I love both New Creation Church and City Harvest Church. Both are actually very different churches. They both have very different ministries. New Creation’s focus is on the gospel of grace. City Harvest’s focus is on evangelism and missions. I think New Creation has some of the best preaching/teaching you can find anywhere in Singapore. City Harvest’s passion for reaching out is second to none in Singapore. I prefer New Creation’s focus on grace and God’s love for us – as opposed to City Harvest’s focus on loving God and man and living out the Christian life (though I think that neither portray a biblical balance). I love City Harvest’s strong cell community and think it’s closer to how a Christian community should be like.
In the past month, I’ve been spending some time with a City Harvest cell for various reasons. So I’ve been attending some cell and church meetings, as well as interacting with various cell members and a pastor. What I’ve experienced and seen have made me both uncomfortable, yet also very glad. Maybe one day I’ll share my experiences in greater detail here. A lot of things have been happening in the past few weeks and I’ve not written much about them at all (that’s why I’ve been quite silent on the blog!) because these are things that are quite sensitive and I’d have to write carefully (which takes time and a lot of thinking) if I were to share them.
As I see more people reading this blog, I’ve had to be extra careful in what I write. Especially because I touch on a lot of sensitive and controversial issues here. I don’t want my blog to be like others that just attack this or that church or teaching. On the other hand, a lot of these controversial issues are close to my heart and I know a lot of people think about them and struggle with them (just like I do) and thus I don’t want to just sweep them under the carpet and ignore issues that I think are worth discussing. That just wouldn’t be me. However, it’s also not me to come out strongly on one side and attack another. I think for any controversial issue, there are always good and bad on each side. There are good and biblical reasons for holding the view that each side holds to. Not that both sides are correct. But at least there are good reasons why people from each side believe in what they do. In regards to the above two churches, I respect both New Creation and City Harvest a lot but am not enamored by either Pastor Prince or Kong Hee to the extent that I think they can believe and do no wrong.
Anyway, recently I got to know a City Harvest member who is also a School of Theology (SOT) student. Her sister happens to be a cell leader at New Creation. I reckon any theological conversations between the two would be pretty darn interesting! Both churches of course disagree quite fundamentally with the other’s theology and focus. Generally, City Harvest would consider New Creation’s grace teachings as antinomian and New Creation would view City Harvest’s teachings as tending towards legalism.
This person shared about City Harvest’s teaching on the Tabernacle. I’ve heard such teachings before in other charismatic churches I’ve been to. The teaching goes like this: There were three parts to the Old Testament Tabernacle – the Outer Court, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies – with each coinciding with a greater experience of God. In the Old Testament, not everyone but only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and commune with God in this intimate way. However, for Christians today, because of what Jesus did, we have the opportunity or potential to enter the Holy of Holies during our time with God. However, not all Christians will experience such intimate fellowship with God in the Holy of Holies. Only those who press in and really seek after God would have such an intimate experience. Those who don’t really press in are still at the Holy Place or the Outer Court and thus experience God in a less intimate way.
The above teaching is often used to compel Christians to seek a greater and more intimate experience of God:
Where are you now? Are you in the Holy Place or the Outer Court? Do you want to enter into the Holy of Holies and experience God in a more intimate way? If you want to enter into the Holy of Holies, you have to surrender to God. You have to seek Him and press in…
I have a lot of problems with this sort of teaching because the way I see it, it’s just not biblical. It denies a very fundamental aspect of the gospel – that “in Christ” we have access to God and are already in the Holy of Holies. The book of Hebrews makes it very clear that we have access to God by faith in Christ and what He did: “…we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place (i.e. Holy of Holies) by the blood of Jesus…” (Hebrews 10:19). In the Old Testament, the presence of God was in the Holy of Holies. Not anyone could enter. Only the high priest who consecrated himself could enter the place and then only once a year. Jesus’ death did away with such a system. By his blood, we can enter the very presence of God. Therefore, for anyone to say that some Christians are only at the Outer Court or Most Holy Place and not in the Holy of Holies and that they need to press on and surrender more or whatever to enter the Holy of Holies is to say that it’s by our works and efforts that we enter God’s holy presence! The Bible says it’s by faith and the blood of Jesus that we enter God’s holy presence! In the Old Testament, the high priest had to consecrate and prepare himself to enter the Holy of Holies. All this was a shadow of what was to come. In Jesus, we don’t need to do anything (prepare ourselves by surrendering more or striving more, etc.) to enter the Holy of Holies. We just need to believe in Christ and His finished work.
Therefore, I believe that every Christian has already entered into the Holy of Holies. We have access to God because of what Christ did for us. We don’t need to seek more or strive more to enter the Holy of Holies.
Anyway, this sister shared about how she sought a deeper “Holy of Holies” experience with God and was touched deeply by God. What do I think of that? While I disagree with the theology behind the teaching, I have no reason to deny that God did touch her in a special way, that she did experience God in a deeper way. Just because I think the teaching that inspired her and many Christians to seek God in a greater way is unbiblical doesn’t mean that I think her experience was not of God. I do believe God touched her. I just wouldn’t refer to that experience as a “Holy of Holies” experience.
I’ve always believed that many times God moves in our lives in spite of our theology. If God were to bless only correct theology, then not many people would be blessed. This is not to deny the importance of good theology. It’s just to acknowledge that God is more gracious and much bigger than we think.
What this sister experienced was a deeper experience of God. While all Christians are already in the Holy of Holies, this doesn’t mean that people don’t experience God in different ways and in different qualities. We all grow in our experience with God. We all should be seeking God more and more. Entering the Holy of Holies doesn’t mean we’ve crossed the finish line and there’s nothing more to do or strive for. Certainly, we’ve crossed the finish line in terms of being perfect and righteous because of Christ’s work on the cross. Nothing can take that away from us. But our Christian life is a journey. We learn and we grow. We don’t stay stagnant. And we definitely experience God in greater ways.
So while I may have problems with the teachings that was used to justify this sister’s experience, I have no doubt that her experience was of God and that it was good for her. She may have believed in the wrong things, but her heart was right and God blessed her sincerity and those of many others who may have believed wrongly.
There is no doubt that if the above teaching is taught in an extreme manner and received wrongly, there may be many Christians in bondage and condemnation for not having “reached” the level of entering into the Holy of Holies. This may be the case. But I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt and while disagreeing with the above teaching, I recognize that many lives have been transformed for the better as Christians are challenged to seek God more and more. To me, this can only be a good thing. And maybe at times better than if one has the right theology regarding the Tabernacle of God and yet become passive and don’t continuously seek God or the filling of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).