I only started writing in this blog a lot about New Creation Church and theology related to grace the past 2 years or so. That’s because I started attending New Creation more regularly 2 years ago. I felt that because of my theological struggles and interest in the topic of grace (Lordship Salvation, etc.) that started years ago, I had something to contribute to the discussion and so I started writing all these posts related to grace. And the more I started to attend New Creation and the more I started to learn from Pastor Prince and New Creation and the more I started reflecting on everything I’m hearing at Church, the more I blogged on these topics.
But if anyone ventures beyond my blog posts on New Creation and grace to the other parts of this website with all my previous articles and biographical writings, you’ll see a different side of me. That’s the social justice / missions side which I’m hugely passionate about. Maybe it’s taken a bit of a backseat the past 2 years as I focus more on grace. But I’ve also purposely not mentioned a lot of things happening in my life on the blog because I know how controversial it is to write posts about New Creation. Most of the posts about New Creation’s theology has been more positive in nature. And New Creation Church is still very far from being accepted in many places – though things are slowly changing. Therefore, I’ve kept my identity mostly a secret here and not written about other aspects of my life because many Christians still can’t accept someone from New Creation.
I know a lot of people wonder why the name of this website is stillhaventfound. After all, haven’t I already found everything in Christ? Well, the reason for the name is here so I won’t elaborate further suffice to say that the reason has to do with my interest in social justice and seeing this world become a better place – and of course, Christians have a role to play in that. The truth is that a large part of my life concerns social justice (and also missions). Read my past articles on social justice issues like poverty (e.g. Encountering Peter Singer which explains my view of what the Bible says regarding helping the poor) and you’ll understand why some friends who know me from old wonder if I’ve lost that passion for social justice. They wonder about this because recently I’ve been writing so much positively about New Creation and grace and the New Creation message seems so self-centered and prosperity-centered and a contradiction to the altruistic, other-centered, social justice mindset I’d been advocating in my previous writings. What gives? Have I completely changed my mind on this issue?
Well, a big “NO”! The purpose of this whole post is actually to explain how I reconcile my recent writings in defense of New Creation’s theology with my old writings on social justice and helping the poor. To start, let me first talk a bit about the issue of prosperity (and blessings). I believe God desires to prosper us but it’s not always true that those who don’t prosper lack faith. I think a lot of it has to do with unjust social structures and I’ll leave a part of it to the mystery of God. But this doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to exercise faith and ask and believe – faith plays a role and a lot of times we don’t get because we don’t ask. (Regarding the issue of suffering, I’m still reflecting how that fits into the Christian’s life).
I’ve never written much in support of New Creation’s view of prosperity. Nor have I written much against it. I strongly disagree with using so much money on a new building, but what would I know anyway and you can still respect and honour the leadership while disagreeing with certain things.
I’m against Christians living extravagant lifestyles. I dunno about New Creation’s view on this. But I disagree with Christians being too rich not because it’s a sin to be rich. It’s definitely not! It’s just that it’s way better (i.e. more loving) to live more simply and give your additional money to bless those who need it. But if prosperity preachers could be faulted for living too extravagantly and not thinking about better ways of using their money (instead of using it on themselves) like using their money to bless others and reach the lost, let me just say that to be fair the same accusation can to be leveled against most Christians in the developed world – most of whom are middle-class and can easily do more to help the poor and contribute to missions. But of course we don’t look at it this way, do we :) We love to take pot shots at churches like New Creation and City Harvest (which, by the way, easily talks more about prosperity than New Creation), but the truth is that all Christians fall short of the ideal.
I may not be entirely comfortable with New Creation’s teaching on prosperity, but it’s not because they are like the extreme prosperity (tele-evangelistic) churches / preachers. They aren’t – they are much, much more moderate and those who lump New Creation in with the other prosperity churches / preachers have no clue what they are talking about. And there happens to be many such heresy hunters and self-proclaimed watchmen of God out there who have no understanding of the nuances involved, but just love to criticize New Creation and pronounce guilt by association. No doubt New Creation would claim to be of the Word of Faith (Prosperity) movement, but they are of a very different kind. New Creation doesn’t continually ask for money or manipulate Christians to give (see here). If it does, I wouldn’t be there listening to Pastor Prince and I would suspect the majority of the church wouldn’t be there too. We’re there because of the strong preaching on Jesus and God’s grace and love and this helps us see the beauty of Jesus. That’s why we’re there for.
Yet still I’m not entirely comfortable with some of the teachings on prosperity in New Creation. But neither am I entirely comfortable with the Methodist Churches (English speaking) which contain easily the richest Christians in Singapore. The preaching may not be prosperity-centered one bit, but it’s not about the preaching, but the lifestyles of the Christians.
Here’s the kind of prosperity teaching I believe in. While New Creation isn’t like the extreme prosperity preachers, I don’t think it’s up to this level yet either. I’ve spoken approvingly of Andrew Wommack’s view of prosperity (Wommack comes from the Word of Faith / Prosperity tradition) when he said:
Prosperity is how much of a blessing are you to someone else. That’s the way that God evaluates it.
When you get to where the priority on your finances isn’t for you, but rather it’s to bless someone else, then God will assume the liability of taking care of you.
I’ve also quoted approvingly of P.G. Vargis (another prosperity dude):
I live a simple life. Do not misunderstand me – I am not preaching a poverty gospel, neither do I practice it… I spend money if it is really necessary. I have not saved any thing [sic], money, land or a house for me or my children. Whatever I get for the ministry is put into the ministry… Live a simple life and give all the rest to the mission – that is my policy.
I think the above two people are wonderful representations of the so-called Prosperity Gospel. They may preach that God wants to prosper us, but that’s not wrong when they truly believe in prosperity for a purpose, money for missions and blessed to be a blessing. Now, these are wonderful phrases that many prosperity churches like to throw around, but I know very few that actually truly believe them to the extent that it’s so clear through how their lives are lived. From what I know of the above two people (admittedly not a lot so I may be wrong), I think they truly try to live those phrases out – at least to a much greater extent than other Christians, whether from the prosperity tradition or not.
In my opinion, a person who truly believes all the above phrases would live a simple life, just as P.G. Vargis put it. As I argued here,
In the light of almost unending poverty in the world and endless opportunities to help the poor, what justification do we have to live a luxurious lifestyle when by cutting down on such a lifestyle we could bless and love the poor?
I would add to the above giving to missions to reach the lost – not just helping the poor. To me, then, living up to the ideal that God calls us would require us to live a simple life. This doesn’t earn us favour or blessings or salvation for that is all for us in Christ. We ought to strive to such a life simply because we desire to love God and people. Even if we fail, that’s OK. We all will. God won’t punish us. There’s always grace available. So this isn’t something that’s meant to be legalistic. We will never attain the ideal because we’re not perfect. But, on the other hand, let us not deceive ourselves to think that we can be passive and it doesn’t matter how we live. We still ought to strive to be Christlike in every way, even though we will fall short. In this regard, prosperity church or not, we’ve all failed. The majority (if not all) of middle-class Christians in Singapore have fallen short of this ideal, whether your church is for or against the so-called prosperity gospel.
So me being in New Creation doesn’t actually reflect that I’ve changed my view from old that we Christians as a whole have failed terribly in helping the poor and reaching the lost and that we can and should do a whole lot more in this area. I still believe that. If I were in any other church in Singapore, I’d still be faced with Christians who live the middle-class, me-centered lifestyle, in spite of what is preached in the church.
(Perhaps the Christian tradition that most identifies with social justice and poverty issues is the emerging or emergent church movement. Their passion for social justice is admirable, but many verge on compromising the gospel and that’s something I can’t accept.)
I still have my passion for social justice and missions. I still wanna see more Christians standing up for the rights of the poor and marginalized and oppressed and giving their lives to reach the lost. I like the radical message calling people to give up their lives for the lost and dying. Oh, we need more preachers who preach the radical message of self-sacrifice and other-centeredness, who will preach on the Christian’s responsibility to missions and social justice. Surely that will transform the church into other-centered Christians who will do God’s work even if it cost them everything… Or will it?
And here’s the crux of the matter. This is what I’ve been reflecting a lot upon: If your preaching focuses more on calling Christians to sacrifice and to help the poor and do missions, will it actually result in that happening? I don’t think so. As I reflect on my life and talk to people, I find it’s not preaching such messages that will transform lives. It’s not harping on the fact that Christians should work out our salvation that will result in transformed sacrificial lives. I don’t even think that was the focus of the New Testament Epistles in the first place. Instinctively, we think that telling your members that they should do more will change their minds and their lives. But really, does it?
My passion for social justice came through reading secular books and understanding the world. My passion for missions came through understanding more about grace. I’m sure other people will have different experiences but I certainly don’t want to go to church and listen to the pastor telling me how much more I should do for the poor and the lost. Why not? Because I ALREADY KNOW THAT! And for those who don’t already know that and don’t have much concern for the poor and lost, I don’t think it’ll help if we keep on reminding them what the Bible says about this area. There’s a place I think to preach what the Bible says about all this every once in a while, but I think it’s really understanding and experiencing grace that empowers Christians to do the above.
Some people have told me they’ve appreciated some of the articles I’ve written on poverty as it’s challenged them. That’s all good. But challenging them to think is one thing. It’s a good start. But that doesn’t empower one to take action – the gospel does. And that’s why we go to church – to listen to the gospel that empowers us, more than to listen to what we should do and how short we’ve fallen (we already know all that).
I think together with the empowerment that comes through hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ, we need opportunities to experience serving. This is where I think New Creation is extremely weak in for a church of 20,000 people. City Harvest Church is a model for providing myriads of opportunities to serve. If we could somehow bring together New Creation’s gospel empowerment with City Harvest’s opportunities and passion for serving, that would be way awesome!