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Towards the day of His shining glory

posted 27.03.2015

In God's grace, I take a solitary retreat twice or thrice a year for prayer and planning purposes. It is a time set aside to slow down in the Lord's presence, receive His direction and be replenished for the road ahead through unhurried communion with Him. I always cherish these times.

In October this year (2014), I drove to Desaru on the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia for such a time. The haze over the western sector of Singapore and the second link was particularly bad. There was a dull grayness and fogginess that enveloped everything. But as I drove eastwards, the sky began to clear up and soon the sun came shining through in all its brightness. The experience was not without significance for me.

It seems to me that there is a growing fog over the moral landscape of the world. On the one hand, many nations (& the Church sadly following suit in some instances) are entertaining revisionist views on moral issues. On the other hand, another type of fogginess is caused by the thick cloud of dust and ashes as bombs and gunfire explode between warring groups in several parts of the world. Yet, God

in His mercy will break through the present engulfing darkness. His shining brightness will usher in a panel of light where man is restored in his true humanness as he learns to love & fear the living God. How will the Lord's brightness come shining upon the world's moral & spiritual landscape? Primarily in and through His people (Mic 4:1-3; Is 60: 1-3).

Notwithstanding the present tide of dark, destructive and depressing forces, I believe we are headed towards the day of Christ's unsurpassable brightness (Acts 26:13) shining upon the seven lands of our Diocese. As I have previously shared, I believe that in the midst of the darkness and fogginess, the Lord is preparing His church for a time of amazing Kingdom Advance. By Kingdom Advance, I do not mean the militancy of the church's posture. Rather, I am referring to the reign of God's righteousness, peace and joy in human affairs - a reign that is ushered in by Christians who experience the transforming power of Christ through the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). Hence, the present emphasis in our Diocese is on prayer and renewal in the Holy Spirit.

Preparing for amazing Kingdom Advance is also the context in which I see the appointment of our two new Assistant Bishops. It is part of structuring for the growth of the church.

Episcopal Leadership: The New Assistant Bishops

It is my great joy to have Bishop Low Jee King and Bishop Kuan Kim Seng assist me in the leadership of the Diocese at this time. I have worked with both these brothers side by side over the years. I have every confidence that their gifts and graces for ministry as well as their passion for the Lord will bring added episcopal strength to the Diocese.

As bishops in the Church of God, they are to lead the church in proclaiming the Gospel, to defend the faith once for all delivered (Jude v3) and to mentor and support the pastors. As Assistant Bishops, +Jee King will assist me by providing more ground-level leadership for our Diocesan work with the Chinese-speaking while +Kim Seng will do the same to develop our mission in our Deaneries of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Nepal. The picture that best captures the nature of our relationship is that of Aaron and Hur helping Moses to hold up the rod of God's authority in the battles of the Lord (Ex 17: 12). So in God's grace, the three of us will work together, each in the role the Lord has assigned us, to lead the Diocese forward in mission and ministry. Pray constantly for us.

Engaging the Society We Are Part Of
One aspect of Kingdom Advance is being effective in the way we relate to the national life of our respective countries and seek to infuse it with all that is good for man's well-being. Our Christian faith commits us to work for all that God intended for man to be truly and fully human. Hence, our commitment as God's people to participate in the provision of educational, medical & community services and to engage in the public square on matters of  ethics and social policies. In this regard, I am greatly encouraged by increasing role and glowing witness of our lay people in the market-place. Without a doubt, the challenge is there in an increasingly diversified world with heightened sensitivities to learn 'a language of discourse' that enables us to engage with people who have different pre-suppositions and value systems. We need, under God & for His glory, to demonstrate our commitment to work for the common good.

In Singapore, we have a unique opportunity to do this in 2015 which is the 50th or Jubilee Anniversary of Singapore becoming an independent nation. 'Jubilee' is such a rich biblical word and we can bring some of its flavour into the nation's SG 50 celebrations. In the governance system of God's people in the Old Testament, the Jubilee is marked by the cancelling of debts and of land parcels being restored to the original family/clan when the land was first distributed (Lev 25; Dt 15). As someone has observed, it functioned as God's 'economic re-start' button and served to check greed, exploitation and widening inequality of income distribution in a fallen world. Positively, the spirit of Jubilee is care for the poor and setting the 'captives' free (Is 60: 1-2a; cf. Lk 4:18-19).

Inspired by our biblical heritage, our parishes & Diocesan arms will do well to be thinking of ways to expand our care for the poor and needy, and in particular to help people get out of debt or any other situation they feel trapped in. At a broader, grassroots level we will, together with other churches in the National Council of Churches Singapore (NCCS), ask our members to take the initiative to invite five neighbours in the month preceding National Day to a 'kopi kao/ teh tarik' time (or an equivalent communal time) simply to chat and enjoy being banded together as partakers of the common space in the land we call 'home'. Perhaps such an initiative will not be one- off but become a regular way of expressing our common identity as residents sharing in the heritage & destiny of our country. We represent our faith well when we relate to others in such ways - not only that, but the bright light of God's love in Christ often shines in common-place acts of neighbourliness.

God Will Always Provide
If we are to be channels of Christ's shining brightness, we can count on God to provide what is needed. Indeed, as I mention episcopal leadership and societal engagement above, I realise that I have drawn upon two defining characteristics of the Anglicanism that emerged out of the English Reformation in the 16th Century and that is captured in the liturgy & pastoral disciplines of the 1662 Book of. Common Prayer: namely that the Anglican Church is episcopal in structure and national in witness.  According to J I Packer, author of Knowing God and a formative influence on my life, these two characteristics combine with five others to define Anglicanism at its best. I have given a brief synopsis of Packer's seven characteristics of what I call ' classical Anglicanism ' elsewhere in this Digest. Simply said, my dear brothers and sisters, God has provided us with a goodly heritage that will help us be a channel of His shining light and therefore an agent of societal transformation.

Hard to believe? But why not put up your sails and catch the wind of the Spirit? For in the final analysis, it's not by our own effort or ingenuity that we will shine God's light to break the stranglehold of darkness that manifests itself in the lawlessness, rising extremism and growing use of terror evident all around us. Has not the sovereign Lord declared that His people will shine like an unfailing golden lampstand "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit" ( Zech 4:6)?

While strolling on the beach at Desaru, I noticed that the people having a really glorious time were the ones para-gliding by the force of the wind and the kampung boys in the sea who were not trying to swim but were enjoying being carried by the force of the waves! Even so, send forth Your Spirit, Lord, to be the wind and the current that carries us forward to the day of Your shining brightness!

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A brief synopsis of J.I. Packer’s seven characteristics of Classical Anglicanism

In a lecture on “Why I am an Anglican” at Regent College, Vancouver, Dr J I Packer listed seven traits which blended together define normative or ‘classical’ [my term] Anglicanism. By ‘classical’ Anglicanism, Packer was referring to Anglican doctrine, ethos and disciplines of pastoral ministry as expressed in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (which is a ‘light’ version of Cranmer’s 1552 BCP), and to the Anglicanism as practised by the English Reformers in the 16th Century and which he contends is practised today by the larger part of the Anglican Communion found in the Global South. My summary below of his points is a somewhat ‘free’ synopsis of what I also hold dear of our good inheritance from the Lord. Here then are the seven characteristics of classical Anglicanism:

1. Biblical
The Anglican Church is Bible-based. It holds to the authority, sufficiency and clarity of Holy Scripture. Nothing is to be added to or subtracted from the Bible – it contains all things sufficient for the salvation of men and it is the final authority for matters of faith and practice. 

2. Liturgical
The Anglican Church uses set forms of prayers (which have been carefully and theologically thought through) in its services, believing it to be a most edifying approach in common worship. It does not preclude or minimise extemporaneous prayer and praise – the challenge being to achieve good balance and freshness in our approach to God in public worship. Together with a liturgical framework, Anglican worship emphasises the public reading of Scripture in its services and gives due regard to the use of sacraments as the means of grace for Christian entry (baptism) and Christian nurture (Holy Communion).

3. Pastoral (in Evangelism and Discipleship)
Evangelizing the lost is a top priority for an Anglican church. The Gospel is central not only in the birth of a new Christian but in the growth of a Christian to maturity in Christ. And the way in which we lead people to Christ and the way in which we nurture them in the faith tend to be pastoral in nature. This means we treat individuals as persons whose hearts and minds and wills need to be conquered by the grace and truth that has come from God through Jesus Christ. Our model in adopting a pastoral approach to people is Christ the Good Shepherd who looks for the lost sheep (Luke 15) and who feeds, nurtures and cares for His flock (John 21).

4. Rational
No question or no new insight emerging out of Scripture is squelched by the quick and heavy hand of dogma. Questions and fresh approaches are rationally discussed and submitted to the discipline of debate, with the clear teaching of Scripture as the arbiter and final court of appeal.

Secondly, Anglicanism seeks to interact with the philosophies and ideas of the day. It does so in the same spirit as Paul who contends for the Gospel in Athens (Acts 17) and who writes to the church in Corinth that the Gospel has a wisdom from God to take every thought and worldly philosophy captive (2 Corinthians 10). We do not shrink back form the market-place of ideas but seek to engage these ideas from an informed position and with the confidence that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation, to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).

5. Episcopal
The Anglican churches in a geographical region are led in their mission and ministry by a chief pastor, called the Diocesan Bishop. He leads these churches through and with the respective pastor/clergyman of each parish/congregation. The Diocesan Bishop also appoints Assistant Bishops, Archdeacons, Deans and various Ministry Leaders to provide impetus and oversight to the growth and mission of the Diocese. In terms of policies and management decisions, the Diocese is governed by the Diocesan Synod which is chaired by the Diocesan Bishop. With this in mind, we can say in formulaic terms that the Anglican Church is episcopally-led and synodically-governed.

6. Ecumenical
Anglicans are ecumenical, not in the sense of compromising our convictions in order to achieve an expression of unity.  Rather, we are ecumenical in the sense that we are willing to learn and incorporate whatever good practice or discovery emerges out of Scripture by any part of Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We do not have a parochial sense of tribalism which says to others: “We do not need anything you’ve got because we’ve got everything we need.” Hence, the Anglican Church has been able to receive the Holy Spirit’s renewal through the charismatic movement of the 1970’s just as it has adopted some discipleship processes from the independent churches.

7. National
The Anglican Church in a particular country seeks to be a positive Christian influence in the direction, values and institutions of that country. We are convinced that the Gospel, which brings us into relationship with the living God, makes us truly human. So, we are committed to living out and passing on to society all that makes for the fullness of life. We seek to be a positive influence for good in the culture of our society. Hence, we are committed as a church to participating in education, health-care, community services and the public square of national policies. More broadly, we are encouraging Anglicans in whatever station in society to make a difference in the marketplace by their ethics and their servant-hood.