We are only 20 years into the 21st century, and we are already feeling the immense impact of new technologies and inventions. We live in a world that is beyond the imagination of John Wesley, who lived in the 18th century. In his book, The Radical Wesley, Howard A. Snyder records how, as Wesley led the reformation of the Church in England, he realised the need for breakthroughs in the traditional and conservative methods of church shepherding. Snyder wrote, “John Wesley saw that new wine must be put into new wineskins. So the story of Wesley’s life and ministry is the story of meeting and adapting structures to serve the burgeoning revival movement.”
The Methodist Church will need to continually examine and renew its structures as well as its strategies on preaching the gospel. The Methodist Church in Singapore (MCS) will hold fast to the absolute authority of the Bible; at the same time, she will adopt a dynamic and heartening approach in meeting the challenges of the fast-changing society.
Revising the Social Principles
Led by Christian ethics scholar, the Rev Dr Daniel Koh, a small team has carefully prepared a revised edition of “Social Principles” for our deliberations. This is to enable the Church to respond appropriately to society’s new normal. For example, under “God’s gift of sex” in the section, “The Sphere of the Family”, besides reaffirming the Bible’s stand on matters of man-woman relationships, marriage and family, the team offers new suggestions on how pastoral care can be carried out in these areas.
It also provides guidelines on how the Church can respond to issues related to new developments in the way the internet is being used. The plethora of content being created each day means that members must be well advised on how not to infringe on others’ intellectual property rights, and how to discern fake news. The team has also made some new suggestions on how the Church may play her role in society, with particular reference to Christian virtues, and how believers can continue to live out the commandments and great commission of Jesus.
Interacting with other religious communities How do we express the social holiness of Methodism to love our neighbours, in Singapore, one of the most multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries in the world? We begin by showing respect for the religious beliefs of others’, in line with the government policy as stated in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA). It does not contradict what is declared in the Constitution: a person has the right to profess and practise his religion, and to propagate it. It is in the spirit of loving our neighbours who are of different faiths that we participate in the events organised by the IRO (Inter-Religious Organisation) and the non-religious get-together programmes of other religions. When local conferences of the Methodist Church conduct baptisms of converts, we need to be especially sensitive to the feelings of their original religious communities. We must conscientiously avoid any unnecessary actions which may be deemed offensive by non-Christians.
Re-visiting Methodist Connectionalism
Methodist Connectionalism is a key understanding of what it means to be a Church in Methodism, and it is also our distinguishing feature. Although pastors are assigned by their respective Annual Conference to local churches, all of them belong to MCS, as do all members. Pastors are ordained as Methodist Elders by the Bishop, who is elected at the General Conference. In theory and practice, therefore, all Methodist Elders who fulfil the conditions in The Book of Discipline are eligible for election as Bishop of MCS, regardless of the Annual Conference that they are from.
Singapore is a city-state, and our 46 local churches are located within an hour’s drive of each other. It is therefore not difficult for pastors from different annual conferences to cooperate with each other or to share resources. As such, we have tried very hard all these few years to realise the mindset of One Methodist Church in Singapore (One MCS). Its purpose is to help the Church keep step with the changing times and face the challenges as one.
Shepherding God’s church: Small group ministry
The “discipleship movement” gives a major impetus to the shepherding of Methodist local churches. In his days, John Wesley set up societies, classes and bands into which believers were organised, and in which they could build up their spiritual life. Members were committed to attend such meetings regularly. These provided the context for believers to study their faith and build its foundation, share the challenges and struggles in their Christian life, and support and pray for each other. It was through such close conversations that there was mutual accountability.
In the context of today’s society, there is an even greater need for such small groups within the church, which are divided into open cells and close cells. Believers today are challenged by many new social values and norms, and the COVID-19 pandemic has also gravely impacted believers’ families, jobs and even church life. These challenges are expected to persist for the foreseeable future.
These are some of the issues that MCS faces and which we are to be concerned about and respond to. Our challenge has always been to bear witness to God’s unchanging truth in a world where situations and people’s thinking and attitudes keep changing. Let us remember the Bible’s words of encouragement: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
|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.