Is the Malaysian Church In Christ?
The past 20 years have seen remarkable development in the Malaysian Church. This is evident in:
· The increased number of Christians (though we remain a minority) from some six percent in 1980 to 9.21 % in 2000;
· The establishment of mega churches in many cities;
· A better understanding among Christians of the scriptural image of the Church as the people of God;
· The blurring of the demarcation line between the clergy and the laity; and
· The increasing emphasis and active participation of Christian leaders in the various aspects of church life, especially in missions and services to the poor and needy.
Yet, is the Malaysian Church today alive?
It is generally agreed that local churches in Malaysia have exhibited actions that are cause for concern. Among them are: the attitude of the many second or third generation Christians who have narrowed their Christian experience to a Sunday-morning affair; self-satisfaction with one’s Christian life within the four walls of the church; over-emphasis of emotional needs; prosperity gospel; and seeking personal prophecy.
What, then, is Christian life all about? Have we married our theological belief and devotion with the spirit of this age? The above concerns require a fresh re-look at these fundamental questions with much soul searching and consideration on the neglected areas of Christian living and thinking.
Being in Christ
Indeed, Christian life begins with God’s initiative. It is, first and foremost, the gift of God. A Christian is a person who links to Jesus by faith, appropriating the work accomplished on the Cross on his behalf, allowing Him to make His home in his heart, and be seen to have a life-changing relationship with God.
The Apostle Paul has made it clear in 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus blinded him temporarily, crucified him permanently, and destroyed his vain attempts to find acceptance with God through his own righteous zeal.
Paul’s saying and his experience are important in our understanding of who a Christian is. Salvation does not come through self-improvement, external physical act, moral action, or by altering one’s current state of affairs. One contributes nothing to his salvation except his sin. Jesus Christ is the only one who makes the difference.
‘In Christ’ is the only designated realm where the new life can be found. No expression could more admirably sum up the condition into which the Christian is brought as soon as he believes in Christ. Not only does a believer have Christ in him, he is also in Christ. He is intimately united to Him in a bond, which nothing in this world can possibly sever. He is united to Him as the body to the head. Again, Paul declares his self-sufficiency, is really Christ-sufficiency.
Being in Christ, however, is not a business of static being. It is a matter of becoming a new creature. Firstly, we allow God to change our old nature through discipleship, for example getting rid of old ways and old habits of self-indulgence, self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
Secondly, we allow ourselves to be renewed of our minds, that is, rethinking the great truths on which we are called; getting out of the old rut of prejudice, preconception and lazy acceptance of half-truths; delving more deeply into scriptural truths; and growing more sincere in our thinking and speaking. As new creations, we are being transformed more and more into Christlikeness, not in appearance, of course, but in character.
Remaining in Christ
Nonetheless, transformation is not achieved in a sudden flash of emotional uplift. It is the continuous revolution, which can never be stopped or suppressed. It is always new because any encounter with the risen Christ will turn men and women around in a new direction to live the new life under the new Master. It is a glad and willful surrender of the control of our lives to God’s rule.
Without Christ, even if we have the correct doctrines, we do not live under the dominion of Christ or have the truth or His revealed will. Without Christ, we may persist in doing things our ways, and may eventually create our own gods to give meaning and purpose to our lives.
William Whiting Borden, a young missionary to China, once wrote, “In every man’s heart there is a throne and a cross. If Christ is on the throne, self is on the cross, and if self, even a little bit, is on the throne, Jesus is on the cross in that man’s heart.” ‘Remaining in Christ’ means making an effort to develop our life in Christ. Salvation is a gift but we have to work it out with fear and trembling.
The challenge for us, as people in Christ, is to become in daily reality what we already are in the eyes of God. While we desire to demonstrate a life of devotion to God, we stumble into sin and utterly fail from time to time in our Christian walk. There is no ‘quick fix’, for the battle lasts through a lifetime.
However, we can remain in Christ and be faithful to Him when we observe a daily personal sort of devotion and actively share in the life of the Christian community. By the former, it does not mean the following of any prescribed sort of practice because people differ.
What is meant is that each of us, in his own way, must first centre our attention on God, what He has done in Christ and what He will do for us.
Secondly, we need to be regularly present at the Sunday worship when God’s people gather together, and actively share in the life of the Christian community of which we are members.
These are the modes by which we may effectively come to deepen our faith and build a kind of inner security which all ‘the changes and chances’ of life cannot seriously disturb.
Finally, not only we are saved from sin, we are also saved to do something. Loving God this way is not a simple matter for many of us. Yet, the Christian life is life in the Spirit. The New Testament clearly envisions the Christian life as simultaneously one of dying and one of living –dying more and more unto sin and living more and more unto righteousness.
The knowledge of God is not an experience to be savoured in solitariness; it is something to be shared. Christianity without mission is a denial of its very nature.
What are the qualities that must be found in those who would stay in God’s presence? The answer is found in our daily duties to our fellow men, clearly expressed in Proverbs and Psalms.
It is not about lofty emotions or experiences of spiritual rapture, but the integrity in life, righteousness in actions, and sincerity in speech. Our communion with God must be lived out in those deeds that make up our daily living. The Christian life is not confined to church on Sundays, but a daily commitment to Christ in all areas of life.
Christians are called to display our Life-giver, Saviour and Lord, and not ourselves. Therefore, we depend on a power that is not our own. The issue rests not on whether we are worthy, but on the fact that He who calls us to this new life in Christ is a faithful God. He calls, He equips. Christians, unworthy as we are, need to wait upon Him always.