Tag Archives: speech

The Two Kingdoms: A Christian Perspective on Church and State in Singapore

October 2015 Feature Article

From the “culture wars” and heated debates over casinos, abortion, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues, to evangelistic efforts and charitable works, many wonder what the proper relationship between religion and state should be.

Aggressive secularists argue that Christians should not “impose” our religion on others in a multi-religious society like Singapore and “keep religion separate from politics”. Some Christians think that we should not be concerned about “politics”, but should focus on “preaching the Gospel”. Others think that we should be deeply concerned about laws like Section 377A of the Penal Code which criminalises sodomy.

How should Christians understand the relationship between Church and State?

It is well-known that Jesus did not come as a political Messiah to establish an earthly kingdom. As then-Minister for National Development S. Dhanabalan once said, “one of the reasons why Jesus Christ disillusioned the Jews of His time was… that He refused to become a political leader to help the Jews throw off the Roman yoke. And He was interested in changing individuals, not the society directly, but change society by changing individuals.”[1]

Nevertheless, we can learn much about the roles of Church and State in Jesus’ response when the Pharisees asked whether they ought to pay taxes to Caesar. Referring to the image of Caesar on a denarius, Jesus replied them, “render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, KJV)

During the Protestant Reformation, German reformer Martin Luther saw in Jesus’ profound statement a distinction between Two Kingdoms which God has ordained: first, the Kingdom of God (the Church) which He rules through His Gospel and, second, the Kingdom of the World (the State) which He rules through His Law.

This became known as the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, the basis for much of our modern understanding of the Separation of Church and State.

The Doctrine emphasises that the Church should focus on preaching the Gospel for the salvation of all. As a result, it is not the role of the Church to govern matters of life and property, which are matters for the State.

On the other hand, the State should devote its full time to governing temporal matters, as servants sent by God “to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:14ff). Just as the Church should respect the political independence of the State, the State should also respect the autonomy of the Church in its religious affairs. For example, the State has no right to dictate how the Church should preach the Gospel, choose its clergy, or conduct itself in worship.

The Protestant emphasis on justification by faith led to a third principle – freedom of religion – which is now recognised as a fundamental human right. Since faith is the work of the Holy Spirit and “a free work, to which no man can or should be forced”, human authority should not try to coerce religious belief.

Because human authority is delegated by God, there are limits to human government. Hence, if any human authority commands things that are contrary to God’s Laws, we should “obey God rather than men”, as the apostles did when the Sanhedrin commanded them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name (Acts 5:29ff). In a modern context, Christians should exercise conscientious objection by refusing to participate in abortions or same-sex marriages, even when threatened with punishment.

The final principle is that of vocation (i.e. God’s calling). Implicit in Jesus’ teaching to “render unto Caesar” and “render unto God” is a call to discipleship; if the denarius belonged to Caesar because it bore his image, then we ought to render ourselves to God because we bear His image (cf. Genesis 1:27)! It is a call to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29).

Thus, each of us is called to live out the Gospel in full wherever God has called us, whether as pastors, politicians, teachers, doctors, lawyers, or any other vocation. Given that disciples of Jesus Christ are ‘in’ but not ‘of’ the world (John 17:6-19), we cannot ignore political developments around us. Instead, a faithful preaching of the Gospel will always minister holistically to people at all levels of their being, i.e. heart, soul, mind and strength (emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and physically).

Taken holistically, the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms has several important implications for the Church in Singapore.

Firstly, the Church and pastors should always focus on preaching the full counsel of the Gospel both in season and out of season, including on “controversial issues” such as the sanctity of human life from conception and the sanctity of marriage, and to equip believers for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). We should never compromise our calling to speak the truth in love, however politically-incorrect certain parts of the Gospel may be for the season.

Secondly, while it is not the vocation of pastors to advocate for political causes, it falls to individual Christians to minister the Gospel at our workplaces, schools or in the public square where God has placed us. Furthermore, in a democratic society like Singapore, each individual Christian can and should exercise his or her rights to freedom of speech and religion to speak truth to power.

Thirdly, in the midst of an increasingly complicated world, we should remember that politics is not salvation. While a godless world has to rely on human politics to build its Tower of Babel – its own idea of utopia here on earth – we look to Christ our true salvation, whose kingdom “is not of this world” but “from another place” (John 18:36).

Ultimately, as citizens of Two Kingdoms and “aliens” in this world, we know that God’s kingdom is both here and not yet. Meanwhile, we are each called to remain faithful with all that God has entrusted to us as we look to the day that Jesus will return as King to manifest His kingdom in full.


Darius-Lee-202x300

Darius Lee is a lawyer in private practice and a member of the Global Young Reformers Network Steering Committee of the Lutheran World Federation. Darius holds religious freedom, marriage and the sanctity of human life in high regard, and has defended these important values and rights on various platforms. He has written about his journey of discipleship and passion for matters of justice and righteousness in his book, ‘Like a Fire in My Bones: A Journey of Discipleship’.

 


Notes:

[1] Maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill, Singapore Parliament Reports (23 February 1990) at col. 1170

The Christian Virtue of Civility

February 2015 Feature Article

As the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, I contribute op-ed articles to the Straits Times on current issues pertaining to kindness and graciousness.  Two of them provoked responses and reactions. [i]  Though most were positive responses, there were some negative reactions including a handful of very angry and rude comments, punctuated with insults, name-calling, and excoriation so typical of uncivility that permeates some quarters of our social media.  Shielded by the cloak of anonymity, the shrill voices, complete with expletives, often reaching fever pitch and polluting the cyberspshere.  These netizens are no doubt passionate and see it as their warrior duty to straighten me out without any consideration as to how to disagree without being disagreeable.

Civility is about how we go about registering our disagreements, without being disagreeable. It is about finding positive ways to converse and interact with each other in the public space.   It comprises “the exercise of patience, integrity, humility, and mutual respect in civil conversation, even (and especially) with those with whom we disagree.” [ii] Civility does not require that we compromise or abandon our particular convictions and values. It merely requires us to negotiate our disagreements with our fellow citizens in wholesome ways because we respect them as citizens and human beings, created in the image of God.

It is very tempting, I must confess, to respond in kind when you feel unjustly excoriated.  But then as a Christian, I must take seriously the admonition of Peter who writes to the early Christians, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15). Though the context is evangelistic-apologetical, civility should apply to interactions in all contexts.  Gentleness in response to anger is advocated in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” It is driven by the respect we should have for people who may disagree with us.

Paul aligns with Peter in his letter to the Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col. 4:6). To be gracious implies a deportment of pleasantness, attractiveness, winsomeness and charm. Graciousness should characterise our response to others precisely because of the grace or undeserved favour we have received from the Lord.

The function of salt includes purification and preservation.  It is also a seasoning agent.  Hence, our speech should be identified by the purity and wholesomeness of our language. At the same time it should not be insipid. On the contrary, it should be sprinkled with the salt of wit giving zest and liveliness to the conversation. C.F.D. Moule comments that we are “not to confuse loyal godliness with a dull, graceless insipidity.” [iii]

The example of civility is found in the Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4).  The unnamed woman lived on the margin of Jewish society, and Jesus interacted with her respectfully and gently.  While speaking the truth, He did so with love, in a kind, compassionate, and redemptive manner. In His encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus shows us the practical application of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

Our political consciousness has been recently awakened even as the economy is becoming more challenging.  Public trust is waning as individuals feel increasing vulnerable in the wake of income-gap widening and jobs perceived to be taken by outsiders.  Social cohesion wears thin in the face of incipient xenophobia.  Stories of discontent, rage and agitation fill our newsprint, airwaves, coffee shops and especially the social media. Where are the voices of balance and moderation in these challenging times?

I am convinced that the moderates are in the majority, but for whatever reason, we remain the silent majority.  Unless we are prepared to take the lead and speak out with civility as taught by the Lord, the minority will appear to be in charge of the conversation.  The hallmark of a great civilization is when we value civility as a virtue that binds peace-loving people of different persuasions together in community. The fabric of our society is in danger of tearing when it is allowed to be stretched thin by extreme incivility of a minority.

Civility in our collective conversation is not just a matter of discourse.  It is a positive approach to social engagement. By ignoring the loud shrill voices of a minority in the social media, and allowing them to have a field day, we are abdicating our responsibility to act responsibly.  We cannot allow ourselves to be isolated and insulated by not engaging.  It is through engaging with civility that we can hope to preserve and promote civility in our national ethos.

Perhaps the life and work of Roger Williams (1603-1683), a Puritan who founded Rhode Island, could inspire us.  He posited civility as the “rules of the game” for living in a pluralistic society and considered it essential to ensure public peace, maintain social order, and create the conditions for citizens to cooperate on matters of public interest and common good. He recognized that members of a pluralistic society are unlikely to completely agree on a substantive vision for what is right and good for society, but he assumed that all would agree that basic norms of tolerance, respect, common courtesy, patience, and honesty were necessary principles for debating and discharging our responsibilities for the common good.[iv]

We need the spirit of Roger Williams today.  We need Christians who believe in civility to rise up and engage the uncivil for we have the moral responsibility “for such a time as this” (Esth 4:14).


Dr William Wan (2)
Dr William Wan is the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement.  He is also a winner of the Active Ager Award (Council of the Third Age) 2011. Prior to taking on this role as General Secretary, he was practising law and managing a psychometric company. He has always been active in community-based work and believes that kindness breeds kindness.

 


Notes:

[i] “Where has all our empathy gone?” (empathy: _http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/singapore/story/where-has-all-our-empathy-gone-20140124)

“Even Jover Chew deserves due process law.” (jover chew:_http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/more-opinion-stories/story/even-jover-chew-deserves-due-process-law-20141122)

[ii] James Calvin Davis, In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 159.

[iii] C.F.D Moule, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians and to Philemon. (Cambridge University Press, 1957), 135.

[iv] For more on Roger Williams’s conception of civility, see James Calvin Davis, The Moral Theology of Roger Williams: Christian Conviction and Public Ethics (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), chapter 5.

[v] If you are interested in doing something about engaging the uncivil, please email me.