Beyond the 30-year mark
NECF marks its 30th anniversary this year. When it was formed in May 1983, leaders of the Malaysian Church were struggling with divisions, meagre resources and the lack of a credible, united evangelical voice. However, what really pushed NECF into being were external factors imposed upon the Church. These included the partial banning of the Alkitab and unavailability of religious land which affected the number of churches that could be built. In 1987, Christians were among those arrested under Operasi Lalang and many churches scaled down their outreach activities, fearing reprisal.
Today, securing the right in accordance with the freedom of religion to import and distribute the Alkitab among Malay-speaking Christians has not come without difficulty. There may be a '10-point solution' by the government, but the root cause of the controversy - the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims - remains unresolved. The Federal Government is pursuing its appeal against the High Court's decision to allow a Catholic publication, The Herald, to use the word in its Bahasa Malaysia edition. The court's decision on 31 Dec 2009 was followed by arson attacks on churches. In 2010, 35,000 copies of the Alkitab were impounded at Malaysian ports, stamped and serialised, which led to the 10-point solution. In 2011, Christians had to deal with allegations of conspiracy to set up a Christian state and of proselytising.
What's different now is the strength and unity with which the Church is able to respond. In all the above situations, evangelical churches could not have faced the challenges alone. The "Allah" case, which affects both the Catholic and Sidang Injil Borneo churches, is one example.
More Christians have realised the need for different denominations to unite if national transformation is to happen. To that end, Christians must also engage with other religions. NECF, as a member of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) lends its voice to this collective of non-Muslim religions to push for religious liberty. Less widespread, but catching on, is the awareness that Christians should also use non-religious platforms, such as civil society initiatives, to bring about reforms.
As the national body representing evangelical, charismatic and independent churches, NECF is one of three component groups under the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM). The other two are the Council of Churches Malaysia (representing mainline denominations) and the Roman Catholic Church.
In our view, the challenges mentioned have strengthened the Malaysian Church in the following ways: greater unity among the CFM component groups; greater bonding and understanding between East and West Malaysian Christians; and, closer working relationships with other faiths for justice and religious liberty.
Through all this, we are assured that God has a destiny for Malaysia. The unity experienced because of the difficulties is part of the larger picture of "Malaysia's Jubilee" which our country enters on 16 Sept 2012, also the day of our nation's birth. NECF is promoting Malaysia's Jubilee as a time for all Christians to pray for renewal, restoration and rest for the country, so that Malaysia's destiny is aligned with God's purposes.
What the journey of the last 30 years has shown is that the Church first had to deal with its internal divisions and issues. While not all of these are fully resolved, and may never be on this side of Eternity, we are aware that the next phase of the journey is one where the Church, strengthened and united, must engage and exercise Kingdom leadership in the public arena.
To that end, we are beginning to see a paradigm shift in leadership from the lone ranger model to team leadership. The tasks and demands of future ministry will require greater collaboration. In team leadership, leaders will be able to complement each other and provide accountability in an age where more people demand transparency.
We also notice the rise of younger generation Christians to stand up for justice, truth and righteousness. There is growing interest among them to grapple with issues like corruption and integrity in national issues. There seems to be a newfound passion to take on social issues, feed the poor, show compassion and share Jesus' love. They want to participate and be involved in national transformation, though not necessarily on a church platform. How can church leaders engage but also empower and release them to serve society?
In NECF we are glad that there is a younger team in place to take the organisation to the next level. The people God has brought together in the last three years have been able to sharpen each other and share resources so that churches of all language groups are kept on the same page. We have yet to achieve all we desire to do, but we hope that what we have started will open avenues for others who are passionate about serving the nation to partner with us.
Note:This editorial is the last one written by outgoing Secretary-General Samuel Ang.