Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Second Commandment Does Not Prohibit The Use Of Images In Worship

It simply warns against confounding these images with God.

THERE is no consensus on the interpretation of Exodus 20:4-6. Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians maintain that these verses refer not to Christian icons but pagan idols.

According to this interpretation, the prohibition in verses 4-6 is profoundly related to that in verses 1-3. Both passages deal with idolatry. The Protestant tradition interprets these verses as prohibiting iconic worship, that is, the use of icons and images in Christian worship..

Consequently, in Protestant churches religious icons and images are not used in worship. Even the crucifix, which is the cross with a figurine of Christ, is not allowed in some Protestant churches. In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, however, religious images, icons and art play a significant role in worship. These religious images and icons are not only used for pedagogical purposes, but are also venerated.

The use of images in worship became an issue of controversy at two significant points in the history of the Church. The first took place in the 8th century when some theologians rejected the use of icons and images altogether because of abuses and excesses in the Church. The iconoclastic controversy of the 8th century, which, interestingly, was also sparked by the Muslims’ strict prohibition against the use of images in Islam, lasted nearly a century.

The Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council in Nicaea (AD 787), however, endorsed the use of images in Christian worship. The council stressed that “In the icon, we recognise nothing other than an image representing a likeness of the prototype … This is the only reason why it participates in the likeness, and that is the reason why we venerate it and call it holy.” In other words, the icon only represents the reality it depicts, and should not be mistaken for that reality.

The second period in which iconic worship became controversial was the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. Reformers like John Calvin argued that to use images in Christian worship is to transgress the second commandment that prohibits the worship of graven images. The evangelical churches followed in the footsteps of the Reformers in banning the use of images in worship.

Were the Reformers right in categorically prohibiting the use of images in Christian worship? If the Reformers’ interpretation of Exodus 20:4-6 is correct, then not only are Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians guilty of transgressing the second commandment, so were the Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Council.

The early Fathers of the Church defended the use of icons in Christian worship on the basis of the Incarnation. The incarnate Christ, according to the Apostle Paul, is the “image (Greek: ikon) of the invisible God” (Colossian 1:15). The Incarnation, therefore, according to theologians like St John of Damascus (650-730) and St Theodore the Studite (759-826), justifies and postulates the icon, for in the man Jesus, God has presented an image of Himself.

Thus, iconic worship testifies to the Church’s faith in the Incarnation, for, as St Theodore the Studite has so clearly argued, “If He [the Son} could not be represented by art, this would mean that He was not born of a Mother who can be depicted, but was born of the Father and that He was not Incarnate. But this contradicts the whole divine economy of our salvation.”

According to the Fathers, in assuming our flesh in the incarnation, God the Son penetrates as well as regenerates human flesh so that we too become theophoric – temples and bearers of God (1 Cor 3:17; 15:49 and 2 Cor 6:6). By his Resurrection, prefigured in the Transfiguration, Christ purifies, sanctifies and transfigures all matter, which can now be used to represent Him.

But in using material images in this way, the believer does not worship the images, but the God they represent. St John of Damascus stresses this in his defence of iconic worship in On the Divine Images: “I do not adore matter itself, I adore the Creator of all matter who became matter for my sake, who deigned to inhabit matter (our flesh) and who through matter accomplished my salvation.”

The Fathers of the Church, in defending the use of icons in worship, highlighted an inconsistency in the theology and practice of the iconoclasts. In prohibiting any depiction of the divine through religious art and images, the iconoclasts failed to see that the Gospel itself is a “verbal icon” of Christ. In pointing this out, St Theodore the Studite wrote in Refutation:

“Nowhere did Christ order that even the briefest word be written about Him. Nonetheless, His image was sketched in writing by the apostles and preserved for us to the present. So, what is represented on the one hand with paper and ink, is likewise represented on the other with various colours and different materials.”

What iconoclasts often miss is the worldliness of Christian worship. By this I mean that Christian worship, although a spiritual activity, cannot be severed from the material world to which Christians belong. As embodied creatures, Christians relate to God through the things of the world. This means that worldly things such as words, concepts, architecture, music, art, symbolic actions, religious symbols, liturgical colours, altar, books, bread, wine and water can enrich our worship of God.

Religious art, images and icons also can be used meaningfully in worship. The second commandment does not prohibit the use of images in worship, but simply warns us against confounding these images with God.

QUOTE:
‘Christian worship, although a spiritual activity, cannot be severed from the material world to which Christians belong … This means that worldly things such as words, concepts, architecture, music, art, symbolic actions, religious symbols, liturgical colours, altar, books, bread, wine and water can enrich our worship of God.’


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

Sabbath And The Lord’s Day Stress Lordship Of God Over All Creation

What is the relationship between the Jewish Sabbath and the Lord’s Day (Sunday)?

THERE is considerable consensus among scholars of Ancient Near East civilisation that the division of the week into seven days was not the invention of the people of Israel. The origins can be traced to Babylonian religion in which each day of the week is devoted to each of the seven gods or the spirits of the seven planets.

Although the Israelites did not device this scheme for dividing the week but inherited it when they entered Canaan, they were responsible for creating the Sabbath and exalting it as the holiest day of the week. “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew word sabat, which simply means “to cease” or “to desist”. The Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the week, is to be a day of rest, kept holy to God, just as God Himself ceased from His creative activity and rested.

The relationship between the Sabbath and the seventh day of creation is profoundly established in the number of texts from the Old Testament, but chiefly in the fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8, 11). Although the Genesis creation narrative itself does not use the term “Sabbath”, the fourth commandment makes the connection between the Sabbath day and the original creation itself.

For the Israelites, the Sabbath was a day of rest, a day set apart to remember God and worship him. It was seen as a gift from God, as Exodus 16:21-30 makes clear when the Sabbath is seen in connection with the giving of manna. The Sabbath meant reprieve from the toil of work, but in the cessation of work, a new trust in the providential goodness of God is established.

In deliberating the importance of ceasing from work, the people of God were reminded of the fact that it is God – not they – who sustains the world and keeps it going. But as a day set apart, made holy for God, Sabbath also taught the Israelites the sacredness of time. As modern Judaism’s most eloquent expositor, Abraham Joshua Heschel, has put it, “Judaism teaches us to be attached to the holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of the year.”

There is a sense in which the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day are very different days that commemorate different events. The Sabbath is the last day of the week and commemorates God’s rest after He has completed the work of creation. The Lord’s Day is the first day of the week and commemorates the Resurrection of Christ. But in many ways the themes that both these days evoke interlock and overlap.

Both days have to do with redemption: the Sabbath memorialised God’s redemption of His people from slavery in Egypt while the Lord’s Day celebrates redemption in the triumph of Jesus’ resurrection. Both the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day are linked to worship. And both days emphasise the Lordship of God over all creation, including creation’s future.

For Christians, the Sabbath is superseded by Resurrection Day. The relationship between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian “Day of the Lord” (Sunday) is best understood when we reflect upon the relationship between Jesus and the Law.

In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said that He has come not to abolish the Law but rather to fulfil it. Through the Resurrection of Jesus, the Sabbath has been changed forever. The salvation of God, the eschatological rest symbolised by the Sabbath, is now made a reality through the Resurrection. The Resurrection of Jesus is therefore the fulfilment of the promise of the Sabbath. It marks the new creation, leading theologians to speak of the Day of the Resurrection as the eighth day.

As Bishop William Willimon has shown, the question for the Christian is not how should I keep the Sabbath, but how should I keep the Lord’s Day. Sunday has superseded the Jewish Sabbath (traditionally observed on Saturday). This transition is seen as early as the second century, especially evidenced in the writings of theologians like Justin Martyr (AD 150) and Tertullian (AD 155). The Second Helvetic Confession offers a clear summary regarding the significance of the Lord’s Day:

“In regard hereof, we see that in the ancient churches there were not only certain set hours in the week appointed for meetings, but that also the Lord’s Day itself, ever since the apostles’ time, was consecrated to religious exercises and to a holy rest … we do celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, and not the Jewish Sabbath … “

So just as God entrusted to Israel the Sabbath so that the world might know God’s intention for the world, so Christians worship God on the day of the Resurrection, signalling not only that this promise of God has gone to all the world, but more profoundly that this new reality has already dawned upon us.

In the Resurrection of Jesus, eternity has already penetrated time, the future has already come, and the promised Sabbath is already a reality (although its fullness still lies in the future).

QUOTE:

‘The Sabbath memorialised God’s redemption of His people from slavery in Egypt while the Lord’s Day celebrates redemption in the triumph of Jesus’ resurrection. Both the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day are linked to worship.’


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

Church Does Not Prohibit Abortion Under All Circumstances

It is clear that the Christian Tradition opposes abortion because it is the wilful killing of another human being. But are there no exceptions? What about pregnancies that result from rape? Should abortion be allowed in order to save the life of the pregnant woman?

WHILE the Christian faith opposes abortion for reasons spelt out in last month’s article (Abortion is ‘wilful destruction of a human being’: Methodist Message April 2007), the Christian anti-abortion position does not prohibit abortion under all circumstances.

The late Christian ethicist Paul Ramsay introduced the distinction between direct and indirect abortion in his attempt to show that under some very limited circumstances, abortion must be allowed. The difference between the two forms of abortion has to do with the primary thrust of the act, its main intention.

In direct abortion, the main intention is to kill the conceptus, while in indirect abortion it is to save the life of the pregnant woman. For this reason, direct abortion must always be prohibited. But indirect abortion may be allowed, but only when all other avenues of saving the life of the woman have been exhausted.

Indirect abortion restricts the circumstances in which abortion can be carried out. To repeat: only when the pregnant woman is in mortal danger, and when there is no other alternative, is abortion allowed. This means that all other reasons – quality of life, convenience, peace of mind, financial burden, etc – must be ruled out. Indirect abortion is one of those inevitable consequences of living in an imperfect world where in order to save a life physicians must take that of another.

But does this apply to pregnancy that results from rape? If a victim of rape were not allowed to abort, she would have to bear the responsibility of bringing the pregnancy to term and taking care of the child once he or she is born. The abortion option would relieve her of such responsibility, which is not the result of her own actions. In addition, some victims of rape may be under-aged or mentally ill and therefore unable to discharge their maternal responsibilities.

Christian ethicists have made several responses to this. The first is the statistically proven fact that very few women who are subjected to this violent attack become pregnant. Several reasons have been offered to explain why this is so. The woman may be infertile at the time because of either the menstrual cycle or the use of contraceptives. There may be lack of actual penetration, or her male attacker may be suffering from sexual deficiencies like impotence.

Secondly, if the victim were to present herself to the emergency department of a hospital within 24 hours, she will be subjected to certain protocols. Some of these protocols, such as flushing the reproductive tract and hormonal treatment, would prevent fertilisation. Thus, if proper steps are taken promptly, the chances that the violent sexual encounter would result in pregnancy can be greatly minimised.

Sometimes hospitals use abortifacient drugs like Ovral and RU 486 to prevent pregnancy in rape victims. There is some ambiguity in the description of such drugs and what they do. Are they contraceptives, abortion drugs or contragestation drugs? Drugs like Ovral have often been described as a contraceptive mainly because they “render the endometrium hostile to a possible fertilised egg”. In other words, these drugs cause a miscarriage. RU 486, however, prevents the implantation of the embryo on the wall of the uterus. The drug causes the uterus to react in a way similar to the end of a menstrual cycle.

Judging from what these drugs actually do, we must conclude that they primarily cause an abortion to take place. This means that it is misleading to call these drugs contraceptives. Their introduction has in fact already changed the entire course of the abortion debate, causing a shift from surgical to chemical abortions, and from abortion clinics to the physician’s office. Their introduction has made abortions easier, cheaper and much more private.

Even though the chances of a rape victim becoming pregnant are very slim, there is still a possibility that this might happen. Should the rape victim be allowed to abort the baby? To answer this question we must look beyond the individual and the crime that is committed against her, and set both the victim and the crime in the larger social context.

To put the matter plainly, although rape is a crime committed against an individual, it is never a private matter. This crime, like all other crimes, involves the entire community – the family, the church, the larger society. Thus it is the entire human community, not just the victim alone, that must bear the responsibility for the consequences of this violent act. Here the community must care for the victim and her child. It must provide her with the material, emotional and physical support she needs. It must care for her and the child she is carrying in every possible way.

Abortion is a convenient solution if society is unwilling to take up this responsibility. The abortion option is therefore welcomed by pragmatists. But such an attitude would surely erode the moral fibre of our society and drive it to embrace an ever more extreme form of individualism.

QUOTE:

WHEN ABORTION MAY BE ALLOWED
‘The late Christian ethicist Paul Ramsay introduced the distinction between direct and indirect abortion in his attempt to show that under some very limited circumstances, abortion must be allowed. The difference between the two forms of abortion has to do with the primary thrust of the act, its main intention.’


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

Abortion is ‘wilful destruction of a human being’

What should be the Christian attitude towards abortion?

WITHOUT a doubt, abortion is one of the most divisive and controversial issues of our day.

People have strong views about abortion because it is never merely an issue of social preferences. For some the abortion issue has to do with personal autonomy, while for others it has to do with the unconditional respect for the sanctity of human life.

Before turning to the Christian response to abortion, it is good to begin with a definition. In his encyclical, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium vitae), Pope John Paul II defines abortion as “the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth”.

Until 1969, the performance of an abortion was in general considered as a criminal act in Singapore. On March 20, 1970, the abortion law in Singapore was liberalised by a legislative act which permitted an abortion to be performed on broad medical, eugenic, juridical and socio-economical grounds.

The Abortion Act of 1974 liberalised Singapore’s abortion law further by permitting “abortion on demand”‘ as long as it is performed by a registered physician. Before this time an abortion was permitted only if it was necessary to save the life or prevent serious injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

The rapid advances in biotechnology have again directed attention to abortion. The different forms of prenatal genetic diagnosis (PND) have made abortion a real option for the couple who discovered that their unborn child is predisposed to a serious genetic disorder. One example of PND is chrionic villus sampling which analyses the chrionic villi surrounding the amniotic sac and that containing the chromosomes and genes of the foetus. The procedure is performed between eight to nine weeks of pregnancy, enabling the woman to abort the baby even before her family and friends know that she was pregnant.

For the Christian the issue of abortion has to do with the status of the foetus. If the foetus is not regarded as a human person deserving of respect and protection then abortion poses no serious ethical problem. But if the foetus is from conception a human person who bears the image of its Creator, then abortion is wrong because it is the wilful destruction of a human being.

Although the Bible does not deal specifically with the issue of abortion it directly prohibits murder (Exodus 20:13). If the foetus is indeed a human being, abortion would be included in this prohibition.

But does the Bible teach that the unborn foetus should be regarded as a human person deserving of respect and protection?

Although there is no direct statement in the Bible that says that the human embryo is a human being from conception, a number of passages do point to that conclusion.

The status of the human foetus can be gleaned from passages like Psalm 139 and Jeremiah 1:5. These passages indicate that God knows the foetus personally while it is in its mother’s womb. We may infer from this that the foetal life that God recognises already possesses the moral and spiritual qualities of personhood.

Regardless of its age, the foetus is a human being created by God in His own image. The Christian tradition maintains that the image of God and human personhood are not determined by age or physiology, but are conferred by God. In addition, the Old Testament uses the same Hebrew word yeled for the unborn and for young children. All children were children regardless of whether they lived inside or outside the womb. On this basis, abortion must be prohibited because it is wilfully taking the life of a human being.

For this reason the Church’s attitude towards abortion throughout its history has been unambiguous. In a 2nd-century document, the Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), abortion is condemned together with infanticide. The document strongly opposes abortion when it instructs its readers not to “murder a child by abortion” (2.2). This exact prohibition is repeated in the Epistle of Barnabas, suggesting that this teaching was quite prevalent in early Christianity.

In addition, at least three of earliest Christianity’s theologians – Athenagoras, Tertullian and Clement – prohibited the practice of abortion. Women who induce abortion are murderers, according to Athenogoras. For Tertullian, abortion is murder regardless of whether the foetus is “formed” or “unformed”. Clement of Alexandria could go so far as to say that “those who use abortifacient medicines to hide their fornication cause not only outright murder of the foetus, but of the whole human race as well”.

In the 7th century, the Council of Trullo echoed this teaching when it stated that “those who give drugs for procuring abortion, and those who receive poisons to kill the foetus, are subjected to the penalty for murder” (i.e., 10 years of excommunication).

Abortion is morally wrong because human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence. But abortion is morally reprehensible also because it is the wilful destruction of a human being at the very beginning of his or her life. This human being is weak and even more defenceless than a newborn baby.

The unborn child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in her womb. The unborn child could not be considered an aggressor in any way, much less an unjust aggressor. In fact, it is not possible to imagine anyone more innocent than the unborn child. It is therefore impossible to ever justify the deliberate killing of such an innocent and weak human being.

QUOTE:

‘Regardless of its age, the foetus is a human being created by God
in His own image.’


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity. 
This article was published in the Methodist Message.

Dealing With The Subject Of Evolution

Should Christians subscribe to the theory of evolution?

MUCH depends on what one means by evolution. In his Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin hypothesised that all organisms are related to a “common ancestry” and arose through a process of mutation and “natural selection”. The latter refers to the process by which organisms arose and persist by the random processes of nature.

The organism that is best able to survive and reproduce tended to produce more offspring, while those that could not survive simply became extinct. The simplest organism evolved into more complex ones. Because of its emphasis on “natural selection”, Darwinian evolution does not allow for direct intervention by God.
That changes and mutations do occur within a particular species is no longer in dispute. Scientists have described this form of mutation that takes place on a small scale and usually within a single population as microevolution.

There are a number of indisputable examples of microevolution. Studies have shown, for instance, that house sparrows in North America are larger-bodied in the north than in the south because of colder temperatures in the north. The mosquito species Wyeomyia smithii has evolved because of global warming so that slightly shorter days are required as cue for going dormant. And the enterococci bacteria have evolved a resistance to several kinds of antibiotics.

The question is: Is there sufficient evidence to show that similar changes have taken place and are still doing so on a grand scale? Put differently, does the fact of microevolution imply macroevolution? I am of the view that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that it does. Evolutionists of course disagree. As evolutionist Carl Zimmer has so bluntly put it, “If you accept microevolution, you get macroevolution for free.” But such a claim remains unproven scientifically.

Small-scale evolution is a fact, but there is no scientific basis to conclude that it is unbounded. Zimmer suggests that macroevolution can be extrapolated from microevolution. But the evolution of bacteria to fish to amphibia to reptiles to mammals requires a tremendous amount of change. Evolutionary science has not demonstrated the feasibility of such significant changes. This has led some evolutionists like Ernst Mayr to admit that large-scale life-patterns reveal “a richness to evolution unexplained by microevolution”.

Perhaps the most radical proposal of Darwin has to do with the origins of human beings, which was delineated in a book entitled, The Descent of Man, published in 1871. Without going into the details, evolutionary paleoanthropologists (paleoanthropology is an intersection of the disciplines of paleontology and anthropology), following Darwin, postulate the ancestry of human beings (homo sapiens sapiens) can be traced back from Ramapithecus, a common ancestor of apes and man. Although fossil records remain inconclusive, the split, according to this theory, took place 5 to 30 million years ago. But the rub is that human beings share a common ancestry with apes.

Although most Christians generally reject Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, some (even conservative Christians) are sympathetic to the idea of evolution. God, they argue, could have directed the process of evolution at the beginning and worked within it.

This view, which is sometimes described as theistic evolution, stresses the uniqueness of human beings by arguing that God intervened in the evolutionary process and modified some living creature by giving it a soul. But apart from this special instance, God generally worked within the natural processes of evolution that He has put in place. Proponents of this view argue that theistic evolution is able to embrace the biblical teaching that God is the Creator without having to reject the scientific theory of evolution.

But theistic evolution, attractive though it obviously is, has difficulties with the biblical account of creation. The biblical account maintains that God brought forth each animal and plant after it own “kind” (Gen 1:24). Although this statement is generally understood to refer to “biological species”, the Hebrew min actually refers to a broader category. Hence, although min could mean “species”, there is not enough specificity to conclude that this is what it in fact means.

It is better translated as “kind” or “type”. This suggests that God could have over a long period of time created different “kinds” or “types” of creatures. From the first member of each type, others may have through time developed.

Unlike theistic evolutionism, which is compelled to accept that all life begins from simple organisms, progressive creationism is able to do the biblical account of creation that God created different kinds of creatures more justice. But more significantly, progressive creationism is able to uphold the biblical teaching of the uniqueness of man without having to speculate on the ensoulment of hominoids when the evolutionary jump is supposedly made from Ramapithecus to Australopithecus.

The biblical account clearly distinguishes human beings from the other creatures. The creation of human beings is preceded by a solemn introduction (“let us make man in our image, after our likeness”), thereby distinguishing the creation of humans from God’s preceding works. Man’s original solitude also shows that he is not a creature on the same footing with the other animals. And by “naming” the other animals, man sees what he “is not”, and asserts himself as a unique creature made in the image of God, which possesses subjectivity, consciousness and rationality.

QUOTE:
‘Although most Christians generally reject Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, some (even conservative Christians) are sympathetic to the idea of evolution. God, they argue, could have directed the process of evolution at the beginning and worked within it.’


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

Can Anyone Justify War From A Christian Perspective?

Should Christians ever go to war?

THE Christian response to war has been a broad spectrum, ranging from absolute rejection of war to full participation, with the proclamation of divine blessings and authority.

The spectrum includes the following: pacifism, non-resistance, just war, preventive war, and crusade. Each view has several permutations and variations, as well as strengths and weaknesses.

How can anyone ever justify war from a Christian perspective? Doesn’t God command His people never to commit murder or kill another human being? (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). Don’t we hear in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God?” Doesn’t Jesus teach in that same Sermon, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39)? Is this not a command to non-violence? And doesn’t the Bible repeatedly call God, the “God of peace”?

In light of these Scripture passages, some Christians advocate pacifism. They argue that the violence of war is totally inconsistent with the law of love Jesus preached and embodied. Myron Augsberger expresses the sentiments of many a Christian pacifist when he asks, “How can we kill another human being for whom Jesus died?” Pacifists urge Christians to follow the example of Jesus who refused to sanction violence but preferred instead to suffer on the cross. They argue that violence is the result of our idolatrous attachment to property, which must be defended at all cost.

The problem with the pacifist view is that it misidentifies the morality of the individual as justification for the morality or behaviour of the state. What do I mean? The teachings of Jesus regarding “loving one’s enemies” and “turning the other cheek” were meant to discourage revenge. They have to do with the morality of the individual and do not directly apply to the actions of the state.

If Christians were meant to be pacifists one would expect to find a command or a directive in Scripture to that effect. None, however, can be found. When soldiers approached John the Baptist and asked him, “What should we do [to be pleasing to God]?”, John did not condemn war or participation in war, but instead warned them against extortion and greed (Luke 3:14).

The Bible and Christian tradition present the absolute character of the “law of love”, taught and embodied by our Lord, and yet, at the same time, they recognise the universality of human sin. The Bible recognises the sinfulness of war, that it is always a manifestation of the fallen human condition.

Yet, some wars may be necessary, because they may prevent even greater evils from being perpetrated. No other Christian writer has expressed this more compellingly and forcefully than the great Reformer, Martin Luther: “What men write about war, saying that it is a great plague, is all true. But they should also consider how great the plague is that war prevents’ (Luther’s Works 46:96).

The Christian philosopher, Arthur Holmes, has articulated the tenacious issue that confronts the Christian succinctly and eloquently:
“To call war anything less than evil would be self-deception. The Christian conscience has throughout history recognised the tragic character of war. The issue that tears the Christian conscience is not whether war is good, but whether it is in all cases avoidable.”
It was the 5th century theologian, Augustine of Hippo, who conceived of the just war theory in response to this challenge. According to him, a just war:
1. Must be waged for self-defence, rather than conquest, plunder, or political aggression;
2. Must be initiated by the proper authority, i.e., a lawful government, rather than an angry mob;
3. Must be fought with the right intention: peace. It should not be fought in order to gain land, wealth, power, etc.;
4. Must have a reasonable chance of success;
5. Must use means proportionate to the goal. If, for example, the goal is to liberate an oppressed people, it makes no sense to destroy cities in the process.

From these principles, the “just war” theory gradually embraces seven principles or criteria, all of which must be met if a war is to be deemed just. The first five apply to the nation that is “on the way to war” (jus ad bellum), and the final two to the nation “in the midst of war” (jus ad bello). Space allows only the briefest exposition of these principles.

1. Just Cause. All aggression is condemned in just war theory – only defensive war is legitimate.
2. Just Intention. The intention behind the war must be just (or right): it must be waged to secure fair peace for all. Revenge, economic gain and ideological supremacy are all illegitimate reasons for war.
3. Last Resort. War must be the last resort, only when all other means of diplomacy and economic pressure have been exhausted.
4. Formal Declaration. The war in question must be initiated only after a formal declaration by properly constituted parties is made.
5. Limited Objectives. The war must be waged in such a way that once peace is achieved, hostilities must cease.
6. Proportionate Means. Combatant forces of the opposition forces must not be subjected to greater harm than what is needed to attain peace.
7. Non-combatant Immunity. Military forces must respect individuals and groups not participating in the conflict (civilians, peacekeepers, journalists, etc) and must abstain from attacking them.

Difficult for a Christian to call any war just

The interpretation and application of these principles are, in reality, never clear-cut and easy in modern warfare.

Wars are first waged in human hearts before they are fought in the battlefields of the globe. It is difficult for a Christian to call a war – any war – just. However, it should also be pointed out that the just war theory does not try to justify war. Rather, it attempts to prevent war and to bring war within the limits of justice. It attempts to rein in and contain the evils of war.

QUOTE:
OUR GOD OF PEACE
‘Doesn’t God command His people never to commit murder or kill another human being? (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). Don’t we hear in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God?” … And doesn’t the Bible repeatedly call God, the “God of peace”?


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

 

Should Christians Condone Euthanasia?

IN THE modern world dying has become a problem! The extraordinary advances in science and technology have not only made it possible for doctors to alleviate pain but also to extend life.

The possibility of being maintained on life support for months and sometimes years has resulted in much anxiety in both elderly and non-elderly patients. Patients and their families are increasingly involved in medical decisions concerning the end of life. As a result, patients, physicians, the public, and policy makers are faced with complex and difficult questions: Should the terminally ill patient be allowed to die? Should the medical profession have the option of helping these patients to die?

The issue of euthanasia or physician-assisted-suicide is receiving renewed attention and interest in recent years. The recent case of Terri Schiavo and the public debate it sparked shows quite clearly how clouded the question of euthanasia can become. (For my comments please see, “A Life Deemed Useless: The Terri Schiavo Case”, Trumpet, May 2005, pp. 2, 8).

But renewed interest in this issue can also be attributed to the fact that in recent years a number of European countries have legalised the practice of euthanasia. For instance, on April 10, 2001, the Dutch Government approved the “Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act”. And on May 28, 2002, Belgium passed an Act legalising euthanasia, which went into effect on Sept 23, 2002.

What is euthanasia? Should Christians condone such a practice?

The American Medical Association’s (AMA) Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs has defined euthanasia as:

… the act of bringing about the death of a hopelessly ill and suffering person in a relatively quick and painless way for reasons of mercy. In this report, the term euthanasia will signify the medical administration of a lethal agent to a patient for the purpose of relieving the patient’s intolerable and incurable suffering.

The Christian faith does not condone euthanasia because it maintains that human life is a gift of God and has intrinsic and exceptional value. The Christian faith’s rejection of euthanasia is also established upon the general prohibition against murder found in the sixth commandment in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:13).

According to the Christian faith, each human being is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27) and given a special vocation. Thus each human being has a unique role to play in the drama of salvation of the world. This emphasis has led some 20th century theologians like Karl Barth to argue that the dignity of each individual person is profoundly related to his or her uniqueness.

God has given each person a unique role to play at this time, in this place and in this manner. And although that role may not be glamorous, it is nonetheless special – it cannot be played by any other person in all of history.

Furthermore, the Christian faith sees life as a “gift” or a “loan” from God. The implication of this is that the individual is not simply a master but a beneficiary. More precisely, the individual is first a beneficiary before he or she is a master. This means that the individual’s life is not at his or her disposal, but he or she must treat it with due care; and due care must mean that nothing should be done to harm or destroy it. These insights have informed and shaped the Christian idea of the sacredness or the sanctity of life, and correlatively its stringent prohibition against harming and destroying human life.

Supporters of euthanasia have presented two arguments why to their mind the practice is not morally unacceptable. The first appeals to the principle of autonomy and self-determination: the person requesting to be euthanised is exercising his or her right to self-determination. This basic “right-to-die” argument appears in its various permutations in pro-euthanasia literature.

The problem with this argument is that if the “right-to-die” is so fundamental, why restrict it only to those who are terminally ill? Why not allow those who are in good health, but who feel that their lives are not worth living, to euthanise themselves?

The second argument – to which some Christians may be more sympathetic – is that euthanasia provides compassionate relief from suffering. That is why it is sometimes called “mercy killing”. In response, we argue that although suffering is to be resisted because it is not the expressed will of God, human beings do not have the right to take a life in order to relief suffering. The central principle which governs medical ethics is “maximise care”, and not “minimise suffering”. If it were the latter, then the elimination of sufferers would indeed be justified. But the duty of the physician is “always to care, never to kill”.

This wisdom, enshrined in the Hippocratic Oath, is embedded in the tradition of Western medicine for many centuries and should serve as the moral compass for decisions concerning the end of life. Thus the Declaration on Euthanasia of the World Health Organisation (Madrid, 1987) states that “euthanasia, or the act of deliberately putting to an end to a patient’s life, either at the request of the patient himself or at the request of his relatives, is immoral”.

In similar vein, the encyclical Evangelium vitae (“Gospel of Life“) issued by Pope John Paul II condemns euthanasia because it is a “grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person”.

QUOTE:
SANCTITY OF LIFE
‘The Christian faith sees life as a “gift” or a “loan” from God. The implication of this is that the individual is not simply a master but a beneficiary … These insights have informed and shaped the Christian idea of the sacredness or the sanctity of life, and correlatively its stringent prohibition against harming and destroying human life.’


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

There are some similarities between the Christian and Islamic concepts of God, but we can’t conclude that Christians and Muslims worship the same God

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

THIS question has become pressing in some circles, especially after 9/11 and in the wake of strenuous attempts in the West not to demonise Islam.

An affirmative answer to this question is well supported by some of the most powerful political and religious voices in the world.

In an exclusive 2004 interview of ABC News’ correspondent Charles Gibson, President George W. Bush asserted that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. In a 2004 lecture at the al-Azhar al-Sharif Institute in Cairo, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams made the same assertion, although in a more sophisticated and nuanced manner. This view is supported by Vatican II, the authoritativeCatechism of the Catholic Church, and in a number of speeches and writings of John Paul II.

Those who are of the view that Christians and Muslims worship the same God often offer the following reasons for their position. Both Christians and Muslims believe in one personal and transcendent God. That is to say, both Christianity and Islam are monotheistic religions. Both believe that God sent his prophets in the world, and inspired the writers of their scriptures. Furthermore, both believe that Jesus was a prophet sent by God, and that he was sinless and born of a virgin. For some, the broad similarities between the two religions are reasons enough to conclude that they are, to quote Mr Bush, “different ways of getting to the Almighty”.

But in order for us to reflect on this issue seriously, we must ask deeper questions. Doctrinal and theological issues should not be generalised, and difficulties and differences should never be avoided or sugared over for the sake of broad agreements.

Let us begin by looking at the claim that both Christianity and Islam belong to what has been described as the “Abrahamic tradition”. It is important to note at the outset that Christians and Muslims share no common scriptures. Indeed when we read accounts of the Muslims’ attitudes to the Christian scriptures in the Qu’ran, we find a spectrum which ranges from respect to the charge that large parts of the Christian Bible (Old Testament included) are rank forgeries.

That is why even though the two sets of scripture speak of the same figure – Abraham (Qur’an: Ibrahim) – they develop very different narratives and draw very different lessons. In the Qur’an, Ibrahim is an important link in a chain of Muslim prophets that culminates with Muhammad. This makes the claim that both Christianity and Islam belong to the “Abrahamic tradition” problematic, if not incredulous.

Even the argument that Christians and Muslims worship the same God because they are monotheists is untenable. While it is true that both sets of scriptures affirm that God is one (Sura 112:1; Deut. 6:4; Mark 12:29), they fail to agree on what this unity entails.

Both traditions maintain that God is transcendent over his creation (Sura 42:11; Isa 6:1). But they do not agree on how this transcendent God may be also said to be immanent. The Qur’an describes divine immanence by insisting that although Allah is “the Lord of the heavens and the earth” (19:65) he is closer to his people than their jugular vein (50:16). Furthermore, Muslim thinkers such as the late Isma’il al-Fariqi have long argued that God does not wish to reveal himself, only his will.

The Christian account of divine transcendence and immanence is profoundly different. The transcendent Creator of the heavens and the earth is so profoundly intimately involved with his creatures. The doctrine of the incarnation teaches that the second Person of the Trinity took up human flesh and became a creature. The incarnation also shows that God does not simply wish to reveal his will, but his very person. In the incarnate Son we know that God is Emmanuel, “God with us”. And not only did God disclose himself to his creation, he gave himself in sacrificial love for his creatures, a concept alien to Islam.

But the most profound difference between the monotheism of Christianity and Islam is that in Christianity the one God is triune. The one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Islam rejects the Christian doctrine of the Trinity: “People of the Book (i.e., Christians), do not transgress the bounds of your religion. Speak nothing but the truth about God … So believe in God and his apostles and do not say “Three” … God is but one God.” (Sura 41:171).

Islam consequently rejects the claim that Jesus is the Son of God: “God forbids that He Himself should beget a son!” (Sura 19:35). And although Islam can say that Jesus lived a sinless life, it ultimately rejects the deity of Christ: “The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was no more than God’s apostle.” (Sura 4:171).

We are confronted here with the problematic nature of appealing to a generic monotheism that both Christianity and Islam are said to embrace. It is not enough to deal only with abstractions and simply allow concepts like the one God or Supreme Being to dictate our reflection on Christianity and Islam. We must look at what these traditions have to say specifically about the God they worship. And when we do so, we will discover differences between the two traditions that are so fundamental, sharp and irreconcilable that to say that their adherents worship the same God is simplistic, if not entirely mistaken.

Thus, although we may perhaps say that there are some similarities between the Christian and Islamic concepts of God, we cannot conclude that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

QUOTE:

DIFFERENT SCRIPTURES
‘It is important to note at the outset that Christians and Muslims share no common scriptures … That is why even though the two sets of scripture speak of the same figure – Abraham (Qur’an: Ibrahim) – they develop very different narratives and draw very different lessons.’


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was first published in the Methodist Message.

 

Should Christians Support The Death Penalty?

CAPITAL punishment is a divisive issue today, even among Christians. Fundamentalist Christians in America, especially from the so-called Bible-belt, support the death penalty because it is the explicit teaching of Scripture, particularly the Old Testament.

Conservative Catholics support the death penalty maintaining that the practice – which is the right of the State – is in concurrence with Scripture, tradition and natural law. Liberals (and some conservatives) have long called for its total abolition.

It is impossible within the limited compass of this essay to examine this complex issue from every angle. What follows is a brief survey of the biblical material and the witness of the Christian tradition. I will also discuss, albeit briefly, the arguments in support of and against capital punishment, before presenting my own position.

There can be no doubt that the Old Testament sanctions capital punishment for certain crimes and offences. In the Mosaic Law there are no less than 36 capital offences that are punishable by execution by stoning, burning, decapitation or strangulation. The list includes offences such as idolatry, magic, blasphemy, murder, adultery, bestiality, incest, and even the violation of the Sabbath. But the death penalty is seen as an especially appropriate punishment for murder, for the Noahic covenant presents the following principle: “Whoever shed the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6).

That capital punishment is an approved punishment that the State can execute is surely taught, or at least implied, in Romans 13. The authority of the State is established by God to reward the good and punish the wicked. The State has the right to wield the sword in dealing with the wicked.

Although Jesus Himself refrains from using violence, He does not deny that the State has the authority to exact capital punishment. He cites with approval the harsh commandment, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die”, in His debate with the Pharisees (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10, Cf. Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9). In His trial before Pilate, Jesus did not contest Pilate’s right to execute offenders but reminded him that this authority came “from above”. (John 19:11).

Support for the death penalty is almost unanimous in the Christian tradition, particularly in the teachings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Except for a few like Ambrose, most Church Fathers maintain that Scripture gives the State the right to exact such punishment on certain offenders.

Thoughtful objectors of the death penalty have offered four reasons why capital punishment should be abolished. The first is that the convict may be innocent. This objection alerts us to the fact that even the best and most objective justice system is imperfect and therefore not infallible. The second objection is that the death penalty whets the appetite for revenge. The third objection is that the death punishment cheapens the value of life and promotes the idea that murder in some respects may be condoned. Some see this as a weak objection: many pro-life advocates are at the same time advocates of capital punishment because they reasoned rightly that the innocent and the guilty do not have the same rights.

The final objection will at first glance appear to be compelling: Christians are called to forgive. Although forgiveness is an important aspect of the Gospel and the Christian is commanded to forgive, there must be a distinction between the assailant’s relationship with his victim and with the state. Personal pardon on the part of the victim does not absolve the offender from his/her obligation to justice.

The purposes of criminal punishment may be summarised thus: rehabilitation, defence against the criminal, deterrence and retribution. Can the death penalty achieve these goals?

Rehabilitation: Obviously the death penalty does not help to reintegrate the criminal into society – although from the pastoral standpoint it may cause repentance and reconciliation with God. Defence against the criminal: Capital punishment is obviously an effective way of protecting society from the criminal, although some questioned if such an extreme measure is really necessary. Deterrence: The death penalty may deter others contemplating to commit similar crimes, although its power to do so is debatable. Finally, retribution: The general principle is that guilt calls for punishment; and the greater the offence, the more severe the punishment.

But since the State, unlike God, is neither omniscient nor omnipotent, retribution by the State obviously has its limits.

I believe that the State has the authority to exact the death penalty although it may choose not to do so. The State may choose to commute the death sentence to a less severe punishment, like life imprisonment without parole. However, should the State choose to put criminals to death, such punishment should be meted out only to perpetrators of heinous crimes like murder.

The State has the authority to wield the sword, but it must do so sparingly, and always in the interest of justice.


 

Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.

Atheism will never succeed in undermining the Christian Faith

Who are the “New Atheists”? Do their proposals threaten to undermine the Christian Faith?

IN RECENT years there has been a rash of books challenging Christianity in particular and religion in general. The authors of these books are sometimes referred to as the “New Atheists” and they are a motley crew of scientists, philosophers and freelance writers.

Some of them write with the fervour of an evangelist, eager to preach the “good news” that God is dead, and that religion is not only unnecessary but that it is in fact harmful. Their books have flown off the bookshelves in Singapore as well as elsewhere. Most of them try to sell a form of scientism that dogmatically asserts that the hard sciences are able to unlock the mysteries of the world and even solve its problems. All of them are materialistic or naturalistic in that they insist that the physical world is the only reality there is, and that everything about reality is observable, either with the naked eye or with the microscope or telescope.

The titles of these books are certainly carefully crafted to ensure that they create the greatest sensation and perhaps generate the best sales. For instance, Richard Dawkins’ newest book is entitled, The God Delusion. Christopher Hitchens’ book bears an even more provocative title, God is Not Great, and it has a sub-title to match: How Religion Poisons Everything. No less provocative is Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, and Sam Harris’ The End of Faith.

As the titles indicate, these authors are not only interested in rubbishing religion. Their mission is to convince readers that religion is evil, and that society would do well to be rid of it. But in their attempt to eradicate the traditional religions, these authors have also introduced new ones, namely, secularism and scientism.

When one peruses the pages of these books, one finds much heat but very little substance.  Often, these writers play reason against faith, as if faith is totally irrational. Writing about the traditional proofs for the existence of God, Richard Dawkins asserts that these proofs fail because they avoid the question. “Who made God?” Dawkins insists that “Faith is a cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate the evidence … Faith, being belief isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice in any religion.”

Compelled by his uncritical scientism Dawkins speaks of the “fatuousness of the religiously indoctrinated mind”, and concludes that religion “is now completely superseded by science”. These assertions betray either that Dawkins is totally unfamiliar with what the Christian tradition has to say about faith and reason, or that he has simply chosen to ignore it.

As a scientist who lauds reason, Dawkins often gives the impression that he writes with great objectivity. But when writing against religions his assertions are broad and often unfounded generalisations (some would say “pontifications”, making him and others like him dogmatic atheistic fundamentalists!).

Let’s take an example outside Christianity – Dawkins’ comments about Muslim suicide bombers. He categorically blames religious schools for nurturing such extremists when he writes, “If children were taught to question and think through their beliefs, instead of being taught the superior value of faith without question, it is a good bet that there would be no suicide bombers. Suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools.”

Dawkins asserts this with such certainty that to the undiscerning reader what he says seems plausible. But he offers no evidence, no sociological backing for his thesis. He may be unaware of the solid study by Robert Pape, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, on this issue. Based on detailed studies of every suicide attack since 1980, this study, entitled, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2006), convincingly shows that religious zealotry in itself is not sufficient to produce suicide bombers.

Such imprecision is endemic in Christopher Hitchens’ book, God is Not Great. In his review in Christianity Today, Preston Jones observes that under the broad umbrella of religion, Hitchens groups

Mother Teresa, voodoo, the pope, “fear-ridden peasants of antiquity”, Muslim suicide bombers, animists, “arid monotheism”, the Archbishop of Canterbury, séances, Thomas Aquinas, an evangelical huckster “dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit”, Muhammad, the “tawdry myths of Bethlehem”, the “vapid and annoying holiday known as ‘Hanukah’”, Mormons, “hysterical Jewish congregations”, the “sordid” theology of Pascal, Martin Luther King, rednecks, “cobbled-together ancient Jewish books” (i.e., the Bible), WWII-era Japanese emperor worship, and male circumcision (which Hitchens describes as “mutilation of a powerless infant with the aim of ruining its future sex life”).

The claims of atheism could be shown to be false even without appealing to the revelation of God. For example, the atheist claims that since there is no evidence to prove that God exists, we must conclude that He does not exist.

Theoretical physics, however, has taught us that the absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence. In theoretical physics, certain entities are postulated for which there is (as yet) no evidence. But the absence of evidence does not mean that one is therefore justified in thinking that these entities do not exist.

Atheists often present Christians with the burden of proving that God exists since Christians claim to know that He does. But the assertion “God does not exist” is also a claim to knowledge. Atheists are saying that they know that God does not exist. But they have not to date provided theists with convincing justification for their claim to know this to be true.

Atheism will never succeed in undermining the Christian Faith. Still, writers like Dawkins and Hitchens may create doubts in the minds of believers who are not sufficiently grounded in Scripture and Tradition. Their presence therefore challenges the Church to take seriously the theological illiteracy of some of its members, and to diligently teach the Faith it received from the Apostles.

QUOTE:

‘The Church should take seriously the theological illiteracy of some of its members, and to diligently teach the Faith it received from the Apostles.’


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was first published in the Methodist Message.