Lessons from Malaysia: Partnership through Proclamation

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Sherilyn and I have had the privilege of spending a short week serving in and observing all the great things that God is doing in Malaysia. Our trip started off with a Sunday at City Discipleship Presbyterian Church – Puchong where I had the privilege to preach from 1 Peter 1, and it was remarkably encouraging to hear and find out more about CDPC which seeks to uphold church planting as a key missional and evangelistic strategy along with expository preaching as one of the primary marks of their church. We managed to spend a good portion of the day with Rev Wong Fong Yan who overwhelmed us with his hospitality, and it was a unique privilege to speak with him and hear his heart for ministry in Malaysia. Rev Wong is a seasoned pastor and based on my limited experience, I often feel like some of our more veteran pastors can sometimes regrettably be either quite lethargic or apathetic about ministry. I’m sure it is true that the challenges of ministry can sometimes lead one to be jaded or exhausted, and this inevitably translates into one’s tone, body language, and optimism. But Rev Wong was far from lethargic or apathetic. Instead, my conversation with him showed me that he has more energy and enthusiasm than some of my peers! And so it really lifted my heart to see some older pastors who are perhaps more excited, more daring, and more hopeful than their younger counterparts, and I’d love to write more about the kind of impact this has on younger pastors on a separate occasion (note to self).

The bulk of our ministry time however, was spent with an organisation called Klang Valley Bible Conference (KVBC) who hosted NextGen (the equivalent to the one organised by KCC each year), and both Sherilyn and I walked away refreshed, energised, and rejuvenated. There are so many things to be grateful for, and I may write a bit more in the future – but the main thing that stood out for me was to see the theme of the conference lived out. The theme for this year is ‘Gospel Partnership’, and Pastors Adam Ch’ng (Cross and Crown, Melbourne) and Brian King (BEM Church, Kuching) demonstrated the relevance and significance of this idea from the Books of Joshua and Philippians respectively. On a side note, both these fine and young gentlemen did a remarkable job at expounding the Word, and I felt spiritually nourished from being able to sit under their preaching. Thank you guys for that. But over the 4 day conference, they tried to expand and apply the idea of Gospel partnership in Malaysia in particular, and one of the consistent messages is that an essential aspect of Gospel partnership is our united emphasis on proclaiming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is revealed in Scripture. And so what was amazing about the conference (and unsurprisingly so) is that this theme not only arose out of Scripture, but it also drove us deeper into Scripture as we sought to gain more skills, tools, and ability to exegete, expound, and exemplify the Word of God! But we didn’t do this as individuals in isolation. No – we were a gathered body. But what’s even more amazing about that was, we were a gathered body of unlikely individuals or groups of people who I historically thought would never be able to gather in the same room for this particular task.

You see, like most contexts, Malaysia has churches of different sizes, language groups, denominations, confessions, and theological emphases. And by and large, most of them ‘play in their own corner’ and operate in their respective spheres of influence. Whether or not that reflects biblical ecclesiology is worth critiquing, but that has largely seemed to be the case. To be sure, attempts and moves have been made to partner as much as they can, and the various councils and seminaries set up by major denominations are examples of this. However, I think that the term ‘ecumenicism’ (which is aimed at promoting unity among churches) is perhaps more apt to describe the nature of those relationships rather than intentional Gospel-partnership (which in my mind is aimed at promoting Gospel proclamation, evangelism, and discipleship), though I may be completely off the mark on my assessment of this and I’m willing to be corrected on it. But in any case, at least on the level of what the average Christian sees, the Charismatics will do their own shiny thing, the Anglicans will do their own solemn thing, and the Baptists will do their own submerging thing. Rarely is there a meaningful attempt to say ‘hey, let’s gather together being fully mindful of our differences, acknowledge that the Gospel is of first importance, confess that God has revealed himself perfectly by His Word, and let’s learn to teach it in a faithful and fearless manner for the sake of our future generation – and let’s be really serious about it!’

And I guess that’s what was really outstanding about KVBC NextGen, because even unlike KCC NextGen which is typically dominated by Reformed Evangelicals who largely agree on the same thing (some who wish they had a Confession as robust and rich as the Westminster Confession of Faith), KVBC NextGen was attended by brothers and sisters from every corner of Protestantism in Malaysia. From Arminians to Anglicans and from Charismatics to Calvinists – men and women came from right across the country to learn more from God’s Word to be better equipped to teach it in order to be faithful to Paul’s command to Timothy to ‘hold on to the pattern of sound teaching’ (2 Tim 1:13). And the unapologetic emphasis on preaching the Word of God in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2) rather than preaching the word of man was refreshing to me because it is easy to take this for granted. It is absolutely easy to assume knowledge of the Bible without really teaching it, and what is assumed in one generation (or less) can be quickly abandoned by the next.

As such, I’m both excited and hopeful for this nation because if Martin Luther is right that ‘I did nothing; the Word did everything’ in his comment about how the Protestant Reformation took place, then the future is brighter than ever. So join me in praying for the future of KVBC NextGen, that at least in the immediate future, these young men and women will be passionate and excited about living and applying what they’ve been learning even if they’re in a church or context that is difficult and challenging, and that in the long run, KVBC NextGen will grow and flourish to impact more lives and ministries for Christ’s renown. May the Lord bless the good work that they’re doing, and God-willing, we hope to be back next year.

 

 


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