Today, I want to reflect on some issues which the Kong Hee saga raises as it pertains to the broader church. I want to look at it from two perspectives: first, as a lawyer who practises in quite a bit of charity and non-profit law; second, as a worship leader who believes 100% in the church and its call to impact and influence society.
From these two perspectives, I want to raise some questions, but not necessarily answer them.
Much of the Kong Hee saga has to do with two things: corporate governance and accountability on the one hand and the “Crossing Over” project on the other.
Let me preface my remarks with this: I am not intending to cast any judgment on what is going on in City Harvest Church. As I have said in my previous post, what is now very apparent is that one part of the body of Christ is hurting. We, as brothers and sisters in Christ, ought to uphold City Harvest and its leadership in prayer. If anything, this whole episode is a call for Christians to trust in God’s grace and His unshakeable desire to glorify His name.
What the recent events might do is throw up some questions about how we do church. Not so much about how City Harvest does church, mind you, but how the body of Christ in general, particularly those in the charismatic movement, does church. So I won’t be commenting so much about City Harvest, but using it as a launchpad for broader ideas.
My first thought then is about church governance and structure. One of the key provisions we draft pretty carefully in a church’s constitution (essentially the church’s rule book) is the “objects” clause. This is a lengthy statement usually at the beginning of the constitution that sets out what the organisation exists for. Most churches will include something quite religious, such as “to glorify God”, “to proclaim the gospel to the nations” etc. Very broad, churchy provisions. As a lawyer, I usually let the church include its churchy provisions, but then I try to couch it in some legalese as well, such as “to advance the Christian religion in the city of Perth”, “to teach spiritual principles to its adherents”, “to rent and construct buildings for the purposes of meeting”.
Inevitably, the church begins to look very much like a corporation, where the day to day running is vested in a Board of a few powerful individuals.
This then flows down into the culture of the church itself. Instead of being a community and family, where the buzz words might be “share”, “care”, “concern”, “help”, “love” and “prayer”, our buzz words become “vision”, “direction”, “programs”, “surveys” and “protocol”.
Don’t get me wrong: I think some of the biggest churches around have achieved their numbers and in turn their social impact because they have embraced the corporate culture, but tempered still with some sense of family-ness. But I wonder how far a cry this must have been from the church that was described in the book of Acts (which is really one of the only biblical templates we have of what the church should look like).
Frank Viola said this in his book Pagan Christianity:
The practices of the first-century church were the natural and spontaneous expression of the divine life that indwelt the early Christians. And those practices were solidly grounded in the timeless principles and teachings of the New Testament. By contrast, a great number of the practices in many contemporary churches are in conflict with those biblical principles and teachings. When we dig deeper, we are compelled to ask: Where did the practices of the contemporary church come from? The answer is disturbing: Most of them were borrowed from pagan culture.
In fact, what is an apparent trait of the Acts church was that it was organic and “flat”, i.e. it did not have a strict hierarchical top-down structure; rather decisions were made by consensus (as per the phrase “it seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit”). In other words, every one could hear God for themselves, but together they heard God (for want of a better word) corporately.
One of the advantages we have of the corporate church today is that we are able to raise so much more money, deploy a great deal more of resources and so to impact society on a greater scale. As an example, my brother told me that when he visited City Harvest the day after the Boxing Day Tsunami, the church had already deployed food, clothing and a team of doctors and nurses. They were probably able to act as quickly, if not more quickly, than government. That is really commendable.
But can we make the same degree of impact using a flat-structured, organic model? The book of Acts suggests that we can. After all, within a very short period of time, the organic first century church had already filled all of Jerusalem with Christ’s teachings, and it wouldn’t take long before Paul had now where else to preach in all of Asia.
Maybe it’s time for the church to return to being a real community again, one that organically lived out the call of Christ, generously sharing all they had with one another, and yet preaching boldly with the fire of the Holy Spirit accompanied by confirmatory miracles.
Perhaps where control is vested in the masses rather than the few, we are likely to have more transparency and accountability. And responsibility then lies with everyone, rather than the executives at the top if anything goes wrong. And by the same token, when things go awesomely right, we will know that it is not because of a wonderful leader that has got us there, but the efforts of everyone empowered by the Holy Spirit. There will be less emphasis on personalities, and more on the person of the Holy Spirit!
Now, onto my next thought.
As I mentioned earlier, the objects of the church are typically drafted quite broadly. I don’t think this is an accident. This is actually because the mission of the church is to impact society with the gospel at every level.
This brings me then to the phenomenon of “cross over”. We shouldn’t be surprised that a church like City Harvest has attempted to “cross over” on a grand scale. In fact, whether you agree with their methods, they should be applauded for their faith in taking such a big risk. We should be expecting them to take bigger risks and push boundaries.
“Crossing over” is really a modern restatement of the classic missionary enterprise. Churches have throughout history sent people into unreached people groups to evangelise, plant churches and ultimately with the goal of transforming those communities. What the “Crossing Over” project is is exactly that: a modern missionary sent into an unreached people group in the hope of reaching them through relevant means.
As a worship leader, I have always thought it’d be great if our worship music could reach more people. But I am also quite aware that (from my experience), the “if you build it, they will come” mentality doesn’t always achieve this end. I have dreamt of worshippers and the unreached standing together in large stadiums in awe of the presence and the glory of God. I have dreamt of how the unsaved run to the altar in repentance having encountered a God who exposes the very depths of their hearts. I have imagined what it must be like for healings and miracles to occur right in the middle of those meetings. But I dream from a psyche of a person who is very much in the church. Kong Hee and Sun Ho were able to dream beyond the church and take their message to the unreached through secular media.
Is that a breach of a church’s objects? On one view, possibly not. In fact, the church is fulfilling the very object drafted into its constitution: to bring the gospel to the unreached. And that is likely to be an object which a lawyer would happily include as well.
But I can see where the lines can get fuzzy. I can see where something might look so commercial that it ceases to be charitable. We wouldn’t complain if the church held prayer meetings in the market place, or tried to run cafes, or went about feeding the poor in our communities. We wouldn’t complain if the church sold worship CDs and earned royalties on them (in fact, we happily buy them). But it seems people would complain if a church sold non-worship CDs to a secular audience. That line isn’t as easy to discern as we might think.
So those are just some thoughts I had. I am not sure what the answer is, but I think at least the Kong Hee and City Harvest saga might start getting us to think more about how faithful we are to God’s blueprint for the church.