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Selamat Hari Merdeka! Today we celebrate 51 years of independence.

Are you feeling


patriotic today? There are many things we could be thankful for and achievements that
are worth celebrating.

For example, in just about 50 years, we have transformed from an agricultural economy
to an industrialized nation with a fast-growing urban middle class. You can see signs of
modern progress everywhere with high-tech buildings like Twin Towers, KL Tower,
KLIA and so on. By and large, we have also lived in peace together in a culturally diverse
society. We live amongst Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, Ibans, Sikhs dan lain-lain.
And except for that infamous 1969 riot, we have been spared from the communal
violence that happened in other nearby places like Indonesia or Southern Thailand.

Having said that, there are also many weaknesses that we need to overcome if we really
want to be a developed country by 2020. Before we get to that, let us turn to the passage
of Scripture for today

Psalm 93

1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty;


the LORD is robed in majesty
and is armed with strength.
The world is firmly established;
it cannot be moved.

2 Your throne was established long ago;


you are from all eternity.

3 The seas have lifted up, O LORD,


the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.

4 Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,


mightier than the breakers of the sea—
the LORD on high is mighty.

5 Your statutes stand firm;


holiness adorns your house
for endless days, O LORD.

We Malaysians are living in very, very interesting times. Our newspaper headlines these
days are so full of suspense and intrigue that they make even Obama look so boring in
comparison. Almost every week, we have shocking revelations of sex, lies and
videotapes… statutory declarations flying here and there with allegations of political
conspiracies, cover-ups, spies, murder, sodomy and C4 explosives! I think someone
should make a movie out of all these drama and sure can make a lot of money. Who
knows? Maybe can even win an Oscar!

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But seriously, I think our nation is at a crucial crossroads of sorts… winds of change are
blowing and powerful opposing forces are shaping where Malaysia will be for the next 50
years. So the theme for church camp this year “For Such A Time As This” and the
message of Esther is especially timely and relevant.

The last general election on March 8th (so called political tsunami) raised some interesting
questions: Could we be seeing the beginning of a two-party democracy in Malaysia? Like
in US, they have Republicans and Democrats. The morning after, we woke up to find
ourselves living in a state ruled by Pakatan Rakyat.

Are we beginning to see that finally Malaysians have matured enough to go beyond racial
politics? In the past, Chinese only vote for ‘Chinese’ parties like DAP or MCA, Malays
only vote for PAS or UMNO, Indians only vote for MIC or MIC… But now we have
Makkal Sakti?! This time around, we see a mood for change among Malay, Chinese and
Indian communities.

But there are also fears that in this desperate moment of transition that communal
violence may flare up once again. We have different ethnic and religious communities
living side by side with each other but with precious little contact and understanding in
between. On the night of March 8, many of us get SMS to stay at home and be careful for
fear of violence.

While all these things are happening, petrol and food prices are going up. A globalizing
economy is getting more competitive.

The Malays have this saying “Gajah sama gajah berjuang, pelanduk mati di tengah”. As
Malaysian Christians, we watch much of the drama and sandiwara like the kancil
(mousedeer) caught between two fighting elephants. We have no political power. Just a
small minority. I wonder what are your feelings at this time of uncertainty?

Some of us may feel


Fed-up or ‘Jelak’: “Look at how dirty and corrupt politic is. Christians should never get
involved in it.”
Cynical: “Aiya… What difference can small fries like us make la? We have been like this
for 50 years, we will remain like that for another hundred years. Migrate better.”
Hopeful: “I think things are changing for the better. If So and So becomes Prime
Minister, then our country’s problems will be solved.”
Confused: “Where is God in all this? What does God want the church to do?”

The passage of Scripture today from Psalm 93 points us to the throne of our sovereign
God. “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; and is armed with strength.”

Although we are weak and needy people, God is mighty and strong. Where is God in the
midst of all these events? He is on His throne. His throne was established from eternity
and will last forever. He created the entire universe, the galaxies, solar systems and

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everything in it out of nothing. And He sustains the whole creation and set up physical
laws that keep them from falling apart.

Isaiah 40 describes God’s power in poetic terms: He measured the seas in the hollow of
his hand and mark off the sky with his hand, he weighs the mountains on scales and the
nations are like a drop of water in a bucket… That’s how awesome and great is our God.

Psalm 93 is an enthronement psalm that worshipfully celebrates the fact that God is the
ultimate ruler in the nation of Israel. In the other surrounding nations, the king is also
considered divine and their power is absolute. But for Israel, though they have a human
king, but the king is ultimately answerable to the divine King and the ‘constitution’ of the
nation, that is, the covenant the Lord made with Israel. No one is above the rule of law,
not even the king (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)

Our human rulers like Yang Dipertuan Agong and Prime Minister and Cabinet members,
state governments are ultimately God’s servants/ministers to bring justice and order in
society (whether they know it or not). So our default position is to obey their authority
and laws of the land and pray for them. But their authority is not absolute, there is a
higher law/King that even our rulers must answer to. If the state acts and speaks as if it is
god, demanding our ultimate loyalty and obedience, then it has become an idol and we
have the freedom and responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

If our vision of God is too small, we’d be too impressed or depressed by men or what’s
happening in this world. But if we see how awesome God really is… how majestic His
rule is over our national affairs… We can still be aware of what’s happening in the world
but we’d be more impressed with God. And whoever becomes Prime Minister on Sept 16
or 4 years from now… no matter how things turn out… we are reminded that God is still
on the throne and His rule is everlasting. No one can frustrate his plan and purpose.

Like we saw in the story of Esther, the invisible hand of God (His providence) is quietly
working behind the scenes, putting the right people at the right place to do the right
things at the right time. Even the sinful actions of men, God can use it and turn it around
for his own purpose. Like Haman who set up a trap for Mordecai and the Jews but it
ended up as a trap that ironically backfired.

Psalm 93 also gives us a picture of chaotic, tsunami-like waves that represent all the
threats and upheavals against the rule of God. But the Lord on high is mightier than all of
them.

3 The seas have lifted up, O LORD,


the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.

4 Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,


mightier than the breakers of the sea—
the LORD on high is mighty.

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So our trust and confidence are anchored on solid Rock. We can take comfort that God is
big enough to protect and carry us through.

Remember this scene from the movie: “The Lord of the Rings”?

Frodo, the small innocent hobbit who was given the dangerous task of carrying a
powerful ring to the Enemy’s stronghold, said: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I
wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we
have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at
work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.

We may wish for the good old days when things are more stable… economy is
growing… yet sometimes, it’s not up to us to choose or decide. But we can choose what
to do with the kairos moment that is given to us, discern what God wants us to do in this
small window of opportunity available today.

The sovereignty of God is not an excuse for laziness though: “Since God in control, I dun
need to bother doing anything la”. No, the truth that God is sovereign sets us free from
cynicism. Let me explain… For a long time, many young people are disillusioned and
feel disempowered: “We are only small fries, what can we do? We can’t change
anything” So they felt helpless and “tidak apathy”. They will complain and rant at the
government at the mamak but they are not interested to be part of the solution.

But if our God is awesome and sovereign, and he s ultimately in control of our affairs,
then no matter how difficult the problem in our country is, it’s not a problem for Him…
and that should be a powerful motivation for us to action: To do justice, love mercy and
walk humbly with Him. While we do these things, we await the day when Jesus will
usher in his kingdom of peace and healing righteousness. So while life won’t be perfect
on this side of heaven, we can work to improve it so that our church and society starts to
look something like the future Kingdom of God today. It can be like a movie preview or
foretaste of things to come.

In light of God’s sovereignty, how then shall we live? What can we do in this time of
change and contribute to nation building? (3 applications)

1) This may sound very basic but the obvious things are usually the most important.
If God is all powerful and rules over all and we are weak and powerless, the most
obvious thing we can do is to humble ourselves and pray.

“And my people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek my
face and turn from their wicked ways then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin
and heal their land” (2 Chro 7:14)
We need to pray for God’s Kingdom, God’s rule to come and His will be done here on
earth as it is in heaven. If we do a stock take on our prayer life. What do we pray for most

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of the time? If our prayers are only limited to our own personal needs, it may show that
we are too inward looking. We need to expand our horizon.

For example, NECF 40 days fast and prayer theme this year: “The Lord Revives:
Transforming the nation through the local church”. Christians are called to pray our
personal revival, then move outward to pray for the church, then the community
(empower the community to work toward social justice and good governance) and
government (a reformed police force that is corrupt free, impartial, competent and
effective in upholding public order and peace). That’s the kind of world embracing prayer
we need.

2) Abraham Kuyper: There is no sphere of life that is not subject to the sovereignty of
Jesus Christ.

If Jesus is the King and Lord over all of our life, then we cannot divide our lives into neat
little boxes like ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’. I don’t mean that we should form a political party
called “Christian action Force” (Chrisaf) and try to make this country a Christian state.
The church is called to bear the cross, not to pick up the sword. While Christian
individuals could actively participate in political party, the church as the body of Christ
should maintain a prophetic distance from partisanship and not be used as a tool by
politicians.

What I mean is we cannot isolate the gospel from making an influence in the wider
society.
We cannot say “OK religion is for Sundays and quiet time, but when it comes to my
business decisions from Monday to Saturday, that’s secular stuffs so I play by different
rules”…

If I’m a Christian lawyer, I can’t say: “Ok Christianity is what I believe when in church,
but when it comes to the 1988 judicial crisis (In Malaysia we have the best justice that
money can buy), I dun really bother”.

We can’t because God is not just interested in so called religious activities but how we
conduct our lives in the marketplace. He is Lord of Sunday and the other six days also.

For example, He is interested in integrity and transparency in business practice and


justice in the government:

Proverbs 11:1 “The Lord hates dishonest scales but accurate weights are his delight”.
Proverbs 29:4 “By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for
bribes tears it down.”

God has given us each one with unique abilities, skills, talents and resources. As we study
in college/university or work, we begin to discover what our passion and super-powers
are. These are things I like to do… These are things I am good at doing…

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Spiderman said: With great power comes great responsibility. Our responsibility to
redeem that sphere of life for Christ… It’s not easy, every industry has its unique
challenges and opportunities.

If you are a salesperson, you are an “ordained salesperson”. You have been summoned by
God to serve Him in that specific sphere of activity.
Or, if you are an “ordained lawyer”, you are called to prayerfully explore how your
discipline shows signs of rebellion against or submission to Christ’s Lordship.
An “ordained environmentalist” ought to read the Scripture not just devotionally, but
actively apply the biblical mandate for creation care in his work.

Whatever our calling is, we need to learn to think and live “Christianly” in areas specific
to what we do – media, education, politics, business or the arts.

In humility and boldness, we should creatively integrate our faith with our vocation.

Laypeople in every facet of life – media, politics, business, education and others – should
be enabled to challenge the prevailing assumptions of society in light of the gospel.
Theology should not be reserved for pastors and scholars only! (Newbigin)

The biggest impact you can make for the kingdom is by being faithful to your calling and
gifts that God has given you in the marketplace.

3) Work Towards Racial Reconciliation

If God is the God of this city, Lord of this nation, King of all people groups as we have
sung today, then we should work towards racial reconciliation.

The issue of race is sensitive and potentially explosive topic in Malaysia. Raja Muda of
Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah said this at a Student Leaders Summit 2007:

“To ensure sustained success at nation-building, Malaysians of all races, religions,


and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they
have a place under the Malaysian sun. Only when each citizen believes that he or
she has a common home, is presented common opportunities, given due recognition
and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she make the sacrifices needed
for the long haul.”

His vision for Malaysia is consistent with what many Christians have labored for in
history: Martin Luther King a pastor and civil rights activist who worked to end racial
segregation and discrimination in US through non violent civil disobedience: “I have a
dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be
judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

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So how can we be a community of peace makers? How can we ensure there is a place for
everyone under the Malaysian sun? When Jesus lay out how Kingdom living looks like in
the Sermon on the Mount, He says: Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called
sons of God.

Here is a short and by no means exhaustive list of simple things we can do

1) Intentionally cultivate friendship with people who are different from us: The
people we work and play with, the friendships we make, must never be limited by
race. Prejudice and misunderstanding can be removed if we interact personally
with others of a different ethnic group or religion -- even if it is just one teacher,
one colleague or one schoolmate.

2) Free ourselves from racism in our language. We may not say it in polite company
but do we enjoy that racist joke that our friends tell or we read in forwarded
mails? People are made in the image of God so they are precious and have
dignity. People are people, they are not ‘babi’.

3) Help the weak and poor from other races. I think many people in CDPC are
already doing it and if you like to join in, do let the pastors know. In the orang asli
ministry in sg buloh and kg batu, the church helps a marginalized community
through education to break the cycle of poverty. Other CDPC members are also
working to resolve communal conflicts and giving tuition class to the multiracial
groups of children in Subang.

4) Be informed and speak up: As Daniel Khoo who works for the Edge advised us:
Read from both sides of the fence, both mainstream and not so mainstream media.
Kairos magazine this month has very good articles on Merdeka and post general
election analysis.

Yes, we thank God for people like Tricia Yeoh (Center Public Policy Studies),
Kian Ming who writes for Malaysiakini or KJ John (OHMSI) who works for
integrity and transparency in public governance, speaking sensibly on public
issues. But what about ‘ordinary’ people like us? What can we do?
The media has become more open and independent these days. With the internet,
blogs, TV debates and radio talk shows becoming more independent, we have
opportunities to write or call in to voice our views also.

There are many issues that affect Christians today like the ban on the word Allah
in our Malay language Bibles that would affect our bumiputra brothers and sisters
in East Malaysia… and the famous Lina Joy case and yes, we need to speak up on
such issues. But if we only get worked up over ‘Christian’ issues are involved and
remain silent when it affects those who are not Christians, then we could be guilty
of ‘tribalism’, we just care about people from our ‘tribe’. Or do we also care and
speak up for fellow Malaysians who are not Christians? (Proverb 31)

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I think we can and should. Here is one example of how this can happen.

Remember Revathi? Born Siti Fatimah to Muslim convert parents, she was called
Revathi Masoosai by the grandmother who raised her. She married the man she loves
Suresh in 2004 according to Hindu rites and has a 18-month-old daughter. In January last
year, Revathi was detained at the Syariah Court and held at a rehab camp for six months.
The authorities seized her daughter from her husband and handed the child to Revathi's
Muslim mother.

The NECF together with other religious bodies organized a candlelight vigil outside
Dataran Merdeka in solidarity with a fellow Malaysian whose fundamental liberties have
been denied her.

A certain Irish scholar Peter Rowan wrote a good article called The Malaysian Dilemma
that everyone in church should read: “Since reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel,
and since the gospel transcends the barriers of race, ethnicity and culture, and since the
church is the most inclusive community on earth, the local church is a community of
hope in a fragmented world. In Malaysia, the church has the task of not only proclaiming
the message of reconciliation to all Malaysians, but of embodying the concrete
implications of that message in its community life, so that Malaysians of all races can
look at a local church community and see the gospel fleshed out in a racially reconciled
group of people who can work, worship and witness together.”

Won’t you like to be part of a community like that? Wouldn’t you like to celebrate
diversity of races and cultures in CDPC when we gather to worship, work and witness
together?

In conclusion, we live in a very interesting time in our country’s history. There’s a


window of opportunity for us to get involved in transforming our nation. We need to be
confident in the fact that God is on the throne, and live out His lordship in prayer, in the
marketplace and in being a covenant community of diverse culture and race.

Fred Sanders: “Christians have to wrap themselves up in the good news of Jesus Christ, live that mystery
together in the fellowship of the church, and give the world something worth seeing. And we have to
explain the gospel in the form of sound doctrine and biblical truth, making the message clear as only words
can. There is a strong temptation these days to seek refuge in the claim that “my life is my testimony,” as if
preaching is replaced. But the gospel is wordy, just as it is lifey.”

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How do we encourage cultural and ethnic diversity in our community of faith?

- Advocacy for mercy and justice

Are we guilty of tribalism?

Speak sensibly to a host of issues confronting the country.

“How can we live in houses like these when others live in boxes?” William Wilberforce

a land where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a land where the benefits of civilised life
are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a land where different races and cultures live in tolerance and
mutual respect; a land where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.

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Rule of Law: The constitution is the supreme law of the country which guarantees fundamental liberties to
every citizen. It clearly provides checks and balances against power abuse through the separation of powers
between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts
absolutely.

"Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy
necessary."

is economic and social justice for all. All groups in society, regardless of ethnic group, religion or gender,
must participate in making decisions that affect their lives and livelihood. They must have a voice and a
place in all sectors. They must carry equal responsibilities in making society work. The people we work
and play with, the friendships we make, must never be constrained by ethnicity. Preconceptions,
parochialism and chauvinism can be eradicated if we interact actively with others of a different ethnic
group or religion -- even if it is just one teacher, one man or one schoolmate. In many areas, this is absent
and it must change.

The third requisite to nation-building is good governance and a thriving civil society. Institutions of
governance must demonstrate and generate norms and behaviour that are fundamentally efficient,
productive and just. Only those who are capable, responsible and scrupulously honest should be allowed to
serve in positions of leadership. Those who are inefficient, incompetent and, most importantly, corrupt
should be held in absolute contempt. There must also be concrete anti-corruption measures and
management practices based on efficiency, transparency and accountability. It is also very important that
we have leaders who are earnest in maintaining unity, never resorting to religious or ethnic posturing to
further their political careers at the expense of peace and security. Should they fail in this respect, they must
be held accountable and answerable before the law.

Federal Constitution and familiarise yourselves with it. The constitution is the supreme law of the land. It
guarantees the rights of every Malaysian. As such, the integrity of that document must be protected.

This Merdeka, we are opening a new chapter in the story of Malaysia. This new page is yet to be written.
We don’t what story it will be.

But we can trust that the Lord of history is in control,

Between Romans 13 and Revelations 13

(NOTE: This is an extract. The full paper 'Human Dignity and Religious Liberty' is available in the
book titled

Religious Liberty after 50 years of Independence)

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Christians often look to Romans 13 to answer questions on the relationship between Church and
State. Some appeal to the passage to argue for unqualified submission to the authorities. I find this
rather troubling since such a recommendation ignores the dynamic nature of the State that can swing
from being God’s servant (Romans 13) to being a demonic State demanding ultimate allegiance and
worship from its subjects (Revelation 13).

But what is stated clearly in Romans 13 – that the State is merely a servant of God and thereby
possesses only limited authority – is correct. Likewise, the State – being merely one created
institution amongst other divinely-installed institutions (family, school, market and church) – must
respect and refrain from infringing other spheres of human authority.

Dave: If the state acts and speaks as if it is god, demanding our ultimate loyalty and obedience, it has
become an idol.

Primary Social Task

The primary social task of the Church is to be itself – that is, a people who have been formed by a
story that provides them with the skills for negotiating the dangers of this existence, trusting in God’s
promise of redemption.1

The Church must resist two temptations:

1. Subjecting the gospel to ‘righteous’ anger, lending itself as the instrument of


political/ideological struggle. Charles West has given us a pertinent challenge,“The church
must project Christ’s Lordship into the search for a proper structure of justice and peace in
society, which is also the business of political authorities. It must do so holistically, not taking
refuge in the false purity either of nonpolitical projects or a romanticised oppressed people.
It must do so in a secular way, recognising the involvement of every religious project in the
mixed motives and misused powers of human life, the need of correction, and the limits of
political coercion in the establishment of true humanity. The life of the community of faith
with Christ Himself should keep things in proper perspective.”2

Our calling is to bear the cross, not the sword.

2. Accepting the terms on which the State allows them an undisturbed existence so long as it
(the Church) remains isolated from the concerns of society. The end result would be that the
Church legitimises the status quo. To quote West again, “the Church of Jesus Christ is called
to be the Church for the world, not the servant of one of the world’s powers.”3

Conditional obedience

We affirm the clarion call from Bonhoeffer when he insisted that the individual’s duty to obey the
State is presumed until the State directly compels him to offend against the divine commandment,
that is to say, until the State openly denies its divine commission to enforce social justice and protect

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the freedom and dignity of the individual and forcefully suppresses the gospel. At this point,
Christians must choose to disobey the State for conscience sake and in obedience to the Great
Commission.

Realistic Social Engagement

Christians must avoid a naïve political outlook and must not pretend that they are pure and immune
from the temptations of power. Still, the Church cannot avoid being in the world even though it may
not be of the world. The Church must engage politics in a ‘secular’ manner, that is rooted in concrete
historical realities and yet, while recognising that notwithstanding its mixed motives, it will seek to
project Christ’s lordship into the search for a proper structure of justice and peace in society.

The Church should acknowledge that no human form of government is perfect, and all are
necessarily under constant scrutiny in terms of the processes which they have promoted and do
promote, and the processes which they counter and negate.

As human rights are inter-related, and are also subject to ongoing historical processes, their
fulfilment, negation or violation by any group or agencies or even churches, have to be judged in a
similar manner. Structures created by human beings are in constant danger of becoming self-
perpetuating and self-fulfilling, and hence of becoming idols – in a truly biblical sense.

The right balance

A Christian approach to civic responsibility balances both Kingdom Justice and the Gospel of Peace
in order to distinguish responsible from irresponsible political action. Pursuing justice without peace
only perpetuates social conflict. Accepting peace without justice amounts to capitulation to a
hegemonic power. Politics is judged on moral terms derived from a transcendent authority (God).

Christian political analysis must be rooted in local history and social context. This requires
sensitivity to the ever-changing dynamic equilibrium between the competing power groups in society.
Demands for both individual rights and community rights must take into account the enduring
principles that were foundational when the founding fathers of the nation agreed in a social-legal
contract at Independence (1957) and formation of Malaysia (1963).

We must deal with the full reality of politics and government in the contemporary world. Public
policies must be supported by public arguments that go beyond simplistic quoting of scriptures
(Biblical or Quranic), naïve moralism or mindless ethnic nationalism. We cannot work for anything
less than a cosmopolitan, pluralist democracy.

This calls for a hermeneutical retrieval of Christian political theory that was vigorously developed
in church history. I have in mind the Christian understanding of Statecraft which is defined as the
“art of careful reasoning, judging, and acting in the process of making, executing, and adjudicating

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public laws.” Good statecraft depends on insight into God’s creation (including human nature),
which is an order unfolding through the history of countless human generations.

If the Christian community fails to pool together its intellectual resources to inform its social
engagement, it will by default remain divided and confused by the conflicting political dogmas and
buffeted by social currents. It will easily be intimidated by hostile political groups and passively
accept a political agenda that is imposed on it and remain ineffective with its ad hoc and piecemeal
participation in national politics.

The challenge to develop a Christian political perspective that is coherent, integral, and
comprehensive is indeed urgent. The fruitfulness of such a project is promising. Christian witness
demands nothing less than the fulfillment of a contextualised Christian political theology that can
assist citizens in their defence of freedom and justice.

GRACE@WORK MAIL 45/07


[November 9 2007 Edition]

"We must obey God rather than human beings!"


(Acts 5:29 TNIV)

Commentary: Between Romans 13 and Revelation 13

Some of my Christian friends in Malaysia are caught in a dilemma. The Coalition for Clean and Fair
Elections (BERSIH), is calling for a peaceful rally to be held this Saturday, to press for reforms in the
electoral system. The police have refused to give a permit for the rally citing various legal reasons.
BERSIH has appealed against the decision. There has been no news as to whether the appeal has been
successful at time of writing.

Some Christians are sympathetic to the concerns of BERSIH. They want to see changes in the electoral
process that would help elections to be more "clean and fair." But they are not sure if they should take part
in a rally which has not been permitted by the powers that be. Citing Romans 13: 1-7 some feel that they
should not.

Others argue that the powers of the state are not absolute especially when they deny citizens basic rights
like the right for peaceful assembly. Therefore many Christians are asking WWJD? What would Jesus do?
The better question perhaps would be "what would Jesus have me do?"

Let me state up front that I haven't received any direct word from the Lord. All I know is that seeking to
follow the Lordship of Christ in a fallen world means that Christians often need wisdom to discern between
various biblical injunctions. On the matter of the relationship between church and state, Christians have to
take seriously the biblical material found in both Romans 13 and Revelation 13.

Commenting on Romans 13:1-7, Dennis Hamm, SJ, writes:

"Paul was indeed making the case here that normally civil authorities are servants (knowingly or
not) of divine providence. Obedience to such officials was a way of loving one's neighbour as oneself
and fostering the order necessary for harmony in society."
("Faith's Call to Justice", The American Catholic Weekly, July 31, 2006, p. 2)

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But in the same article he also warns against "a passive and uncritical attitude towards public officials." He
points out the danger of such an interpretation by reminding us that during the rise of Nazism in Germany,
some pastors urged their churches to cooperate with Hitler and his agents on the basis of Romans 13.
"Hitler was, after all, a legitimately elected official" (Hamm, p. 2).

The situation in Revelation 13 however is very different from the one in Romans 13. Nigel Wright points
out that Revelation 13 "acts as the counterpoint to Romans 13. The author (of Revelation 13) refers to
Rome and its persecution of the saints, and reveals the beastly character of human power systems. In
accordance with the nature of apocalyptic literature, the author describes here the potential nature of all
human power. All governments have it within them to be idolatrous and to oppose the good." ("The Church
and 'God's Servant' the State, Part 1", Anabaptism Today, Issue 7, October 1994, p. 3)

In Revelation 13 there is no call to submit to the civil authorities. Instead believers are called to be
faithful to Christ even if it costs them their lives. The church is never called to violent resistance. But
there is clear teaching about the need to suffer if need be, when being true to one's Lord means
coming up against a state that is now in opposition to the concerns of the Lord.

Therefore, the Christian's default position should be to support the state, seeing it as "a power ordained by
God for the preservation of order" (Wright, p. 5). However, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Dennis Hamm reminds us that to be good Christian citizens also "includes the right, and at times the duty,
to voice (our) just criticism of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of
community" (Hamm, p. 2-3).

In the light of passages like Revelation 13, Douglas J. Moo interprets Romans 13:1-7 in this way:

"...Paul's demand that Christians submit to government means simply that they recognize government's
rightful place within the hierarchy of relationships established by God, a hierarchy at whose pinnacle is
God. When, therefore, government usurps its place, and commands us to do something contrary to our
ultimate Lord, we are free --- indeed obligated--- to disobey. This view may, however, unduly weaken the
meaning of 'submit.' Perhaps the best solution, then, is to view 13:1-7 as a general statement about how the
Christian should relate to government, with exceptions to this advice assumed but not spelled out here."
("Romans", New Bible Commentary, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994, p. 1153)

So, should Christians attend the BERSIH rally if the police permit is not forthcoming? In this and in many
other issues, I will say again "ask the Boss." He has promised to give us wisdom when we need it (James
1:5). Therefore the church should come before the Lord for a time of discernment. The Living Christ is in
our communities and speaks to us through His Word and through His Spirit. We need to be confident of His
presence and His leading and seek His mind together.

Still, this side of heaven we "see in a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12) and different Christian groups
may come to different conclusions on this matter. We need to be gracious enough to accept and love those
who, in trying to follow Christ, come to different conclusions from us. What we can do is to encourage one
another to be faithful to obey Jesus as He calls us to "deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him"
(Luke 9:23). And to be faithful in preaching the gospel.

Ajith Fernando's recent article in Christianity Today ("Getting Back on Course", Christianity Today,
November 2, 2007 ) is timely. While he applauds evangelicalism's present commitment to societal
involvement, he warns that the pendulum should not swing too much away from our duty to proclaim the
gospel. He says:

" I will do all I can to encourage people to live the Christian life in society. But I will also follow Christ's
example in placing before Christians the fact of eternal damnation and the glory of eternal salvation. And I
will challenge them to follow the agenda of Jesus, who 'came to seek and to save the lost' (Luke 19:10),
reminding them of the advice of Jude, who said, '... save others by snatching them out of the fire' (v.23)."

Some of us have been convicted to take part in BERSIH's rally. But we should all be clear that the ultimate

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solution to humankind's problems is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And in our commitment to share the gospel
we must be prepared to stand alone.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan
E mail: sooinn@graceatwork.org

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