Part 2: The Malaysian Church and Peter Young

Reading Tan Jin Huat’s book—The Revd Peter John Young – Pioneer, Pastor and Pal—I realized that Peter’s ministry in Malaysia began just a couple of years before I was born. And so the Malaysian Church as I knew it is the Malaysian Church with Peter Young.

Jin Huat took pains to tell us that Peter’s “training at Ridley Hall provided him with a conservative evangelical foundation that focuses on the supreme authority of Scripture in matters of faith and life, the centrality of the Gospel and the atoning work of Christ at the cross for the salvation of the world.”

From conversations with M. Selveindran and Phua Seng Tiong, I got the impression that the conservative evangelical foundation of the Malaysian Church was the key area of focus in the 60s, especially in the context of their experiences in the university.

Scripture Union (SU) and the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES) were organizations that promote the place of Scripture in a Christian’s life and the primacy of evangelism in a Christian’s response to his community. Peter’s involvement in SU and association with FES meant that he was used by God to help lay this important foundation of the Malaysian Church.

By the time I entered the university, Bible reading, Quiet Time, Bible study and Evangelism were well accepted and taught in the churches.

In the 70s the Charismatic Movement began to influence the Malaysian Church. Even in my small town church experiences of speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing and the accompanying teaching on these experiences had a divisive effect.

Jin Huat has a chapter talking about Peter’s experience of being “filled with the Holy Spirit”. This was something as by then Peter was a well-respected leader in the Christian community. It was a very positive development personally for Peter, but the community’s response was divided. However, Jin Huat noted that “Peter brought to the Charismatic movement a balance of the Word and the Spirit that criticisms about this experience of baptism of the Holy Spirit was somewhat deflected. With Peter being a highly respected Christian leader, it was difficult to level the criticism that he was influenced by the devil. Further, neither his life nor deeds warranted any such criticism. Rather, it created openness to this experience across the denominations, especially among young people and young adults.”

At the end of that chapter, Jin Huat observed, “The first wave of the Charismatic movement paved the way to prepare the soil of the Malaysian churches for a greater receptivity to the work of the Holy Spirit in the next wave. Out of this first move, many talented young leaders were scattered like seeds among the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches to be pastors and lay leaders. In short, Peter’s influence was like that of a stone thrown into a pond with the resultant ripple effect across the country.”

Peter’s next move, setting up Malaysian Care was no less pivotal for the Malaysian Church. Evangelical imperatives had become deeply entrenched in the Church to the extent that often the primary call to share the Gospel obscures the equally important call to “love thy neighbour” in terms of helping to meet the needs of the poor and helpless.

Jin Huat writes, “The leadership of Peter in CARE provided it with a sense of credibility, acceptance and respect among Evangelical circles. His leadership and teaching helped to overcome some initial resistance from churches which regarded the emphasis on social work as distracting the Church from its evangelistic task. At that time, some churches regarded the promotion of social work as tantamount to preaching a social gospel. Further, there were other negative responses to the work of Malaysian CARE such as the youthfulness of those involved in the ministry, their inexperience, and the heavy financial cost of social work with little tangible returns.”

As the Church grew in it’s relationship with the community through evangelism and then through humanitarian aid there remained one more area to be opened: social justice. In a very real sense the Malaysian Church largely stayed out of socio-politico issues. Jin Huat tells us that as an individual, Peter got involved.

From an account by Bob Teoh, recounted by Jin Huat, “Peter was already a gentleman social activist when he quietly took part in the nation-wide campaign organised by the National Union of Journalists at Selangor Padang (now Dataran Merdeka) just before Operation Lallang occurred in October 1987. The protest was against the amendments which were to be tabled at Parliament to the already draconian Official Secrets Acts.”

And, “During Operation Lallang, Peter felt he had to stand in solidarity with those who had been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA). As such, he was one among those who quietly stood in the candle light vigil for the ISA detainees. The arbitrary enforcement of the ISA greatly offended his moral sensibilities.”

Peter took pains to act as an individual, disassociated from the organizations he had been involved with, but he carried his convictions to the churches that invited him to preach, and he organized Dignity and Services, and United Voice to lend voice to the disenfranchised. And of course he was a founding member of The Micah Mandate.

Today we see Christians involved in the public sphere as politicians, social activists and civil servants. Churches are much more aware of socio-political matters and much more open to encourage involvement.

Reading Jin Huat’s book on Peter, I could see how in many ways his personal journey mirrored the development of the Malaysian Church. As a key leader of the Church many of his personal developments influenced the direction of the Church. But for me, perhaps his greatest contribution to the Church was the fact that whatever he was involved with, he brought in, trained, promoted and gave opportunities to so many Malaysian Christians to become leaders in their own right.


by Tan Jin Huat

Published by: Persaudaraan Asian Beacon Malaysia

Available at: Canaanland, Asian Beacon office, Malaysian Care or from the author himself.

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