Thoughts on Suicide

suicide

 

As Christians, what should our thoughts be about suicide? We will first look to the Bible for guidance. Surprisingly, the Bible has little to say about suicide.  There are seven incidents of suicides in the Scriptures.

  1. Abimelech (Judges 9:52-54)
  2. Samson (Judges 16: 29-30)
  3. Saul and his armor bearer (1Samuel 31: 3-5)
  4. Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:31b)
  5. Zimri (1Kings 16:18-20)
  6. Judas Iscariot (Matt 27:3-5)

Chronologically, the first mention of suicide in the Bible is Abimelech. After capturing the city of Thebez, he attacked a fortified tower in the center of the city. The Old Testament noted, “ Abimelech went to the tower and stormed it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him’.” So his servant ran him through, and he died.” (Judges 9:52-54). Scripture neither approves nor disapproves of this act of assisted suicide. It was noted as a fitting end to an evil man. “Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech has done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers.” (Judges 9:56).

The next suicide, though it is arguable as such for there was a good cause and had divine sanction, was that of Samson. Samson pulled down the temple, killing himself and the Philistines (Judges 16: 29-30). Scripture regarded his act of suicide as a heroic act.

The suicide of Saul and his armor bearer elicit more comments. “The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me”. But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his own sword and died with him.”(1Samuel 31: 3-5). Even though Saul killed himself by his own sword, the chronicler noted that God himself killed Saul for his unfaithfulness (1Chronicles 10:13-14). His armor-bearer chooses to die with his king, an example of suicide by identification. There was no comment on the suicide of Saul’s armor-bearer in the Scriptures.

Ahithophel was King David’s counselor. He became Absalom’s when Absalom rebelled against his father. David prayed that God would turn Ahithophel‘s counsel into foolishness (2 Samuel 15:31b). When Ahithophel found that his advice was ignored by Absalom, he hanged himself (2 Sam 17:23). There was no comment in the Scriptures about this action.

Zimri came to the throne of Israel by assassination. The Israelites rebelled and besieged the city of Tirzah. “When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him. So he died, because of the sins he had committed, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord and walking in the ways of Jeroboam and in the sin he has committed and had caused Israel to commit.” (1Kings 16:18-20). Here it was noted that his death was judgement for his sins.

Judas Iscariot was the only suicide mentioned in the New Testament. When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was filled with remorse and tried to return the money. Then he went and hanged himself (Matt 27:3-5).

It is interesting to note that in this brief survey of the seven suicides recorded in the Scriptures, the suicides of Abimelech, Saul and Zimri were recorded as the direct judgement of God on their sins, even going so far as to say that God killed Saul. The Scriptures were silent on the other four suicides though the ignoble context in each case speaks for themselves.

Therefore the Scriptures offer no specific guidelines on suicide, allowing each situation to speak for itself. Theologian Karl Barth noted in his multivolume Church Dogmatics that “a remarkable fact that in the Bible suicide is nowhere explicitly forbidden”.

In certain Christian traditions, suicide is regarded as an ‘unpardonable’ sin and those who commit suicide are not given the rites and burial in the church grounds. They are usually buried outside the church and regarded as being condemned to hell. What is the origin of this belief? The root of this belief may be traced to Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of the church. In his thesis, On Suicide, Thomas Aquinas argued that to commit suicide is to sin against God, family and community. God is sovereign, and He decides when we are born and when we die. To commit suicide is to usurp the sovereignty of God over our time of death. Suicide deprives children of their parents, and community of the contribution of that person. Thomas Aquinas never said that suicide is an unpardonable sin. Unfortunately, Church traditions made it into an unpardonable sin.  The unpardonable sin is stated in Mark 3:22–30 and Matthew 12:22–32 as sinning against the Holy Spirit. Suicide is not.

This article is to inform Christians of the biblical and theological teaching about suicide. It does not seek to endorse suicide. It is sad that someone has to resort to suicide as a last resort to solve his/her problem. Suicide make victims out of those left behind. Families and friends  left behind suffer from grief and guilt at not having done more. However, they must realize  that the choice to kill oneself is a choice made by the suicide party  herself/himself alone. Those left behind should never, in addition to their pain, carry the added burden of the fear that God’s forgiveness does not extend to their loved one’s action. God’s forgiveness is wide and deep enough for all of us.

Soli Deo Gloria

Some Thoughts on Creeds

 

Christian Orthodox worshippers hold thei

 

A creed is a collection of shared core beliefs in a religious community which make it distinctive from other communities. A creed is also known as a confession, symbol, or statement of faith.

Major Historic Christian Creeds

  • Apostles’ Creed (120-250 AD)

This is likely to be formulated around A.D.180, as a distinct creed to counter Marcionism. Marcion of Sinope (c. 85 – c. 160) was a controversial figure in early Christian history. His theology only affirmed the Father of Christ as the true God, rejecting the God of the Old Testament. He was denounced and excommunicated. The Church Fathers felt they need a Creed to affirm the main beliefs of Christianity.

 

  • Creed of Nicaea (325 AD)

The first ecumenical council in Nicaea which was called to solve the Arian controversy. The Arian controversy arose between Arius and Athanasius of Alexandria in Egypt. The main issue concerns the deity of Christ or God the Son. Arius maintained that since God the Son was begotten by God the Father, he cannot be co-eternal with the Father. Athanasius maintain that God the Father and God the Son are co-eternal and con-substantial (one in essence). Athanasius won and Arianism was outlawed in the empire. Athanasius’ understanding of God was adopted by the Council.

 

  • Nicene Creed (381 AD)

Also known as the Nicaea-Constantinopolitan Creed. It is mostly a revision of the 325 Creed of Nicaea. Since the last Council in Nicaea, the argument of the nature of Christ, God the Son was never totally defined. The Nicene Creed put to rest the controversies by affirming Athanasius’ viewpoint. It laid the foundation for our present understanding of the Trinitarian God.

 

  • Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD)

Council of Chalcedon. The major contribution of this Council is the belief that Christ is fully human and fully God.

 

  • Athanasian Creed (500 AD)

Mainly used by the Western Christian traditions. The origin of this creed is unknown. This Creed affirms the deity of Christ and the equality of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in the Godhead.

 

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) is considered one of the most important creed for the Reformed and the Presbyterian denomination. Even then, it was not wholly accepted. In the 18th Century the Presbyterian churches in southern China rejected the Westminster Confession because it was too ‘Western’. This was during the era when China was trying to throw off the yoke of ‘Western Imperialism’.

JESUS RECEIVES THE CROSS

Spiritual Formation on the Run

Stations of the Cross (2)


JESUS RECEIVES THE CROSS

Jesus was scourged. The whips cut His back until it was shredded and bathed in His blood. A crown of thorns was set on His head in mockery. Then they returned His robe to Him, and brought Him to the cross on which He was to die.

Jesus embraced the cross, resting it painfully on the smarting wounds on His back.


Lord, You were scourged and wounded;
You deserved no punishment.
but were punished in our place.
Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you, Jesus.

When You were already hurting,
You embraced the cross.
Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you, Jesus.

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A Christian Doctor’s Perspective on Euthanasia

Alex_Good.day2die

We cannot decide the date and time we are born nor the date and time we die. The suicide and euthanasia argument centers around the patient’s decision in determining the time he or she chooses to die. Janet Adkins was fifty-four years old when she was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. When informed about the course of the disease, she decided she did not want to live out the years in this progressive, deteriorating condition. She decided to kill herself but she wanted her death to be painless and dignified. She sought the help of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a pathologist from Michigan, United States of America and fixed a date to die. On June 4, 1990 Dr. Kevorkian hooked her up to a heart monitor and an intravenous line. Janet Adkins pushed a button that released a lethal dose of medication, which killed her in 5 minutes. A murder charge was filed against Dr. Kevorkian but it was dismissed because the laws of the State of Michigan were vague against assisted suicide. Since then, the “Right-to-die” or euthanasia movement has been steadily gaining momentum.

On Wednesday, April 11, 2001, the Netherlands legalised euthanasia, becoming the first country in the world to allow doctors to end the lives of patients with unbearable, terminal illness. As of November 2017, human euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg and Canada. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, Montana, Washington DC, and California. Euthanasia is often thought of as people who want to commit suicide because of various reasons, usually those suffering from incurable diseases. Euthanasia is actually wider than that. It also involves another party, usually a physician who will assist in the suicide, an act termed Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS). Physicians are healers not killers. Will they be forced to kill or assist in a suicide if their country legislated that euthanasia is legal? This is the dilemma facing the physicians in Canada today.

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is a Greek word meaning a “good death”. The present meaning of the word, euthanasia has come evolved to mean the intentional act of a person  which causes the death of another that is terminally or seriously ill, often to end the latter’s suffering and pain. Commonly, euthanasia means mercy killing or assisted suicide. It implies that a doctor willingly, injecting or allowing someone to inject, a lethal dose of medication to kill a patient that is terminally or seriously ill to end his or her suffering. It is not euthanasia when doctors discontinue a treatment that is no longer effective and the patient dies.

 

The groundswell of support for euthanasia

Two strong cultural trends have arisen in the West and are currently globalised trends. One is the social construct of absolute autonomy. The other is the fear of pain. The concept of an individualised self is a recent one but has since become a powerful influence through this personal autonomy – ‘This is my body and I decide what I want to do with it and society has no right to interfere’. This movement of individualised autonomy is so powerful that it reforms modern medicine and empowers the issues of abortion, human sexuality, and euthanasia. Autonomy demands that people should have a say in when and how they die. This is closely related to the fear of pain and suffering. Society is full of distractions and other devices (including drugs) that minimise physical and emotional pain. It is this absolutised autonomy and fear of pain that provided the groundswell of support for euthanasia.

Modern medicine has not only prolonged life but it has also prolonged death. Efficient healthcare are enabling us to die by instalments. One of the fears many people have is to be in constant pain, whether from some disease or a cancer. This terrible pain occupies their whole life and there is no relief. Others fear that they may reach a point where they want to die in relative peace, only to find that they are forced to receive intensive and intrusive medical treatments that desperately attempt to prolong their lives. Yet others dread being bedridden for months or years, incapable of responding whatsoever to their families, relatives and friends. With the high cost of medical care, some fear that the medical bill for their terminal illness may put their spouse and children in debt for years.

Therefore, they want an option to be able to decide when they want to end their life. They want a ‘right-to-die’ and they want a doctor to help them to die painlessly. Some want to be allowed to make the decision to opt for euthanasia when they are dying while others want the option to instruct their doctors to end their lives when they, themselves are incapable of making the decision.

All these fears are real. Pain, incapacity, suffering and high cost of medical care are realities that confront us as our society become more developed and we live longer. We are now more likely to die from stroke, heart attacks and cancer than from accidents and infectious diseases. Stroke, heart attacks and cancer are often associated with high disabilities, pain, and suffering and expensive treatment modalities. Would it not make sense to have an opportunity to ‘check out’ if the going gets tough?

Perspective from Scriptures

Surprisingly, the Bible has little to say about euthanasia or mercy killing or assisted suicide. What about suicide? There are seven incidents of suicides in the Scriptures.

  1. Abimelech (Judges 9:52-54)
  2. Samson (Judges 16: 29-30)
  3. Saul and his armor bearer (1Samuel 31: 3-5)
  4. Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:31b)
  5. Zimri (1Kings 16:18-20)
  6. Judas Iscariot (Matt 27:3-5)

Chronologically, the first mention of suicide in the Bible is Abimelech. After capturing the city of Thebez, he attacked a fortified tower in the center of the city. The Old Testament noted “ Abimelech went to the tower and stormed it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. Hurriedly he called to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him’.” So his servant ran him through, and he died.” (Judges 9:52-54). Scripture neither approves nor disapproves of this act of assisted suicide. It was noted as a fitting end to an evil man. “Thus God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech has done to his father by murdering his seventy brothers.” (Judges 9:56). The next suicide, though it is arguable as there was a good cause and had divine sanction, was that of Samson. Samson pulled down the temple, killing himself and the Philistines (Judges 16: 29-30) Scripture regarded his act of suicide as a heroic act.

The suicide of Saul and his armor bearer elicit more comments. “The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically. Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me”. But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his own sword and died with him.”(1Samuel 31: 3-5). Even though Saul killed himself by his own sword, the chronicler noted that God himself killed Saul for his unfaithfulness. (1Chronicles 10:13-14). His armor-bearer chooses to die with his king, an example of suicide by identification. There was no comment on the suicide of Saul’s armor-bearer in the Scriptures.

Ahithophel was King David’s counselor. He became Absalom’s when Absalom rebelled against his father. David prayed that God would turn Ahithophel‘s  counsel into foolishness (2 Samuel 15:31b). When Ahithophel found that his advice was ignored by Absalom, he hanged himself. (2 Sam 17:23). There was no comment in the Scriptures about this action.

Zimri came to the throne of Israel by assassination. The Israelites rebelled and besieged his city of Tirzah. “When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him. So he died, because the sins he had committed, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord and walking in the ways of Jeroboam and in the sin he has committed and had caused Israel to commit.” (1Kings 16:18-20). Here it was noted that his death was judgement for his sins.

Judas Iscariot was the only suicide mentioned in the New Testament. When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was filled with remorse and tried to return the money. Then he went and hanged himself. (Matt 27:3-5)

It is interesting to note that in this brief survey of the seven suicides recorded in the Scriptures; the suicides of Abimelech, Saul and Zimri were recorded as direct judgement of God on their sins, even going as far as to say God killed Saul. The Scriptures were silent on the other four suicides though the ignoble context in each case speaks for themselves.

Therefore the Scriptures offered no specific guidelines on suicide, allowing each situation to speak for itself. Theologian Karl Barth noted in his multivolume Church Dogmatics that “a remarkable fact that in the Bible suicide is nowhere explicitly forbidden”.  In addressing the issue of euthanasia we must look elsewhere in the Scriptures for guidance.

There are two Scriptural principles that can help us when we are confronted with the issue of euthanasia. The first is the sanctity of human life and the second is human autonomy and divine sovereignty.

Firstly, there are 4 inferences about the sanctity of human life that can be derived from the Scriptures. They are namely, human dignity comes from God, all human life has equal dignity, “Thou Shall not Kill” and, love your neighbour.

  1. Human Dignity comes from God. Human life are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27), so our dignity and God’s are closely related. “Whosoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed: for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6). Human life is a gift from God. In response, we should approach this life with gratitude, thanksgiving and deep responsibility.
  2. All Human Life has Equal Dignity. In Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Men and women bear the same dignity and this applies to all of mankind of all ages, sex, race and conditions. However incapacitated, mentally retarded, chronically ill, physically dependent or in a persistent vegetative state, they bear that dignity and have equal claims on us.
  3. “Thou Shalt not Kill”. The sixth commandment “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13; Deu 5:17) has its roots in the Creation’s narrative:- “Let us make man in our own image”(Gen 1:26) and in the Noahic Convenant’s “Whosoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”(Gen 9:6). Man, being made in the image of God, is not to be intentionally killed. Ratsachis the Hebrew word translated as ‘kill’ in the commandment. It is similar to the Greek phoneuo, which means ‘murder’. Hence the sixth commandment forbids murder or ‘unauthorised, intentional or hostile killing of one human being by another’.
  4. Love your Neighbour. Jesus summarised the Commandments as ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. (Mark 12:30-31). Christians are called to love their neighbours. And this includes taking care of each other and looking out for each other. It does not include helping each other to die.

Secondly, there is the human autonomy and divine sovereignty principle. Human autonomy is the main argument for euthanasia. Christians must take the claims of autonomy with great seriousness. We are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27). An essential part of that image is our ability to make free choices. The Scriptural model for human autonomy, self-determination and human responsibility is portrayed in Genesis 2:19. As Hebrew scholars have noted, to ‘name’ something is not simply to label it; it is to give it a meaning and order it in the nature of things, Hence, Adam is called upon to continue the creation by bringing order into being, rather than simply replicating preordained orders. This is stewardship.

The fundamental distinction between the Creator and the created (His creation) sets limits to the freedom and scope of our stewardship. The limitations to human autonomy or self-determination is found earlier in Genesis 2:15-17. The story asserts a fundamental conviction of biblical faith that from the very beginning human freedom over life was limited or proscribed. God alone have sovereignty over life and death. The end of human life is not subject to a person’s free judgement. Our freedom does not extend to absolute dominion. Absolute dominion is an exclusively divine prerogative. The principles of divine sovereignty and human stewardship and responsibility argue against unlimited autonomy.

Therefore the Scriptural principles on the sanctity of human life and divine sovereignty and the limits of human autonomy argue against euthanasia which violates both these principles.

Alternative to Euthanasia

There must be viable alternatives to euthanasia if we are to face the realities of pain and suffering during terminal or serious illnesses. This is where Christians must be in the forefront of offering viable alternatives. Instead of an action to end life, the alternative to euthanasia is death with dignity.

There have been tremendous advances in pain control. Pain clinics are established in all government general hospitals. Advances in pain control medication have allowed better pain reduction with minimal side effects. Precision surgical procedure allows for disconnecting pain pathways. Church visitation groups can help in pain control by visiting and befriending the sick.

Palliative care or care of the dying have also made significant advances in the last few years. One of the changes is that patients are beginning to have more say in their treatment. With improved education and better access to information, patients may discuss with their doctors and spell out what treatments may or may not be given, when to stop when treatment fails and when extraordinary medical measures may not be taken. Extraordinary measures include putting a terminally ill patient on a ventilator when there is no hope for recovery. All these may be written down or spelt out in a ‘living will’ and/or a ‘medical directive’.

Medical costs will continue to escalate. There is need for better financial planning especially in medical insurance coverage. This will help alleviate the financial burden that a major illness imposes on the family.

A remarkable recent development is the modern hospice care.  Hospice care enables helping terminally ill patients to die with dignity. The Hospice organization was founded in London by a devout Christian, Dr. Cicely Saunders at St. Christopher’s Hospice and rapidly expanded worldwide. Its rapid growth is a testimony to the urgent need of helping patients to ease their dying process as opposed to the use of medical technology to keep them alive. In Malaysia, Hospis Malaysia and a few other  non-government organizations have  a few centers around the country but there is a great need for the Church to be involved in setting up and running hospices.

Prayer is a powerful alternative to euthanasia and the Church is the best-equipped organization to offer it. It is one of the great mysteries of the universe that God will listen and act upon the prayers of his people. The Church has a God given role to pray for the sick (Jas 5:14-16) and those facing death. The Church will have failed in its mission if it does not pray for and with the sick and dying.

Death with Dignity

Euthanasia or mercy killing or assisted suicide is laudable because it is an action based on compassion. Unfortunately its basic premises are flawed as it goes against the Scriptural principles of the sanctity of human life and divine sovereignty and human autonomy. The Christian alternative of death with dignity is a better choice.

Contemplative Companions  Spiritual Director Training Program (CCSDTP)

 

VoonSD01

 

Contemplative Companions  Spiritual Director Training Program (CCSDTP)is a one year foundational program at the preliminary level, on which related topical units can be built on as continuing development in spiritual direction ministry in subsequent years with less intensity and frequency. No practitioner in spiritual direction can ever claimed to be qualified by virtue of a paper qualification. Both as a science and an art form, proficiency and acumen in spiritual direction grow with practical wisdom, and an insatiable quest for learning that is invigorated by God’s redeeming Love for His children. However, the unique distinction for spiritual direction lies not so much in the intellectual knowledge, skills and professional experience, but in the spiritual directors’ personal knowledge of God and self by living an authentic Christian life. Ultimately, the Holy Spirit is the Spiritual Director working through human agency to bring God’s beloved children back to Christ. Therefore, CCSDTP is designed upon the following theological assumptions to create a forum for the Holy Spirit to call His people to this ministry, and for the people of God to discern and confirm God’s call in an unfolding process through CCSDTP.

This Spiritual Direction Training Program is our grateful response to the following 3 key Kingdom concerns that our Lord Jesus has laid on our hearts. The ethos is contemplative and inclusive of all Christian faith traditions, gleaning from each the distinct richness of their spirituality. It is through the Church (not any particular denomination) that the ‘manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms… In Christ & through faith in Him, we may approach God with freedom & confidence (Eph 3:10-12).

 

3 Key Kingdom Concerns:
1. 1 Cor 4:15 – The dearth of spiritual fathers and mothers is as true in our Malaysian Church as in the Corinthian Church. It is particularly relevant and pertinent in our local context, where the majority is first generation Christians.
2. Col 1:28 – Our passionate desire is to present God’s children matured in Christ.
3. Isa 43:6-7 – Our prayerful intention is to bring God’s beloved sons and daughters from the wilderness of the world back home to our true dignity and destiny in Christ to live only for God’s Glory through the Holy Spirit.

 

Expectations from the Curriculum:
1. To nurture a generation of spiritual fathers and mothers in the Lord who live a cruciform life, so as to engage in the redemptive work of maturing everyone fully in Christ (Col 1:28).

2. To examine and critically reflect on the theological assumptions that undergird our Christian faith and character formation in our church life, in order to stay true to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that is:

  • Incarnational and encompasses every aspect of life on earth
  • Holistic and impacts our whole humanity (body-soul-spirit) with Isa 61 as a Manifesto of the Kingdom of God
  • Relational and is firmly rooted in the Trinitarian community of Love, Grace and Truth

3. To provide a contemplative process of pedagogy that facilitates an intellectual knowledge and understanding of Christian faith and theology into an experiential encounter with our living God.

  • Well integrated mature Christians who

have a personal and open relationship with God
have relational interpersonal skills
have been under spiritual direction
have experiences in care of souls
have a felt sense of God’s call to the spiritual direction ministry
have the gift and calling in spiritual direction as affirmed by a spiritual                                     director
have adequate self-knowledge and understanding

 

Program

 

There are 5 Modules of residential courses that begin on a Sunday night and end on Friday evening. The only exception is the first Module which is an eight-day guided silent retreat. Each Module is preceded with pre-Modular preparatory assignments, and is followed through with post-Modular integrative assignments to continue the disciplines of attending to the inner work of God’s Grace. Cultivating and maintaining a posture of listening and discerning heart is crucial and foundational to the effectiveness of spiritual direction.
Within each Module, the mornings are given to formational teaching as occasions for prayer exercises to reflect on the why, how, when, where and so what of personal formation and faith journey. The intention is to allow the Holy Spirit of Truth to highlight for each person to recognize where he or she has come from, and where he or she is going in fulfilling their dignity and destiny in Christ. The afternoons are on parallel track to acquire the skill sets of spiritual direction.

Each Module is designed as a building block for subsequent Module to build on to create a sequential dynamic that strengthens what has been learnt, and also to broaden the scope of learning. This is to ensure that the whole CCSDTP hangs together as a complete foundational program because of its inter-relationality.

The following are the 5 Modules:

Module 1: 8-Day Guided Silent Retreat – Discerning God in My Life Journey
Dr Voon Choon Khing

Module 2: Spiritual Formation
Dr Voon Choon Khing

Module 3: Soul Care/Spiritual Direction
Sr Elizabeth Lim, RGS

Module 4: Christian Spirituality
Rev Peggy Seow

Module 5: Religious Experience
Dr Alex Tang

 

The 3-Month Inter-Modular periods are for pre- and post-Modules assignments, which includes personal spiritual direction, group formation, specific spiritual disciplines (daily lectio divina, Examen and journaling), readings and written assignments.

 

Core Team Members of CCSDTP

 

Dr Voon Choon Khing has found life to be an adventure with God ever since her conversion in 1966. From an early infantile perception of God’s call to nursing in UK, she gradually discovers that her varied stations in life, whether as a nurse, midwife, missionary, social worker, librarian, counselor, teacher, and spiritual director, are merely creative expressions of God’s primary call on her as God’s beloved. With a strong conviction that there is only one life to live, she is passionate about investing her life in eternity. Her pastoral-teaching ministry at the Seminari Theoloji Malaysia since 1986 in her multiple roles, has convinced her of the necessity for spiritual direction and retreat work as another integral means of holistic soul care. She is grateful for her husband Dr Chow Heap Yeong, a fellow pilgrim in this faith journey, desiring to grow together in God’s Delight, becoming conduits of God’s Love and Grace particularly in this later season of life. Choon Khing’s academic training includes Diploma in Theology (Lon Uni, UK), MA in Library & Information Studies (Lon Uni, UK), Intermediate Certificate in St Ignatius Spiritual Exercises (Cenacle Sisters, London), Master in Theology (Duke Uni, USA) and DMin in Spiritual Direction (Graduate Theological Foundation, USA), Certificate of Completion in Retreat Direction Summer Internship Program (St Ignatius Spirituality Centre, Guelph, Ontario). Her first book, Discerning God in Our Life: The Dance of Two Wills was published in March 2016 as part of STM series. Currently, she serves on the Malaysian Care Board with the roles of spiritual formation of MCare staff, and is a member of the PADERI (Pastoral Development & Renewal Initiative) working committee.

Dr Alex Tang is a Senior Consultant Paediatrician at the KPJ Johor Specialist Hospital, Johor Bahru and Associate Professor of Paediatrics, Clinical School, Monash University. Besides his several medical qualifications in paediatrics, Alex also holds M.Min (Malaysian Bible Seminary), a Cert. Spirituality (St Thomas Uni, Miami) and a PhD (Asia Graduate School of Theology Alliance on spiritual formation strategies in local congregations in Malaysia). Alex is the Founder and Director, Kairos Spiritual Formation Ministries in 1998 as a ministry for preaching and teaching about spiritual formation and transformation in churches, camps, retreats, seminars, conferences, and Bible seminaries. And in 2003, Alex started the Spiritual Formation Institute at the Holy Light Church, JB with the mission to nurture disciples of Jesus Christ with informed mind, hearts on fire and contemplative in action. Alex teaches practical theology and is an adjunct faculty at Malaysia Bible Seminary (MBS) and Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM); and East Asia School of Theology (EAST), Singapore. He is a preacher, speaker, spiritual director, social technocratic, and author of a number of books with his special interests in theology, philosophy, spiritual formation, Christian spirituality and biomedical ethics.

Rev Peggy Seow is an alumnus of STM (BD, 1989). After serving in the pastoral ministry with The Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC) of the Methodist Church West Malaysia since graduation, Peggy read MA in Christian Spirituality in Loyola University, Chicago, 2009. Upon her return to Malaysia, she resumed her pastoral ministry as the Diaconal Minister (Director of Christian Education, Dec 1989 – Nov 1990). She remains a TRAC pastor though retired from active local pastoral ministry, in order to devote her time to spiritual direction and retreat works where her passion is.

Dr Chow Heap Yeong is a gynaecologist & obstetrician in private practice. Heap Yeong holds a MA in Missiological Study (Baptist Theological Seminary, Penang), and completed a three year spiritual direction training with the Jesuits Maranatha Retreat Ministry, PJ. Heap Yeong has always been an active and keen supporter of social NGOs, and is currently the President of the Family Planning Association, Negri Sembilan. Heap Yeong is also on the Council of Education of the Methodist Schools, and the local leadership of the Taman Ujong Methodist Church. Besides being part of Band of Brothers, a male spiritual formation group, Heap Yeong and his wife, Dr Voon work together in ministering spiritual direction for senior management staff in Malaysian CARE, bi-annual retreats for MCare staff, and retreats for church groups.

 

Contact us from our website www.contemplativecompanions.com

Review of Networked Theology

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Review of Networked Theology: Negotiating faith in digital culture

Heidi A. Campbell and Stephen Garner (2016), Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic

 

Heidi A. Campbell is associate professor of communication at Texas A&M University. Stephen Garner is head of school in the School of Theology at Laidlaw College in Auckland, New Zealand. This book, one in a series by Baker Academics in Engaging Culture, edited by William A. Dyrness and Robert K. Johnson, is an attempt to discover how religion, specifically Christianity interacts with the New Media.

The book started with a good overview of the technology and how a networked world came into being. The crash course to explain the New Media is particularly interesting. The new media is basically the digital technologies as compared to the old one which is analogy. Being digital enabled the media to be transformed in ways that are continually evolving. One way to describe the new media is Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.  Web 1.0 describes the early stages in the 1990s of the internet and the “world wide web” (www) and email were the most popular means of communication. Along came Web 2.0 in the early 2000s with the rise of blogs, websites which allowed more interactivity. These platforms expanded to Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, and YouTube. In the last few years, Web 3.0 appears with cloud computing, mobile multipurpose smart devices and smartphones. Already, there are signs that Web 4.0 has already arrived. Web 4.0 deals with augmented reality (VR) technologies. It is amazing how fast these new technologies have been adopted by communities worldwide. What is even more amazing is how rapidly these technologies became embedded into their cultures. These technologies enable connectivity and networking on a level that never existed before. Hence a networked society.

In these networked societies, Christian communities have been interacting, adapting and using it in their daily and religious lives. The authors suggest that what these communities need now is a ‘networked theology’.

This networked theology involves a gripping of faith that seeks to understand our technology and media world and asks how we should live faithfully in the world as the people of God, the body of Christ, and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit…A networked theology requires that Christians think deeply about technology and media, and not just as tools to be used or put aside. We are, rather to think about the values, inherent character, and environments created by technology and media as wider socio-economic systems (pp.146-147)

The Church has the means to come to terms with the existing technologies of its era and appropriate it for her use: written books, printing press, telephones and the internet. At times the technology became the means to shake the Church or reform it. One example is the printing press and the Reformation.

The authors have argued persuasively that a networked theology should be based on the biblical foundations of seeking and loving our neighbours. However, their arguments are often on how to use the technologies as a means to live in the networked world than as means to know God. Technology is not God and one has to be careful in the discussion as to not mistake the means for ends. In a similar vein, perhaps we should have motorcar theology or a theology of reading if we are too focused on the technology. More explanation should be given in what is networked theology rather than what it can do. Both authors are distinguished scholars and have contributed significantly to the Digital Religion studies. This book attempted to merge the results of their years of research and study: Campbell’s media studies and Garner’s theological studies. With respect to both authors, I felt that they have not proven that there is such a concept as Networked Theology. Theology is according to their definition ‘teaching or study of god (p.10). What they has postulated is a nuanced interaction of Christianity in a networked society. The book is not without its merits. It provides an overview landscape of the New Media in which the church as to navigate.

Indonesian Balinese Artist Nyoman Nuarta

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STRESS (1988)

Balinese artist Nyoman Nuarta who is based in Bandung, Indonesia expouses a deep Balinese Hindu spirituality in his art. Yet the themes of his art are contemporary and political. He deals with the disharmony of man with man, with nature and with the cosmos. He highlights the exploitation of nature, the poor, injustice, and man’s inhumanity with man. Nuarta works with copper and with bricks and mortar. His works range from monuments to smaller artworks.  His monumental statues include the massive Patung Garuda Wisnu Kencana (Badung, Bali), 60 meter tall Monumen Jalesveva Jayamahe (Surabaya), and  Monumen Proklamasi Indonesia (Jakarta). His smaller artworks are displayed at the NuArt Sculpture Park in Bandung which contains his gallery and workshop.

Well known in Indonesia because of his outspokenness and his art, Nuarta is relatively unknown outside Indonesia. He is regarded as a major contributor to the Indonesia New Art Movement. However, he is often verified for his provocative political views and his view of the destruction of natural resources, poverty and injustice in his beloved Indonesia.

Personally, I find his mastery use of space in the sculptures displayed in Bandung as refreshing as Rembrandt’s use of light. His sculptures have multiple layers of meanings. Though an extract art, its realism is horrifying as it reveals the true human condition. Each layer brings us deeper into the horrors and wickedness of the human tradition. I came away shaken by his commentaries on what is happening in Indonesia and the rest of the world.

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two orang utan huddled in fear as a forest fire destroy their jungle

 

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SIN (1994)

a woman netted in mesh wire, the hollow spread out body becoming one with the copper-mesh

 

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RUSH HOUR II (1992)

The rush to nowhere. The hurried and the busy.

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NIGHTMARE (2001)

The 1998 Jakarta Tragedy during the collapse of government system called ‘Orde Baru’, many women were raped during the chaos. Nuarta presented a sad story about a Chinese woman who was one of the rape victims. The tragedy ended with many of the women committing suicide.

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SEARCHING FOR GOD (1988)

John Sung and Mental Illness

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I am fascinated by how God uses people with mental illnesses. One of the persons I am studying is John Sung, a famous Chinese evangelist in South East Asia and China during the Twentieth Century. I have written a paper on John Sung and his mental illness and had presented it at The Society of the Study of Christian Spirituality Conference in the University of Notre Dame a few years ago. I have been meaning to rewrite the paper for publication but have not got around to it yet.

I came across some new insights at “The Biographical Dictionary of CHINESE Christianity.

John Sung’s life story is interesting

According to his testimony, he continued to read broadly; translated the Dao De Jing into English, and exploring philosophy and history on his own. He was at first influenced by his theologically liberal teachers, but everything changed – again, according to his testimony – when he underwent a dramatic conversion while attending evangelistic meetings in January, 1927. He also said he was born again on February 10 of that year.

Fully transformed, Song zealously evangelized his professors, warning them of eternal punishment if they did not repent. They were not amused, and had him locked up in an insane asylum, where he proceeded to read the Bible through at forty times in seven months. He was released through the efforts of an American pastor, and returned to China in 1927.
That is the story which has come down from Song and his biographers, especially Leslie Lyall.

However

Recent research, based partly on reliable archival materials from Union Theological Seminary, paint a different picture. It seems that Song really did suffer some sort of psychological breakdown, leading to hallucinations, strange dreams, visions, and bizarre behavior, including impenetrable letters and diagrams. Having been diagnosed as psychotic by three psychiatrists, he signed the self-admittance form to Bloomingdale Hospital in White Plains, New York.

My personal diagnosis is that John Sung suffers from Manic Depressive Psychosis.

While in the mental hospital, he became obsessed with a female goddess, “Shenmu, the Queen Mother,” whom he variously called, “Mary, Mother of Jesus, Queen of Queens,” “Mary Magdelen, Mother of Christ,” or simply, “Goddess.” On April 4, 1927, he “married” her in a ceremony that included a “holy kill and holy union.” His diaries contain messages that he purportedly received from her. Later, he ceased writing and filled his diaries with complicated digrams and graphs that supposedly showed the correlation between the Gospels and radio waves….Song returned to China instead of resuming classes at Union. One of the first things he did was to visit the temple of Guanyin, a Buddhist figure sometimes merged with the Taoist Queeen Mother of the West.

This part about his mental illness seemed to suggest that he had schizophrenia. The material about his association with Quan Yin, the Daoist Goddess of Mercy was new to me.

However, this does not deter me from believing that God uses people with mental illness for His purpose. My thesis is that not only use God uses people with mental illness, He uses the mental illness itself. Otherwise, how do we explain how in his short 12 years of active ministry, John Sung did more for Christianity than most people did in a lifetime.

In that 12 years, John Sung empowered the churches in South East Asia by visiting them in at least three tours, and also laid the foundation for the churches in China in his travels around the country that enable the churches to survive the Communist takeover. This could be the manic energy from his mental illness that allowed him to preach three times a day and five times on Sunday for months at a time!

Assurance

eternal_security

Today’s guest post is by Dr Tang U-Liang

One less talked about heritage of the Reformation is perhaps on the topic of assurance. It follows naturally from Luther’s (re)discovery that justification is by faith alone. But the connection is perhaps not as straightforward as one might think.
It is perhaps been supposed in Christian circles that we can have assurance of salvation because we are not saved on the basis of our good works or good behaviour. Instead, since we only need to believe, we can be assured of our salvation. If salvation had been by works, so the argument goes, then our success in works is not certain, for we may fail. We are after all merely human. So therefore, since salvation is not by works (but by faith), we have full assurance.
But I don’t think it follows, logically speaking, that one’s assurance of salvation as a Christian is obtained on the basis of our faith alone. After all, in 2 Peter 1:3-11, Peter talks about the effort to attain to godliness, virtue and love in addition to faith as a way to “confirm your calling and election.” The assurance of salvation therefore cannot be just obtained from mere introspection of our confession in absence of evidence. On the contrary, we see here that Peter recognises that “for in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” There is no entrance through the pearly gates without evidence of a changed life.
It could seem like a “betrayal” to some Christians to discover that Christianity isn’t just about believing, but that it demands some thing from us. But what then of assurance? How can we still say that we can go to heaven if we die tomorrow but yet need to “confirm our election”. It does seem like a contradiction in terms.
The thinking that salvation is tied to the success or failure of our good works is so hard wired into our human psyche that assurance is often mistakenly interpreted in terms of a basic opposition between what we need to do for ourselves versus what we cannot do for ourselves (i.e. for which matters does God have intervene).
Instead, assurance rightly understood in the context of God’s covenant with us upon our putting our trust in him. After conversion, to be assured of salvation is to believe first and foremost that God is no longer angry with us because of sin, but have forgiven us completely. It is His convenant with us that He will never abandon us after conversion but will continually be with us until the day we die and see Him again. This is what assurance is. In assurance the question is not so much “Will I go to heaven?” as it is “Does God still love me?” to which the answer (to both questions) is a resounding “YES!”
So often in discussions of assurance and in the debate between Calvinists and Arminians on the correctness of “once saved always saved” what is often an unspoken assumption on both sides is that salvation is tied to the sincerity or genuineness of faith. Well, then we ask, how do we know that our faith is genuine? The assumption here is that a Christian can finally fall away by just finally denying Christ.
But I contend that nobody, once making a profession for Christ, will suddenly one day just say “ I no longer believe” for no good reason at all. Indeed, a Christian may renounce the faith, but usually under extreme persecution and even so, I very doubt that that counts as apostasy. And because true apostasy is final (c.f. Hebrews 6:1-8), mere public denunciations of the faith does not necessarily mean apostasy. If so, people like Peter (who denied Christ) and Wang Ming Dao were irrevocably “unsaved”. Instead, the great danger for all Christians is not renunciation of belief, but an abandoning of their walk with God. Merely maintaining the outward forms of a religion while the inner man does not love God anymore.
How then does assurance fit in into this? There is at least three aspects of assurance that I can think of that relate to the life of a Christian in the body: The assurance of justification, the assurance of perseverance (or sanctification) and the assurance that we will see God again (the second coming of Christ). It is in that we know that we are justified, that we can draw near to God. The Father is no longer angry with us and loves us, so we have that assurance that He will never cast us out (from our proverbial Eden) ever again. The assurance of justification is our rainbow in the sky, for when evil befalls us, it is not a punishment for sins, but the discipline of a loving Father. It is through this assurance that we need not put barriers between us and God (Hebrews 4:16). No longer any need to pray to the saints, or Mary or have a priest intercede on our behalf because we have Christ to do all these for us. We do not need to worship from afar – the curtain rent from top to bottom.
There is at least three aspects of assurance that I can think of that relate to the life of a Christian in the body: The assurance of justification, the assurance of perseverance (or sanctification) and the assurance that we will see God again (the second coming of Christ).
The assurance of perseverance is the assurance that we will never lack in the energy to godliness throughout our entire lives. We are promised a “new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26) and so while there is striving, and effort and much denying of self, it is not exhausting, nor a burdensome and empty ritual we perform. It done out of love, and therefore its place in our salvation becomes less a matter of earning marks, as it is to please our Father in heaven. We can see that even though God demands works of us, he does not demand it as exchange for a place in heaven, but because he is a holy God and we are to be like him.
And finally we have assurance that our salvation will be completed. God is the author and perfecter of our faith. If we have been called, we will be assured that God will finish the job. Once again, we will meet him on the beautiful shore, where every tear will be wiped from our eyes and death, the final enemy is no more. All the warnings about falling away, all the cajoling and the encouragement to live a god fearing life are fulfilled in the second coming of Christ. Once it was a warning, and when Christ comes again, we see how it was used to turn our stubborn hearts around. Once we felt that God was far away, but when we finally see his face, we realise that he never left us. Month after month, we ate the bread and drank the wine of his presence, waiting for the day when we will feast with him in heaven, that day is now, when Christ comes again.

 

It is a bare cold rock, far from the warmth that heaven brings. But come it will, borne on a chariot and peals of trumpet song. Bright sound, He comes announced and To all who hear him cry, “At last!”

Taking your spiritual temperature

What is your spiritual temperature?

Temperature.Digital-thermometer

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of Darkness”, writes Charles Dickens in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. The two cities, Dickens has in mind are Paris and London. We, Christians are also living in a Tale of Two Cities. The Bible refers to the two cities as Jerusalem and Babylon. We are part of an epic drama that involves our eternal souls.

 

We are fast approaching the new millenium, a time of great happenings, a time when our Lord may come again in glory. We are told to be alert to His Coming, be ready for His Coming. “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ” (Mark13:37)

Wang Ming Tao, a famous Chinese Christian taught us to always check our life with a spiritual thermometer so that we will be spiritually healthy when the Lord comes.

 

 [place a ‘x’ at the area where you feel are in spiritually at this moment]

Healthy Spiritual Life           Unhealthy Spiritual Life

 

Fervent in prayer           Lethargic in prayer

 

Bible reading tasteful

 

          Bible reading insipid
Fully trusting           Anxious and doubting

 

Loving God more than everything           Loving worldly things more than God

 

Resisting and hating sin           Compromising with sin

 

Giving God the glory in all things           Seeking self glory in everything

 

Fully at peace           Much worrying

 

Giving thanks in all           Much murmuring

 

Always happy and singing           Always sad and sighing

 

Peaceful and patient in trouble           Easily provoked to anger

 

Much consideration of others           Much consideration of self

 

Seeking God’s in all things           Seeking men’s pleasure in all things

 

Yearning for spiritual things in the heart           Coveting earthly things in the heart

 

Speaking words that edify others           Speaking words that criticise others

 

Happy to witness for Christ           No power to witness

 

Cheerful to give to God’s work           Stingy and unwilling to give

 

Rejoicing in other’s good success           Jealous of others’ good success

 

A helping hand to those in trouble           Nonchalant at other’s misfortune

 

Willing to forgive others           Not willing to forgive others

 

Character first           Clothing first

 

Happy to keep close to devout Christians           Happy in the company of worldly friends

 

Happy to hear faithful admonitions           Happy to hear words of flattery

 

Eagerly hoping for the Lord’s return           No thought of things touching on the Lord’s return

 

 

The shaded boxes gives a visual aid to the state of our spiritual life, our spiritual temperature. Are we on fire for the Lord and are we stone cold?

Are we spiritually healthy? Can we with confidence say, “ Come, Lord Jesus, Come”