make himself known primarily through ordinary people like us…. We are the ones called to demonstrate a faith that matters to a watching world.” (What good is God?, Hodder & Stoughton, paperback 2012, pp.270-72)
Rev. Loh Soon Choy is one of the early ministers ordained by EFC Singapore when he was lecturing at Singapore Bible College and Honorary Pastor of Emmanuel EFC before returning to briefly pastor Kuala Terrengganu Presbyterian Church, then PJEFC. He is a founding member of EFCM and Pusat Latihan Kristian Melaka (PLKM), forerunner of the English section of Malaysia Bible Seminary of which he became its English Department Dean for some eight years before retiring in 2009 as Lecturer Emeritus. He has served briefly as Malacca EFC Honorary Pastor while at PLKM and EFCM Exco as an Ex-Officio member, Ordination Council Chairman and Advisor. Officially retired, he continues by God’s grace to be active in PJEFC and several Christian NGOs, while enjoying time with his wife, family and only grandson, besides reading, writing and taking care of his Rheumatoid Arthritis ailment.