Way Of Peace – The Only Way

The following was presented by the Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore, the Rt. Rev. Philip Lok, as the opening comment during a dialogue session held between representatives of the Church in Malaysia with the leadership of the the Pakatan Rakyat coalition held on January 10, 2009 at Luther Centre, Petaling Jaya:

First, on behalf of the Lutheran Church in Malaysia and Singapore, I welcome Datuk Seri Anwar, and all other distinguished guests to Luther Centre. How I wished that your first visit to the headquarters of the Lutheran Church is under more pleasant circumstances.

As Christians, we are very saddened and shocked by the terrible events which took placed in our nation during the past 2 days. Our dream for a peaceful and progressive Malaysia was viciously shattered by the petrol bombs. These series of unjustifiable attacks upon churches have shaken the very foundation of our Malaysian society and scarred our common psyche. On a personal level, I am distressed by the fact that one of our oldest Lutheran churches was also attacked yesterday.

Christians are called to be peacemakers. We are entrusted by God to carry out a special task in this world – to be agents of reconciliation. Therefore, in times such as these, the Church is committed to work with any parties that have a genuine burden in the pursuit of peace and stability in our country. In times like these, we need leaders who are confident, and open-minded enough to engage in dialogues to promote understanding and goodwill among the religious groups in our nation.

During the past two days, I have received many emails from churches around the world pledging their prayer support for the church in Malaysia. One of them comes from the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Munib Younan. Bishop Younan, an Arab Christian, met Datuk Seri last October in a Muslim-Christian dialogue in Georgetown University. In his letter, Bishop Younan argues that the word ‘Allah’ has been freely used by Arab Christians for nearly 2000 years! He further urges Datuk Seri and fellow lawmakers to safeguard the freedom of worship for the Christian community in Malaysia.

While the events of the past 48 hours have cast a dark cloud over our people, yet there are still pockets of hope that shine through. Allow me to share a story which just took place this Sunday morning, and I believe that stories like this must be retold over and over again in our conversations.

One of our churches in Petaling Jaya is located just next to a mosque. Yesterday, just as our worship service was about to start, three Malay gentlemen walked into the church. They identified themselves as leaders from the adjacent mosque, and gave their affirmation to the church of their continual friendship. They further assured the church that it is safe to continue with our services and ministries.

Dear friends, this is the kind of generous spirit which we need to cultivate in all Malaysians. This is the kind of goodwill that must permeate every strata of our society.

In response to such kindness, I also urged our church members to go and do likewise in the course of this week. We must go to our Muslim neighbors, our Muslim colleagues or our Muslim classmates, and affirm our friendship with them. This is the way of peace. This is the Christian way, and the only way we know. We have no other options.

One Reply to “Way Of Peace – The Only Way”

  1. Of course the Way of Peace is the only way and I firmly applaud the actions of the mosque representatives cited in the article above. What I am really concerned about though is how strong and genuine the level of support really is coming from people who claim to profess a mainstream faith-allegiance with Christianity to those who have deep cultural ties with Christianity but who do not necessarily belong to the same church organizations nor exactly pronounce the same variety of understanding as regards the way in which this profession of faith is to be expressed. This is a very important dilemma because what it essentially poses is the necessary examination of how authentic is the representation of Christianity and its associated culture being reflected through the attitudes and actions of those already a part of these church networks in question. This is something that needs to challenge those individuals and groups declaring themselves to be responsibly taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. How do you as groups or individuals respond to the expressions of interest from others, who whilst they may stand currently outside as active participants in your church or organization, nevertheless show the utmost enthusiasm for being your friends – even though you upon first meeting them, do not know them all that well as regards everyday matters? And what’s more is that while you may have taken a positive step upon first meeting, is there a consistent follow through with these contacts in the same positive light as before, or do you simply forget about them as if neither of you had never even communicated at all? It is vital to the reflection of authenticity that this issue be seriously examined in the light of most recent events, in many more ways than one.

    If you want to identify as a Christian – feel, think, and live as one – but if you want to feel, think, and live as an individual of the world, then you will project yourself only as that. There comes a time to draw the line – how do you see yourself – only as an ethnic Chinese who appeals to upper class sensibilities??? Or as someone who shares both a Chinese and a Christian heritage and who recognizes that upper class sensibilities are for the world, not for Christians. This does not tout a poverty-complex but it does recognize that every culture, whether you are a Malay, indigenous Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or otherwise has a part to play in building a positive and affirming (as opposed to defaming) diversity into the fabric of intercultural dialogue that can mean all the difference between a country that is one which truly welcomes the diversity afforded it within its social fabric and one that doesn’t. Moreover, the latest rum bottle incident is nothing other than a further detraction from a seriously decent representation of Christian culture – it’s almost like a non-Christian who harbours some distaste for Christianity has taken the opportunity to reflect an uncharacteristic impression of Christianity to the general public just to make the issue more confusing.

    This is why I am also concerned about the representation of Christianity carried over by many mainstream sectors of the organized church. I am concerned that in many ways, the original cultural emphasis has been grossly undervalued to the point of glossed over completely when it comes to talking about the significance of Christ in the world. I am not proposing that veneers are more important than the heart of the matter, but what I am saying is that this issue is not about veneers – it is about keeping the outer expression in congruence with the inner one, about being consistent that what is on the outside accurately reflects that which is on the inside. It’s no good having an outer projection that appears all well and truly expressive of the original blueprint intended by the Lord for the Christian community whilst the inside is all awash with discord and hypocrisy. Neither is it any good to project an outer image that is in many respects – (maybe not all) culturally unrepresentative of the original form that Christian culture exhibited before it was marginalized by an institutionalized copy of the community-centred original. This is how the mis-conception of what Christianity is has come to the fore and the implications of this have meant that many, particularly those in the Islamic community, unduely perceive Christianity as no more than a plethora of Western philosophical doctrine, when in actual fact, it has not much in the way of cultural relationship, to do with Western philosophical traditions although to some degree, its influence upon these traditions has no doubt left its mark. Even worse than that is the idea that the name “Christian” is no more than a synonym for “European” or “Westerner”!!! I am totally grieved by the callous misrepresentation of a culture that underpins the very fabric of who I am, and it is this prolonging of this very misrepresentation that has and is still effectively moulding so much of the world’s distorted image of how cultures interact and collide, and what forces motivate these interactions and collisions. Religion is often named as an instigator of conflict and Christianity is often believed to be behind the negative influences “of religion”. It suffices to say that one of the main roots of this belief lies in the way the representation of Christianity has been carried over both by many politically expedient and corrupt proponents and an accompanying general tide of apathy to this phenomenon perniciously pervading the institutionalized church’s infrastructure. As I have already made clear, Christianity was never intended by Jesus Christ Himself to exist as an institution. It was always expounded by Him in the form of a cosmology of life, a cultural epistemology, a way of being and doing that is fundamentally community oriented and fundamentally in harmony with the sociecological dynamics of God’s wider creation and the respective societies that this encompasses be they human or otherwise. The great gulf that has opened up between this Christ-centred take on life, and the institution that has since marginalized into historical obscurity the real Christian communities has caused much strife on the face of the earth. The institutionalized version of the church has taken a name for itself which was originally never it’s name – rather this name belonged to the first-nations communities whom made up the real core of those whom God Himself had chosen to be named Christians.

    Hence I strongly feel that institution has to be more weary of how it speaks for “the Way of Peace”, and more conscientious of the fact that it hasn’t at its core really understood as yet what “the Christian way” is all about. I challenge it with this: “How can you claim that “this way is the only way you know” when you havn’t even understood the very people who make up the core of Biblical Christianity, originally speaking? The institutionalized church must come to a sense of humble recognition of this fact before it can really be seen by the wider world to give tantamount, authentic support to the founding values of this ancient culture and the people that this culture speaks of as it’s very own.

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