Where is the Church in Singapore going today ? A nation and a church in dilemma at the IMF
The annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF financial insitutions will be held at Suntec City Convention Center, Singapore on 12-20 Spet 06. Sixteen-thousand delegates are due to attend the conference and run-up meetings. Singapore, which has spent about S$135 million on the event, was hoping to showcase its financial industry and tourism appeal. Instead, the world press has focused on Singapore's restrictions on free speech and right of assembly. The holding of the IMF event in Singapore confirms Singapore as a financial and business centre in Asia and good governance. It was a calculated decision to maintain the restriction on the protests because Sinagpore cannot afford to set the precedence of granting the rights to protests just for the IMF which when applied locally could impact business confidence. What a dilemma! The church is facing a similar dilemma! Many have called the Church in Singapore, the Antioch of Asian after Antioch of Syria where there was a strong Christian presence and a missions base into Asia Minor and Rome, midway to Jerusalem. But today, only a small city - Antakya in southern tip of Turkey remains after the fall of its business importance by 1286 by the sanding of the Orontes river. Where is the church in Singapore going today?
Singapore is very keen to maintain its position as a financial and tourist hub for what else is there for this city state to compete against Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. It cannot allow the protests to impact business. It has therefore banned outdoor protest demonstrations claiming that it could be exploited by terrorists despite the World Bank's preference for outside space for the civil society (CSO) or non government organizations NGO to protest peacefully. Large protests against free market policies has been a norm at such meetings, and Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, told the BBC he hoped Singapore authorities would reverse what he called a bad decision, adding that it was important to hold a "strong dialogue" with such groups. Singapore wll only allow indoor protests or engagement with the delegates in a small 8 x 8 m section of the lobby in Suntec City with limitation of 400 crowd. Fearing uncontrolled demonstrations, Singapore had initially banned entry to 27 NGO members despite them already accredited by the World Bank and IMF to attend the meetings. "Enormous damage has been done and a lot of that damage is done to Singapore and self-inflicted. This could have been an opportunity for them to showcase to the world their development process," Wolfowitz said at a meeting with activists. Due to such strong pressure, the 22 Civil Society Organisation (CSO) representatives will now be allowed to enter Singapore. In an annual report this week, the World Bank said Singapore was the planet's easiest place to start and operate a business. The US-based Heritage Foundation claims that Singapore has the world’s second “freest” economy. Singapore is also among the top 10 countries in the world with good governance.
The Christians in Singapore faces a dilemma of Singapore being a centre of business which is necesarry as a base for outreach into Asia, and yet being a finanical centre brings with it materialism impacting the church. On Christmas Day 2005, at the Methodist Church at Kampong Kapor, rows of Mercedes and Jaguars and BMWs were lined outside the church carparks tranforming the scene of the improvished area of little India. The church has become rich and become distant from the generally poor and middle class population of the early church. We have honoured the rich, and the powerful, and have castigated the outcasts of society, the Gay tribe in our midst. God is asking the church to give tithe, to Gays, that it may enter into being the Antioch of Asia instead of storing up wealth on earth. Either way money will be given to finance our materialism. With the gay community so impacted by HIV with no special financial help for drugs, this is a God given opportunity to bless this outcast and voiceless community that open heavens may be opened for the church into Asia. There is abundant opportunity to take care of Gays as they do not have families of their own.
The Church has a calling to stand up for Gays but instead we have honored the leaders and the rich, and even become anti-gay champions. We have dishonoured the "poor" in our midst, the 2nd class citizens with no standing in our community. We have forgotten that Christianity was a social movement based on the fringes of society's outcasts against the rich, the religious moral authorities, and the powerful. As a result of standing up it was oppressed and sent to the courts. Christianity in its original form identifies itself with the poor and the outcasts. It was an activist movement. If the Church of the first century were to be in Singapore, it would be banned and Jesus would be black marked as an undesirable CSO representative. In Singapore, where more than 4 is considered an illegal gathering, Jesus would have gathered hundreds around Him when He was speaking. Jesus railed against the religious authorities when they colluded with businesses to benefit from the poor even at the centres of worship. Ironically, the Christian Church revived in the 17th century were called "Protestants" because they came against the rich, religious and the powerful with the message that in Christ death and resurrection, all are equal and all are accepted into God's kingdom by faith and by the finished works of the cross and not by financially giving to the church and maintaining its wealth. On October 31, 1517, Luther's theses were nailed to the door of the Castle Church as an open invitation to debate indulgences or purchasing remission of sins. Do we dare to do the same at Parliament House? We have failed to live up to our name, and instead become the very rich, religous, self righteous, and powerful so despised by early Christians. We have blasphemed the name of Christ who identified Himself with the outcasts of society when we too side with the rich and powerful and the religious againsts Gays. Therefore, the name of Christ is distorted and devalued.
ANTIOCH (an' tih ahkh) was home to many Diaspora Jews and the place where believers, many of whom were Gentiles, were first called Christians. It was the largest city of the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria. Located on Orontes (River), Antioch was founded around 300 B.C. by Seleucus Nicator. From the beginning it was a bustling maritime city with its own seaport. " In the New Testament Antioch is closely related to the spread of early Christianity as a missionary city. The persecution that arose over Stephen resulted in Jewish believers scattering to Cyprus, Cyrene, and Antioch (Acts 11:19). In Antioch the believers were first called Christians (11:26), and it was to Antioch that Barnabas fetched Saul (Paul) from Tarsus so that they could teach this mixed congregation of Jewish and Gentile followers of the Lord. The church at Antioch felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to set aside Barnabas and Saul for what was the first organized mission work (13:1-3). Barnabas and Saul left for Seleucia (also known as Pieria, Antioch's Mediterranean seaport) to begin their preaching. By the 4th century, the bishop of Antioch had become the most senior bishop in a region. His hierarchy served the largest number of Christians in the known world at that time. The Patriarchs of Antioch were considered the most senior of the various Patriarchs of Christendom. There were approximately 300 churches at Antioch with over a 100,000 attendence. It fell at last to the Egyptian Mamluk Sultan Baibars, in 1268, after another siege. Together with the fact that large ships could no longer enter the River Orontes because too much sand had accumulated in the river bed over the centuries, that meant it was never to become a major city again. But the fall to Antioch begin 800 years earlier when power shifted to Rome. The Bishop of Rome, Leo 1 claimed rulership of the universal church. In order to legitimise his claim of power, Leo 1 (440 AD) declared himself to be the successor of Peter hence authoritive rulership based on Mat 16:18. ignoring that Paul was the apostle to the gentiles (Gal 2:7) The power shifted to Rome.
The ancient world powers from the bible is still being represented, with Rome as the centre of religion, and the IMF/World Bank as the centre of finance. The bible speaks of the Emperor of Rome, the "antichrist" who essentially controls both religion and political power by regulating the world finances. In IMF and the World Bank, we have the modern Roman Emperor albeit a much more benevolent one who does not criticise and persecute Christians perhaps because we are in the same team. The IMF event being held in Singapore, is reflective of the increasing financial strenght of Singapore and its increasing wealth. We need this wealth to establish a base, a missions to the rest of Asia. However, this wealth also brings the church into bondage. Whilst conducting a one sided warfare against gays, the church has lost miserably the real battle against Satan. We have become no different from the rest of Singapore after our 5 C's (cash, car, credit card, condominium, country club), but worst still being more materislistic as we are in general English speaking and are more educated and qualified. Where is the church at IMF/World Bank? Is it spending time in the speakers corner and getting arrested? It is demonstrating indoors/ and outdoors on behalf of the poor and the outcasts? We have even accepted Rome, the centre of the antichrist religion without even condeming thier false doctrines which exalts man over christ, because Rome is far too powerful. So Satan's scheme to control us financially and religiously is ignored whilst we blame and accused Gays or immorality and causing spiritual darkness.
We cannot see clearly anymore, our eyes are getting bad and cannot discren between good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral. It is a reflection of the darkness within the body where traditions, religiosity, self righteousness, wealth, political power and materialism has taken over. We put social harmony between the races paramount over the need for the gospel to be heard by all. We rally against Gays, the common punching bag of society because they are weak and cannot defend for themselves. We misread scriptures to condemn them not realising it is a condemnation against us, against our religion and idol worship. We live comfortably in our large houses and titanium cladded churches and large cars.
At Suntec, where the IMF/Aworld Bank meetings are being held, there is a strange sense of quietness and emptiness as many roads access are blocked for security reason. It is just not worth the trouble to go there to shop and the business sales have dropped markedly. The access to the Hotels and Convention centres are tightely controlled. We in Singapore together with the church lived in an environment of fear because our nation is so fragile and small, hence businesses and prosperity must be maintained because there is simply no plan B for we do not have a country with big resources both human, land, and natural resources. We fear becoming a back water port like Malacca or Penang, once great port cities but now quiet towns. Fear instead of faith is taking over this island. What we fear most may come true ((Job 3:25 NKJV) For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, And what I dreaded has happened to me). There is a need for Singapore to recognized that it need to be more inclusive and provide space to Gays in spite of its conservative population. For ultimately, it makes business and financial sense to provide an atmosphere of innovation and ideas so reflective of cities which are more opened to Gays. We have a Nation in dilemma knowing that it needs to open up quickly whilst vary of causing a drama and undo the nation building work of the last 40 years.
The church is also in a dilemma. It is very conservative yet deep in their conscience, they would know by the Holy Spirit that Singapore will not achieve its destiny whilst we as part of the Anglican Global South movement, champions of the anti-gay movement. We have to open wide our doors to be inclusive of all races and tribes just as the church in Antioch was the first to accept both Jews and the Gentiles. The church of Antioch succeeded because Paul stood firm against an exclusive law based gospel (Gal 2:10-12) and concentrated on taking care of the poor. Similarly, for Singapore, the doors that we closed against gays are the very doors we need to move out into the Asia to declare God's salvation. The preaching of the Word of God is just not sufficient. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the Word of God preached. We need Open Heavens and the tangible presence of God. Otherwise we play church. When we shut the doors to Gays, we shut the mandate of Christ as stated in Isa 56:3-5 to declare the year of Jubilee. Both the gentiles and gays were condemned because by birth, there were not fit to enter the temple. We have only declared half the truth, to half the intended reciepients that God's grace and mercy extends to all, both straights and gays. When we lock the doors, we too lock ourselves in and soon the world will pass us over just as it passed through Antioch of old. Let us unlock the door, protest we shall if we must, loose our lives we shall, if we must, not to bring harm but to declare God's love and salvation. We have bowed down to the gods of materialism, religion, self righteousness, political power. Let us bow down to Jesus and be crucified to do His will (Gal 2:20).
Father God, forgive Singapore, forgive its churches for indulging and bowing to the gods of materialism, wealth, and political power whilst social justice and the gospel message is diluted when we shut our doors to gays. Let us be champions for all who cannot speak for themselves. Do not pass us by, pour out your spirit that we may truly be the Antioch of old, a world changer, bringing Christ to a hurting world. Do not take thy Holy Spirit, thy presence away from Singapore for without your presence your word becomes a large empty gong. Pour out your Spirit O Lord. Give us compassion and wisdom to understand your Word and the move of your Spirit. Bless this nation of Singapore, bless its leaders. Give them wisdom to govern with justice, integrity, and compassion not only for the rich and the conservatives, but for those outcasts and the poor. Just as they show mercy, let mercy be shown to them.