Monthly Archives: December 2016

Is the Incarnation Possible?

December 2016 CREDO

Every Christmas Christians celebrate the Incarnation, the metaphysical union between true divinity and true humanity in the one person of Jesus Christ. But is such a union possible?

Throughout the centuries many skeptics have raised doubts by pointing out that being divine entails being omniscient and omnipotent, but the New Testament portrays Jesus as having human properties such as being apparently limited in knowledge (Mark 13:32) and power (John 4:3-6).

Many Christians have responded by saying that the Incarnation is a mystery.

This is true, nevertheless, the inadequacy with simply replying ‘mystery’ is that, since the Christian wants to make meaningful statements by affirming, for example, that the divine nature includes omniscience and that Jesus was apparently limited in knowledge as stated by the Scriptures, he/she must demonstrate what is meant (or what could possibly be meant) by these statements; it is not enough to claim that it is a ‘mystery’ and leave it as that.

Moreover, the Christian must ensure that the explications of these statements do not result in contradictions. The problem with asserting that one can make contradictory statements about Jesus (e.g. ‘Jesus has complete awareness of everything and complete unawareness of everything simultaneously’) is that the person who makes such contradictory statements is not affirming anything about Jesus.

Affirming ‘complete awareness of everything’ and ‘complete unawareness of everything’ simply cancel each other out; it is like writing something and then immediately erasing it, such that one ends up with nothing that is affirmed of Jesus.

Therefore, in order to make meaningful statements about Jesus in accordance with the Scriptures and to rebut the charge of incoherence, it would be helpful if the Christian can suggest a possible model to show how concepts like omniscience and apparent limitation in knowledge can be affirmed of Jesus such that no contradiction results.

One such model is the Divine Preconscious Model (DPM), which is a form of ‘Kryptic model’. The New Testament portrays Christ as having divine powers including the knowledge of all things (e.g. John 16:30, 21:17), but not utilizing them in all situations. His divine powers were largely ‘hidden’ (‘Krypsis’ in Greek) during the Incarnation, and only utilized on certain occasions to reveal his glory (e.g. John 2:1–11).

This is what DPM postulates.

The key insight is that a divine person can refrain from utilizing his omnipotence when he carries out certain activities, such as walking to a town in Samaria. One can therefore suggest that the Son of God did this by the finite strength of his human body instead of utilizing his divine powers, hence he could experience fatigue as portrayed in John 4:3-6.

Likewise knowledge can be understood as a kind of power which one can refrain from utilizing. For example, a person might have knowledge of calculus, even though he might not be consciously thinking about calculus all the time.

This knowledge of calculus can be said to be in his preconscious: when he chooses to utilize this knowledge by directing his attention to it, that is, when he chooses to consciously think about calculus, he can become aware of calculus.

Since having knowledge of a certain thing such as calculus does not require a constant conscious awareness of that thing, the knowledge of all things by a divine Person does not require a constant conscious awareness of all things by him. Thus, it could be the case that a divine Person chose to let his knowledge of all things reside in his divine preconscious at the Incarnation, and he freely chose not to utilize all of the knowledge in his preconscious, so as to consciously experience our human limitations.

Concerning Mark 13:32, it should be noted that the Greek word οἶδεν which is translated as ‘know’ means ‘to have realized, perceived, to know’; this word is often used in the New Testament in a general way, e.g. to know a person, to be able to understand/apprehend/recognize.

Therefore, in view of its semantic range, in this passage oiden (οἶδεν) can be legitimately rendered as ‘aware’. Thus, Mark 13:32 can be read as ‘But of that day or hour no one is aware, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.’

This reading fits the context perfectly: the disciples would be hoping that the Son would reveal to them the day of his coming, but no one can reveal what he/she is not aware.

For our purposes here, it is important to note that such an unawareness of the Son can co-exist with omniscience in the same person because, as noted previously, omniscience does not require a conscious awareness of all the things known. A divine person can use his omnipotence to restrict the scope of his conscious awareness as well as the utilization of his omniscience, and in this state of self-restraint the Son was genuinely unaware of that day; it was not a sham.

Because of his love for us, the Son of God restricted himself, came into the world, suffered for us and gave himself up for us (Galatians 2:20). This Christmas, let us be thankful that ‘The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).


Dr Andrew LokeDr. Andrew Loke (PhD, Kings College) is Research Assistant Professor at The University of Hong Kong. A former medical doctor, he is the author of ‘A Kryptic Model of the Incarnation’ (Ashgate, 2014) and ‘Debating the Christian Faith’ (Tien-Dao, 2014). He has published articles in leading academic journals such as Religious Studies. He is also the author of the ETHOS Institute Engagement Series booklet, ‘Science and the Christian Faith‘.

The Human Face

December 2016 Pulse

In August 2015, injured volunteer firefighter Patrick Hardison received a face transplant in a 26-hour surgery performed by plastic surgeon Dr Eduardo Roderiguez and his team, a procedure which cost US$1 million (S$1.36 million). The donor was David Rodenbaugh, who had died in a cycling accident.

The first person to receive a full face transplant was a French woman called Isabelle Dinoire, who sustained multiple severe facial injuries after being mauled by a dog in 2005. Since then, more than 20 patients across the globe have received partial or full face transplants.

Although serious ethical and social issues surround face transplants, they will not be the focus of this article. Instead, the question that will occupy us has to do with the significance and meaning of the human face.

This question is of special currency and relevance in our ‘pornified’ culture in which different parts of the body – often divorced from the face – are de-personalised and perceived hedonistically as mere instruments of pleasure.

Yet, as the authors of the 2004 Royal College of Surgeons report rightly saw, “The face is central to our understanding of our identity. Faces help us understand who we are and where we come from.”

Drawing from the rich theological anthropology of the Old Testament, the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas could say that the human face is “in and of itself visitation and transcendence”.

By this Levinas means that the face comes into our shared world from beyond it while at the same time always remaining beyond it. It is a presence that cannot be contained, a revelation that is also always shrouded in mystery.

Unlike humans, animals have no concept of the face and are therefore said to be face-blind, that is, they are unable to recognise faces as faces. Some scientists and philosophers tell us that only sophisticated language users (i.e., humans) have this ability.

For humans, then, to see a human face is to see more than just the physical features of another human – nose, eyes, lips, mouth, etc. It is to see something of the whole person. It is to encounter the other as “visitation and transcendence”, to recall Levinas’ extraordinary expression.

My face is the part of my body to which others direct their attention when they wish to engage me because they somehow intuitively know that I am behind my face, so to speak.

As the inimitable British philosopher Roger Scruton has put so memorably: “My face is a boundary, a threshold, the place I appear as the monarch appears on the balcony of the palace.”

Furthermore, although I am present in my face and I speak and look through it at the world (and at other faces), I do not see my own face unless I deliberately choose to by looking in a mirror. In looking at my face in the mirror – and in seeing my self in it – I get the sense of who I am in relation to others, and who they are as others.

Thus, as a symbol of individuality, my face identifies me – Roland Chia – as this particular person, and distinguishes me from others who are not me.

In our fallen world, however, the human face is shrouded with an inherent ambiguity in that it not only reveals, but it also conceals and sometimes even deceives. The face can become a mask that deliberately misdirects by hiding or disguising the true self.

Yet, despite the fact that sin has disfigured the human face, it still has the potential to reflect and reveal the Face of faces, that is, the Face of God, about which the Bible speaks about so frequently and eloquently (see Psalm 13:1; Psalm 17:15; 1 Corinthians 13:12).

Hence, the great medieval theologian Nicholas of Cusa could write: “In all faces is seen the Face of faces, veiled and in a riddle.”

Such is the mystery of man, created as he is in the image and likeness of God, with the capacity to ‘mirror’ his Creator, however faintly and imperfectly.

But most importantly, the Bible tells us that the invisible God has revealed himself supremely and perfectly in a particular human face, that of Jesus of Nazareth. “Whoever has seen me,” declares the incarnate Son, “has seen the Father.” (John 14:9, ESV)


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

 

The Importance of Tradition

December 2016 CREDO

One of the most important contributions of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation is its clear reminder to the Church concerning the primary authority of Scripture. Sola Scriptura – Scripture alone – was the battle cry of the great Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin in the wake of a Church that is so laden with human traditions that the essence of the Gospel was so severely obfuscated that it was no longer in view.

Modern evangelism has in the main sought to be true to the emphasis of the Reformers by stressing the authority of Scripture as the infallible Word of God. However, in doing so some evangelical Christians and churches have consequently adopted a pejorative and dismissive view of tradition, a view which the Reformers neither held nor encouraged.

In his book, The Fabric of Theology Richard Lints argues that in adopting this approach – enunciated in slogans such as ‘No creed but the Bible’ – evangelical Christians have deprived themselves of the rich theological and spiritual heritage and wisdom of the Church. As a result, their understanding of Christian existence is impoverished and, without the tutelage of the Church the Bible is often read, interpreted and applied in subjective and idiosyncratic ways.

This in turn has led to the proliferation of interpretations of the faith, some of which are in conflict with others. When tradition is not taken seriously, writes D.N. Williams, ‘the “centre” that the Reformers were hoping to restore splintered into a multitude of conflicting versions of the faith’.

Evangelical Christians therefore need to rediscover the wisdom of the Reformers.

In stressing the primary authority of the Holy Scriptures, the Reformers were not urging the Church to ignore – much less dismiss – the secondary authority of tradition. If Scripture is the authoritative text for the Church, tradition must serve as its authoritative interpreter.

In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther writes thus about the Apostles Creed: ‘Here you find the whole essence of God, his will and his work beautifully portrayed in a few but comprehensive words’. In the same work, Luther asserts that ‘… the Creed brings us full mercy, sanctified us and make us acceptable to God’.

In similar vein, while John Calvin was highly critical of the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church of his day he acknowledged the authority and value of tradition as the interpreter of Scripture. Thus, he could say that the ancient traditions of the Church seek to expound ‘the real meaning of Scripture’ and he acknowledged that the ecumenical creeds contain ‘the pure and genuine exposition of Scripture’.

The Roman Catholic theologian of the last century, Yves Congar, maintains that the nature of the Christian faith itself makes tradition important. The Christian faith, Congar argues, ‘is an inheritance that is both transmitted and received’. As authoritative interpretation, tradition enables the Christian properly understand the authoritative text, the Bible.

To say that the universal Church, whose life and ministry are shaped by Scripture is its authoritative interpreter is to acknowledge that she alone is able to discern the counsel of God it contains, by the help of the Holy Spirit.

The Church is the place where true Christian teaching and true faith can be found. And as Tertullian puts it in his treatise against the Gnostics, ‘ only where the true Christian teaching and faith are evident, will be the true Scriptures, the true interpretations, and all the true Christian traditions be found’.

Perhaps one of the reasons why some evangelicals have difficulties with recognising the role of tradition in Christian theology is because the relationship between the Holy Spirit, the Church and Scripture is not explored in sufficient depth.

The theological significance of the fact that the Spirit who inspires the authors and the texts of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) is the same Spirit who will guide the Church into all truth (John 16:13) must be carefully teased out if we are to have a robust understanding of the nature and role of tradition.

It was J. I. Packer, one of evangelicalism most important theologians, who made this point in his book, Fundamentalism and the Word of God. ‘The Spirit’, writes Packer, ‘has been active in the Church from the first, doing the work he was sent to do –guiding God’s people into an understanding of revealed truth’. ‘The history of the Church’s labour to understand the Bible’, he continues, ‘forms a commentary on the Bible which we cannot despise or ignore without dishonouring the Holy Spirit’.

The Church of today ministers in a world where great cultural upheavals are evident. Described by some enigmatically as the postmodern condition, our society witnesses an ever-deepening suspicion of received social conventions and traditions.

As the Belgian theologian Lieven Boeve observes, in the culture we call postmodern ‘emancipation from bonds that were once taken for granted and left unquestioned has resulted in a situation in which every human being is given the structurally-subjective task of constructing his or her own personal identity’.

In this postmodern world, the church that takes no interest in being shaped by her rich theological and spiritual traditions will be vulnerable to the seductive lure of the new and the novel. And in preferring discontinuities instead of continuities, such a Church runs the great risk of losing her identity, her uniqueness as God’s people and become indistinguishable from the rest of society.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

 

 

The Gay Gene Re-Visited

December 2016 Pulse 

In 2014 Alan Sanders, a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern University at Evanston, and his team conducted a study of 409 pairs of twin brothers to see if there are some linkages between homosexuality and chromosomal region Xq28.

This study – the largest to be undertaken to date – attempts to validate the results obtained by a study by Dean Hamer and his team of scientists in 1993 at the National Cancer Institute in the United States. Working with only 40 pairs of homosexual brothers, Hamer and his team discovered that 33 pairs (or 83%) had the same sequence of markers in the X chromosome region known as Xq28.

This had led Hamer to conclude that ‘One form of homosexuality is preferentially transmitted through the maternal side and is generally linked to chromosomal region Xq28’.

To their surprise, Sanders and his team – which included J. Michael Bailey, who together with Richard Pillard, conducted the famous twin study – found the same linkages between homosexuality and the chromosomal region Xq28 suggested by the earlier study by Hamer.

Hamer was understandably delighted with the findings of the Sanders study. ‘Twenty years is a long wait for validation’, he is reported to have said, ‘but now it’s clear the original results were right. It’s very nice to see it confirmed’.

However, like the Hamer study in 1993, the Sanders study of 2014 failed to establish conclusively the genetic determinant for homosexual orientation.

Sanders used the same method that Hamer employed twenty years ago in order to replicate Hamer’s study. But this method – known as the linkage method – has been found to be deficient in many ways and it has since been superseded by another method known as genome-wide association (GWA). Sanders himself acknowledged the fact that GWA studies are far more superior to genetic-linkage studies.

Although Sanders was able to confirm the link between homosexuality and the chromosomal region Xq28, the causative or correlative relationship between them is never established, making this finding insignificant. Thus, a number of researchers and scientists such as Neil Risch have pointed out the findings of both the Hamer and Sanders studies are statistically insignificant.

In fact, Sanders himself acknowledged that the findings have not crossed the threshold of significance. He further stated that even though he believes that Xq28 has something to do with homosexuality, a trait as complex as sexual orientation depends on many factors, genetic and nongenetic alike.

Geneticists have long understood that the exact relationship between the genotype and the phenotype is very difficult to establish. The genotype refers to the set of genes in the DNA that is associated with a particular trait, while the phenotype is the actual expression of that trait.

Many geneticists maintain that the relationship between the two is never straightforward and warn against a naïve ‘genetic determinism’ that refuses to recognise the complexities. In fact, many would argue that the genotype typically undermines the phenotype.

With the advance of the field of epigenetics, scientists are beginning to see the importance of the interaction of the genes with their immediate cellular environment as well as the external environment. In addition, intrauterine influences (which includes nongenetic factors) as well as extrauterine influences also play their part.

Life experiences also play a significant role in forging a particular trait, especially one as complicated as sexual preference and behaviour. Experiences that were had in the early stages of one’s personal development are deemed especially important.

As Frances Campaigne of Columbia University puts it: ‘Social experiences throughout life influence gene expression and behaviour, however, early in development these influences have a profound effect’.

The Sanders study has left all these other aspects unexplored and the questions they raise unanswered.

Although science is important in our attempt to understand human sexual preferences and behaviour, for the Christian it cannot have the last word. Thus, even if science is able to discover the genetic basis for homosexual orientation, the Christian cannot on that premise alone conclude that homosexual behaviour is natural and therefore must not be prohibited.

For the Christian, it is the mystery of human sexuality that Scripture reveals that should serve as the basis for sexual behaviour. In our fallen world, supposedly ‘innate’ impulses cannot be indicative of what is natural – that is, what is intended by the Creator – even if the genetic or neurological determinants of these impulses are ascertained.

For the Christian, sexual conduct must be ordered according to the way in which human sexuality has been designed and purposed by the Creator. And according to the Bible, the only legitimate form of sexual activity is between a man and a woman, and the only legitimate context for such activity is the covenant of marriage.

It is in light of God’s design of and purpose for human sexuality that all other forms of sexual behaviour and activity – fornication, adultery, incest, prostitution and bestiality – are not only strictly prohibited, but are also often regarded as abominations.

This means that the meaning of human sexuality is too complex and multifaceted for science to unravel. It has to do not only with biology, but also morality. It has to do not only with impulses and emotions, but also ontology. It has to do not only with the individual, but also and more fundamentally with the ordering of our familial and social lives in a way that is harmonious with God’s design and intention.

In a word, human sexuality is too profound a reality to be left to science alone.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.

Just Say No: Personal Responsibility in a Fallen World

December 2016 Feature Article

Introduction

There is a sense in the world today that individual choices are no longer significant in the larger scale of events. The efforts of the individual appear to pale in comparison with the capabilities of large bureaucracies or huge multi-national corporations. Whether individuals recycle materials or conserve energy, for example, will no longer affect climate change; only government action will make a difference.

So hopes are pinned on collective action at the Paris talks on climate change in December 2015. An individual can do little but seek the best means of survival for oneself.

If individual action cannot change the course of events, is it safer or right to simply participate in these events, no matter how dishonourable or despicable they may be? If Christians cannot hold back the tide, should they stand their ground or should they float with the tide?

I think Christians should always speak the truth, and if that counsel or objection goes unheeded, Christians should walk away and not participate further, whatever the personal consequences threatened.

An extreme example may be helpful in framing the discussion.

Making Choices

2015 is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. All wars are horrific, but World War II was made particularly so by the Nazi’s genocidal attempt to kill whole groups of people in Europe. The Nazi regime murdered not only Jews, but also physically and mentally handicapped Germans, about two million Russian prisoners of war, and many other unfortunate groups.

In the years following the war, scholars laid to rest the myth that the mass murders were perpetrated only by blood-thirsty indoctrinated Nazis, with ordinary Germans blissfully ignorant of these horrors.

Historians like Raul Hilberg (The Destruction of the European Jews), Christopher Browning (Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland) and Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust) have shown conclusively that it was “ordinary” Germans from a cross-section of society who voluntarily, almost eagerly, committed mass murder. They were not coerced into murdering.

The motivations of these “ordinary” Germans to kill unarmed civilians and prisoners, and the indifference of others in permitting these heinous murders, have been much debated. “Why would civilised, educated, ‘ordinary’ people participate in genocide” is a gripping question.

And this begs the question of why did these “ordinary” Germans not refuse, given that many of them would have been Christians? Why did not these Christians just say “No”?

We may never arrive at a definite answer. But perhaps they all should have said No.

Some Germans did say No, and Goldhagen and Herbert Jäger have shown that no German who refused to kill a Jew or another civilian was ever harshly punished. Even when a few fanatical troopers of the SS (the organisation most responsible for the extermination of the Jews) refused to shoot unarmed Jewish civilians, they were not punished.

The Nazi regime, while not actually openly permitting, actually acquiesced in and respected the decisions of some of their own men who refused to commit murder. With no threat of severe consequences for refusing, it would have cost German Christians next to nothing to just say No. Instead they decided to voluntarily commit murder.

Instruments of righteousness or unrighteousness

By not saying No, the Christians among the murderers chose to obey illegal and immoral orders to kill. They set aside their obedience to God and chose not to be His servants.

Francis A. Schaeffer of the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland wrote that Christians could at every moment either yield themselves “into the hands of Christ for Him to use you as a tool or weapon in this world, or you can yield yourself in that moment as an instrument of unrighteousness even though you are a Christian.”

We are either God’s servants, or we are not. And in today’s complex world, Christians at times do choose not to say no, but go along with what the world wants.

What does the Bible say?

Reinhold Niebuhr in his essay “Four Hundred to One” gives a masterly retelling of the story of the prophet Micaiah in 1 Kings 22. Micaiah was known to be a troublemaker at court who always gave a contrary view to the king. (Micaiah had no choice: he spoke the truth in the name of the Lord.)

Ordered to comment on the prospects of a war with Ramoth-gilead, Micaiah stood alone against four hundred obsequious prophets of the king of Israel. Micaiah called the four hundred fawning toadies liars for telling the kings of Israel and Judah that they would triumph. He prophesied a defeat and the scattering of Israel’s army.The kings shrugged off Micaiah’s prophesy and went to war.

For speaking the truth and being a true prophet of God, Micaiah was thrown into prison and given only “meager rations of bread and water”. Of course, Micaiah was absolutely right, both in his prophecy and in his courage to speak it whatever the consequences to his person.

Niebuhr pointed out that “A prophet who speaks only what the king wants to hear ceases ere long to be of use even to the king.” Christians must be useful prophets in society.

Christians should follow Micaiah’s example and speak the truth against unrighteousness, even if it means standing against a wave of popular opinion. We cannot give in to what we know to be wrong. (Micaiah initially merely repeated to the king of Israel the false prophecy, but the king knew Micaiah was not being serious.) We must take personal responsibility and make personal choices to be instruments of righteousness.

We may not be in a titanic struggle for survival in a war now, but our world can still make demands on Christians to do immoral or illegal acts. We must have the courage to say No.

We cannot claim we have no choice. We cannot fear the consequences of saying no. Because we do have a choice, and throughout history Christians have been willing to stand up for their faith even if it meant a death sentence.

Consequences for refusing to participate in illegal or immoral or even questionable acts are not usually fatal these days. They may cause one to lose one’s job, or have their promotion delayed, but surely these are consequences Christians must be prepared to accept for making a stand as a righteous person.

I once asked a senior civil servant what would he do if he were ever ordered to do something immoral. He proudly and happily told me that in his entire career, he had never been asked to do anything that was criminal or immoral.

He went on to add that if he were asked to do so in the future, he would simply quit. He said he would not want to work for an organisation that made such demands on him. All this is, of course, nothing less than what we would expect of our Singapore government and our civil servants; their incorruptibility is legendary.

However, not everybody has the privilege of working in such ethical organisations. Christians may be working in companies that have one or two or some questionable practices. These organisations may require employees to perform acts that, while not clearly immoral or illegal, may be found to be in grey areas.

In these situations, the Christian should speak up as a witness of a righteous God. In society, at work, in school, in everyday situations, Christians can be prophets or fore-tellers of truth and the Gospel.

We must refuse to participate in unrighteous or dishonourable activities. And we must be prepared to accept the consequences for doing so. We cannot participate in what we believe or know to be wrong.

The excuse that subordinates were “just obeying orders” has consistently been rejected by war trials and criminal courts. Judges have made it clear that illegal orders should not be obeyed, and that people must take responsibility for their own actions, especially if they choose to take part in criminal endeavours.

If Christians are asked or ordered to play a part in unrighteous schemes, they should simply not obey. The fact that many do obey shows a deep misunderstanding of the obligations of Christians to leaders of whatever ilk.

Scholars have shown that there is no one particular text in the Bible that gives a clear and full doctrine of the Christian’s relationship to civil authority. (I would include under the rubric of civil authority any superior authority in society, and not restrict the term to only state leaders.)

There appears in the New Testament to be three distinct responses to human authority and these have been described by Arnold Monera as: subordination or conformity (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2), critical distancing (Mark 12) and resistance or non-conformity (Revelation 13).

Too many Christians adopt only the first response. Certainly the Christian has responsibilities towards leaders. But unquestioning obedience and submission to human leaders is never mandated for Christians, especially in the face of unrighteousness.

It is when Christians use the other two responses (when required) that unrighteousness can be removed from or at least reduced in society. There are situations in which Christians must choose to obey God rather than any human authority, and we must remember that unconditional obedience is due only to God. As individual instruments of righteousness, we must learn sometimes to just say No.

That is what the Church being a witness in society must mean. Carl Henry (Faith at the Frontiers) has described the Church as ideally a minority that holds an ideological initiative in the battle for men’s minds and wills and consciences. It is ideally a minority that places the world on the defensive, a minority that cannot be ignored, a minority that shatters the complacency of its self-confident contemporaries, a minority that sounds an eerie warning and voices an authentic hope to an uneasy and unstable generation.

We cannot do this if we are always submissive and simply obey orders.

Conclusion

In October 2011, Thomas “Toivi” Blatt travelled from California to Munich to attend the trial of Jan Demjanjuk, a former member of the Red Army in World War II. Blatt was one of the last few people alive of the 82 who survived the Nazi death camps in Poland in World War II.

Nearly 70 years after he escaped as a 15-year old prisoner from the Sobibor concentration camp, Blatt testified in Munich that Jan Demjanjuk was also a guard in Sobibor. According to Blatt’s testimony, while Demjanjuk may not have actually killed anyone, anybody employed as a guard at Sobibor was a vital cog in the machinery and therefore complicit in a campaign of genocide.

Demjanjuk denied being at Sobibor but, given the evidence against him, was nevertheless found guilty of being an accessory to murder and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He appealed the conviction and died in 2012 before the appeal could be heard.

While Demjanjuk’s case was extremely complex, Blatt’s testimony is important because it underscores the argument that there are no innocent bystanders among participants in unrighteousness.

If you took part, then you took part! The option to just say No and consider resistance and non-conformity instead of blind obedience is always open. That is the option Christians must take in situations where we are asked to commit a crime or immorality, or do something dishonourable or unrighteous, or offend against God. We must, each one of us, just say No.


dr-chiang-ming-shun


Rev Dr Chiang Ming Shun (TTC Alumnus, 2000) has been an ordained Methodist minister for 15 years and was recently appointed as Lecturer in Church History at Trinity Theological College. He is most interested not only in the Christian Experience in society, but also in Military History. Ming Shun is happily married to Po Lin, a teacher.