What do you think of the article in The Sunday Times on 21 July 2002, entitled “The New Salvation Armies,” which featured the three mega-churches in Singapore; namely, the New Creation Church, which boasts of 8,000 strong congregation, Faith Community Baptist Church with 10,000 worshippers, and City Harvest Church with 13,000 members?
Thank you for highlighting the article to me. I think as far as the article goes, it is well written. It is the content of the report that is disconcerting. Having read the article with a growing burden in my heart, I went to the websites of the three churches to find out more about them. What I found was at points surprising and at points alarming.
But before I make any comments, I should make known that I have never attended any of these churches, nor met or spoken to any of the pastors in these churches. I have however, spoken to numerous persons who have worshipped in these churches or were members there. My knowledge of these churches comes therefore from the article directed to me, from the three or four websites (four, if you include the personal website of pop star-cum-pastor of one of the churches), from the personal conversations I had, and also from tape messages I have heard. I mentioned this, so that you will know I am not pretending to have intimate knowledge of these groups.
What has come to my knowledge, however, has made it necessary for us to make a statement in order that we may clearly dissociate ourselves from the brand of Christianity that is being promoted.
One concerned brother in the Lord, after reading the article you mentioned, immediately wrote a letter to the editor of the Strait’s Times forum section. His letter, although carefully written with a view that we live in a multi-religious society, was not given space in the newspaper. We quote a section of his letter:
No religion can command the respect of people if its style and substance keeps changing with the changing fashions of the times. We do not see any other major religion attempting this chameleonic exercise on such a scale and for good reason. Orthodox religion has always been about otherworldliness and has therefore always stood out in society as standing for something better and more glorious than the mundane facts of everyday human existence.
These churches have diminished the line of distinction between the sacred and the secular, the supernatural and the natural, and the eternal and the temporal by embracing values, habits of mind and practices, which are eminently worldly. By so doing, they have done incalculable harm to the image of Christianity as a serious religion with a serious message. In attempting to be “relevant” to this age, these churches have become irrelevant to the Gospel, which has always been the Church’s God-given heart. In such churches, there is no place for truth. Whatever happened to evangelical theology?
This dear brother, I believe, has expressed well one of the reasons why we must not keep silent, although speaking up may bring trouble upon ourselves when we consider the fact that some of the leaders in these churches are very influential members of society. Yet, we must speak up because we are convinced that the Christianity that is promoted by these churches, at least by their practices, is not a biblical Christianity; and is, as such, bringing disrepute to Christ and His Church.
The God of the Bible is a holy God. He was holy in the Old Testament. He remains holy in the New Testament. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb 13:8). As a holy God, He must be worshipped with “reverence and godly fear” (Heb 12:28), in the way that He Himself has appointed in His Word (cf. Deut 4:2, 23–24). Biblical worship as such is about exalting an infinitely holy and glorious God, rather than pampering the sensual needs of man. When the worship of the church begins to be enjoyed even by professed unbelievers,—in the way that they would enjoy a pop or rock concert,—then there is every reason to believe that the world has infiltrated and overwhelmed the church.
God commands us to be “holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Pet 1:15), but holiness has been redefined in these churches. Many equate holiness with the euphoric feeling that they seem to enjoy as they “reach out by faith to touch Jesus” to the sway of sentimental music. This is not holiness. The Old Testament teaches us that to be holy involves honouring God by keeping His commandments, so that we “seek not after [our] own heart and [our] own eyes, after which [we] use to go a-whoring” (Num 15:39–40). The New Testament likewise teaches us that to be holy involves being “obedient children, not fashioning [ourselves] according to the former lusts in [our] ignorance” (1 Pet 1:14). These instructions pertain to all aspects of our lives. How much more they apply to the act of formal worship, which is ordained by God particularly as a means for His children to express their adoration of Him and their submission to Him. Worship designed primarily to pamper our “former lusts” and to appeal to our “own heart” and our “own eyes” cannot be honestly described in any other way than as an affront against God and an abomination to Him. It is an assault against God’s very nature of holiness.
Will we not learn from the mistake of Jeroboam, who brought a curse upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel by introducing golden calves into the worship of Jehovah? Yes, the Northern Kingdom continued to have many religious people, but the number of true worshippers, who were concerned with the honour and glory of God, dwindled with each passing generation until God eventually disowned her. How many of the multitude of worshippers in those mega-churches are today concerned with God’s glory and holiness rather than their own enjoyment? My heart aches even as I try to think of how it can be possible for any genuine child of God to believe that he is truly worshipping a transcendently holy God in those Christianised variety shows or pop concerts, that even unbelievers will queue up to attend. Were Elijah alive today, would he not have stood at the queues crying out to the multitude: “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kgs 18:21)!
Worldliness, moreover, is not only evident in the worship of these churches. It is evident in the lives of their very leaders, if we can gauge by the fact that many of them have made headlines not for their faithfulness to Christ, but for their worldliness and worldly exploits. Who are we to judge a pastor for driving a BMW? But when even unbelievers are talking about learning how to project a good image and how to make money from a pastor, we must begin to wonder if the emphasis of his ministry is consistent with that of the Apostle John who says: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn 2:15). Who are we to judge if a self-professed apostle decides to train as an actor or magician? But when the crowds are drawn not because of the Gospel, we must wonder if a broad way (Mt 7:13) is in the making. Who are we to judge a ‘pastoress’ for a having soft spot for expensive boots and for relaxing in spas and cinemas? But when her pop fans begin to crowd the church and the Sun of Righteousness is evidently eclipsed in the advertisements of the church, we must wonder if the ministry is still centred on the Lamb of God who taught us: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt 6:24).
Even as I feel grief arising in my heart each time I hear the name of Christ blasphemed among the Gentiles on account of what is now portrayed as Christianity of the third millennium, my heart weeps for the multitude in these churches who may be led to think that they have secured heaven, and now they are free to live in any way they want, so long as they pay their thithes faithfully, and do not commit the grosser sins which society frowns upon.
The Lord Jesus said:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Mt 7:21–23).
How many in these churches are living in the broad way thinking that they are on the narrow way of holiness and righteousness, because of the “wonderful [and in some ways commendable] works” that these churches engage in? I shudder to think how many will hear the Lord say those dreadful words, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity [or lawlessness]” on the last day? Yes, many in the conservative churches will hear the Lord says those words too. But my heart weeps as I consider the multitude that may perhaps be led in the way of the world through these churches, while thinking that they are heading to heaven. This is especially so for my experience with those who have been in these churches shows me that many are attracted to stay on not out of love of Christ, but out of a lust for worldly entertainment and a desire to prosper materially. How many would stay on if these churches begin to worship not according to the vain imaginations of man? How many would be offended if these churches begin to preach uncompromisingly against worldliness as the Lord did? Indeed, would these churches be able to sustain their huge publicity drawing expenditures, were they to begin to consistently preach the Gospel once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3; Gal 1:6–9), rather than using guilt and hope of worldly prosperity to induce the people to give “sacrificially.”
Oh may the Lord grant either that these churches will reform back to Christ, or that any sheep that remains in those folds will heed the voice of the Shepherd and flee to the Lord’s pastures, “hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 23).
[Ed.: We acknowledge with gratitude the godly insights of Ps Willy Ng of Criswell Tabernacle, who helped shaped this answer.]