Christians on both sides of the Causeway are probably not feeling too hot about some recent events on the political front. In Singapore, approval has been given for two casinos to be built. And this in spite of a high level of Christian activism against the casinos.
In Malaysia, the issue of the banning of the Malay bible was again in the news. Some in the government maintained that the Malay bible was banned. In other words Malaysian Christians were not allowed to have copies of the bible in the national language. Then the Prime Minister clarified that there was no ban on Malay bibles. But all Malay bibles had to have “not for Muslims” stamped on the cover.
My response to all this? What did you expect?
Did you expect a secular government to trust in the Lord and do good? Did you expect the Singapore government to entrust the economic future of Singapore into the hands of God, and take the most ethical route?
Do you expect a Muslim dominated government to stand by and not resist anything that might conceivably lead to Muslims leaving the faith? Can you imagine the religious, social and political fall out of Muslims turning to Christ?
So what did you expect?
I think Christians are quite naive about influencing non-Christian governments. They either do not enter the public square at all, choosing to hide in their spiritual ghettos to await the Second Coming of Jesus Christ; or they pray and make representations to the administrations of the day, expecting that if they pray and work hard enough, the government will see things as Christians see them. Well, welcome to the real world.
In the days of the early church, Christians were in the minority, with minimal or no political clout. Yet they were able to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). How did they do it?
1. They diligently and passionately preached the gospel and made disciples.
I guess if many Singaporeans came to know the Lord, they would have no desire to go to casinos or participate in any sort of addictive behavior. One thinks of how the Wesleyan revival impacted the moral and social climate of England and probably prevented an English version of the French Revolution.
There is nothing stopping Malaysian Christians sharing their faith stories with their friends, whatever their racial backgrounds. And if there are more Malaysians wanting to study the Word in Malay there would be an even stronger case for having the bible in Malay.
2. The church fleshed out the truths they preached.
As Lesslie Newbigin reminds us, the church community is the hermeneutic of the Christian faith. The church should model the things she preaches.
If we expect the government of the day to have more faith in the almighty, do we exhibit the same faith? Or are Christians as fearful of the future as anyone else, and using every pragmatic means to shield themselves from an economic worst case scenario, means that have very little to do with faith?
If we really love the Word so much and want everyone in the country to be able to read the Bible in their own language, do we exhibit our love of the Word in tangible ways? How much time do we spend studying the Word? To what degree are we living out the truths of the Word in our lives?
3. And yes there is a place for the “salt and light” ministry, the ministry of influencing society for God and for good in whatever ways that are available to us. There is a time to speak up and say “that is wrong. If we go that way it will be detrimental to society.” Or “that is unfair, that is unjust”. And to speak out in humility and in love.
Evangelicals in particular have often ignored the prophetic dimension of our ministry. It does not take the place of our evangelism. But if we call people to faith in God, people have a right to know what our God stands for. And our God stands for compassion and justice and truth and holiness.
Some of us will be called to serve in the political field. Our clout may be limited (Daniel) or quite extensive (Joseph), but some of us will have the opportunity to speak for God and His values in the corridors of political power.
Once in while we get a spectacular victory, like the abolition of slavery in England. Most times there may be little or no visible impact but we press on in faithfulness.
Christians have always been misfits in this world. (Peter calls us resident aliens 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11.) And that is because we fit elsewhere, in the world yet to come. But the fact of our “misfitness” is what points to that world and to the real God.
That means it is incumbent on us to live out our “misfitness” and to speak up for our “misfit” values. So we should state clearly why we are against casinos. And why we believe the Bible should be available in all languages. Whatever the outcome of our efforts.
But my final point is this. There are many things that we should be fighting for. Let us ask the Lord for the wisdom to fight for all that is on His agenda. And not just chase the more obvious issues of the day.
Important issues, like a rampant materialism, the subtle injustices suffered by some ethnic groups, the confusion of mosque and state, the breakdown of families etc., may not be so exciting, but may be more pressing in the long run.
An indifferent church needs to be shaken up, to be all and to do all that God would have us be and do in these chaotic times. However, let us not be naive as to what we can expect from a fallen world. But let us also not be naive about the power of God and His ultimate victory. Let us commit ourselves afresh to ” a long obedience in the same direction”. (Eugene Peterson)
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan