Happenings, News

A pride of Methodists?

I REMEMBER vividly one Ministerial Session interview at a July Annual Conference Special Session where a young pastor was asked if he had any faults; whether he had a dark side. And the cheeky pastor replied that his main failing is that he is too humble; if he wasn’t so humble, he would be perfect!

I think pride is one of the major problems in the church today. It stifles growth.

A few years ago, when I was at a flagship institution of the Methodist Church, I heard loud cries for revival from students and faculty. A wave of revival had swept through 30 years ago in 1970, filling not only this institution, but spreading right across the whole country. Thirty years later, the students and faculty felt that it was time for another revival. I am, of course, referring to Asbury Theological Seminary at Wilmore, Kentucky.

I didn’t think revival was going to come because the pride then was almost palpable. The prayers offered were along the lines of “This is our time!” “We are ready!” “We deserve another revival!”

Revival doesn’t come when we are proud. Revival comes when we repent. When hearts are broken and contrite. When hearts are open to God.

If Christians go around pointing to themselves and saying, “God, see how great we are now. We are the best! Send revival to us”, I doubt God will answer such self-centred prayers.
You have a better chance of getting a response with a prayer like, “Lord, we are going nowhere without you. Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (I took most of that from Psalm 73, in case you didn’t recognise it.)
Christianity in Singapore has gone middle-class. Upper middle-class, even. What do we desire on earth today? Large, pretty buildings? Fellowship with the rich and famous? Or seeking the service of our Lord among the poor, the sick and the forsaken?

It is time for us to re-orientate our missions and ministries to place greater emphasis on reaching out to prisoners, drug abusers and prostitutes, those who are vulnerable like foreign maids and foreign workers, and those who are lonely and sick like HIV/Aids patients.

In my very limited experience, I find Christians turning to God when they are down and out. But when they are raking in money and enjoying the good life, they have no time for the One who blesses them. With wealth and status and education, there is always the danger of pride.

And while I am on the subject, there is a kind of pride that comes with believing you have all the answers, that your way is the only way. Unfortunately, pride leads to intolerance. Certainly there are many things we shouldn’t tolerate. But I have come across too many people who are eager to argue that this one version of the Bible is the only true version, that this one interpretation of this obscure passage is the only true interpretation, that this one experience of the Holy Spirit is the only valid experience. To them all I would quote Titus 3:9-11, where Paul refers to Cretan false teachers,

“But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.”

I love a good argument just as much as the other person. But instead of arguing about whether infant baptism should be practised (it should!), wouldn’t the time be more profitable spent bringing the Gospel to a non-believer? The Bible warns us that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

How do we humble ourselves? That’s a tough question! Aside from waiting for disasters to befall us, it’s really up to us. We have the example of Jesus and the apostles. We know the theory, we just have to put it into practice.

It is up to us to show the way! After all, we Methodists are the largest Protestant denomination in Singapore.

The Rev Chiang Ming Shun is an Assistant Pastor at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.