|The Church in Asia : Challenges and
NECF Secretary-General Wong Kim Kong presented a paper at a recent gathering of World Evangelical Fellowship leaders in Cyprus
demography, technology, the social and spiritual fabric of society, all are undergoing
foundational change at a rate almost too fast to follow," says Bryan L. Myres of
Restraining Factors in Church Growth
a) The stigma of imperialism that came alongside the colonizing powers - British, Portuguese, Dutch, Americans, French and the like.
b) The colonial rulers were opposed to evangelism, their priority being the economic and political advancement. This attitude frustrated efforts of missionaries.
c) The lifestyles of those in the apex of the colonial administration and the soldiers lacked moral standards and were repulsive to the locals. As such Christianity could not be 'sold' easily.
d) The cultural overtones and 'westernism' and the lack of customization of the new religion into the local cultural and social context did not make Christianity appealing to the local population. No concerted efforts have been made to study the local culture and lifestyle and this negative attitude on the part of the colonial 'masters' has also contributed to the slow pace in church growth in Asia in general. The fact that Asia is the stronghold of well-advanced classical religions - Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam and that many came from tribal faiths and traditional religions needed strategies that would enable the Christian faith to permeate into the web of local societies.
e) In certain cases, converts have betrayed their calling and through their complacency have done injustice to missionary efforts expended thus far.
f) Finally, there was the lack of understanding that Asians have a "holistic view" of religion, meaning there is no separation between the sacred and the secular. An example is Islam that brings all areas of life under the control of religion. On the other hand, the Bible is not presented in this manner that the believers of that faith have been accustomed to. Asians generally also believe that there is no faith that is absolute and unique. Such belief rejects the exclusive claims of Christianity that only through the Lord Jesus Christ one can go to heaven.
Although the above-mentioned factors contributed to making Christianity "offensive", social concern ministries and good works in the form of social, welfare and infrastructure-oriented development programmes have endeared some of the locals to the Christian faith to some extent.
The Turbulent Asian Scenario
The Recent Phenomenal Church Growth
Church Growth Undeterred by Sufferings and
The Challenges and Responses of the Asian Church
The Church needs to present a biblical view on justice and righteousness. The Christian politicians can assist in the development of practical policy approaches and strategies to political issues. They should propose solutions, which both seek to reform and, if necessary, replace institutions and practices that may have adverse effects on the nation.
The Church must dare to articulate and proclaim the full truth about the injustice and oppression in the face of powerful persons, pressures and institutions, which profit by concealment of the truth. We must be willing to identify and condemn social, political and institutionalised evil, especially when it becomes embedded in systems of authority. Such recognition of hard truths is a first step towards the freedom for which people wait.
There is need for global networking of churches and evangelical Christians in sharing of insights and experiences related to socio-political, religious and moral issues, dissemination of information, development of critical approaches and strategic methods. Working closely with the Religious Liberty Commission of WEF will certainly strengthen the solidarity of the evangelical presence and influence in these restricted nations.
Positive networking with those in authority, supplementing Government efforts in providing relief in kind and cash for emergencies and the like can provide a good image that could help minimize opposition to church growth.
The Babylonian Pursuit
There is a need for concerted cooperation of the international Christian business community to combat such domination and manipulation of the money and stock markets. The Christian businessmen and the church must dare to articulate and proclaim our convictions and provide necessary financial rescue alternatives. By this, the true witness of justice and righteousness of Christ will be seen by the skeptical world.
There is a need for a new conception of the notion of human dignity, which is being denied. Economic innovations are usually dictated by an unclear political strategy. This means restricting decision-making power to a very small group of persons and bodies supposedly capable of dealing with all economic matters. What we are seeing is something larger than discrimination against extremely poor or delinquent population groups. What is taking shape is the deliberate exclusion of peoples, groups, countries and regions of the world. The economic exploitation must be denounced and human dignity must be restored.
The International Christian Chamber of Commerce, a track of AD2000 and Beyond and its Asian and national arms in the respective countries could rise up to not only assist Christian ventures, but could also work with national and agencies such as APEC and other appropriate alliance groups to ensure maximum benefit for nations concerned, in particular the disadvantaged small and medium-sized industries.
The Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International and its counter-parts at regional and national could also play a more proactive role to get Christian businessmen together for mutual benefit as well as non-Christians to fellowship, discuss and formulate mutually-beneficial ventures. At the same time these forums could deliberate and assist evangelism and church planting programmes as well.
There is much-needed representation of Christian leaders in such forums at various levels of administration to voice out views to ensure Christianity, as is the case of other major religions, also has its due place in academic disciplines in universities and other institutions of learning and in development-related forums.
The National Evangelical Fellowships and other similar Christian organisations at national and Asian level have to work towards networking (informal or otherwise) as a humble start. Christians have to be visible "Good Samaritans" in their contributions to nation-building efforts and thereby earn credibility in the eyes of the authorities.
Lust of the Eyes
The Church needs to be increasingly challenged to develop a radical kind of Christianity that is willing to count the cost of discipleship, stewardship and fulfil its mandate to be the "salt" of the earth and "light" of the world.
The Church must develop "issue" studies and engage in discussion with government, authorities and civic organisations in making economic policies and legislation that will eradicate this disparity. If conventional solutions no longer respond to today's problem, the Church needs to be pro-active in facing the following challenges:
There is a need for continuous worldwide evangelical response and articulation of this issue. The Church cannot remain silent. We must become the advocates for the poor. There is a need for the development of international social clauses that may elevate the condition.
There is a need for social and community development. Social and community development is a precondition for a permanent economic development and increases productivity and efficiency; better education strengthens competitiveness, higher wages boost the purchasing power, just distribution of land among many people increases productivity. The Church is called to continue to give mutual assistance, relief and development projects. The goal of economy is to serve life, which means to enable a decent development of the marginalised.
The Church must manifest the power of the Holy Spirit by breaking the principality of economic materialism and individualism.
The Church must be seen in the promotion and practice of economic sharing; exhibiting a deep sense of koinonia, diakonia and kerygma.
The people of God need to consider a radical change in lifestyle pattern.
An effective involvement of the Church will requires also a radical change in structure of the Church, corporate attitude of the Body and shape of the mission of the Church.
The Golden Calf
As Asian Christians, it is increasingly becoming a trial not to succumb to the psychological manipulations of material prosperity, so preva-lent in the affluent west, of acquiring more and more and all the time feeling less and less satisfied with life.
The Christian community has to guard against such
tendencies, which could seriously impair the witness of the church. Such lifestyle of over
indulgence can have a debilitating impact on the poorer countries of Asia.
The Church must rethink the values regarding the believers' standard of living and promote more just acquisition and distribution of their resources.
The Church has the responsibility to promote simple lifestyle among her membership in order to contribute more generously to both relief and development of needy people.
Cry of the Heart
Thus the church has to be equipped in terms of capability to address and move forward to face emerging needs of new dimensions and to address critical urbanisation-related problems such as Aids/HIV, prostitution (also children), child pregnancy, gangsterism, drug trade and abuse, child abuse and growing social ills - aimless loitering and promiscuit among the youth population. Awareness programmes will have to be expanded and intensified in order to combat these emerging problems. More Christian social workers will have to be mobilised to complement and supplement ongoing ministries by the church workers in these areas.
With modernisation of the peoples in the rural areas and migration of rural workforce into towns and cities, the rural church has to be equipped to handle the above-mentioned urban-related social ills before it is overtaken by events. Exposure and experiential-learning training is much needed to prepare churches for both 'preventive' and 'curative' ministry. The migrant population too can benefit by 'preventive' knowledge that save them from becomes victims to such negative forces that accompany development.
Though in Christian compassion and justice we have a powerful antidote to oppressive poverty, yet these 'weapons' remain greatly underused. The Church needs to re-think her social responsibility to cooperate with, and even in some measure act as, agents of God's common grace in meeting this human predicament.
There is a need to mobilise the Christian human resource in offering health care and medical development especially in the poorer countries where the catastrophe is most prevalent. Christian Relief and Development Agencies need to intensify and strengthen their support and involvement.
Global stewardship and sharing of resources become paramount in our Christian concern. There is a need for re-distribution of God's harvest in a more dynamic and biblical context.
The Church can play an important role in helping indigenous initiative for transformation. There is a need for appropriate education development, relevant technology and change of social structure.
The Billiard Christian
There arises, therefore, the urgency to bring about revival and renewal as has recently been done through evangelistic at national levels in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Where such meetings have already taken place there is need for more of them to keep the fire of revival already ignited to continue burning and spread to neighbouring regions in accordance with God's end-times plan.
The Toothless Tiger
Prayers are needed for more Christians to be brought into Government agencies for the Christian witness to be felt and seen. Such informal representation, that can allow Christians to be vital instruments of God, can open doors for Christian inputs to be given in relation to government policies on religion and practice. They can also be a blessing to the church in contributing advice and relevant information in enhancing its role and propelling church growth in the countries concerned in particular and the Asian church in general.
The national Christian bodies will have to brief them and get the churches to provide prayer support for them to be given the love and a deep conviction to be instruments of the church in their individual capacities. It is compromise with non-Christian ways in us as God's vessels that ultimately lessens our bargaining power.
Unification efforts have been more prominent in Philippines, Malaysia, S. Korea and Singapore but more are desirable. However, the gaps between the Roman Catholic Church, the mainline church and the evangelical church continue to be latently as well as manifestly present. Deep theological and doctrinal divides will therefore make unity of the churches a difficult thing to be achieved.
In order to improve working relationships among different denomi-nations, it is vitally important, first, that we get to know one another. I believe that we should take every opportunity of meeting together, engaging in dialogue with one another, and courteously putting forward a truly biblical form of Christiani-ty. This is not easy, as we move in very different constituen-cies. All the more reason why we should make the effort! It is easiest for charismatics in their denominations to come together, as they have a very great deal in common in terms of experience of the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.
Next, we should be prepared to communicate openly with members of other denominations. As Mr Boler, the former Chairman of NECF Malaysia once said "We evangelicals do not know how to say the right things in the right ways". If we are church leaders, we should make an effort to go to the pas-tors' fellowship meetings. We should be prepared to listen, ask questions, look ignorant, and be vulnerable to others' probing questions. Many are misinformed about each others' intentions, and when they hear the facts they become much more gracious and accepting. We have to learn to step outside mainstream denominational life. But whether people are accepting or not, we have to learn to take the flak meekly, knowing that in doing so we are sharing in the vulnerability of Christ himself. Any Christian could find himself in a similar position. We can either react self-protectively or with an openness that is in fact the only way to a greater depth of reality.
The Chamelion Deception
The falsity and deception caused by cults and sects will have to be confronted and exposed through publications that can generate further discussion and dissemination of cautionary literature. Again there are substantial evidence of victims whose plight could be made known openly as a counter strategy.
Skills in fathoming and applying Biblical authority discerning God's Word need to be enhanced in both preachers and believers. Cultic practices will have to be studied so that biblical provisions could be used to overcome demonic powers through the armour of God.
The Awakening Lions
How can the church respond to these challenges? Though civilizational dialogues at national and regional levels have been convened, much remains to be done to create a more permanent and stable climate that prevents religious clashes. The reawakening of the major religions in Asia is an issue that is embedded with religion, culture and ethnicity and other intrinsic values dearly held by the respective groups. There is no standard formula to restore harmony. The efforts of inter-religious bodies have been of minimal consequence. Underlying all these are the spiritual forces - principalities and powers of darkness - that that the Church has to deal with through fasting and prayer.
(vi) The church has to recognize that Christian mission and evangelism is a spiritual and worldview warfare. The church has to recognise and equip itself with the needed "spiritual professionalism" to deal with not only multiple religious forms and meanings, but to boldly grapple with deeply embedded beliefs and cultures.
Western influences have further contributed to build impenetrable fortresses that bind the mind of billions of people. A host of influencing factors that form the basis of the clash of worldview such as elitism, self-righteousness, idolatory, moral stance, secularism, ethnocentrism, imperialism to name a few, have to be understood and put into the context of core gospel values before new down-to-earth and pragmatic approaches in evangelism could be looked into by the Asian church. "Territorial spirits", it has been said, have continued to cement the doubts and unbeliefs of these billions. Constant warfare is therefore is of paramount importance.
Any new approach would require a paradigm shift in terms of looking at the worldviews. "Contextualisation of the Gospel and Christian theology is a must."9 A deeper understanding and explication of the Gospel and theology is needed to help meet the aspiration for "oneness' or "union" with God, or "heaven" as expressed in theosophical Hinduism and Confucianism. In addition to atone of sins the approach has to be tailored to the Eastern tradition of union with God through life in Christ. This could also draw the potential New Age believers too to Christ.
Pastors and church leaders need to be equipped to give the answer to everyone who asks them the reason for the faith and hope they hold as in 1 Peter 3:15. The church cannot afford to withdraw in intimidation.
The indigenous population is sizeable in several Asian nations (e.g. 57.7% in Malaysia). More effective networking and working in unity and esprit de corps and less competition is a must recommended so that these communities can see the unity and love of God's people and respond more favourably to mission agencies and workers on the ground.
Though the church of today has greater capacity in terms of church workers, facilities and responses as well as the capability - trained workers and believers - to contact the unsaved people, there is room for expansion. Communicability has a direct correlation with effectiveness in evangelistic ministry. This area has not had much response and has made evangelism as well as the introduction of social services, and other amenities an uphill and gradual process. Emphasis has to be given to this problem, with a two prong approach, namely, (a) equipping locals as change agents within the indigenous communities and (b) involving the church community more in numerical terms.
Further the existing mission organisations such as Campus Crusade for Christ, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Operation Mobilisation and others need to come together to plan a systematic evangelism programme to avoid wastage of funds, personnel and time. Networking among denominational churches, relief agencies and church planting organisations need to work together with national and regional evangelical bodies such as Evangelical Fellowship of Asia.
The Unmeasured Asset
We believe that a visionary Christian leader makes the transfer of leadership possible by nurturing and mentoring people who will accomplish more than he will. It should be our desire to provide significant resources of education, training and mentoring to facilitate future leaders' participation in ministries. Leadership training models already exist. However, the shift necessary requires a firm hand from the top down to change the systemic focus. Inertia is monumental. All efforts must be supported by frequent sustainment training coupled with aggressive systemic accountability checks and balances. The evangelical fellowship as a national body will have to birth this initiative and to provide the following focus:
1. To facilitate the collection of resource materials and
development of skills.