Features, Highlights

How discipleship is to be ‘shaped by the Word’

ALDERSGATE CONVENTION 2006 was celebrated by Methodists at the Aldersgate Service on May 24 at Barker Road Methodist Church. This was followed by three evening talks given by the Rev Dr M. Robert Mulholland Jr, Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and a leading voice in biblical spirituality.

The theme running throughout the four nights was how Christian discipleship is to be “Shaped by the Word”.

Taking part in the service were Bishop Dr Robert Solomon, all three Annual Conference Presidents – the Rev Khoo Cheng Hoot of the Chinese Annual Conference, the Rev James Nagulan (Emmanuel Tamil) and the Rev Wee Boon Hup (Trinity) – attended by more than a hundred Methodist ministers and a congregation of nearly 800.

The service was characterised by the spirited singing of five Wesleyan hymns beloved by Methodists for more than 200 years – “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing”; “O Worship the King”; “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, “O For a Heart to Praise My God” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”. These were complemented by a hymn, “Not by our Might”, composed by our Bishop with music by local Methodist composer, Jusuf Kam, who conducted a Combined Orchestra.

Noteworthy were an offertory rendered by the Ang Mo Kio Tamil Methodist Church Ensemble, and the ACS (Independent) Choir’s lovely rendition of an “African Sanctus” and Peter Lutkin’s closing choral response, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”

A highlight was the presentation of Long Service Awards to five pastors, all from the CAC – the Rev Goh Aik Hiang, the Rev Dr Fong Mow Hee, the Rev Chng Siew Sin, the Rev Khoo Cheng Hoot, and the Rev Seow Choon Seng. Each has served 25 years, and was given a Bible by Bishop Dr Solomon.

The sermon preached by the Rev Dr Mulholland, “Having the Word of God and the Witness of Jesus”, dealt with the two-fold nature of the Word. It is not merely knowledge of the Scriptures, or hearing the message about Jesus, he said. Rather, having the Word of God is to understand Christ as the Word made flesh, who dwelt among human beings, with whom He and they would become perfectly one to share in the love and glory bestowed by God. (John 1:1-14, 17:20-23).

Paul considered this knowledge as being able to understand the full breadth, length, height and depth of the love of Christ in order to attain the fullness of God himself. (Eph.3:18-19). In this way, having the Word is to be restored to the image of God, to be Christlike and to live in loving union with Him.

The witness of Jesus goes beyond the relatively narrow sharing of information about the Christian life. Paul’s perspective goes beyond: those who receive the Word – Jesus – must live so that the world might know and believe. Those who are moved by the Spirit of God are sons of God, God’s children, heirs and fellow heirs with Christ, sharing His sufferings in order to share His glory in the hereafter. (Rom. 8:14-17).

Paul reminds us that we are the presence of Christ in the world, having put on garments appropriate to God’s chosen – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience; being forbearing and forgiving because it is a condition of being forgiven, and being instruments of God’s reconciliation. (Col. 3:12-17). This is how the world will know that
we are His ambassadors.

In his first evening talk, the Rev Dr Mulholland indicated that the theme “The Word: Became Text”, provides a mystical and transforming encounter with God through human language in order that the Word might become flesh in us, in the world. It is a notion rarely considered, unless we are reminded of how Isaiah experienced entering into God’s presence, a powerful demonstration of how Scripture is a mysterious means of God’s self-disclosure. By this, God is able to penetrate human frailty, to convict, as well as comfort. Scripture is thus incarnational – by confronting us in our human experience, the Word becomes text in God’s way, both in confronting and comforting us But Scripture is also an iconographic window pointing to the reality of God, giving us an unusual perspective to His wisdom to provide both inspiration and authority.

In his second talk, “The Word: A Place of Transforming Encounter with God”, the Rev Dr Mulholland stressed that Scripture is not for information, but formation, and does not share the same promises and challenges of the Information Age. Rather, Scripture is to help form Christlikeness, a characteristic of the Christian citizen of the new Kingdom that questions our worldly values and lifestyles. (Phil.1:27-28).

The Gospel (Good News) is about a Kingdom in which the usual forms of Caesar’s (civil) power is replaced by the cross, the least attractive symbol of Roman power, with the crucified Christ on the cross, and from whom Christians are to derive their Christlikeness.

Christlikeness is developed from a close encounter with Scripture that provides reproof, correction and training in righteousness (2 Tim.3:16-17) so that everyone belonging to God may be complete in Christlikeness, equipped to do every good work.

The Rev Dr Mulholland recounted Wesley’s advice on encountering the Scriptures. It included setting apart a time, morning and evening, to read one or more chapters of the Old and New Testaments; reading with a single focus to obey God’s will; trying to understand the Scriptures in proper context; preparing ourselves by serious and earnest prayer before we attempt to read; and frequently pausing to examine ourselves by what we read with regard to our hearts and lives.

The Rev Dr Mulholland’s final talk, “The Word: Becomes Flesh in Us”, was an astounding idea – that when we know the love of Christ, we may be filled with the fullness of God (Eph.3:19), and escape the corruption of the world, partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3-4), so that the world might know that being like Christ, we may be one in Him, the Word become flesh (John 17:20-23).

How are we to be the presence of Christ in the world? When we bring life to the deadness of the world, light to dissipate its darkness, cleansing to its sinfulness, healing to its woundedness, making whole its brokenness and liberating the bondages of the world, we become ministers or ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor 1:18-21).

How does the Word become flesh in our world? We are to set our affections on things above, by re-orienting ourselves to a new life that is Christ-centred because He lives in us.

Concluding his talk, the Rev Dr Muhollland said that the opening phrase of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in Heaven” is inclusive of all the rest of humanity and our relationships with them when God’s will is done and defines how we live our lives. Live the Lord’s Prayer and the Word will be the flesh in us.

Earnest Lau is the Associate Editor of Methodist Message.