Raphael Samuel goes back to Bolivian missions

Lord let the bonds of love continue till kingdom come, for friendships are your gifts to us.

We had a nice lunch at the Bukit Gombak CDANS restuarant to say goodbye to Archdeacon Raphael Samuel, Anglican priest and missionary. My good friend and classmate is flying back to Santa Cruz, Bolivia.  Back to his missions field. He goes with his wife and son but the son will return later to study business in the Nanyang Technological University. He’s been here for two years and during that time he was ministering in Christchurch Anglican Church, a Tamil congregation near Kandang Kerbau Hospital. During the two years we have had several occasions to fellowship and support each other and to have those reunions with bible school classmates whenever Rev. Benedict Muthusamy, a Malaysian Presbyterian minister and moderator, or Dr TanYak Hwee, a seminary lecturer in Taiwan drops over. We have been meeting like that for over 20 years, since we all graduated in 1985 from Trinity Theological College. Goon Heo and myself are the ever-present core in this group. I wonder if other cohorts and classes have this kind of regular enduring get-togethers. So much strength and sharpening can be gained from such friendships.

Colourful Geylang

Geylang by night

In the night or by day, Geylang baffles logic and beauty. Its the only place in Singapore where URA(Urban Renewal Authority) have not stolen the soul with a heavy touch.

Everyone in Singapore has heard of Geylang. It is the red-light district. It is concentrated in the even-numbered streets from Lorong 8 to Lorong 18. When darkness falls the red lanterns light up and the ladies of the night stalk their prey. The horny and desperate males are the victims. The neon lights of scores of bars and hourly-rated hotels assault bystanders for attention. The sordid streets do not sleep. Brightly lit, they beckon the young and the retirees, of all races and nationalities.

Beyond this nucleus, are a hundred eating places, famous food hangouts where even the timid will venture, despite Geylang by daythe risk of a suspect reputation. Makansutra calls it paradise. From herbal tonics, and foods fabled as aphrosidiacs, to common street hawker fare, these restaurants open till the hours of morn. There are also the shopping emporiums, 24 hours convenience stores, and the fruit shops laden with durians that defy season.

Geylang in the daytime is just as colourful. Light industries litter the outskirts of the Viagra-laced streets. The taller and larger buildings are along the MRT tracks between Kallang and Aljunied. Scattered along the terraced shophouses are all kinds of small businesses from internet cafes, wholesale suppliers of timber and metal, electrical and electronic and furniture retailers. Banks (so similar to the red light area in their pecuniary intentions, as we have seen in the last year and a half) and even clinics position themselves there for a piece of the action.

Guilin building, GeylangThe irony is that side by side with the immoral are literally hundreds of civic and community groups, associations, churches, temples, and mosques. I take that back: maybe its not such an irony! Anyway, Geylang is a very religious place. The scents of incense, the colour green and red appear like a recurring theme. The church I grew up in and am now serving as the senior pastor is ten minutes away from where the red-light diestrict is. Its nearer to the HDB flats and the national library branch. Our next-door neighbours are private residential apartments, a condominium, a church and the Youth for Christ shared facility, and two famous temples.

The Urban Renewal Authority(URA) plan in 1992 had relocated many Chinese clan associations and community groups into the area. Many other religious organizations have followed suit because its difficult to find places elsewhere that is zoned for such purposes. According to the URA, places of worship serve the public whilst associations are allowed only private worship by members of the association as an incidental activity. On hearsay, there are about 30 to 40 Christian organizations/churches in Geylang.

Singapore churches are preaching the half gospel

Lord anoint your servants to preach the good news of JesusI find Michael Horton’s books invigorating. I have read his “Putting the Amazing Back into Grace” and “Power Religion” of which I would warmly commend the former. But I have not read his more recent books titled Christless Christianity and the Gospel-Driven Life but they should be thought provoking stuff.Michael is currently the  professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, and the author of many books. Recently he was interviewed by Mark Galli from Christianity Today.

I am posting excerpts from this interview on some issues raised in these recent books to strengthen my claims that preaching in Singapore is too man-centered and imperative-driven and needs to return to being God-centered and indicative-driven or gospel-driven. What people have been receiving is a half gospel. The interview will clarify what I mean.

Here are some excerpts from there:


What is at the core of the temptation to practice a Christless Christianity?

When the emphasis becomes human-centered rather than God-centered. In more conservative contexts, you hear it as exhortation: “These are God’s commandments. The culture is slipping away from us. We have to recover it, and you play a role. Is your life matching up to what God calls us to?” Of course there is a place for that, but it seems to be the dominant emphasis.

Then there is the therapeutic approach: “You can be happier if you follow God’s principles.” All of this is said with a smile, but it’s still imperative. It’s still about techniques and principles for you to follow in order to have your best life now.

In both cases, it’s law rather than gospel. I don’t even know when I walk into a church that says it’s Bible-believing that I’m actually going to hear an exposition of Scripture with Christ at the center, or whether I’m going to hear about how I should “dare to be a Daniel.” The question is not whether we have imperatives in Scripture. The question is whether the imperatives are all we are getting, because people assume we already know the gospel—and we don’t.

But aren’t many churches doing good preaching about how to improve your marriage, transform your life, and serve the poor?

The question is whether this is the Good News. There is nothing wrong with law, but law isn’t gospel. The gospel isn’t “Follow Jesus’ example” or “Transform your life” or “How to raise good children.” The gospel is: Jesus Christ came to save sinners—even bad parents, even lousy followers of Jesus, which we all are on our best days. All of the emphasis falls on “What would Jesus do?” rather than “What has Jesus done?”

Why is this such a temptation for the church?

It’s our default setting. No one has to be taught to trust in themselves. No one has to be taught that what you experience inside yourself is more authoritative than what comes to you externally, even if it comes from God. Since the Fall, it has been part of our character to look within ourselves. And it is part of our inherent Pelagianism to think we can save ourselves by following the right instructions.

In such a therapeutic, pragmatic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps society as ours, the message of God having to do all the work in saving us comes as an offensive shot at our egos. In this culture, religion is all about being good, about the horizontal, about loving God and neighbor. All of that is the fruit of the gospel. The gospel has nothing to do with what I do. The gospel is entirely a message about what someone else has done not only for me but also for the renewal of the whole creation.


What specifically do you mean by “a gospel-driven life”?

Because I live in San Diego, I think of a sailboat decked out with all of the latest equipment that tells you where you are and where you need to be. It plots your course, but it’s a sailboat, so you need wind in your sails. You start out, and it’s a beautiful day with wind in your sails. You’re out in the middle of the ocean when the wind dies down. You’re just sitting there dead calm. And your radio tells you that a hurricane is approaching. But all of your sophisticated equipment will not be able to get you to safety. What you need is wind in your sails.

A lot of Christians, especially people who have had dramatic conversion experiences, go sailing out of the harbor with wind in their sails. They are so confident in Christ and what he has done for their salvation, and that gospel wind is in their sails. Yet after two years, they have heard just one imperative after another. They have lots of course plotting, lots of books on how to do this and that. They’ve read every manual on spiritual disciplines. They have heard their pastor tell them they need to pray more, to read the Bible more, to evangelize more. Now they are dead in the water. There’s no wind in the sails.

Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation,” and I don’t think he meant the power of God just unto conversion. The gospel remains the power of God unto salvation until we are glorified. Calvin once said we need the gospel preached to us every week, and the Lord’s Supper to ratify that promise, because we are partly unbelievers until we die.

‘Paul calls the gospel “the power of God unto salvation,” and I don’t think he meant the power of God just unto conversion.

In The Gospel-Driven Life you use news as a metaphor. Why?

I stole it from the apostles! Their dominant metaphor for the gospel message is “good news.” The content is that God has done all the saving, no thanks to us. Someone asked Martin Luther what we contribute to salvation, and he said, “Sin and resistance!”

The gospel is not even my conversion experience. If somebody asks me what the gospel is, I’m not going to talk about me; I’m going to talk about Christ. All of the testimonies we find from the apostles’ lips are not testimonies about what happened in their hearts. They are testimonies about what happened in history when God saved his people from their sins. That’s the gospel. Although the gospel makes all sorts of things happen inside of me and gives me the fruit of the Spirit, the gospel itself is always an external word that comes to me announcing that someone else in history has accomplished my salvation for me.

Someone comes with instructions and says, “Here’s what your life could be like if you do x, y, or z.” Good news is, “Let me tell you what has happened!” The gospel is not good instructions, not a good idea, and not good advice. The gospel is an announcement of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

So what is the first step in living a gospel-driven life?

Become a recipient again. Mary and Martha, the two sisters and disciples of Jesus, had different relationships with Jesus. Martha busied herself with many tasks, and she was getting mad at Mary for making her do all the work. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from him. Jesus rebuked Martha for criticizing her sister and said Mary had chosen the better part.

First and foremost, disciples are recipients of Jesus Christ’s teaching. His teachings are really teachings concerning his person and his work. He has accomplished our salvation. He has accomplished our redemption. So first, allow the gospel to soak in again.

Then allow the imperatives that arise out of that to be our reasonable service. Instead of trying to live the victorious Christian life, instead of trying to get into God’s favor by following tips and formulas, let’s receive the gospel and then follow the commands of God’s law when it comes to directives. Then our sailboat is perfectly equipped. Now we have the wind in our sails—the gospel—and we also have God’s own wisdom to guide us in that gospel-driven life.

If we understand what Michael Horton is saying in this interview, we will understand why our churches of full of tired Marthas running around on an empty tank in the kitchen, and who will end up in churches that cater for Marys.

For the full interview go to Christ the Center article in online Christianity Today.com.

And read a related article which I posted recently on the indicatives and imperatives of the gospel.