Monthly Archives: October 2017

Wesley Among the Fathers

October 2017 Pulse

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is arguably one of the most theologically complex and creative figures in 18th-century England.

Scholars almost unanimously agree that it would be a misnomer to describe Wesley as a “systematic theologian” because of the disparate and somewhat diffused character of his corpus. But to give Wesley the polite designation of “practical theologian”, as some scholars are wont to do, is not only to create a distorting caricature but also to be scathingly dismissive of his theological genius.

To be sure, Wesley’s overall theological approach has proved very difficult to classify, making it frustratingly challenging to “locate” him in the Christian tradition. To simply pigeonhole Wesley’s theology as “Anglican”, or “Arminian”, or even “Protestant” is to reduce the polyphonic character of his thought to a dull monotone.

Wesley scholars are beginning to appreciate Wesley’s creative retrieval of some of the most important insights of the early Church Fathers, especially the theologians who wrote before the Council of Nicaea that took place in A.D. 325.

Wesley himself made no secret of his admiration of the early Church Fathers. In his letter to Dr. Middleton in 1749, Wesley wrote that he “exceedingly reverence[d]” the writings of the fathers “because they describe true, genuine Christianity; and direct us to the strongest evidence of the Christian doctrine”.

Ted Campbell is right to postulate that Wesley did not uncritically weave the insights of these ancient writers into his own thinking, but adapted them as he brought them to bear on his own concerns. In addition, Wesley always evaluated the writings of the Fathers by bringing them into conversation with the insights of the Reformers and the great Anglican divines.

Many scholars agree that although the Fathers exercised a profound influence on many aspects of Wesley’s thought, it is in his understanding of salvation and the Christian life that their influence is perhaps most evident. For example, according to Randy Maddox, therapeutic metaphors and emphases – so central in Orthodox soteriology – pervade Wesley’s concept of salvation, outweighing forensic ones.

Wesley’s alleged ‘Arminianism’ – his rejection of the Calvinist doctrine of double-predestination and his embrace of a synergism that preserves the integrity of human freedom – is also largely due to the influence of the Fathers.

In the same way, while Christ’s death on the Cross is central to Wesley, he places more emphasis on the resurrection – following Eastern Orthodoxy – than any other Western theologian in his time. And while Wesley understands atonement in terms of the satisfaction of the divine justice, he quite clearly stresses the restoration of man to God-likeness through the Incarnation, following Irenaeus’ notion of recapitulation.

Another important characteristic of Wesley’s conception of salvation and the Christian life, which has baffled some scholars, is the privileging of sanctification over justification. As a result, some of Wesley’s opponents have accused him of leaning too much towards Rome. But Wesley’s inspiration in fact came from the patristic theologians, not the medieval schoolmen.

Wesley’s study of the early Fathers of the Church has also shaped his concept of sanctification. This has led Orthodox theologian Charles Ashanin to conclude that the classical Methodist doctrine of sanctification “is probably Wesley’s adaptation of the Patristic doctrine of Theosis”.

Randy Maddox agrees: “The extensive commonalities between Wesley and Orthodoxy on issues of sanctification surely warrant the claim that the final form of Wesley’s doctrine is heavily indebted to the early Greek theologians he read.”

The portrayal of the Christian life as a life of faith energised by love that appears frequently in Wesley’s writings can be traced to the works of the great patristic preacher, John Chrysostom.

We can discern the influence of Macarius the Great, the fourth-century Egyptian monk, as Wesley wrestles with the question of the continuing presence of sin in the life of the believer. And there are striking similarities between Wesley’s “entirely sanctified Methodist” and Clement of Alexandria’s “perfect Gnostic Christian”.

Wesley’s profound respect for the Latin tradition and his creative retrieval of theological intuitions of the Eastern Fathers makes Methodist theology truly catholic (meaning “universal”). It draws from the best traditions that shaped the Church’s theology before the Great East-West Schism of 1054 as well as the most profound insights of the Reformers.

 Methodists today should not only be proud of their rich heritage. They should also be shaped and nourished by it.


 

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.

 

Adam’s Sin and Ours—What Paul Really Said in Romans 5:12

October 2017 Credo

Few doctrines of the Christian faith enjoy as much simultaneous empirical confirmation and conceptual confusion as that of original sin.

Despite the universal evidence that all people are sinners, Christians through the ages have struggled to define exactly what original sin means, and to defend it rationally and ethically.

The key text is Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (NASB, my emphasis).  Theologians have grappled with the Greek phrase eph hō that is rendered above as “because.”

Augustine, influenced by the Latin Vulgate, understood eph hō to mean “in whom,” referring to Adam.  How could this be so?  One explanation was that all of humanity was literally in Adam, in some kind of real physical union such that we were all literally present and participating in Adam’s sin.  It is a moot point whether this makes any kind of sense in terms of metaphysics, human nature, or ethics, because there is a consensus that the Greek eph hō cannot mean “in whom.”

Currently the most common translation for eph hō is “because.”  This is the rendering followed by virtually all translations and commentators.  While this is clearly superior to Augustine’s understanding, scholars still struggle to explain how “all sinned” when Adam sinned.  Many subscribe to a theory that Adam is our “representative” such that his sin and guilt were imputed to us all when he sinned, and therefore, so was his punishment of death.  Many are impressed with the antithetical parallelism of imputation: we are imputed Adam’s sin and guilt, which is canceled (for those who believe) by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Given this translation, much of the discussion among theologians is how this can be reconciled with God’s justice, fairness, or goodness. It seems difficult, to put it mildly, to justify holding somebody guilty of sinning for something an ancestor did prior to one’s birth.    There is no legitimate sense in which Adam’s sin can be imputed to his descendants either as a wage or a gift.  Adam’s guilt cannot be a wage, for that presupposes what someone has earned or deserved based on what he has done.  Furthermore, the parallelism of imputation offers no help, for Christ’s righteousness is offered to us as a gift for our good, and accepted by faith, whereas Adam’s guilt is imposed upon us for our harm.  Once one has accepted the conventional translation of Rom. 5:12, he has committed himself to explain it by philosophical gymnastics that either strain credulity or that go far beyond what the text itself says.

In the 500th anniversary of the Reformers, we should follow their ethos on two points: (1) the continual need to reform our theology to bring it into greater conformity with the actual words of Scripture; and (2) the need for solid biblical teaching and Bible translation that is ultimately rooted in what the Bible says in its original languages.  In that spirit, let us reconsider the basic question: what does eph hō mean?

It is surprising to learn that eph hō, long the basis of the confusion, can be understood after less than one semester of basic Greek.  It is not an idiom meaning “because.” Eph is a form of the preposition epi, which usually means “on the basis of” when its object is in the dative case.  The word is the neuter dative of the relative pronoun hos and means “which.”  Therefore, eph hō in this context simply means “on the basis of which.”

As a result, Romans 5:12 should be translated: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, on the basis of which all sinned.”

What difference does it make?  It reverses the cause and effect relationship.  Paul did not say that all men died because all men sinned.  Rather, Paul said that all men sinned because all men died.  Paul is not imputing Adam’s guilt to us; he is explaining how it is that sin is universal: all people sin because all died spiritually as a result of Adam’s disobedience such that we are now alienated from God.

But isn’t death “the wages of sin” in Romans 6:23?  Yes, death is the eschatological consequence of a life of sin for all individuals, apart from Christ.  But Romans 5:12 is in a different context and speaks of different circumstances.  It explains how a particular event of past history caused a change in humanity’s circumstances, i.e., how Adam’s disobedience made everybody sinners.  Arguably, our overfamiliarity with Romans 6:23 has caused us to unconsciously assume that the concepts of sin and death must stand in the same exact relationship when they appear in Romans 5:12.  Sometimes we see what we expect to see in the text even if it’s not what is really there, and even many of the greatest scholars over the sweep of church history are not immune to this tendency.

This should humble us, for like the medieval church, we too can fail to see what the Bible says due to tradition and majority opinion.  May the example of Martin Luther inspire us to always return to the Scriptures and to reform our understanding and theology in accord with its eternal truth.


Dr. Brian H. Thomas is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Singapore Bible College (School of Theology English). He received a DTh in New Testament Theology from Trinity Theological College (Singapore), a MA in Christian Apologetics and a MA in New Testament from Biola University (USA), and a BA in History from Christopher Newport University (USA).

 

 

The Foreigner as Neighbour

October 2017 Pulse

Over the last few years, tension between locals and foreigners in Singapore has been mounting, with occasional high profile flare-ups being reported by the local newspapers.

This situation has gotten the attention of politicians, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has weighed in on the issue. Urging those who live and work here to do their part to maintain the cohesiveness of our society, PM Lee also noted that anti-foreign sentiments might in the long run hurt the global reputation of Singapore.

The inflow of foreigners, which has caused much anxiety and angst in some Singaporeans, was one of the hot topics in the 2011 General Election. A sociologist from the National University of Singapore analyses the situation thus: ‘Since the 2011 GE, we have dangerously walked very close to the safety boundary … using economic setbacks as an excuse, many Singaporeans blamed foreigners for taking their jobs so they drew the line between foreigners and Singaporeans’.

The point of contention, however, is not the admission of foreigners and new immigrants into Singapore, but the scale of it. According to the figures realised by the Manpower Ministry, the number of foreigners admitted to Singapore has risen significantly from 1,053,500 in December 2009 to 1,336,700 in June 2014. Singapore has a population of about 5.6 million with an unemployment rate of just under 3 per cent.

The influx of foreigners has heightened competition for jobs and education in the wake of a lingering economic slowdown due to global factors. Although the government has introduced a new policy, called Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), to ensure that Singaporeans do not miss out on job opportunities, some locals are unconvinced of its effectiveness.

The Population White Paper, published in 2013, also exacerbated the problem as it only reinforces the anxieties and fears that many Singaporeans harbour. The White Paper projected that by 2030 the population of Singapore will stand at 6.9 million and nearly 50 per cent will be foreigners or new immigrants.

Singaporeans are generally uncomfortable with the idea of having new immigrants making up the majority of the population. They take issue with the state’s economic rationale for bringing so many foreigners into the country. According to an IPS report, Singaporeans are also ‘upset about having to change their way of life, their use of language and settled social norms to accommodate the presence of foreigners’.

Several global events, like Brexit, may also have fanned the flame of such sentiments. US President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ rhetoric might have provoked some to feel that the government should give Singaporeans priority when it comes to benefiting from the nation’s success.

The internet is the space where some of the most virulent, venomous and toxic reactions are expressed, often in the safety of anonymity. These sentiments are so prominent in online chatter that ‘foreign trash Singapore’ has become a Google auto-fill option.

Such behaviour, however, makes no positive contribution to the discussion of this important issue and brings no solution to the table.

It is of course the responsibility of concerned citizens to articulate their anxieties to the government using the many available channels of dialogue and feedback. It is also the responsibility of citizens to suggest possible and realistic ways to calibrate the inflow of foreigners.

However, citizens must also appreciate the fact that achieving the right balance is no easy feat for any government.

It is one thing to engage the government in a robust discussion on this issue, and quite another to treat foreigners and new immigrants who are already with us badly. There can be no excuse for racial intolerance and xenophobia.

It is not difficult to find injunctions in the Bible on how aliens and foreigners in the land should be treated.

In Leviticus 19:33, we read: ‘When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien’. Aliens must be subjected to the same laws, and therefore by extension, the same treatment as the natives (Numbers 15:16). And those who deprive aliens and foreigners of justice will come under the judgement of God (Deuteronomy 27:19).

In the Gospels, Jesus commanded his disciples to love their neighbours (Mark 12:31). This surely includes the foreigner and the alien, and we demonstrate this love by living generously towards them (Leviticus 19:9-10).

In addition, the Bible again and again urges Christians to show hospitality to the alien and the foreigner. In Romans 12:13, Paul specifically commanded the recipients of his letter to ‘extend hospitality to strangers’. And in 1 Peter 3:9, Christians are instructed to ‘Be hospitable to one another without complaining’ (NIV: ‘grumbling’).

Part and parcel of showing hospitality is the willingness to allow disruptions in our way of life. As one writer has arrestingly put it, when hospitality is extended, ‘the familiar is defamiliarised’.

Hospitality respectfully treats the other as other – acknowledging his or her dignity – without attempting to create the other in our own images. Put differently, hospitality carves out the space and the time that would afford the stranger the freedom to be who he or she is, and thus to freely and unselfconsciously be a part of the community.

And it is precisely this kind of self-forgetting and generous hospitality that Christians are called to extend to the neighbour, especially the stranger and the foreigner.

 


 

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.

 

The Seed of the Church

October 2017 Feature

For the seventh year in a row, Asia Bibi, a Christian mother, has spent Christmas in a dark and dingy prison cell in Pakistan.  Isolated from her husband and five children, she has been on death row for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad following an argument with a group of Muslim women in a small village in Punjab where she used to live.

During the argument, Bibi reportedly challenged the women by saying, “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind?” The question drew their ire.

The women gathered a local mob and beat up Asia Bibi. She was subsequently imprisoned for over a year before being formally charged with blasphemy, and has been languishing in prison ever since the incident took place in 2009.

Politicians who have tried to defend her or repeal the controversial law have been threatened, and some assassinated.  Pakistan’s blasphemy law prescribes a fixed death penalty for all those who are found guilty.

Her appeal to the Supreme Court has been delayed, amidst renewed Islamist calls for her death. Bibi’s fate now hangs on the court, and if her appeal to the Supreme Court fails, she will be the first woman to be executed under the country’s controversial blasphemy law, which according to critics has been used to target and persecute minorities.

Bibi is just an example of a rising global trend of persecution against Christians that is daily being played out not only in Asia but around world. According to Open Doors, nearly 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution, and the number is likely to increase in 2017.

The World Evangelical Alliance adds that over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith. Consequently, Christians in the Middle East, Africa and Asia are being tested, and paying the price for their faith at the hands of Islamic State in the Middle East, and the militant Islamic group Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Research conducted by the Pew Foundation concludes that more believers were martyred in the 20th century than in all other centuries combined.

The Oxford dictionary defines persecution “Hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs. “

Asia is no different from any other region in the world. Persecution of Christians is sharply increasing in India, Bangladesh, Laos, Bhutan, and Vietnam to name a few countries. Much of it is driven by religious nationalism.

The tide is rising and gathering pace in India since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. There were four separate incidents instigated by Hindu extremists during the past Christmas season.

In one of them, six people were injured after a mob of young extremist Hindu nationalists attacked a church. They accused the pastor of allegedly forcibly converting Hindus.

Earlier in December, Christians were beaten up for singing Christmas carols. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission there were 134 incidents recorded in the first half of 2016 in 21 of the 29 states.

The BJP advocates an ideology known as Hindutva that defines Indian culture in terms of Hindu values. Everything non-Hindu is therefore seen as a threat to the culture and identity of the country. Under this banner Hindu radicals have attacked Christians and churches with complete impunity. Complaints to the police and authorities have fallen on deaf ears.

Christians in Laos also face hostility from Buddhists with the tacit support of the government.  Christmas celebrations were restricted to two days in 2016. Anything outside this period was considered illegal. In previous years, churches were allowed to celebrate Christmas for more than a month across the country.

Christians are arrested on flimsy grounds and forced to sign a document recanting their faith.  Felix, a Lao pastor for example, has been harassed by the authorities and forced to move his home six times.  Police paid regular visits to his church, took photos and recorded names of people attending the service, and asked the pastor to stop all Christian meetings immediately.

In early October, Christians in two villages, Phone Sa’art and Thong Tae, were threatened by the village leaders to either give up their Christian faith or leave the villages. To date, no action has been taken by the government.

The Christians are still in their villages and still following Christ. The government has also started a campaign to register all house churches in the country.  House churches now have to set up a committee with members approved by the government, and leaders are required to be “trained,” or indoctrinated, by the government.

Ethnic and religious tensions are soaring in the land of the Pancasila.  The Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama, is on trial for blasphemy for allegedly making derogatory remarks on Islam. He was tried in court on 13 December.

A day later the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a fatwa (religious ruling) forbidding Muslims from participating in Christmas festivities, and wearing or displaying any Christmas trappings.  The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) was out in force, visiting shopping malls and spreading the word as police refused to intervene.

Then there is North Korea where it is illegal to be a Christian, and any religious activity is seen as subversive. The only worship that is allowed is of the “great leader,” Kim IL Sung and his son Kim Jong IL.

Christians are forced to hide their faith from family members for fear of being reported. If they are found out, authorities arrest entire families and imprison them in hard labor camps, where they are tortured, beaten, and starved to death.

In 2015, Pastor Lim Hyeon-soo, a Canadian citizen, was tried and sentenced to life in a labour camp in North Korea for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government with the “love of God,” and speaking against its Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un. Pastor Lim was involved in humanitarian projects in North Korea for over 20 years, visiting it more than 100 times.  The Canadian government says it is doing all it can to bring him home.

But those following Pastor Lim’s case are increasingly frustrated that nothing seems to be happening, and feel that Ottawa should take more direct and assertive action to secure his release.

Other Christians doing similar work in the area have also been detained by the government and compelled to make public confessions to win their release. Three South Koreans are also currently in prison, including two sentenced in June 2016 for “spying.” They are serving life sentences of hard labour.

To the average observer, China is flourishing, there is religious freedom and the church is growing at a phenomenal rate. At the same time there is concern about China’s plans to manage religion in the country. Last year the Chinese government issued a detailed set of regulations aimed at tightening government control.

The changes recommended include restrictions on religious schools and limits on access to foreign religious writings, including on the internet.  It also allows the government to monitor those who go abroad to study theology and punish landlords who rent space for house churches with heavy fines.

The draft raises many more questions than it provides answers. Believers fear it could potentially curtail the activities of China’s unregistered church. China also passed a law on non-governmental organisations operating inside the country.

Russia also took steps to tighten its grip on religion by passing the anti-terrorists “Yarovaya law.” Under the new law, evangelism is off limits to anyone not affiliated with a registered church or religious site. House churches are illegal.

The law has caused numerous problems for Protestants as well as ethnic Ukrainian and American priests, pastors and missionaries. The fines for violating these new regulations can reach up to one million rubles. Critics at home and abroad have branded it a draconian attempt to stifle religious freedom under the guise of clamping down on terrorism.

Christian populations across much of the conflict-stricken Middle East have rapidly declined in recent decades, and now many church leaders fear their presence in the region could soon disappear. War is a reality here and many children are growing up with the sounds of planes and guns wreaking havoc in the country.

With the growth of extremist Muslim groups, including the Islamic State group and al Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front, Christians are certainly among the most vulnerable. Nearly 40 per cent of the Christian population has fled the country.

Those who remain are afraid to face what the next day might bring. Aleppo was until recently a driving force for the country’s economy, providing work to 1.2 million workers and hosting 150,000 university students.

“More than half of the city’s population left over the last four or five years,” says Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart, who has served there since 1995. In the midst of the destruction in Syria, there is optimism. “The Church began in Syria and Christians should continue living in Syria until the coming back of the Lord,” he says.

It is not all bad news. Li Tien En, a renowned house church leader in China, used to say, “Persecution is two parts opportunity, one part crisis – God always brings opportunities out of a crisis.” So along with the darkness, there is also light.


About the Author

Michael Fischer has worked as a journalist in the Asia Pacific region for more than 20 years. He has been following stories of Christian persecution and has travelled to several countries to document them.

Is the Reformation Over?

October 2017 Credo

On 30 October last year, Pope Francis visited the cities of Lund and Malmö in southern Sweden for a joint Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the 499th anniversary of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. This event was significant because Pope Francis was only the second pontiff to visit the Scandinavian country that had played such a troubled role in Protestant and Catholic history.

‘With gratitude we acknowledge that the Reformation helped give greater centrality of sacred Scripture in the Church’s life’, the Pope said in a joint declaration. ‘We, too, must look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness’, he added.

The pope’s visit is seen as the latest step in the slow rapprochement between Catholic and Protestant Churches.

This year, as Protestant churches across the globe – but especially in Europe – celebrate the 500th anniversary of that great theological, intellectual and cultural upheaval in the 16th century that splintered Catholic Europe, some are asking whether the Reformation is over.

Some leaders on both sides of the divide have answered this question in the affirmative, believing that the controversies that erupted five centuries ago have been largely resolved, given the great strides that have been made in the recent history of Protestant-Catholic dialogue.

Others maintain that Protestants and Catholics should set aside their differences and work together in the wake of the profound challenges that Christians face worldwide, namely, secularism and Islamism. Still others are of the view that while the issues that brought about the great schism in the Western church are doubtless still important, they should not be the basis of division today.

However, both viewpoints in their own ways fail to take the fundamental theological debates between the Reformers and the Catholic Church seriously. In fact, such approaches may betray the hidden crisis of Protestant and evangelical churches in the twentieth century, their subjugation to the modern zeitgeist.

But even those who wish to take doctrinal issues seriously have opined that the Reformation is indeed over. They often cite the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church as the sterling example of what the recent ecumenical dialogue between the two churches has been able to achieve.

So important is this biblical doctrine that Luther declared that justification is the article on which the Church stands or falls (iustificatio articulis stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae). If the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church (led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, no less) can issue a joint declaration on this all-important article, the Reformation must be surely over, they reasoned.

This, in fact, is the view of the celebrated evangelical historian, Mark Noll, in his 2005 book (co-authored by Carolyn Nystrom) entitled, Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism.

While these scholars may be cheerfully optimistic that the Church has entered a new phase, where old quarrels and disagreements have been resolved or set aside, others are not quite so sanguine. They see the question, ‘Is the Reformation over?’ as a placeholder for a myriad of theological issues that still await resolution.

For them, the most fundamental question is: Has the Roman Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council really redressed the profound theological and religious concerns raised by Luther and Calvin?

While the doctrine of justification by faith is certainly important, there are numerous other theological issues raised by the Reformers that must also be addressed adequately. They include the authority of Scripture vis-à-vis the Church, the doctrine of the Church and its sacraments, Mariology, purgatory and papal authority.

These theologians question whether the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which appears to have achieved consensus only on very broad issues, has really succeeded in resolving the centuries-long controversies over the doctrine.

They point out that although the Joint Declaration does signal a more biblical approach to the doctrine, it in fact simply reiterates the position promulgated by the Council of Trent.

They argue that the doctrine of justification cannot be considered in splendid isolation, cut off from the other great theological themes to which it is inextricably related. They further maintain that this doctrine has profound implications for church life, piety and worship.

These are important questions that must not be brushed aside for the sake of a superficial irenics. When they are taken seriously, we are inexorably led to the conclusion that the Reformation is indeed not over.

Even those who think otherwise appear not to be fully convinced of their view. For, as Carl Trueman has argued, if they really believe that the Reformation is over, then they should ‘do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church’.

But if the Reformation is in fact not over, then Catholic-Protestant dialogue must continue in earnest.

There are many excellent examples of such dialogues, the most fruitful of which is arguably the initiative that was started in the early 1990s by Father Richard Neuhaus and Charles Colson called ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ (ECT).

The core affirmation of the ECT statement on ‘The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium’ should set the tone for all such dialogues: ‘All who accept Christ as Lord and Saviour are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have not chosen one another, just as we have no chosen Christ. He has chosen us, and He has chosen us to be together’.

It is perhaps naïve to think that there can be quick or easy resolutions to centuries-long divisions in the Body of Christ.

But as the theologian and Reformation scholar Timothy George has so poignantly put it, ‘Despite setbacks and unresolved theological differences, evangelicals and Catholics are still called to steadfastness in their witness to Christian unity. We know that such unity is not an end in itself, but is always in the service of the good news of God’s overcoming grace’.


 

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.