Religious Beliefs Are Not Private

This much is certain: The greatest thing each person can is to give himself to God utterly and unconditionally—weakness, fears, and all. For God loves obedience more than good intentions or second-best offerings, which are all too often made under the guide of weakness.” ― Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

I often see people irritated when others espouse political opinions based on their religious views. When it comes to issues like politics, money, or sex, religion is often seen as an unwelcome guest, like the distant uncle you only invite to dinners because he’s related to you. Their presence is begrudgingly acknowledged and then he is cast aside to the table of ‘faith’ and other opinions, along with the rest of the children. After all, this is the 21st century for goodness sakes. Behind this behavior is a question that isn’t asked but thought – why do people even need religion in the room for such things? After all, most matters of science or politics or economics or morality are worked out by individuals without any reference to religion. The scientific method has given us great progress in many areas of development. So the role religion now plays is no longer metaphysical or even moral authority but a mystical storeroom to house things we don’t understand. As the 20th century philosopher Wittgenstein put it, “of what we cannot speak we must be silent.”

It seems like the pressure to separate religion from other spheres of life is most clearly seen in Western politics. Religious beliefs are told to be discarded like shoes, before one enters the halls of public debate. To believe homosexuality is a sin, or that it is ‘morally’ bad for the whole society, is a private matter to be held but should be prevented from influencing public policy. Many Christians are surprised by the antipathy towards religious views in public. They shouldn’t be. The separation of religion from politics and other spheres of life is simply the consequence of allowing people who don’t understand religion to determine what it is. And by people, I mean secular humanists.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27

To genuine believers of any religion, true religion is worship. And true worship is the dedication of one’s whole life to the object of worship, be it Allah or Jesus. If you’re religiously illiterate, or perhaps merely confused, then a quick way to avoid thinking too much about religion would be to parrot the line “it is about being a good person”. But that would be the religion of humanism and not anybody else’s. For Christians, worship is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. It means conforming every thought, feeling and action to God. Muslim worship is the expression of ultimate submission in its observances.

I can understand that it’s scary for the agnostic or humanist to imagine submission to any one but themselves, especially if they’ve done it all their lives. But that is precisely what faith demands. Faith transcends what one does on the weekend, because its very claim is transcendent. Secularism sees religion as mere opinion but the religious man or woman recognizes it as truth. To a secular world, and those whom don’t understand, true religion and freedom of any religion is the freedom to get together once a week and be a moral person (I have yet to hear a valid consensus of what it means to be a moral person). It would be funny if it wasn’t so true. But to ask a religious person to have their beliefs at home but leave it at the door of public opinion is not just the opposite of religious freedom but hypocritical. Really, it is to ask the person to be you and to share your secular beliefs. If Muslims want to implement Sharia law in Australia, then the fairest thing would be to allow them to hold that view and tackle the claims of Islam itself. Or restrict such a view from entering Australia. But to spout phrases like “it’s a religion of peace” or that it’s about “being a good person”, like all religions, is to express one’s ignorance and escort religion back to the nursery room of faith. Religion is more than that because God demands much more than that.

Is Preaching A Reason To Call It Quits? Reconciling Unity and Division

(Credit: Focus Magazine)

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

One of my earliest experiences of Christian churches I remember growing up between the ages of 15-19 in Ausfralia was something that pastors everywhere would call “Christian consumerism.” It was almost described as an epidemic of Christians either leaving churches to go elsewhere or leaving them entirely. There were multiple reasons for these, but the most common phrases were, “I just feel called to serving at …”, or “I’m not growing anymore”, “this church wasn’t very welcoming”, “I don’t like the preaching here”, “I just don’t feel like I’m being fed”, and lastly, “I don’t feel I belong here”. The culture of consumerism that we live here in the west, and as Chinese folk had led us to believing that the church was all about us, us being the consumer and the church being a product. Once a person felt like he had taken all he could, it was time to move on. That was how it was explained to me, and as many a pastor would say, “the church is not about you!”
As a young Christian and someone whom by God’s grace saw this reality occurring, I gritted my teeth and vowed not to leave for any of those reasons. Unlike all these other Christians, I did not want to contribute to this growing problem. I had seen the damage it did to churches and the mindsets that it encouraged. One of the biggest reasons cited for leaving was the substance of preaching at the local church. At the time I saw it as an entirely selfish reason to leave. Asian churches often minimize the role of preaching as a backlash against Christian consumerism and dvidison, but looking back now I have to ask the question: have we lost its importance altogether? Is it really the role of individual prayer and scripture that shapes the growth of a Christian? I want to argue that the role of preaching should not be understated because it is both an essential to what it means to be a church and a critical part of a Christians life and yes, even growth.

Continue reading “Is Preaching A Reason To Call It Quits? Reconciling Unity and Division”

Why You Should Buy That Boring Church History Book

Saint Nicholas pulls out all the stops.

The Neglected Uncle: Reasons to Learn from the Past

Would it be wrong to say that many modern Christians lack any familiarity with their own heritage? It’s a lot like that uncle you see at family reunions but never really talk to. Many times we forget those whom have lived and died in the past were as much a part of our church as our brothers and sisters are now. Like my own sister’s advice before I started courting/dating, a good sibling would try to protect and prevent us from doing what is right in our own eyes. How often we forget we are not the only ones God has saved and has given different gifts to!
Secondly, by reading and listening to those whom we have gone before, we can be motivated to continue running and enduring this life with full conviction of the promised reward we will have in the life to come (Hebrews). Their lives serve as a model and encouragement for us to finish what we are so close to obtaining.
Third, an added benefit is the wisdom we can derive from such men and women whom God has used to shape his church up till now, we can learn from their lives, and have them speak into ours. Before each decision, an abundance of counsel is provided. One only needs to look into the past. Eventually we can find that they have now become our teachers, disciplers and friends by merit of their own lives. Because each Christian is and was unique, different characters can speak to our own lives in different ways and same may in fact be very close friends.
Often, whenever a contemporary issue has popped up, one has only to look to the past to see that it was either as much of an issue then or one that has already been resolved. A modern example is T.D. Jakes’ modalism which was booted from the Council of Nicaea for undermining the trinity more than 1000 years ago! As the author of Ecclesiastes says, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments below.