By Li Yiming–
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to discredit anyone or any beliefs, but instead merely seek to reflect the thoughts on the recent events and some questions that have arisen from the perspective of a teenager growing up in a Catholic family.
With the recent happenings at City Harvest Church, I believe that it is important that all members of the Christian faith as well as other religions (if applicable) take time to reflect on a few key issues that have been surfaced as well as some loopholes that have been brought to light in the most unfortunate manner as of this day.
To begin, we first have to understand the function of the church. While it has certainly changed over the years, since the time of the early Christian community living in fear of persecution to the royal status it held in the dark ages to the rise of mega churches in the present day.
The primary role of the church should never deviate from its initial purpose. While it is certainly important that the church adapts to new times with its social welfare schemes to support its community, or even fundraising to continue to fund activities for the benefit of it's parishioners, it must never lose sight of its role as the spiritual Centre and source of refuge and strength for its people.
As churches expand their operations, they should never evolve to become a mere profit generating enterprise or it will lose sight of its purpose. Gandhi once said, "I love Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike Christ." If we look at our church today is this true of the churches today? Certainly we have progressed, no longer discriminating against people based on color and race.
But are there still areas that we have yet to come to terms with? Do we take it upon ourselves to judge others and condemn their actions if they do not tally with what we think is right? If so, would this not be taking ourselves to be capable of judging others; and would this not be blasphemous as many like to call such heresy.
Also, as new churches spring up, what standards do we hold them to? Certainly this is less of a problem for more established churches with fixed doctrines that have been passed down for centuries like the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Church. (Not to say these institutions are without fault, which will be discussed later on.)
But for these new churches, how are leaders chosen? Is it purely a matter of charisma? Or perhaps intellect? What standards do we use to decide? And to these leaders, what standards do we hold them to? Do we expect them to take up a life of solitude in Christ and give up their worldly possessions like the apostles did? Or do we believe that they should be allowed to live their daily lives and preach to us on weekends?
In fact, what makes them more qualified than any one of us to take up this ministry. And more importantly, we must never forget that they are merely messengers of God's word helping us to make sense of His word. Worship should not be to them for they are but mere "mortals" like us, but instead centered on God and how we can better live a more fulfilling and loving Christian life, and be the salt of the Earth.
There is no moral judgment here, and it is indeed up to the individual to decide for his/herself and make the best decision for their relationship with God. Perhaps if as a community of worshippers were clear on this, then there would be something to hold our spiritual leaders to.
As churches seek to evangelize, it is important to remain sensitive to those who live with us, and to not condemn others. While it is up to the individual what methods they wish to employ be it through their example, by their sharing or via any other medium, it should never intrude on the communal living spaces of others. It is important that we see others who are not of the same faith not as "evil" but rather realize that despite their differences they are still made in the image and likeness of God and share something %ven more significant – that which makes us human.
Religion should not serve as a cause for division but instead a common ground where we can connect with others. It need not be anything as formal or structured as the IRO in Singapore, but the vision and purpose should remain aligned. There are many similarities that all the major religions of the world share, basic human values, and to plainly dismiss another religion would be unfair. This by no means implies a denial or rejection of our own faith, but a wholehearted acceptance that each person is entitled to their own views and thoughts, a personal narrative of the truth.
Linking very closely to this issue is whether the church should serve as a ground for praise and worship with all the loud music and jubilation that accompanies it, or if it should serve as a place for quiet solitude and prayer. That is the decision of each individual, and for that reason we mustknever cross the grounds and dismiss another community simply because the form of worships which they use differ. For indeed, though the form may differ, the substance and the reason for worship remain similar.
For that reason we must tread carefully when trying to resolve the contention between maintaining tradition and embracing new ideals. On one hand, traditional institutions must be able to accept the changing landscape, demanding more accountability and a different method of connecting with the people.
On the other hand, newer institutions must acknowledge that there is merit in tradition. And for that reason cannot dismiss it or adulterate it excessively to suit present whims and fanc)es. For the values we hold should not be shaped by the world but instead should shape the world and kind of future that we hold dear. Traditions should go hand in hand with our present lifestyles, and for that to happen many, young or old have to be able to let go of some of our own preferences and accept change.
It should not be dictated by any one else for no one is truly more qualified or blest. It should stem from our own discernment and relationship with Christ.
Lastly in a direct address to recent issues, where the use of funds has come to light, to me, there is one main founding principle that can resolve many of the issues. To me there is a case for separating church from charity or church from commerce ad much as there is a case for combining the two. What remains important instead is that the church remains accountable and transparent. If people agree with where the money is channeled there is no argument or complaints. And if people do not agree, then there should be no obligation to force them to contribute.
In closing, it is not in my capacity to criticize the good works that are being done by others all around for my efforts and dedication would pale in comparison. Instead take this as my two cents worth on the way forward and what we should think about to live a life in a truly Christian way, always asking ourselves, what would Jesus do.
On a final note, what Gandhi said we Christians should do was "First, I would suggest that all Christians, missionaries begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice it without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non–Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people."
Perhaps we should look beyond religion to a higher calling and spiritual fulfillment present amongst all of humanity, and be willing to change, even if these words are from a "non-believer". For to love one another as Christ has loved us is God's greatest commandment.