I think I should comment on my theological background early on in this series. But before that, I think the previous “Introduction” post made it clear that I’m not here to be the judge of New Creation Church. No man can do that and I’ve seen too many horrible posts on the Internet criticizing this or that Church. In another blog, I’ve had my salvation called into question because of my beliefs and while defending City Harvest Church against unfair accusations. I don’t know what to say about these ultra-dogmatic know-it-all Christians who think they’re God’s appointed “watchman” to point out every heresy in every Church whose beliefs are less than perfect according to their intelligent minds. I’ve seen too many of them around throughout my Christian life. Really, with Christians like these, who needs the devil?
I’ve already written about my views on dogmatism here. I believe in taking a doctrinal stand (if one has one – there’s nothing wrong with still searching!) and I will do so in this series. Yet I also believe in being open to learn because none of us is perfect. Having questions and criticisms are OK as long as its done in the right spirit and tone. Have no doubt, I will have questions and criticisms. But of course I believe in doing it in a constructive way. What I’ll write is just my humble opinion, which I’ll totally welcome constructive feedback on. I’m writing this series because I believe it may be helpful to some and also to myself (to clarify my thinking).
I see no need to rigorously defend New Creation Church from those who attack it because those who have it set in their minds that New Creation Church is a dangerous Church will not change their minds. However, I also don’t think any Church is beyond constructive criticism. I don’t agree with those who only attack churches. However, nor do I agree with those who are unwilling to listen to others or be challenged but have only a blind support for their Church or leader. Both extremes are wrong. We’re all imperfect. We all have much to learn from each other and from other Churches. So unfair critics as well as over-zealous proponents of New Creation will probably not like what I have to say.
So going back to my theological background. In a way, we all have a theological background and a theology. And that influences the way we think and evaluate beliefs and practice. Laying it all out will help you understand where I’m coming from. Another reason I do this is to show those who think that New Creation’s beliefs are totally new, unorthodox or heretical that this is not so – but rather a lot of what New Creation believes has actually been what Christians have believed in various theological traditions. I’ll talk more about this in future posts.
For now, I’ll mention some traditions or areas that have influenced me a lot in the last 12 years or so of my Christian life:
1) Pentecostalism / Charismatism: God changed me when I was about 16 in an Assembly of God Church. Since then, though I’ve varied in my acceptance of things charismatic, I would always have an affinity towards charismatic things. I’ll call myself a charismatic Christian any day, though I don’t accept the extremes of the movement. I acknowledge there has been a lot of abuses and extreme beliefs and practices. I acknowledge that many charismatics have a very shallow understanding of the Word of God. But I also believe that this movement has much to offer Christians. And seriously, most of the growing churches around the world today are charismatic Churches, which says at least something.
I believe in the spiritual gifts – tongues, healing, prophecy, etc. I believe that God still authenticates and blesses the preaching of the Gospel with signs and wonders following. I love the Vineyard movement (Third Wave) – at least when John Wimber was alive as I’ve not followed up on it much nowadays. I think it was a very balanced movement and it brought much balance to charismatic Christianity.
One thing I’ll say is that many Pentecostals, perhaps because of its roots in the Holiness-Wesleyan tradition, can be quite legalistic. And of course, I disagree with legalism in all forms.
When it comes to the Word of Faith movement, aka Health and Wealth or Prosperity Gospel, charismatics are perhaps the biggest critics of the movement. I think there’s much to learn from this movement, but a lot to avoid too.
2) The Reformation: After about two years of being enamoured by the charismatic movement and all things charismatic early on in my Christian life, I looked back into historic Christianity and discovered the teachings of the Reformation. I embraced the Reformed Faith and also some good Lutheran teachings (Law/Gospel distinction and Theology of the Cross). I was quite into Reformed theology. Till now, I think it’s probably the richest tradition in Protestantism and quite well grounded in the Word of God. A lot of what Christians believe nowadays have its roots in the Reformed Faith. So it’s a wonderful tradition, but by no means do I embrace everything in it. In some of my future posts, I’ll show that many (not all, because there’s a lot of disagreement within the tradition too) within the Reformed tradition (in the past and present) would definitely come out in support of the “grace” teachings in New Creation. Oh, and I’ll also say the same for Lutherans too.
A lot of Reformed folks are anti-Charismatic and of course I won’t agree with that. There is however a growing Reformed-Charismatic movement – those who are trying to embrace the best of both the Reformed and Charismatic worlds of Christianity. I would have described myself as a Reformed-Charismatic years back. In 1997, I started a Reformed-Charismatic Email Discussion Group with Bob Vincent, an American Charismatic Presbyterian pastor friend of mine. However, now I’m not sure how Reformed I am. Nevertheless, this tradition has taught me a lot about God’s Word and theology.
3) Emergent / Emerging: A tradition I kind of (not totally) embraced a few years back was the Emergent / Emerging Church tradition. At one stage of my journey, it was the tradition I most identified with. I haven’t really followed up with it. But I embrace a lot of its distinctives like being non-dogmatic and open in one’s beliefs as well as a generally more left-leaning political disposition that will stand up for justice, the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. The latter probably has its roots in Liberal Theology. I embrace Liberal Christianity’s pursuit of social justice without agreeing with its liberal theology. I also probably won’t agree with the extreme liberal side of the Emergent tradition.
[I mentioned “non-dogmatic and open” above because I hesitate to use the term “postmodern” as it’s open to so many different interpretations. Perhaps a more accurate term, though less well-known, is “critical realist”.]
4) Missions to the Unreached: I’m not sure which “tradition” this comes under. Maybe the Baptist tradition because from the little I’ve come across, it seems like the Baptists are the strongest in missions to the unreached people. Note: this is missions to the unreached. Charismatic Christianity is probably the fastest growing branch of Christianity in the world (and I believe the best and most biblical in the way they evangelize) but it seems that missions work that is specifically aimed towards the unreached people groups have been the domain of the non-charismatics – and perhaps especially the Baptists.
It’s funny because it’s perhaps also the Baptists which can be the most fundamentalistic, dogmatic and anti-charismatic Christians around. It just goes to show that no tradition has it all right! ;)
Anyway, missions (especially to the unreached) has become a passion of mine over the past few years. It started here. Became stronger when I recently read Brother Yun’s truly amazing autobiography, “The Heavenly Man“. And again stronger when I read about Elizabeth Elliot’s biography of her husband Jim Elliot as well as her book about the five young missionaries who gave their lives to reach the unreached Auca Indians. I think there’s no greater call nowadays than to be a missionary to the unreached. Nor do I think there is any call more more urgent.