Features, Highlights

Bishop: Christians need to respond intelligently to new challenges


THE Church is faced with new and significant threats to the core of its beliefs, Bishop Dr Robert Solomon told a gathering of Methodist church leaders, and Christians need to be more aware of the issues in order to respond appropriately.

Speaking at the gathering of lay leaders and Local Church Executive Committee chairmen and their associates at Methodist Centre on Sept 24, Bishop Dr Solomon addressed the challenging topic, “The Church and the Public Square: Seven Global Myths that the Church Must Challenge”.

The Bishop’s twice-yearly Fellowship Lunch was held for worship, fellowship and sharing on important topics. The next gathering was set for March 25, 2006.

While the Church and societies have always faced moral challenges, he noted two new movies that may be shown in Singapore and a popular book as examples of a more critical threat.

The two films question the legitimacy of the New Testament and the early church councils, which fixed orthodox doctrine.

There are attempts to bring in a documentary film which not only raises doubts about Jesus’ crucifixion, but also substitutes an alternate history, that Jesus was married and went to India.

Another film, based on the popular novel, The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, is expected to be released next year and is likely to be shown in Singapore.

His Dark Material, a trilogy by Philip Pullman, is targeted at children and youth. However, the author’s premise is that God is dead and the church is an outdated bully, Bishop Dr Solomon said.

Not only Methodists but all Christians need to recognise these threats. “These are major challenges to the core of our faith,” Bishop Dr Solomon said.

To help the leaders understand the background of current challenges, he gave a brief overview of the history of ideas from the European Enlightenment to Modernism to Positivism and Postmodernism. How will the 21st century be characterised, asked the Bishop. Quoting prominent thinkers Anthony Giddens and Manuel Castell, he suggested that the 21st century might be known as the century of anarchy. He then shared seven lies that the Church needed to challenge, based on the book by Charles Colson, Lies That Go Unchallenged in Popular Culture.

Christians need to speak up more, he said. “In the past we were accustomed to not speaking out, but now the Government is encouraging more public discussion of various issues.”

Bishop Dr Solomon’s presentation generated much interest in small group discussions and the plenary that followed.

“What worries me is the insidious and subliminal nature of some of these things,” said Mr Richard Khoo, the newly-appointed Director of Finance, Administration and Programmes of The Methodist Church in Singapore, and a long-time leader of Barker Road Methodist Church.

There was a general concurrence that Christians needed to say more about these and other issues.

Mr Benjamin Tan, Chairman of the LCEC of Barker Road Methodist Church, insisted that on issues such as those raised by Bishop Dr Solomon, “we, as a church, have to make a stand”.

He said that just as the homosexuality issue was properly addressed and well explained by the Bishop in his article in Methodist Message two years ago, it was important that once a stand had been taken, “it should be made known to all our church members through the pulpit”.

Mr Tan also called for “a reservoir of good Christian writers who can discuss and debate important issues in Methodist Message or in other open forums such as the newspapers”.

“It is very important that we must make our views known to the Government and other groups. I recognise that not many people can write and express themselves well, but those who can, should contribute to these open forums.”

He said he was glad the Bishop touched on global and other issues which mattered to the Church as only then would church leaders and members know the official stand of the Church. Some leaders suggested that the Methodist Church should be more vocal, including writing to the newspapers and using the Internet.

Mr Chou Fang Soong, LCEC Chairman of Bedok Methodist Church, suggested that the Church make use of “blogging” (web-log), a current Internet function in which individuals can express opinions openly on-line.

Another issue that surfaced was the way outdoor advertising abused women through suggestive displays on billboards and bus stop shelters. Many expressed concern over the lax advertising standards.

“It demeans me as a teacher and Christian leader,” remarked one woman. Mrs Laureen Ong, of Pentecost Methodist Church and President of the General Conference Women’s Society of Christian Service, said Christians should be able to address issues such as sexism, “poor taste in advertisements and billboards” and problems that threaten to break up family life.

“We must be ready to defend our Christian values and beliefs in the public place when they are challenged,” she told her discussion group.

Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message and the Rev George Martzen is Minister Attached to The Bishop’s Office.