Reflections

What is a Christian?

This one is more of in reaction to my family members, all Roman Catholic, who constantly talk about how they don’t like Christians and would never go to a Christian church… because they are Catholic.


Part 1: We Are Christian!

So… I want to be Christian and I want to learn how, what does that make me?
Catechumen.”
Okay, too fast. I like your Jesus, but I’m not sure if I want to be Christian… and that would make me?
“An Inquirer.”
Well, that was fast.
“Yep, we have a word for everything.”
So… am I Christian?
“Lol. Not really.”

So these two are examples of terms that are relatively inconsequential, but it does demonstrate the clear distinction between different people who interact with the Christian religion in one way or another. It gets more important when you start to label people in other branches or denominations, sometimes even people in your own congregation that you think don’t live up to the mark. So to avoid unnecessary condemnation of people that may not look like us, while still holding to a high standard of righteous holiness, let’s go through a few of those terms.

The most basic distinction you have to make, in this case, is between a Christian and everyone else. To start of, those who have no relationship to the Christian religion, who never did, do not and do not intend to have one are, quite straightforwardly, called Non-Christian. We could call them Antichrist, but that’s a little harsh for our modern day language.

So how does one become a Christian? That one is slightly less straightforward, but not impossible to define. Christianity is an orthodoxical universalising religion, meaning that you do not need to be from a specific ethnic group or have specific practices to be a practitioner of the religion, you just need to have the right beliefs. So, basically, you need a formal declaration of faith.

So the next logical question is: Faith in what or who? That’s where it gets more complicated. While the simplistic answer would be “Faith in JESUS”, but that is, in practice, a lot more difficult to define. There have been many views, throughout History, on who Jesus was/is. Some say a great teacher, some say a prophet, some we say he is God. However, you might notice that the those views overlap; for example: the greatest teacher can only be God, and God can be primarily a teacher. So in all their wisdom, the sages of old have decided that the declaration of faith we proclaim should not be in abstract words, but in action. Some denominations will have this be practical, for example, the Quakers, so that to be Christian is to live like a Christian (whatever that means), but most have this be dramatic; yes, I’m talking about Baptism.

I’m not going to go into what Baptism is, but I.E. sufficed to say, that it is a dramatic expression that encapsulates the most fundamental Christian beliefs. To me, these fundamental beliefs, which we call the Gospel are the the doctrines of Original/Ancestral Sin and Atonement. The first is the belief that mankind is somehow wired to want to Sin on our own, which quite simply just means ‘actions that eventually make things die’; the second is that we have to exchange our human sin for the human Righteousness of God, in order to achieve Life. Therefore, the ultimate aim of the Christian life is ‘Sacrifice’, and to sacrifice in the right way; so that whatever all of that means, is encapsulated in Baptism.

For the last term in this part of the article, we also need to answer the question of: So can a person be made from Christian to Non-Christian? Answer: Yes. They are called Apostates; this is when a person formally denies their Christian faith. Yea, it’s really straightforward. Well, what if a person doesn’t deny their Christian faith, but don’t seem to be Christian? Then what?


Part 2: Are You Really Christian?

I’m Protestant, I swear, but this picture really caught my eye and probably explais why my family is really really anti-Protestant. Lol.

Okay, so this is the main course of this article. We are going to have to first go through what Christian Orthodoxy is; and I don’t mean the Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox Churches, though that is part of it. A long long time ago, in a continent far far away (cos I live in Singapore, deal with it), the early Christian community wrote up a list of what they believe, in Latin, Credo, in English, The Creed; specifically, the Niceno-Constantinoplean Creed. Let’s have a look:

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.

This is the standard of Christian Orthodoxy, and all of the four main branches of Christianity adhere to it: Roman Catholicism (*including ‘Nestorianism‘), Protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy; with the exception of the Oneness Pentecostals, but I will get to that later. All Christians who do not adhere to the Creed, with the same exception, are called Heretics, at least by the main branches of Christianity, others might prefer the term Heterodox Christians, because just like the word ‘Antichrist’, ‘Heretic’ comes off a little too harsh; though it is still the technically common term used by Christian scholars of religion. These include Nontrinitarian Christians such as the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness and Unitarians, as well as Esoteric Christians, such as the Gnostic Church. We tend to throw around the term ‘Heretic’ a bit too much, and that would confusingly label other Orthodox Christians with these groups. Just no.

(Okay, so quick explanation on Oneness Pentecostals. You might have heard the term ‘Nicene Creed’ used for the Creed I pasted up there, but I called it the ‘Niceno-Constantinoplean Creed’, because the original Nicene Creed is not the one that I have there. Long story short, after the Council of Nicea, the Bishops at the Council of Constantinople decided to 加盐加醋 edit it to more clearly reflect the doctrine of the Trinity. The Oneness Pentecostals are the only denomination of Protestants that do not stand with the doctrine of the Trinity, holding to the original Nicene Creed instead. They still believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but believe that they are different modes of the one God named Jesus. However, they also hold to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, which makes them fully Protestant. So to be very exact, to most other Protestants, they are heretics but not schismatics. I’ll explain what that word means in the next Part.)


Part 3: Alright What Kind of Christian Are You?

Alright, then how about other Orthodox Christians from different branches. For example, as a Protestant, how do I think of my Roman Catholic family members, and how should my Roman Catholic family members think of me? Well, believe it or not, there is a word for that too, Schismatic. While all Orthodox Christians draw doctrine from Tradition, Scripture and Reason (or Magisterium), we disagree on which of these is the rule of faith to measure our doctrine.

Essentially, this is a matter of Formal Principle, the same kind that you would already be familiar with in everyday life; these are the rules you use to decide what to do and how to think. Very briefly, to use a very Singapore army analogy: Tradition is what we call the ‘By Left Method’ or ‘Unofficial SOP’, no one knows how to describe it, everyone knows what it is and, all in all, it just works… most of the time; Scripture is like our ‘Record Books’ and ‘Logs’, that are relevant incidents and occurrences, codified in writing, that everyone has access to… but not everyone can fully understand; Reason, of which the highest form is the Magisterium, is our ‘SOP’ and ‘Routine Orders’, it’s decisive, straightforward and no-nonsense… unless your leaders happen to be really bad. So, as you can see, each has its perks and, quite reasonably, different Christian communities might pick either one of those as their primary rule of faith, which then forms their basis for Christian Unity. You can even see this concept of unity in the word ‘schismatic’ itself.

The earliest group to define itself was the Oriental Orthodox, who, by rejecting the Council of Chalcedon, prioritised Tradition that permeates their autocephalous regional churches, followed by the Great Schism, in which the Eastern Orthodox defined themselves on prioritising the Magisterium in their infallible Ecumenical Councils between autocephalous regional Churches. Then in the Protestant Reformation, the Protestants defined themselves on prioritising infallible Scripture throughout their national and free churches, and in the Counter Reformation, the Roman Catholics defined themselves on prioritising the Magisterium in their office of the Holy See, which holds infallibe authority over all its particular churches.

My point is to be careful of how you label other Orthodox Christians from different branches. They are not Apostate, because they still hold faith in Christ and his Atoning Cross and they are not Heretical, because they believe in the same Creed that you do, and all long for ‘One holy catholic and apostolic Church’ to manifest itself in its full potential. To narrow it down to Schism on the basis of Formal Principle, allows us to actually deal with the problem. Like I said, we all want the worldwide and eternal Church to manifest its oneness, that is to say unity, its holiness, that is to say its unique identity, and its catholic nature, that is to say obvious universality, relevant to all mankind; and that starts with every single one of us dealing with the fact that Formal Principle has been the root source of disunity on an institutional level.

To me, the solution is to be both together but separate; we should emphasise our common Christian and Orthodox identity, but also not interfere with each of our approaches to Christian Unity. To me, if the Roman Catholics are right, then the Pope, who holds the office of the Holy See, will succeed in bringing the Church together, if the Protestants are right, then Scripture will succeed at that instead, same for the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. Either way, it was Our Lord who himself said, “…that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21); a command that the Church, in every branch, has struggled to obey by doubling down on their chosen Formal Principle. We need to get back to that focus on unity, on every level, from family, to friends, to the Christian community at large. We need to respect the validity of other Christians’ conventions and hold fast to our own, all for the purposes of unity. Can we please try to do that? I’m sick and tired… and heartbroken over the sheer nastiness of Christian behaviour towards — EACH OTHER. How do we bring the Gospel to a dying world if we kill each other with words, heck, sometimes with sticks and stones.

I’m not looking for a fluffy, liberal, tolerating blindness that looks pasts differences to “focus on love”, as if ignoring someone’s core identity and beliefs is loving in any way. No! I’m looking for respect and validation, a sustainable way to harmony in the Christian community. How else can we love?

We live in a broken world, why break ourselves before it can even get to us?

In Order to Teach, Listen.

I’ve been really out of the mood to write, cos I’m struggling a lot with just practicing what I know is true. It’s difficult to know whether I’m lacking discipline, or rationalising a failed strategy by forcing it to work. And really, it comes down to one thing: Listening.

(So I don’t really know where I’m going with this one; I’m just going to free form write and post it when I feel this is done.)


Anyway, so teaching and pastorship are two roles which require high neuroticism, meaning a high sensitivity to negative emotion. These types of people tend to be more proactive, because instead of waiting for bad things to happen, we act before it does, and create versatile conceptual if-then maps to shortcut our reactions to life’s situation. A person with low neuroticism tends to learn from experience, try things out and adapt from there, but anecdotal evidence hardly makes for a compelling or even useful set of advice. Unless the exact same situation happens, or you can somehow find the common factor between what they tell you and what you are going through, advice from experience is, well limited. Advice from concept is different, it lays out a pattern of observable experiences that have set responses. For example, “If you feel anxious, stop and breathe” is more versatile than “If you get caught skipping class, stop and breathe”; the first is true in all cases, the second is true only for that specific person at that specific time, maybe you are just not anxious when caught skipping class, who knows? Point is, this is why the people that are teaching or pastoring are generally people who are really sensitive to negative emotion.

Knowing that, we also need to define what teaching and pastoring is, and to me, its quite simple. Teaching is what you do before things happen, Pastoring is what you do after things happen; Teaching is telling someone not to get into relationships with toxic people, Pastoring is helping that fool through the breakup. God knows I’ve been both guide and guided.

So then what is the most important skill in teaching and pastoring? What makes a advice giver a really good advice giver? The difference between the guy you go to when you need support and he guy that is always talking and annoys the living shit out of everyone with his arrogance? The difference is in listening.


How pastoring and teaching works is that when a predicted situation or past situation comes up, it comes up in a very low resolution, blurry and vague way. We often can’t fully express, with words, what we think is going to happen and what has already happened. There are just too many details and we don’t know which ones are relevant. Well, that’s where listening comes in. Allowing a person to tell their story in full, clears the person’s view of the situation and makes the next course of action obvious.

There is two ways you can do this. The first one I know that I do really badly: preemptive structuring, or basically telling the person what they are thinking or what really happened. I use this a lot when I think people don’t understand the stance they are trying to defend. So for example, if I were to discuss religion with someone, I tell them what their religion actually teaches in as clear a way as possible, then respond to that instead. Likewise, if I am training juniors in my CCA or whatever, I tell them what they are thinking and the questions that they will have, and then answer that. Now, this is a hit or miss tactic, because you have to realise that you are essentially talking to yourself and the other person is watching. Now this could work if that conversation is still engaging, but if the other person cannot quickly use your explanation to clear up his understanding of his own stance, then the sheer anxiety of questioning what they thought they knew can cause people to just shut down. Of course the upside is that this is the faster method of effectively teaching and pastoring.

The second way I do a lot better. This one I normally use for more personal matters. So if I’m trying to learn of the person’s backstory, what I’m trying to do is to discover what happened with that person. I don’t see it as that I’m questioning him what he knows happened, because he may not be able to fully articulate his experience, but I ask questions in a way that cooperates with him to discover the truth together. Now this kind of questioning goes beyond just words, it is also his actions, his expressions and the environmental context. A quick flare of the nose when mentioning someone or the slightly wrinkled blue button shirt he is wearing is just as essential as the school the went to or whatever. These clues tell you things the other person may not be aware of. So questioning has to be holistic; it has to point out and analyse everything from the person’s reaction and appearance.


Now, room settings also do this very often. I’m writing my site pages on funeral care and it is something I have also had a focus on; heres a quote:

The layout of the front area must follow either of the following formats:

  1. Seats placed beside a Table, flushed to the backdrop, with an altar Cross or Crucifix and occasionally Two Candles, a Bible, or both.
  2. Seats, flushed to the backdrop, occasionally with a Cross or Crucifix on the backdrop, behind a table, occasionally with an altar Cross, Two Candles, a Bible, or any combination of the three.
  3. Seats placed on an elevated Platform, occasionally with a Cross or Crucifix on the backdrop.

These are standard Christian prayer space and church set ups that are universal, because the people of God have discovered, long ago, that we learn as much with what we hear as what we see and feel. Therefore, these became the only acceptable ways of setting formal worship, infused with symbolic meaning. The next time you are in a church, really take a moment to take in the atmosphere and see how it helps enhance your understanding of what that church teaches.

So I guess, long story short, you need to really listen to know the specific thing that the other needs to know if you want to preemptively structure their thinking and you really need to listen and observe to pick up enough details to form the whole situation into a story, and wait for the next step to appear from that foundation.


A good conversation is not two people giving information to each other, it is two people discovering the range of all possible sets of relevant information together as a team. This is fundamental to good teaching and pastoring, because you cannot see yourself as more knowledgable or better than the person you are trying to teach or pastor; you are just his more experienced partner in exploring the situation. Always keep in mind the reality that you know things he doesn’t and he knows things you don’t; it is in realising that the path forward lies in information, that either of you has, is the key to grounded conceptual advice. Advice is something you both discover together throughout the course of the conversation, not a gift-wrapped and pre-planned set of ideas.


Lastly, don’t forget to let God pastor and teach you when you speak to him in the silence of prayer, and remember to pastor and teach yourself as you think. Remember to listen to yourself, your thoughts, your emotions and your instinct, all three make up who you are, and in an age where everyone wants to tell you your identity, it is crucial to keep grounded by simply listening to yourself and letting God listen to you. I sincerely believe all good prayers are answered in its completion, because the fact that God listened to you means that you now both you what you are thinking and experiencing, in a way that you didn’t before; and it also clarifies your motivations, because intentional and self aware prayer offered to God is proof of your trust in him. We so often want God to answer our prayers by doing the things we think we want, but the best prayers are when God heals you just by listening.

Now go and be a listening ear…

(Didn’t really follow the template and format of my usual articles, and this sounds more like a mini essay lol, but it is what it is. Hope its helpful.)

On a lighter note, as a military working dog handler, Listenig and obseving is something I really don’t do well with my dogs. We have the added problem of them not being able to talk or have actions that mean the same thing to humans, so knowing what they want or need is really difficult. Watching this batch of NS Men like dog-whisperer know how to take care of them really blew my mind.

Link: The Girls in Their Summer Dresses

Link to “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” by Irwin Shaw

I remember doing this short story as a Lit exercise in JC, but it really stuck with me till this day, very powerful writing. This kind of passage opens more questions without easy answers, and maybe this is a nice change of pace in my reflections. Have a read.


Excerpt

Frances finished her drink and swallowed two or three times extra. “You say you love me?”
“I love you, but I also want them. Okay.”
“I’m pretty, too,” Frances said. “As pretty as any of them.”
“You’re beautiful,” Michael said, meaning it.
“I’m good for you,” Frances said, pleading. “I’ve made a good wife, a good housekeeper, a good friend. I’d do any damn thing for you.”
“I know,” Michael said. He put his hand out and grasped hers.
“You’d like to be free to . . .” Frances said.
“Sssh.”
“Tell the truth.” She took her hand away from under his.
Michael flicked the edge of his glass with his finger. “Okay,” he said gently. “Sometimes I feel I would like to be free.”

Quote: Calvin

“In saying that some fall away into superstition, I mean not to insinuate that their excessive absurdity frees them from guilt; for the blindness under which they labour is almost invariably accompanied with vain pride and stubbornness. Mingled vanity and pride appear in this, that when miserable men do seek after God, instead of ascending higher than themselves as they ought to do, they measure him by their own carnal stupidity, and, neglecting solid inquiry, fly off to indulge their curiosity in vain speculation. Hence, they do not conceive of him in the character in which he is manifested, but imagine him to be whatever their own rashness has devised.” – Institutes of the Christian Religion 4:1

“All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.” – Exodus 20:18-21

Perceiving that they are always within reach of his power, that resistance and evasion are alike impossible, they fear and tremble. Accordingly, to avoid the appearance of condemning a majesty by which all are overawed, they have recourse to some species of religious observance, never ceasing meanwhile to defile themselves with every kind of vice, and add crime to crime, until they have broken the holy law of the Lord in every one of its requirements, and set his whole righteousness at nought; at all events, they are not so restrained by their semblance of fear as not to luxuriate and take pleasure in iniquity, choosing rather to indulge their carnal propensities than to curb them with the bridle of the Holy Spirit.” – Institutes of the Christian Religion 4:4

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt (that he will show you uncomfortable truths), because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything (pertaining to wisdom) from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” – James 1:2-8

Quote: Peterson

“Satan embodies the refusal of sacrifice; he is arrogance, incarnate; spite, deceit, and cruel, conscious malevolence. He is pure hatred of Man, God and Being. He will not humble himself, even when he knows full well that he should. Furthermore, he knows exactly what he is doing, obsessed with the desire for destruction, and does it deliberately, thoughtfully and completely. It has to be him, therefore—the very archetype of Evil—who confronts and temps Christ, the archetype of Good. It must be him who offers the Saviour of Mankind, under the most trying conditions, what all men most ardently desire.” – Jordan Peterson

Be willing to sacrifice anything to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Quote: Dostoevsky

God sends me sometimes instants when I am completely calm; at those instants I love and feel loved by others, and it is at those instances that l have shaped for myself a Credo where everything is clear and sacred for me. This Credo is very simple, here it is: to believe that nothing is more beautiful profound, sympathetic, reasonable, manly and more powerful than Christ; and I tell myself with a jealous love not only that there is nothing, but that there cannot be anything higher. Even more, if someone proved to me that Christ is outside truth, and that in reality the truth were outside Christ, that I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth. — Fyodor Dostoevsky

“In scattering the seed, scattering your ‘charity,’ your kind deeds, you are giving away, in one form or antoher, part of your personality, and taking into yourself part of another; you are in mutual communion with one another, a little more attention and you will be rewarded with the knowledge of the most unexpected discoveries. You will come at last to look upon your work as a science; it will lay hold of all your life, and may fill up your whole life. On the other hand, all your thoughts, all the seeds scattered by you, perhaps forgotten by you, will grow up and take form. He who has received them from you will hand them on to another. And how can you tell what part you may have in the future determination of the destinies of humanity?” – Fyodor Dostoevsky