The origins of the Church Mission Society (CMS) go back centuries to 1799 in London, UK. In that year, a small group of Anglican missionaries came together to pray passionately for a worldwide outreach society. Its original members included John Newton, the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, and William Wilberforce the English abolitionist.
Soon, the society would send out missionaries to parts of Africa and Asia. In 2012, AsiaCMS was established as an autonomous mission movement based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia under the Executive Director, Dr Tan Kang San. Lately, there have been unprecedented incidences of disasters such as the earthquake in Nepal and Sabah. In light of this, Dr Tan communicated recently at PJEFC about the role of the church in a broken world.
Sharing about the work of AsiaCMS in Nepal, Dr Tan shared that such incidences raises questions about the role of the Church and of the Christian response. ‘We are no longer living in isolated pockets,’ he said. ‘Today, globalization has brought the earth together into an interconnected worldwide village and what happens in other parts of the world we can also witness and experience personally. The cries of our brothers and sisters are so much nearer to home. ’
How should the church respond to these cries? It is in such chaotic times that there’s a need for the unity and strength of the global Christian community. They bring in the question of reading the Scriptures as an inter-connected community, not just as brothers and sisters, but also as a pain-bearing caring community.
What is the Role of the Church?
‘Whenever calamities happen, we need to ask ourselves; what is the Church’s role? Out of these calamities, can we learn today a simple integrative framework, a way of seeing the world as how God would look at it? As Christians, we do not have all the answers,’ Dr Tan conveyed, ‘but we know that we have a good God. A God that is wise. A God that in times of trouble can bring something good.’
He communicated that the book of Romans, and Romans 8 in particular, provides much insight into the extraordinary mission of the people of God, within the overarching purpose of God for the rebirth of the entire Creation.
In Romans 8:17 Paul writes, since we are God’s children, we are also co-heirs together with Christ in God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we are also to share His suffering. Yet that was not the whole theme of what Paul was writing. He went on to write of the future glory (Romans 8:18-30). So the whole theme of this passage is that God will bring one day bring the rebirth of today’s broken world, both the physical such as the cosmos, but also more than the physical, among nations that are at war, even families that have this brokenness. God has a purpose for the Church in His plan to bring about an entire New Heaven and New Earth.
The Twin Engines of being God’s Total Witnesses
‘We need to interpret Romans 8 within the Old Testament theme, that when wars and conflicts happen during the Old Testament times, God call about Israel as a worshipping community. In the technical term, this is what we call centripetal, forces moving towards the center,’ Dr Tan imparted. ‘Israel was called to be a nation that worships Yahweh. Generally, Israel at this time did not have the New Testament idea, that we are to go out and share the word of God to the nations. Israel had this identity that “we’re the chosen race”.
‘So, Israel’s primary goal at this time was as a worshipping community. And God would judge them when they worshipped Baal and all the other false gods. But when they truly acknowledge Yahweh, then He would bring nations to them. That was the general theme. All the people who heard of this wonderful nation of God would come. Likewise, it is a wonderful thing that every Sunday we can come together as a worshipping community so that by the quality, the ethics, the lifestyle, and the work quality of Christians, people would be drawn to the church.’
However, through the New Testament model, Jesus also said that not only should His disciples witness in Jerusalem but also in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. The primary goal of the New Testament model was as a witnessing community. Right from the time that Jesus launched the New Testament Church, the Church has been an outgoing witness of the people of God. When we throw a stone into a pond, we can see ripples moving outwards. And this is God’s call for us, the twin mission of God.
Dr Tan shared about a prophetic challenge that for every church in our generation and the next, that we would know how to bring these two models together, to be centripetal, drawing people to God, but also to be centrifugal, making an impact outwards from the church. And when we’re doing this, we’ll be paving the twin engines of being a total witness of God.
The Church, the World & the Groaning Spirit
However, to be an effective integrated witness, we must also learn to look at the world in a Biblical way. Dr Tan communicated that there are two extreme views of the world, and both of them are equally erroneous.
The first is that the world is completely evil. From this worldview, the Christians are the good guys and everyone else is evil or the enemy. Such a worldview led to such tragedies as the Crusades and the wrong idea of the secular being separate from the sacred. ‘So everything becomes evil. Politics, evil. Social work and serving the poor, evil. We just concentrate on building a spiritual community for Heaven. We distance ourselves and we don’t care about what is happening in the socio-political world around us,’ he said.
The other extreme is that the world is completely good. Through this worldview, we embrace the blessings of God without regard to the problems in the world. But in the process, we can also lose our roles as the salt and light of the world. ‘We are placed as the salt and light of the world. In our family, in our community, and in our offices,’ Dr Tan imparted. ‘Many people will never encounter Jesus except through us.
‘You see, the more we become committed as Christians, the more likely more of our friends will be Christians. But in the process, we also become salt in salt-shakers. On the other hand, the less committed Christians, the backsliders, they start to embrace the values of the world until there’s no longer any difference between them and the world. So, whether we are committed or otherwise, we lose our effectiveness as witnesses.’
Paul is saying in Romans 8 that we cannot have either of these extreme views. The Church needs to come back to an integrated view of the world. In Romans 8:19-20 Paul writes of a good but incomplete world, a world that is currently broken but waiting eagerly for the future day of God’s restoration. Romans 8:21 speaks of a world that is in bondage, and Romans 8:22 speaks of Creation groaning in pregnancy for the future world.
We ourselves are waiting together with all Creation, groaning for the future glory when we are free from all sin and suffering, and when we’ll be given our full rights as adopted children of God. In the meantime, what shall we do? We need to rise up from our passivity and be participators in this groaning world.
There is a need to gather as Christians so that we can share the pain of the migrants around us and stand in solidarity with other Christians around the world. We need to share a heart of concern for what is happening to our brothers and sisters globally and go beyond the comforts and benefits of our local church. We need to learn how to identify with the least, the lost and the last. We need to start learning stewardship of God’s blessings on us, to go to Samaria and beyond.
There is a danger of being too comfortable which can lead to consumerism, Dr Tan cautioned. When we delve deep into the word of God, we will come across a God with a human face. Many times we experience the groaning in our hearts and we cannot express it in words. But the Bible tells us of a God with a human face, a God who is compassionate. We can discover this through the heart of the passage as found in Romans 8:26-27.
‘The Holy Spirit takes over when we cannot express our groaning through words,’ Dr Tan said. When we cannot express our hearts, the Holy Spirit intercedes as our comforter. We need to start looking at the Church through its context for the world, nation, and family.
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– Jason Law