Orphan Spirit

I went for Day of His Power, and aside from the usual conservative campaign agendas, there was something new this year. Rev Daniel Khong is taking over the role of Senior Pastor in FCBC this week, and at DoHP he preached about reconciliation of Fathers and Sons: in Families, in Nations (UK/Japan and Singapore), in Individual Churches like FCBC.

In my own family, this is something I know very well. For me, at least, I have a deep resentment for my parents for their failure to keep the family together, or maybe for failing to even try. I tried for awhile to do it on my own, but now I realise that it is really up to my father, if he does not want to change, we will all suffer for it. That kinda makes me even more resentful.

Singapore has done well to reconcile with Britain and Japan, the two nations that colonised us, and it is a real testament to our ability as a nation to forgive and cooperate. Even to our former federal head, Malaysia, we have shown honour and sacrifice, featuring Tun Mahathir in our parade this year and settling our Water Dispute peacefully.

But one more thing I think hasn’t been well explored is this Orphan dynamic in the Protestant Church in Singapore. On this Island, we have 9 historical denominations: Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Baptist, Methodist, Adventist, Mar Thoma Syrian and Pentecostal. This makes up a third of the local Protestant population. The other two thirds belong to various nondenominational churches and associations.

Charismatic Nondenominationalism only became a phenomenon in America in the 1990s, and in Singapore, it his us even earlier in the 1980s. Before WWII, all the churches in Singapore would have mostly been from these 9 denominations, but over the years churches like Cornerstone Community Church and City Harvest Church broke away from their Anglican roots to form the more well known of the many nondenominational churches today.

Half of me suspects that this was a result of the same Orphaned resentment. I think one of the more obvious ones would be the Charismatic movement and the early opposition they faced from the colonial churches (Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian). Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, where the Vatican ordered that the Charismatic Movement be treated as a move of God since the 1960s, Protestants had a rather frustratingly slow reaction to what was, at the time, a very very important Christian revival in Singapore. While the Methodist and Anglican Churches have since marginally accepted the Movement as valid, and the Presbyterians incorporating Contemporary Worship styles, the damage had already been done and the divide between the denominational and nondenominational was cemented.

I got a feeling, though I have no evidence to back it up, that what my family is going through mirrors the Protestant Church in Singapore. The “parent” denominational churches failed to establish and maintain effective platforms of communication to deal with the highly important issues of the day.

However, these 9 denominations hold the key to the past, in their historical creeds, confessions, catechisms and liturgies, they form the bridge that links the modern church through the Protestant Reformation and back to the early church and the Apostles. They form the starting point of the Singapore Christian story that tells us where we have been, where we are and where we need to go next. It is not enough for everyone to look back to the 1970s and proclaim Singapore the Antioch of Asia when we really don’t know what that means. Our direct history begins in the 1830s, and from what I can tell, we are less like the Antioch of Asia and more like the Rome of Asia, if I had to guess, the Antioch of Asia is Korea and the Alexandria of Asia is India. Singapore is a City that is one of the Financial hubs of Asia, with a minority Christian population that is liturgically diverse, but internationally influential, made of mostly recent converts and with hardly any actually history of being a Christian people. That is Rome, not Antioch. This is something I learnt studying the early Church and got interested in that by studying the historical documents of the 9 Protestant denoms in Singapore.

I feel like as important as unity is, the largest barrier is some spiritual resentment that the newer churches have for the more traditional ones, and until the traditional ones cooperate, they cannot keep up with the problems of today that the nondenoms have been relentlessly tackling. Nondenoms seem to tackle these problems rather inefficiently too, because they disagree on what to about it, like the FCBC and NCC disagreements on Evangelism, and without a canon of internationally recognised, unchanging and ratified set of creeds and confessions, there is really no way to discuss these issues in any concrete way, other than the horrendously unhelpful “I’m right because I teach what the Bible says and you don’t”. However, the people that can actually galvanise the Protestant community as a whole are more concerned with international relations within their own denomination and having tea with the Prime Minister than joining the nondenoms in involving themselves in social campaigns and evangelistic policy.

All in all, I know as much about what to do about the Protestant Church as I do my own family. I feel like unless the Anglican Church steps up to initiate ecumenical relations with the other 8 denoms, we won’t really see a united and powerful church in Singapore. Just some thoughts I guess.

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