I am at my usual breakfast place – Keng Wah Sung (783 Geylang Road, at the junction with Lorong 41) – refereeing between an empty stomach and a sensitive nose. The rumbler wins. And the mask comes off as a coffeeshop uncle swiftly sets down teh c kosong ping (iced unsweetened milk tea), kaya toast, and soft-boiled eggs with a clatter.
There is Zechariah on a beat-up old iPhone 4S, but I can’t help casting back to conversations with Uncle S about See Kee Oon’s recent judgement on the City Harvest case.
(See oral grounds of decision in PP v (1) Lam Leng Hung, (2) Kong Hee, (3) Tan Shao Yuen Sharon, (4) Chew Eng Han, (5) Tan Ye Peng, (6) Serina Wee Gek Yin.)
Much has been written on the subject, including:
- Mark Woods, Kong Hee and City Harvest Church: How a music ‘ministry’ led to a megachurch pastor’s downfall (Christianity Today, 21 October 2015)
- What is round-tripping?
- Geraldine Sim, 9 Reasons Why City Harvest Church Was the Devil To Me
- Henson Lim, A Personal Response to the City Harvest Case
We need to not be hazy (as the Singapore skyline) about what exactly the CHC leaders have been found guilty of. The verdict isn’t anti-Christian, nor anti-megachurch, nor is it preventing anyone from evangelising. It concerns a law that protects people against the flagrant and deliberate dishonesty of those they entrusted with property – that is, criminal breach of trust (Section 405, Penal Code (Chapter 224 of Singapore)).
Now, of course much has been said by supporters about how “pure” and “godly” the motives of the CHC leaders were in (mis)using funds for their Crossover Project (or as some might allege: propping up Sun Ho’s, the pastor’s wife’s, attempt to make the big time in the music business). And questions have been raised as to whether these sanctimonious reasons are true given Kong Hee and Sun Ho’s lavish lifestyle that included a Sentosa Cove apartment (currently allegedly selling for S$10 million (£5 million)) and a Beverly Hills US$20,000/month rental.
Regardless, and in fact, giving them the benefit of the doubt, substantial error remains. While they have been found to have acted dishonestly with regard to their congregation (Judge See: discreet…”was merely a euphemism for a culture of insecurity mired in secrecy and opaqueness where asking difficult or awkward questions was taboo”), what is also incontrovertibly wrong is their intention to act deceitfully vis-à-vis the rest of the world – hoping to hide the gospel somewhere in Sun Ho’s music career.
Low view of truthfulness and trustworthiness
Gospel workers are to be as truthful and trustworthy as the God they worship and the message they bear. “Sure, sin is alright if you can get more people into the kingdom of God!” said no true messenger of God, ever. And so the apostle Paul says to the Corinthians:
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:1-2)
And again he says to the Thessalonians:
3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:3-8)
The openness and transparency, and solid integrity of God’s workers demonstrate, in a somewhat McLuhan manner, the characteristics of the God being proclaimed.
Low view of the goodness of the good news (the gospel)
How do you sell a treasure of infinite worth? You state its value plainly – because anything else would detract from its excellent qualities.
How do you tell people about an awesome God? You state his mind-blowing characteristics plainly, as set out clearly in the Bible – because anything else would be a blasphemy and an insult.
When would you hide your product under thick layers of packaging or make-up? Only if you thought it somewhat inferior, and were ashamed to be selling it.
But there is nothing shameful about the gospel. It tells us of our sin (which is obvious to any one who bothers to think about their day and read the news), of our being under the fearful wrath of God, and then holds out a free gift of salvation, that can be taken hold of by trusting that God’s promise is true – that Jesus’ death on the cross has paid for our sins, and that we can now escape his coming judgement. (See Two Ways To Live.)
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
Low view of God’s glory
What demonstrates the praiseworthiness of a thing more? That people have been deceived into purchasing it? That it has been marketed half-to-death on sell-a-vision so bored office drones hand over their credit card details while working the graveyard shift? No.
What gives God more glory is that he draws people to himself improbably according to the wisdom of this world: despite the ignoble death of his Son on a cross, and the sad not-Hollywood-worthy state of his messengers. It shows that he is the one at work and he is the one that is attractive, and not us puny humans.
Says Paul to the Corinthians again:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke”, we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-18)