City Harvest Church Probe

Bloged in Church by Mel Friday June 4, 2010

On Monday (31 May), news that several leaders and members of City Harvest Church were being investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department made the headlines in Singapore.  I am no authority on what Christians (or for that matter, non-Christians) should think about or pray for in regard to this matter, but here are a few of my humble thoughts as a Christian :

1.  I am thankful for the fact that the state has both the capacity and the courage to probe religious groups and similar organisations in the public interests.  City Harvest Church has a huge membership and is hugely influential.  There is nothing wrong with this; it is highly admirable and the good work of the church is praiseworthy.  However, as NKF and Ren Ci have shown, there is potential for individuals to abuse their influence in such organisations.  Just as religious groups can have the influence and moral authority to check corruption and abuse of Government power, the state should have a role in ensuring that religious groups do not abuse their influence or misuse their resources, in the public interests.

2.  Whatever has been done, is done.  If anything has been done which is dishonest, reckless or negligent, or even if there was an innocent mistake, my prayer is not that the authorities will fail to detect it.  Rather, regardless of whether there has been any criminal offence, my prayer is that the Christians under probe will conduct themselves truthfully and graciously, which is what the Bible demands.  An individual can be innocent yet behave like he is guilty.  Or he might be responsible for wrongdoing yet live in denial.  My prayer is that the individuals in this case will not be guilty of either.

3.  I pray that we will remember that it is individuals who are being investigated, not God.  We often closely associate (prominent) churches and / or Christian leaders with the Christian faith.  However, while they may represent a facet of the Christian faith, they are not God.  That they are being investigated does not mean that God is lousy or bad.  It is, on the other hand, a reminder that we, including our Christian leaders, are imperfect, and in need of God who shows us the way to perfection.

4.  I pray that the faith of Christians will remain strong.  When leaders fall, or their apparent infallibility is questioned, it is normal for their followers to lose faith.  However, the root of the Christian faith lies in Jesus, "the author and perfector of our faith" (Hebrews 12 : 2), and not the apostles in the Bible, early church leaders or our current Christian leaders.  Christian leaders have an important role to play in nurturing our faith, but the Christian faith should ultimately rest on Jesus.

5.  I pray that Christians will be wise and gracious, when speaking to each other and to non-Christians, about this matter.  Everyone has something to say about City Harvest Church — good or bad — because of its size and prominence.  It is easy in a time like this for anyone to criticise the church.  Some Christians might feel that their faith is under attack.  Members of the church might feel that their church is under attack.  The human inclination is to respond ungraciously, but the Bible asks Christians to do the opposite, to "bless those who persecute you" (Romans 12 : 14), "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have … with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3 : 15 - 16).

6.  I pray that churches will learn from this incident and strengthen their internal governance.  All large churches today were once small "start ups".  However, the church is not a family business, and a system of governance which might have been satisfactory ten, twenty or even a hundred years ago, would no longer be satisfactory today in view of the large finances involved, the change in the regulatory environment, and the complex operations that a church might nowadays choose to get involved in.  With growth in members and prominence, comes great responsibility, and churches need to put in place the appropriate systems and processes, to properly discharge at least the legal aspect of that responsibility. 

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