Sunday 4th January
Before I go on to say something about the Church let me mention one other food item. Something called durian which is a local fruit that has, to say the least a ‘pungent’ smile and an even worse taste – but it is considered a delicacy and when in season there are special stalls and shops that sell it. We tried it and whilst Annabel thought it was ok, I won’t be having more. It is the ‘haggis’ of Malaysia! I should also mention that the usual utensils for eating are not knife and fork, but spoon and fork. And of course chopsticks – we managed to eat the whole meal at the wedding with chopsticks. One question though – how come Malaysians eat so much and yet are not obese! My Chinese friends tell me that this is because the weather is so hot and humid they just sweat it off. Not sure I buy into that.
Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs
We were picked up by the youth pastor’s husband and taken to the 9am service. It is in English with the 11am one being in Mandarin. The former is by far the larger service of the church. The service began with 25 minutes singing – a combination of 1970’s chorus’s and more contemporary songs. The band were excellent – not too loud and obtrusive. The ‘pastor’ who led the singing was an endearing enthusiast whose joy was infectious. From a personal point of view I think the praise could have been balanced by the addition of a psalm and a traditional hymn. Biblical variety is the spice of worship! One couple the previous day who were from the church had told me that they missed the hymns and were finding the worship increasingly shallow. I’m also not sure why all the singing has to be in one go – personally I like to be able to respond to the Word by singing at the end as well.
Faith in Action
After the singing we had ten minutes of prayer and notices. It was good to see the genuine concern and practical support being offered by the church to the recent flood victims in other parts of Malaysia. Christianity in action.
A Sound Sermon
Visitors were then welcomed, asked to put up their hands and fill out the welcome card, which was then immediately collected. A passage from Ecclesiastes was read (NIV). This was followed by a 50-minute sermon on lifestyle evangelism – the theme of the church for the first part of this year. It was biblical but not expository exegetical preaching. There was a courageous and strong statement on the wrath of God, and a clear centring on the Cross. This was not health and wealth prosperity teaching. The pastor pointed out that 40 of the Air Asia crash victims were members of one church – being a Christian does not guarantee that you are immune from these kind of events.
The service was finished off by communion, with small individual cups and wafer bread. Then most of us went back to the café area where a snack and drink was served. It was a real joy to worship with brothers and sisters in PJ and I was excited by the potential within the church and also in terms of its opportunities in this part of Asia. There is also much for us to learn from these churches and who knows but that they could be a major source of missions work within Europe.
But….and you knew there would have to be a ‘but’….there are dangers too. The church was very professional, well organised and efficient. That is not a negative, but it would be if the church came to see itself primarily as a business or corporation. Personally I have an intense loathing of corporate Christianity and the marketing of particular individuals, churches or organisations as some kind of corporate brand. I don’t think this church are seeking to do that, but the question is how much they (and us) will be impacted by this type of Christianity.
Does the Malaysian church really need the globetrotters from the West to come and tell them how to evangelise, reach out etc? I was intrigued by one advert for a speaker who I knew of in Scotland and who struggled with outreach there, and yet was coming to teach Malaysian Chinese how to do it in their culture. It’s a phenomenon that I have come across occasionally – people who have never planted a church in their own culture, setting themselves up as consultants on ‘church planting movements’ in other cultures. Does not make a whole lot of sense. It seems to me that it is all too easy for individuals, groups or networks to set themselves up as ‘ministries’ and then wander the world seeking support and raisons d’etre for their existence.
Is the Western Church needed?
There is no doubt that the Church in Malaysia is influenced by the church in the West – whether Hillsong, or the Americans or the Brits. And not always for the better. It was disappointing to hear of Morris Cerrullo and other wacko prosperity teachers being known here. Another slightly alarming note was sounded in discussion when I heard some express a sympathy with some emergent teachers such as Brian McClaren. At the other end of the scale there is also the danger of reacting against that by moving towards legalism and the ‘tightness’ of super strict fundamentalists. There is a crying need for good bible teaching and theology coming from an Asian context. Its not that there is no need for people from the West but if they are to take bible teachers then let them be of the quality of Sinclair Ferguson, rather than the heresies of Cerrullo, Hinn and McClaren.
The Lords Day
Another thought that struck me. I was impressed by the organisation, the cell groups and the leadership, but I wondered if they were missing something by only having one service on the Lords Day. Indeed I wondered if the whole concept of the Lords Day even exists. If it does not, then that is surely a loss to the church – because it gives the impression that ‘church’ is a once on a Sunday affair – rather than the more biblical concept of the whole day being the Lords.
Anyway – enough reflection. I loved the church. I loved the people. I loved the pastors. And I loved the possibilities. I would love to see more of a partnership between churches in Scotland and countries like Malaysia. Maybe we need to rethink how we do mission? I look forward to the day that PJ Evangelical Church sends its first missionary to Scotland!