Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung –was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016.
He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.
The truth in the Bible is changeless, but the way in which truth is expressed need not be immutable. One’s understanding and cognisance of happenings and situations may vary from others’, such as between those of people from ancient times and today’s generation; it differs even between contemporaries. The gaps in our communication are influenced by differences in age, gender, language, education, traditional culture, views and opinions.
When Jesus came to earth and became a man, He lived fully in His time and taught different groups about the kingdom of God using the language and life examples that they were familiar with. He used different ways to teach about God’s kingdom to different audiences as He preached to the multitudes and His disciples. “To you have been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables." (Mark 4:11)
In the same way, Paul reminded the Colossians, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Our faith is not mere rhetoric, neither is it a set of elaborate and excessive religious canons and rules. It is about practical and active living out of its teachings. No one likes to listen to people who do not walk their talk. Jesus told His followers to obey the instructions and teachings in the Scriptures and not to follow the examples of the religious leaders. He rebuked the latter because they did not practise what they preached. (Matthew 23:1–3)
It has been 300 years since the Wesley Movement of the 18th century. As a church that reaches out to and lives in the community, we need to constantly evaluate ourselves to see if the form and way we present our faith remains relevant to the people of different eras and regions.
For a start, The Book of Discipline is regarded by all Methodist churches to be the authority in guiding the preaching of the Word and church order. To ensure that our faith and church life remain relevant to each generation, we adopt a self-imposed rule to review and amend (if necessary) The Book of Discipline once every four years. (Note: A resolution was taken at the recent General Conference to amend a clause with regard to Social Principles in The Book of Discipline.) In order to serve the generations in the contemporary society effectively, the Methodist Church must first hold fast to the authority of the unchanging and absolute truth of the Bible. At the same time, we must be able to adapt our forms of preaching and explaining this truth. Our teaching in church and the practices of the church among the community will have to vary according to the time and place.
John Wesley lived in 18th century England, in which there were distinct political, economic, cultural and even geographical differences among the social classes—upper, middle and lower. Church life was beyond the reach of the poor, lower-class toiling masses. Their lives were often blighted by the problems of alcoholism, gambling, prostitution, domestic violence, cheating, theft and robbery, and slave trade. Wesley’s Spiritual Renewal Movement had a great impact on the English society and brought about significant changes. John Wesley and his fellow preachers worked hard in their pastoral and teaching tasks, and they walked their talk.
Our church must not forget that in our traditional faith, besides Bible study, discipleship training and small group meetings, there are also in our DNA interest and active participation in current social issues and practical acts of care. This is what we have been emphasising—our faith meeting the needs of each generation. Not only are we to pursue personal holiness, honouring and fearing God, we must also aim for social holiness. Our love for God must be expressed in our care and concern for the needs of the community.
Methodist believers will always remember that Christ wants us to be the salt and light of the world. Salt that loses its taste will be discarded. The light that does not shine is only for decoration. Let our church strive to meet the needs of each generation—body, soul and spirit.