Thoughts : Others (Application Essays) : The Beginning and Development of my Christian Faith and its Impact on my Life

1. In a two-page essay, describe the beginning and development of your faith and its impact on your life.

Being born into a Christian family and baptised as an infant, I attended Church since as early as I can remember. However, I can’t say I really understood and experienced Christianity and Jesus until I was about 15 years old or so. I lost my mother in a car accident when I was 12 years old and in the years that followed, I don’t remember much about Church – only that when I was about 15 years old, I suddenly disliked going to Church every Sunday. I recall always bargaining with my father that if I went to Church with him Sunday mornings, I would be able to leave once the singing was over – and before I had to go to Sunday School. I simply didn’t fit in there. Church was boring.

However, when my father started dating a woman who would later be my stepmum, the ‘family’ decided to attend a ‘neutral’ church – i.e. one which neither my dad nor my stepmum attended – so as to avoid all the awkwardness. They chose a Pentecostal Church.

I reluctantly attended this Assembly of God Church. The worship style was very different from the conservative Anglican Churches I’ve attended my whole life. Maybe I was attracted to continue attending Church because the worship was refreshing and novel to me, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit. It was probably a combination of both but whatever the case, God slowly changed me in this Church – from a person who was once reluctant to go to Church to one who could not get enough of Church. One could say, “The rest is history”, but in my case, this was just the beginning of a very interesting and unique journey.

(Although I can’t say when exactly I was possessed saving faith, I believe it was during my time in this Assembly of God Church. Now I know clearly what the gospel of Jesus Christ is and do believe in Jesus and what He did on the cross for forgiveness of my sins.)

In the beginning of my stay in that Pentecostal Church, I suddenly started to like to read books – something I never liked before. Two of the first Christian books I read were “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon and “The Cross and the Switchblade” by David Wilkerson. Since then I’ve probably read a couple of hundred Christian books and many more articles on Christianity and theology.

In the beginning of this journey and my Christian life, I was captivated by Charismatism. One couldn’t help but stand in awe of seeing, hearing and reading about “miracles”, “healings”, “tongues”, “interpretations” and “prophecies”. I read like crazy about these supernatural phenomena. I read Benny Hinn, Kathryn Kuhlman, Dennis Bennett and from many other charismatic and Pentecostal authors and teachings/theology.

It wasn’t long before I spoke in tongues – though whether this was a sign of Spirit-baptism as my Church taught, I would question. Going to the front of the church for prayer at the end of services was kind of a regular thing for me. And it was around this time that Rodney Howard-Browne came to Singapore and so did the “Toronto Blessing”. All in all, I was a thoroughly convicted Charismatic.

In retrospect, up until that time I had immersed myself in books and teachings that were shallow. I never cared to look back into the history of the Church to learn from the saints of the past – rather, I was enamoured only by contemporary Charismatic teachings. I was a Christian full of zeal – as Charismatics so often are – and one who looked down on the more “conservative” branches of Christianity. After all, quite obvious to me was the fact that it was the Charismatics who were full of fervour and passion in their worship and evangelism, and not the “apathetic” conservatives.

One day I read a Christian book (ironically by a Pentecostal author) that made me think more deeply about what I had always accepted as right and which also caused me to question many aspects of Charismatism. In analysing one aspect of contemporary Christianity, the author quoted extensively from past Saints like Martin Luther, Charles Wesley and the Puritans. This book was the catalyst in my intellectual journey – a journey that continues even till this day.

From then, I engrossed myself into the writings of past Saints and contemporary writings that illuminated the teachings of the past Saints. I became familiar with the Reformation, authors like John Calvin and Martin Luther, and the Lutheran and Reformed tradition. Gradually I came to accept the Reformed faith (though also appreciating many emphasises of the Lutheran tradition.)

Yes, I admired the intellectual rigour of these traditions – especially the Reformed tradition. I admired their desire to go beyond shallowness (which is so prevalent in charismatic circles) in their teachings. I admired their depth in their understanding of the Word, their great respect for the Word of God and desire to teach and live according to the Word of God. But I never gave up the Charismatic part of my Christian life. I asked myself whether I needed to give up one for the other as many Christians do. I realised it would be a lonely journey to try to appreciate the best of both the Reformed and Charismatic worlds, but I knew it was something I had to do because I didn’t see either as totally right or either as containing the full truth. I loved the intimacy, experiential emphasis as well as the focus on the supernatural that is found mainly in Charismatic circles. From my understanding of the bible I came to a conclusion that Charismatics have much to teach ‘conservative’ Christians (though also many excesses we need to avoid). At the same time, the intellectual faithfulness of the Reformed tradition was nourishment to my intellect and something I needed in my Christian life if I were to go beyond worshipping God with merely my heart, but also with my mind.

For five years, from around 1996 till 2000, I was very interested in theology – as one would expect from reading the previous paragraphs. I felt a great burden to bring together the best of the Reformed and Charismatic worlds. Division in Christianity – mainly between Charismatics and non-Charismatics – saddened me. And yet I knew that this didn’t need to be so. God gave me a great love for studying His Word. I expected to grow up pursuing my PhD in theology and then teach in a Bible College – with a particular vision and burden to see the dividing walls between Charismatics and non-Charismatics coming down and the Church becoming more balanced in Word and Spirit. I tried to get to know Christians from Singapore as well as all around the world with that same vision. Together with American Charismatic Presbyterian pastor I got to know through the Internet, I started the Reformed-Charismatic email discussion list in September 1997 – a list for the purpose of discussing “Reformed Theology and Charismatic Practice, and how they can compliment one another.”

Reflecting upon my experiences, my dreams and the way I react to things, I’ve come to realise that I’m a person with a strong sense of truth. I also hate divisions and love unity. That is the reason why I had that great burden to see more balance and unity and less division in Christianity. People have pointed out that I need to show more grace too when people fail to live up to the truth. I think that’s valid and something I need to improve in my life. I’ve come to see there’s always a tension here. On one hand, truth is absolute and I believe we need to be cautious not to succumb to the postmodernist pressure to treat truth as relative. We can’t all be right in our thinking – and that includes different teachings and theology. There needs to be that love and passion to pursue truth. On the other hand, we need to be humble and learn from each other in our pursuit for truth. We need to realise that as sinful creatures we don’t know all the truth and thus ought to be gracious to one another.

I hope I have not written too much of something that my evaluators may not be interested in. I could tell you of many little experiences here and there I have had as a Christian – e.g. answered prayers, hurts, joys, struggles, Christian lessons learnt. It is not that I have not had any of these. But I mention mainly my ideals and intellectual journey because these are very important to me.

Perhaps I should also share a bit about my Church life. I stayed for about 2-3 years in that Pentecostal Church. I learnt many things there and also experienced many things that have shaped me – though there isn’t enough space here to describe them. After a year of discovering the Reformed faith and being disappointed with charismatic excesses and abuses, I left for a small and cozy conservative Reformed Presbyterian congregation and stayed there for slightly less than a year. Though I found Christians of similar beliefs, I still longed for that contemporary and charismatic element in my Church life. For the next year or so, I visited various Churches and finally settled down in another moderately charismatic Presbyterian Church by mid-1999.

Since November 1999 till now (October 2001) I have served as a Cell Group Leader in the youth ministry there. I have always loved to be with youths – since I think I’m still very young and young at heart! Young people have a lot of time on their hands, are very energetic and they are after all our future leaders. Thus I can’t think of a better way to serve than to invest one’s life in the young. I believe that I have the gift of teaching and my desire was to bring up a group of people who were zealous for God and who also who loved to read and study the Bible.

I can’t say I have fulfilled what I had set up to do. Nevertheless, it has been a tremendous learning experience for me as the leader of a group. Though I have found working with young people a bit disappointing at times because I tend to expect too much from them, I think serving there has been one of the most valuable experiences in my life so far. Serving in such a capacity is very challenging and perhaps the best way to grow spiritually is to serve in a leadership position with all the responsibility before you.

Well, this has been a bit concerning my spiritual life so far. As I mentioned above, for the first 5 years or so of my Christian life I did have a great love for theology and desire to teach in a Bible College in future. My interests have changed in the past year. I will try and share more about this in my other essay. My desire to attend Wheaton College stems primarily from the fact that I want to get a good challenging education where all my subjects will be taught by Christian professors and from a Christian point of view. Since now I hope to pursue (at least in the near future) a career that has nothing to do “directly” with Christian ministry (unlike my previous interest to teach in a Bible College), I think it’s even more important that whatever I learn (be it political science, economics or sociology), I learn it from a Christian and biblical perspective so as to keep my focus always on God and on glorifying Him through whatever I do. I believe Wheaton is the best college in the U.S. that will provide me with an education that will challenge me and build me up both intellectually and spiritually.

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