Friday, January 27, 2012

Seeing the Dragon in Context

I am a dragon. This is the Chinese animal sign applied to everyone born in the season when I first drew breath and those born every cycle of twelve years before and after me. According to Chinese culture, I was born under the zodiac sign of the most magnificent of Chinese animals.

Yet when I was a young Christian, the display of Chinese dragon signs and symbols was disapproved of. They were understood as a symbol of Satan in the Bible – “the great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Rev 12:9). As a result, having Chinese dragon symbols on your clothes for Chinese New Year and sending greeting and invitation cards with such symbols were frowned on. Is such an application being true to God’s Word? I doubt so. We need to understand context and cultural setting when we apply the Bible.

Chinese dragons are seen as auspicious symbols of power and fortune. In the Chinese language, esteemed people are compared favourably with a dragon. It is always seen as good and full of promise and energy. More importantly, it is portrayed as a benevolent creature, never as an enemy of mankind. In contrast, European culture typically depicts the dragon as evil and sinister. It is seen as a destroyer spouting poison or fire and an enemy of man. This European dragon is the creature mentioned in Revelation by John. His symbolism of an animal, known for its malevolent nature to describe Satan, the father of evil, would have left his Greek and Roman readers with no doubt of what he meant.

Thus, we need to be careful in applying the dragon symbol linguistically and across the board in all circumstances. To do so indiscriminately would reduce the Christian faith to mere ritual and superstition. Instead, I believe on the occasions where Chinese culture comes to the fore as in weddings, festivals, auspicious occasions, not only is it not wrong for the dragon symbol to be displayed; it is also good to do so.

It is important to read the Bible with understanding of its context and setting. The Bible can be, has been and will continue to be read to oppress and hurt others, with terrible consequences. The preacher can sometimes preach his own prejudices as if they were the Word of God. One example from history is the white South African Christians who preached apartheid from certain Biblical stories. They felt it right to believe themselves as God’s people chosen to capture the new African Promised Land. This gave them cause to subjugate the Africans, just as the Israelites had subjugated the Canaanites at God’s command. To guard against such sinful misuse one has to be alert to the context – both the biblical context and our own cultural context. This is because what may have been God’s Word to his people in a different cultural context may be totally misunderstood and applied by us in another cultural context.

Of course, there will always be some subjectivity in Scripture reading. This is because we can never know 100% about the original context. However, I try to read with one principle in mind – Jesus came to set us free (John 8:32). Therefore one way is to question how the text is to be applied. Is my interpretation/application setting people free from their burdens (Luke 4:18)? Or am I further burdening or, even worse, oppressing them? (Matt 23)

May God’s wisdom guide us in all that we do!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Moving Forward

The church is called to be a leader in the community. Each one of us too will be called by God to be a leader - whether in church, workplace or elsewhere. Some of you are already serving in leadership in our church – as an elder, deacon, ministry or CG leader, etc. I believe to be most effective as a leader one has to strive to be faithful rather that aim to be successful according to the world's standards. God uses leaders who are faithful.

God has a purpose for HPC and we should faithfully carry out his purpose for gathering us in HPC. Therefore, the Elders & Deacons (EDC) have committed 2012 to discovering God's will and direction for HPC and seeking to fulfill it. Prior to this, the EDC have agreed that the church structure including responsibilities, decision-making process, line of accountability, etc should first be confirmed. Thus, they have tasked me to prepare a draft of this structure and present this to the EDC for deliberation. After this, the elders will meet to discuss on the matter of the mission and direction of the church post-2012. Included below are the suggested timelines for both matters.

Nov 2011-Jan 2012 – Fact-finding, prayer and reflection on Structure
28 Jan 2012  – First draft circulated to EDC
25 Feb 2012 – EDC & pastors Retreat
03 Mar 2012 – Final draft circulated to ministry leaders
24 Mar 2012 – EDC, pastors & ministry leaders Retreat
26 May 2012 – Church structure presented at ACM

Apr-June 12 – Fact-finding, prayer and reflection on HPC Mission & Direction
07 Jul 2012  – First draft circulated to EDC
28 Jul 2012  – EDC & pastors Retreat
04 Aug 2012 – Final draft circulated to ministry heads
25 Aug 2012 – EDC, pastors & ministry heads Retreat
15 Sep 2012 – Calendar of Activities by ministry heads
15 Oct 2012 – Budget Submission by ministry heads
01 Nov 2012 – Print Structure and Mission and Direction in a HPC handbook

A healthy church is marked by people who pray. Every movement of God in history was under-girded with faithful prayer-warriors who cried out to God daily. When God’s people pray to him in earnest, he will answer in power. Thus, we invite you to pray for the leadership as they pray and reflect on these matters. When our Lord comes again, may his praise be found in you.