What I’ve learnt over the past few months
Posted on 28 Feb 2011 by Joel Lee
After spending more than a year in CERC, there is much that I have learnt in terms of the character of God, who we are, and who I am, personally, in relation to him. As you read, perhaps you will find much food for thought as I proceed to describe my experience through acquiring more knowledge and elaborate on the content and nature of the ministry I am involved in.
The first thing which I was confronted with here was ecclesiology [the study of the church]. While much more can be said about the nature of the church, I can only lay down the outworking of this knowledge. This includes:
- clarity in local ministry,
- how love and accountability looks like within the church of Christ,
- how Christian brothers and sisters encourage/teach/love/rebuke one another,
- church discipline,
- and the leadership of Christ in the church along with the role of elders/pastors in this leadership.
Parts of these things were learnt formally — the bigger part of it just happened to be the culture of the church I stepped into.
The many lessons I have learned on ecclesiology are impossible to be taught without a complementary understanding of theology and anthropology. In learning of God’s holiness, I learnt of the deceptiveness of my sinfulness, neither wicked nor severe in my own eyes, but in reality, heinous in the eyes of the holy God. This knowledge helps me appreciate God’s love day to day as I learn godly leadership and accountability/discipline; it is both the tension of the joy and hope of salvation partnered with the rebuke and sorrow which leads to the repentance working in me that I have witnessed. It is quite akin to how judgment and salvation work together, bringing about God’s external work of justification and the internal work of repentance.
I chose to speak of ecclesiology foremost, instead of what I have learned of exegesis, because ecclesiology made learning and repentance possible. God’s people —the Church -has been faithful to preach to me the gospel in a straight-forward, logical manner and taught me what it means to live God’s way, with Jesus Christ as my head, turning away from my own ways. This helped me repent before God instead of deceiving myself into false repentance. In this sense therefore, CERC has been a slightly safer place to learn proper exegesis without slipping into delusions upon making exegetical misinterpretations, considering the Christ-centredness of the gospel that functions as the central line whilst reading Scripture.
Many a times in private conversation, I have been told – “We are both sinners, God is our audience, it is obvious, repent brother” — and as I tell you this, I tell myself the same thing, every day. I have been learning that God is our audience and we have and can come to an acknowledgement of our sinfulness before Him, along with all the pretension of holiness or religiosity. Since we can admit these before Him, as His Word exposes our deceitful escape tactics, we can rest peacefully on His promise of salvation and there should be no pretence amongst God’s people.
One very important change in my understanding of Christianity is that it means “death to the old man, and then resurrection in Christ” instead of “self improvement”. This is a particularly significant milestone for me as I used to attend many self-improvement seminars. In such seminars, sins were portrayed as mistakes to learn from and improve on. In Christianity, sin is characteristically personal human rebellion — we are to judge it in ourselves, confess it and forsake it. As a sinful person, my natural tendency is to be defensive upon confrontation, and then to privately improve myself so that it will not happen again. But in doing this, I forget the shame Christ had to go through publicly to expose the heinous nature of sin, and the very fact that God is omniscient and all-knowing.
Good ecclesiology in CERC has provided fertile ground for my growth in godliness and the necessary weed killer for sin. My pastor and the rest of the church love me in a far godlier manner than I love myself such that they would privately rebuke, encourage and pray for me.
One thing to note is, good ecclesiology can only be built up from good exegesis of biblical text. Exegesis, in quick summary is the consistent, natural reading of Scripture in its own context, chapter by chapter, as the author meant it to be read.
Being trained in exegesis in CERC has been a most joyful thing, I must say, albeit an exercise in balancing between two extreme points. At times, I go too far in reading too much biblical theology into a single line, whereas at other times, I treat the Bible merely as a beautiful literary piece, bursting with rich poetry, anthropology and history without ever pinpointing the theological points being made. In both instances, Robin would caution me to read the text slowly and carefully, paying attention to detail, or pull me back to seriously consider what Scripture says of culture, my own sin and daily application. This has been particularly apparent during CERC’s sermon series of the entire book of Deuteronomy over 20 weeks in 2010, and over the 20 odd weeks of Isaiah in 2011, of which we are half way through.
One thing I have grown to appreciate about the Old Testament is the rich illustrations of God’s holiness set against human sinfulness in historical milieu. Yes, the New Testament is rich too, in that we see Christ as the fulfilment of the OT prophecies, an example par excellence. Yet the raw physicality of the Old Testament sacrifices and the wrath of God complements the NT well, making it hard for a 21st century person like myself to over-spiritualize any real-life applications. God is as real as my neighbour or my family. Reality is not so much a matter of perspective but rather, objective in the Old Testament writings, and is made clear in the life of the church today, post-Cross.
It is helpful for me, as a sideline, to mention how GGF (Gospel Growth Fellowship) conferences ran parallel to my learning curve in CERC. GGF conferences are generally divided into:
- Fellow Workers Conference (Ministry focus)
- Word Works (Exegesis)
- Thinking Theologically Conference (Doctrine)
- Creation to Consummation (Biblical Theology)
They are generally taught in a way where reflections on our culture and personal application are interspersed throughout the conference. These conferences helped me to form a sound and godly view of the world, Christianity and church life, building upon the two pillars of good exegesis and good ecclesiology.
Having said all that, perhaps you, the reader, would then like to hear a little bit about the on-goings of CERC. CERC just wrapped up our annual CERC Camp. This year, the theme was Wisdom. Ah, what an incredibly profound theme it was. As a church, we had the opportunity to learn:
- What it means that God established the world in wisdom
- What it means that the Law is our wisdom
- How is Christ our wisdom
- How the proverbial wisdom really is wisdom (given that they do nothing to point to Christ, our Wisdom)
- The relationship between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of this world
- The relationship between God’s wisdom and the common-sense-wisdom that we have in this world
- Wisdom is both cognitive and also the way we live life
- What is wisdom applied in Christian living
During the camp, we had the opportunity to watch a movie “The Cider House Rules”. It reflected a lot on the immense disparity between God’s wisdom and the human wisdom. That movie stimulated my thinking about the face of rebellion in our world today — and the million ways in which we can deny Christ as King while we actively appear Christian. As a result now, for myself, all sin that I commit is committed with my having a fuller knowledge of the depth of my sinfulness — I hope that means more good than bad, in the hope that I could perhaps know and fight my own sin better now (although it does place me in a guiltier position before God, if that were even possible). But I have more reason to be godly; in any case, faith in Christ and all the justification, sanctification, glorification doctrines have been very helpful in battling sin.
In gaining a wider theological view of the world, my evangelism, too, has been impacted. Evangelism becomes easier, more natural because I am beginning to understand reality as it is, as God sees it. I am becoming more aware of a God-centred reality in the context of familial relations, career trajectory, personal and cultural sinfulness, financial constraints, etc. Ministry to Christians within CERC is gaining clarity. I say this in terms of how to love and teach one another. There are despairing times in ministry when much effort (poured into one person) result in a decline of maturity, instead of improvement, and learning about God’s sovereignty becomes swayed by ‘natural practicality’ but reflection upon Paul’s ministry burdens put me to shame. I do not find glory in my relative comfort as it is.
All in all, though, ministry is a joy as people are added bit by bit to the church and they grow in all spiritual knowledge and understanding to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. I am indeed grateful to God for the church and the work He is doing today and do pray for us for continuous support from gospel partners all over Malaysia and the world.