Martin Luther: 500 Years On

Martin Luther: 500 Years On

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29 October 2017 | Vicar Writes

Martin Luther: 500 Years On

By Terry Wong

It was around two o’clock in the afternoon on the eve of the Day of All Saints, October 31, 1517. With a hammer in hand, Martin Luther purportedly nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses on the the main north door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. In doing so, he unwittingly created a portal from the medieval to modern world, setting off in its wake radical changes in both Church and Society which are still felt today.

Luther was born in 1483 in what is now central Germany but then was a separate principality called Saxony. His parents tried to give him a good education and hoped he would become a lawyer. Instead, when he was twenty-one he became a Catholic monk. He wanted to earn God’s love but was tormented by the sense that he could never be good enough. He punished himself mercilessly until finally a wise mentor sent him to study and teach the Bible at the then new University of Wittenberg.

Not long after he arrived there, he became incensed by the church which said, in effect, that if people bought a certain document - an indulgence - it would provide God’s forgiveness for their (or a loved one’s) sins. Being a university professor, he wrote this list of ninety-five sentences to debate about the topic. He was a pious monk, intensely obedient to authority, who was convinced the pope could not possibly approve of turning indulgences and the forgiveness of sins into a kind of merchandise at the expense of Christ’s people.

What Luther did not know at the time was that the pope and the archbishop were the ones profiting from this merchandise, each claiming half of the take. So it was not surprising that events took a turn he did not anticipate. That list, the Ninety-Five Theses, stirred up a hornet’s nest in the church and began the Reformation. As it was dated on October 31, 1517, this date is seen as marking the beginning of the Reformation. 

Luther was called before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, at a meeting in the imperial city of Worms. Asked to take back what he had written, he refused and was declared an outlaw. Anyone could capture or kill him or turn him over to the authorities, in which case his death was likely. Fortunately, his own prince protected him, hiding him out in a castle where he began translating the Bible into German. In the process, he helped create the standard German language.

Luther wrote many influential books, most of which are still valued today. He was a pas-sionate, sometimes crudely mannered man. Imperfect like any other, in later life he wrote some unhelpful things about the Jewish people, statements for which the Lutheran church has apologised.

The winds of Reformation affected the Church in England, providing the spiritual motivations and political force for change.

To understand the full import and impact of Luther’s Reformation, modern evangelicals will do well not to domesticate Luther’s contributions to just the doctrinal idea of “justification by grace through faith.” We will not learn very much from the past if all we see in it is our own reflection. In fact, many modern Protestants will find Luther’s understanding of the Gospel and Sacrament problematic. 

But moving from dogma - and the battles and dividing lines associated with them - the spiritual commitment of the early Reformers and their quest for moral/devotional purity should continue to inspire us. Their emphases on hearing and reading Scriptures need to be reheard.

22 October 2017 | Vicar Writes

Pursuing the Heart of God

By Terry Wong

Having worshipped in and pastored congregations large and small, I have noted that the core principles that mark a happy and loving congregation do not change. Deep in our hearts, there is a yearning for His glory and presence. Without spiritual intimacy, programmes, buildings and gatherings can all sound very hollow. 

We were already duly warned in the letter to the angel of the Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:4) that a church can “lose her first love.” 

Prophet Isaiah put it more positively in Isaiah 40:31, “that they that wait upon the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles…they will run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” To wait - as a servant would for his Master - is to be attentive to Him, to look to Him, to follow Him, to be submitted to Him. The church will not grow weary if she does that. 

In our Communion Services, we recite Deuteronomy 6:5 or the Gospel call (Matthew 22:37) to love God with our whole being. 

In Hebrews, to Christians, for whom the church assembly has become a wearisome (or even fearsome) thing, the writer urged in 12:1,2 to “run the race”, looking to Him who in the first place gave birth to the church and is perfecting her. It is another picture of pursuit. If we exclude Christ in the Church, the  scene of Jesus knocking on our doors that He may sup with us (Rev 3:20) may well speak to us proverbially.

The wheels may still turn - and there are enough resources in Singapore to ensure that. If we are not absorbed by the love of God, we will be self-absorbed. When God is lost, man looms. Mix the hubris of man with religion and you have a combustive potential in the wrong direction. Men and women scurrying around - like little orphans - looking and competing for love while the Father’s embrace is ignored. Or demi-gods, seeking for adulation and worship. 

In Question 2 in the Rule of St Basil, the inquirers ask: “For we have heard that He ought to be loved, what we want to learn is however, how this can be fulfilled.”

This short editorial offers no clear or simple answers. But like this ancient catechism, I urge us to start with the right question and the same concern. We may have missed the mark, the harmatia (Greek for “sin”) of it all. By the help of the Spirit, we need to retrace our steps and find our way again.  It may be the heart-numbing effect of habitual sins, the tolling effects of suffering, the deceptive philosophy of secularism, the spirit of religiosity or the neglect of our walk with God. Unless we set our hearts to pursue Him, to wait upon Him, with all our being, we will be lost.

It is often said that seeking after God (i.e. Jeremiah 29:13) is impossible for we cannot see Him. If only “He appears before me”, we wish. Yet, when it comes to the very tangible and daily presence of sentient beings such as our spouse, parents, children or our friends, we can fail repeatedly to love or pursue that commitment to do so. 

It is not about what we can see. It is about the orientation of our hearts

Like Peter in John 21, we need to be queried again by the One who loves us deeply - summarising the three questions into one - that we may know our own hearts. 

“Do you really love Me?”

15 October 2017 | Vicar Writes

Whatever You Do…

By Terry Wong

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

The Diocesan pre-School video was shown in all our Services last weekend. If you have listened and noted carefully, much can be gleaned from it. There is a unique influence of a work which has strong Christian values underpinning, and the covering provided by a local church. St James’ Church Kindergarten is 2000-strong today and Ascension Church’s Ascension Kindergarten is 600+. More than just numbers, along with other church-based pre-school work, they have been quiet but influential. Both do not have a problem attracting good teachers because it is not primarily driven by money or career-advancement opportunities. Purposeful and meaningful work is always attractive and self-sustaining.  

 Truths, such as contained in the Bible verses above, powerfully ensure that organisations are imbued with strong inner qualities. I have served in two growing parishes, the last one being St James’ Church as her Vicar for 14 years. I have had the privilege to lead and serve with “high-fliers” such as politicians, High Court judges, senior doctors, senior lawyers, super-scaled principals along with successful businessmen and women, corporate leaders and so on. In church, they prefer to be related to as just worshippers and disciples. They are “serving the Lord Christ”, and thankfully, not me. This explains why our churches can be and do so much. One highly successful corporate leader once remarked to me, “How can you have this small a budget and do so much?”  

 Political systems, money and connections cannot buy one thing - the human heart. One that is rightly conditioned and motivated, filled with the right desires, motivations, self-governing integrity, love, humility, “others before self.” Not only does the church need this, societies need this as well. That is not to say that church leaders are perfect, and indeed wonderful altruism can also be found amongst people of other faiths. I am merely pointing out that which is good and to urge that we may continue to walk in it. 

 I now come to the field of healthcare. A bishop once told me that the battle in this field “is already lost.” By that, he was referring to how financial greed and selfishness have gripped the profession and how it has strayed so far from the values embodied in the classical Hippocratic oath. But there is no area nor field which our Lord cannot redeem. Take for example the many medical doctors and nurses who have chosen the less lucrative path to serve in SAMH, SACS and other Christian hospitals like St Luke’s Hospital. There is a clinic at Serangoon Road (under Healthserve) which offers medical care for foreigners at a highly subsidised rate. In
SAC and many other churches, many healthcare workers are involved in overseas missions or crisis relief work. There are also countless doctors and medical workers - in government or private institutions - who have not bowed down to the god of mammon, many whose faith in Christ has shaped the way they work and behave, “as for the Lord and not men.”  

 Indeed, on this day, we can give thanks and be very grateful for all our healthcare workers for the testimony of their work. May the Lord reward them richly. 

 Many of the early missionary pioneers of our Church, Schools and Medical Services have served with their blood, sweat and tears, often under very discouraging circumstances and with limited resources. If they can see what is happening today, they will be deeply encouraged.

8 October 2017 | Vicar Writes

My Journal this Week

By Terry Wong

If I were to keep a daily journal, last week’s could have read like this: 

29th Sept Fri: Canon James Wong’s 78th Birthday Dinner Celebration

It wasn’t easy to cancel other events to be at this but I am glad we did. It was remarkable to hear Canon Wong share again about his journey into the renewal, though he had to do it seated down. It was moving and brought into remembrance again the fervour of the church in those years. Many in the room were impacted by James’ leadership and ministry. Two missionaries also shared and encouraged us to move the Church beyond her traditional and institutional walls. As I was leaving for home, a text message came in about Jessica Sim-Khoo’s critical condition. She was warded at TTSH. As I was nearby, I detoured to pay her a visit. Aged 85, she was having multiple organ failure. She returned to the Lord the next day. 

30th Sept Sat: Much of today was spent on sermon preparation. I said the opening words of welcome at the inaugural Myanmar Christian Conference held in the Nave. There are a few Myanmar congregations meeting in Singapore, and for the first time, they gathered together. It is an important sign of unity, and SAC and her Myanmar Congregation are more than happy to encourage this initiative.    

1st Oct Sun: I was happy to preach again from Psalm 73 at the 8 am Service. A deep and multi-layered Psalm, it was my privilege to unpack it for the congregation. The 11.15 am Confirmation Service had 40 over candidates with Bishop himself preaching and administering. Some candidates were visibly moved and ministered to during the prayer time. 

2nd Oct Mon: We have to send Mama back to PJ. It became a day trip because we could not leave the evening before. As always, a trip down memory lane to my hometown was restful and refreshing. We visited my three-week old grand-nephew and had a good time catching up with my PJ family. The KL-style wanton mee noodles, Penang Char Kuay Teow and (amazing) Satay Kajang reminded me that some foods are still best up-country. I have to say I am still stumped as to why SG still cannot get their satay right even with the “club” status here. The 4-5 hours on the road allowed us to catch up on previous talks, such as the insightful teaching on Anglicanism by Ephraim Radner when he was here in SAC in April. 

3rd Oct Tues: The retired Revd Howard Peskett gave a talk on pastoral leadership at our morning Clergy Meeting. He reminded us that Christian leadership is less about a strongman-solo approach. It should be marked by fellowship, partnership, teamwork and a sense of indebtedness to those who have served with us. This keeps us “needful of the minds of others.” This quality of serving with the community will ensure a strong parish where many have a sense of ownership and participation in her life and direction. I enjoyed some catch-up time over lunch with a peer clergy friend. Even with age and experience, ministry doesn’t seem to get easier. We ended up praying together. I felt led to pray that we may “let go” and cease trying to control our circumstances. The church and ministry belong to Him and we must always minister from this basis. 

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Journaling is indeed an important discipline if we want to grow. Pausing to reflect helps one to turn life events into rich lessons.

1 October 2017 | Vicar Writes

Into the fourth Quarter

By Terry Wong

Five visitors turned up for the Visitors Lunch. We had a good time of conversations around the table. We hope to organise this about once in two months. It gives another opportunity for visitors who are seeking to go deeper in the faith or life of the church to do so. Do look out for the next one. 

We are hoping to start a Tamil Service next year. This will be significant. I am not sure why it has taken us so long but better late than never. As always, we trust the Lord to work out His will in His time. After all, Tamil is one of our national languages and both the language and culture has shaped our national life. This initiative will be led by the Diocesan Indian Board in partnership with the Cathedral. I believe some Cathedral members who can speak this language may be interested to help pioneer this new congregation. 

Note that I am referring more to the language than the issue of race. After all, we already have many Indians worshipping and serving in our English congregations. But expressing the faith in the vernacular or heart language is always important. We recall Revelation 7:9:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands...   

It happened at Pentecost when the Gospel was released through many Gentilic tongues. There were other moments too in the history of the Church, including the Reformation. Certainly this truth propels our missions work in languages and cultures where the Gospel is not yet established.
Please pray for this Service that it may grow into a strong and mission-minded congregation.

The planning for Christmas@Cathedral (C@C) is happening in earnest. Steven Wong, Francis Tan, Soh Kim Seng and Ee May forms the core planning team. As always, we hope to see as wide a participation as possible by the Cathedral community. Adding to all that has happened in the last two C@C events, we will be adding more food and arts & crafts stalls, with profits going to community services. The amphitheatre will also be used. C@C this year will be more akin to the concept of a Christmas Village. 

On the staff front, many of you will be encouraged to know that Dinah Tan, who is the current Superintendent of the 9am Service Sunday School, will be joining the staff to head the Children Ministry in the Cathedral. This is a role held by Hambali but with his increasing pastoral responsibilities at the eleven:30 Service, it makes sense that we have dedicated staff focus in this area. The work of pastoring and discipling children and the way it overlaps with families is always challenging, yet fruitful and life-changing. Please pray for Dinah.

The Senior Staff will be having two days of Planning Retreat (10-11 Oct). Please pray for spiritual wisdom and “ears to hear” what the Lord is saying and “eyes to see” what our Father is doing.

ABOUT THE VICAR

Terry Wong Photo

Revd Canon Terry Wong is the Vicar of the Cathedral. He writes weekly for the weekend Service bulletins and the articles are posted on this site.

Recent Vicar Writes

29 October Martin Luther: 500 Years On
22 October Pursuing the Heart of God
15 October Whatever You Do…
8 October My Journal this Week
1 October Into the fourth Quarter