Monday, July 5, 2010

Uniting With Other Churches

by Rev. James Wong
When Jesus prayed for his 12 disciples he said:
“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11 NIV).

When Jesus prayed for all the believers he said:
20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23 NIV).

Some of these elements in our lives have set us apart even within our own Christian circles; language, education, culture, race, religious exposures, expectations, experiences, perspectives, lack of compassion and respect, or pure ignorance of the central themes of the biblical teaching. Yet according to the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ, the power of our witness for Him lies in the unity of the Christian community, which of course include the unity in the local church. When there is no unity there is no more witness. God can bless a church with a lot of diversities but He cannot bless a church that is divided. It is against his will. This is the reason why ecumenism (the unity between Christian churches) is a foundation of our Christian existence in witnessing for Christ.

I attended the 13th Triennial General Assembly of the Council of churches of Malaysia in beautiful Sibu, Sarawak by the banks of the mighty Rejang river from 22-24 June.. Together with me were Bishop Dr. Thomas Tsen, our President Datuk Peter Lee, Dean of the BM General council Rev. William Lo and Dean of the Chinese General Council Rev, Chung Hee Ming. There were altogether 94 delegates representing diverse churches and a few Christian organizations all over Malaysia.

Under the theme, “Upholding the Truth in Love,” the delegates worshipped, prayed and reflected on what it means to live in bold witness in our country of Malaysia. Bishop Rt. Rev. Kumara B.S. Illangasinghe of Sri Lanka led in a series of bible studies. In the plenary discussion on the state of Malaysian society today, the two invited distinguished speakers were Dr. Farish Noor, (a Muslim Malaysian political scientist and historian) and Dr. Patricia Nartinez whose specialization is in Islam in Malaysia and SEAsia.

Their views on the pluralistic Malaysian society was enlightening. If we think of ourselves as Christians, we are in the minority but if we think of ourselves as Malaysians, we are in the majority. The approach to issues that affect our lives, rights or discrimination, should be deliberated from the perspective of a Malaysian citizen.

The Council of Churches of Malaysia plays a major role in promoting ecumenism among the Malaysia churches and it has become an official voice of the Churches in the country. The council was formed in 1948 and today it is the focal point of ecumenical cooperation and commitment and the instrument of common witness of its member churches and associate organizations.

Our heartiest congratulations to our Bishop Dr. Thomas Tsen for being elected the President of the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM). This is the first time in the history of CCM that the president post goes to BCCM. This position comes with a lot of important responsibilities, not only in the area of church leadership but also in the area of presenting the concerns and needs of the Christian churches to the government at the highest level. Further, the Council has embarked on a 12 million CCM Headquarters project. This is a dream of a decent place to where leaders of Christian faith could meet and dialogue comfortably on matters of faith, harmony and national issues. The building will be a symbol of unity and solidarity among the churches in Malaysia.

To be united takes a lot of understanding, recognizing that every church tradition, church government, style of worship, emphasis, practices and theology are relevant in the context of each church. Therefore, we need to respect and support each other. Never criticize or speak negatively about another church. God needs all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

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