The Church Post-GE 13
The 5 May 2013 general election is over, and whatever the results, there is still a nation to build. The moment is now for Christians and the Church to be a positive influence in determining Malaysia's future. Berita NECF asks three pastors - Dr Daniel Ho, Senior Pastor of DUMC, Rev Ong Sek Leang, Senior Pastor of Metro Tabernacle and Rev Datuk Jerry Dusing, President of SIB Sabah - for their views on the Church's role after the election.
1. What is the Church's role after the general election?
HO: The Church is to continue being concerned about truth, justice and righteousness and whether society, the people and the nation's leaders reflect these fundamental values - which are the foundation of God's throne (Psalm 89:14). Yes, the Church should be deeply burdened about preaching the Word of God and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. But she should equally be burdened about reflecting the values of the Kingdom of God in all spheres of society and pointing every person and institution in that direction. A society or nation built on the values of the Kingdom will be a strong nation and a great society. Any kingdom, throne or nation that is not patterned after God's design will never last. That is why the Bible touches on at least six or seven empires that have come and gone because they do not reflect these values of the Kingdom. The Church must be deeply concerned about nation-building so that she is relevant in every age and situation. Otherwise she is relegated to being a museum piece.
ONG: We need to continue to uphold the godly objectives that we have been praying and pushing for - a just and free society, freedom of religion and more, in our prayers and continue to make a stand for them at every forum available. Christians need to see themselves as being a "planted sovereignty" by God in Malaysia and overcome the impulsive and human tendency to migrate because they fear the future. We must be a "healing balm" to our nation by speaking, praying and sending the message of peace, helping our members to close ranks with those of opposing sides, have respect for and submission to authority, teaching our churches to work with whoever is in authority for the good of the nation. There was a lot of "mud slinging" in the election and there is a great need to teach what it means to be respectful.
DUSING: The Church must be a healing balm for the nation. In this election, in particular, many groups have had great expectations and some may be disappointed with the outcome, perhaps the faith of some Christians may even be shaken. The message of hope in Jesus Christ which the Church is tasked with proclaiming must be the shining light before us and transcend the election.
2. What should be the Church's relationship with those in authority?
HO: Submission in Romans 13:1 is not a case of blind submission because there are two crucial roles that those in authority are to play in the same passage of the Bible. Firstly, the authorities are God's servant; three times they are called God's servant. That word "servant" (Greek: diakonos) is also translated as "minister" or someone involved in the work of God. So, the elected representatives that form the government must know that they are there to fulfil God's work: to ensure that there is truth, justice and righteousness in all that they do. They are to serve the interests of the people and not themselves. Secondly, they are there to maintain law and order (Romans 13:3-4). The governing authorities are placed by God to punish wrongdoing and commend those who do right. Once they fail in that role, and worse still, do the reverse, they disqualify themselves and their rule. God calls them to account because they are His servants.
The Church is therefore to play the dual role of commending authority when it does right and calling authority to account when it does wrong. That was why kings in the Old Testament were often called to account for their rule or misrule (e.g. 2 Chronicles 26:16-18). The Church must maintain her distance with the authority and not be aligned to any faction, power or party, whether within or without the government. She is the body of Christ and must remember that she belongs to Jesus Christ and to no other. But the Church must be concerned about how a nation is governed. There is never in the Bible the spiritual and secular dichotomy. In other words, the Church is political because politics is simply about the governance of people and the land and the Church must be deeply concerned about that. Though the Church is political, she is non-partisan and she plays her role best by educating her members to be the conscience of society.
ONG: While we should support and submit to the authorities that give us laws for the betterment of society and the nation, we must also be bold to speak out when there is injustice or policies that contravene basic constitutional rights, such as the freedom of religion.
DUSING: The Church must continue to positively engage with those in authority. We may have to rebuild trust where it has been eroded. By the same token, we have to foster new relationships with those who would be newly appointed to the various offices.
3. There is the possibility of some degree of uncertainty following the elections, particularly if the winning margin is narrow. What can the Church do to be salt and light in such a situation?
HO: Prayers must continue even after the elections to ensure that truth, transparency and justice will prevail. That there will be no "horse-trading" following the elections and the legitimately elected coalition will be given the power to rule. Secondly, the Church and Christians ought to be vigilant to raise issues of injustice and unrighteousness wherever they see it. Christians should work with civil society groups and all Malaysians who love this country by acting as watchdogs in highlighting injustice, corruption, lies, misuse of resources and abuse of power and position. They should play an active role as responsible citizens.
Christians and the Church should monitor four particular areas: (1) Protection of democracy and human rights (2) Public accountability, transparency and good governance (3) Accessibility and inclusion to public services, especially for the poor and low-income in poor urban neighbourhoods irrespective of race or religion and (4) Religious freedom and inter-ethnic harmony.
Finally, the Church must dispel fear by teaching truth and exposing lies. We are not fighting against human beings, but against forces of darkness that are trying to tear this nation apart. The Church must therefore instil great faith among her members and deep love of God because it is the perfect love of God that casts out all fears (cf. 1 John 4:18). Christians and the Church always have a deep love for Malaysia. That is why they pray and speak out, even at great risk, because they are loyal to this nation and want to see the best for Malaysia. Governing authorities are blind if they don't see and recognise this.
ONG: We should be bi-partisan in attitude and emphasize unity and healing. Christians should be peacemakers and we need to be wise when writing our opinions and in forwarding the things we read, such as in blogs, tweets, sharing on social media, etc. that have the potential to inflame sentiments.
DUSING: In the midst of fear, uncertainty and invariably suspicion, the Church must be the peacemaker. This would necessarily mean engaging the wider community where our respective churches are located.
4. What is the role of the Church in nation building, as well as in the policy and governance sphere, and how should engagement be conducted?
HO: The role of the Church in nation-building is not a recent phenomenon. She has played an extremely significant role in nation-building over the decades through her many social and community works. It is a well-known fact that the Christian mission schools have provided outstanding quality education to many leaders of the nation in various fields over the decades. In fact, the Church has been involved in nation-building for a few centuries now in this country. Today the Church spends hundreds of millions of ringgit each year, for example, in social and community work without any assistance from the government or any quarter. All these are paid for by members of the churches in Malaysia. But Christians must not rest on their laurels. The Church must continue to teach her members biblically and get them engaged in nation-building in every sphere of society. There has never been a teaching in the Church about this spiritual-secular divide. Engaging in the different spheres of society, including in the political arena, is as spiritual as gathering in the churches to worship God on a Sunday morning.
In fact, the weekly teaching from the pulpit is so important and powerful that I consider the pulpit ministry as the moral barometer of a nation. The level of preaching will determine the level of morality in a nation. That is why western nations today are in trouble because the pulpit ministry over the decades has been compromised. That is why every nation would need a strong Church to be a great nation.
ONG: On the spiritual plane, the best thing that the church can do for nation building is to win the lost and disciple believers because Christ alone can transform a person(s) and society. But the church should also rise up with greater social and political consciousness and challenge our members to be involved in and speak into these areas, and to share and write about their reflections. We should be challenging our members to take up lifelong careers in politics, policy-making and government. We need to remind ourselves after the election, what we expected, prayed for, held dearly to and want for our nation will continue to be our objectives until it comes to pass.
DUSING: I see racial polarization, inequality and corruption as the greatest obstacles facing our nation. Unless policies and good governance are introduced, these will not be eradicated. Therefore, the Church must continue to engage those elected to public office. Through these engagements our hope is for our elected representatives to have the political will to see this through.
5. We have seen an increasing number of Christians enter the political arena to pursue their careers and calling. What should be the Church's relationship with fellow believers in politics and government?
HO: More should be done to mentor the younger ones in politics. To pursue politics as a career for a Christian is a noble thing. I disagree when people say politics is dirty. It is people who make it dirty. Hence, all the more that Christians need to be there, by God's grace, to redeem even the political arena. One must enter it with eyes wide open as it will not be easy. Three things one must remember before entering politics is that, firstly, there must be a call by God because the political game can be extremely taxing, ruthless and brutal. Secondly, there is a cost involved. The price at the end of one's political career is to remain a poor person for refusing to be involved in bribery and corruption. Thirdly, there must be a commitment full-time and long-term. Why is this so important? Because before entering politics one must have a vision of building a better, more prosperous, more just, more progressive and a more harmonious society and nation. To do that would require a life-long commitment. If one does not have this kind of vision, then such a person should never enter into politics.
On the part of the Church, she must, firstly, teach biblically and clearly about Church, State and politics and how they inter-phase with one another. The Church must provide a platform for such on-going discourse and discussion. Secondly, the Church must come alongside believers in politics or the government to support, encourage, counsel and pray for them regularly. There should be some kind of accountability structure for the good of these politicians. Finally, some Christians should come alongside these politicians to offer input in different fields of expertise and assist them in public policy-making, and in enhancing the running of affairs of their constituencies and society at large.
ONG: We should seek them out like we seek to discover any other talents and gifts, to encourage them and support them practically. As a support, the church needs to give more teaching on national consciousness and civil responsibility. The church must also be educated that there will be some who, like Joseph and Daniel, whose call is to serve in the realm of politics and government.
DUSING: Churches ought to maintain ties with fellow believers in politics and government, taking a personal interest in what they are doing and have regular dialogue with them. They need prayer covering and spiritual accountability. Churches that have congregation members who are serving in politics and government could help these members by maintaining a small accountability group with trusted people.