Not too long ago I published an article discussing the way in which the church situation in Jakarta poses for us the perceived stark choice between one with sound doctrine in place of a warm community, on the one hand, and a warm community without a biblical doctrinal foundation, on the other. Admittedly, there are churches that find the sweet spot of exemplifying the organicity that obtains between the two – but such churches are few and far between. A few words are in order as an update to the previous post before I get to the four reminders.
Many heads nodded in agreement to the diagnosis I offered, and contrary to a few objecting claims, the article was not a manifestation of desiring disunity; it was instead, in my view the only way forward in which true unity could be achieved – and I remain convinced that Reformed theology is the primary field within which any hope of fruitfulness may come. This was not labelling for the sake of disunity – contrary to popular opinion, the Christian world is not divided between those who possess labels and those who do not; rather it is divided between those with labels that are made public, and those who keep their labels hidden. Those who make it public hold themselves accountable to those around them. I call myself Reformed, and I believe that the Westminster Confessions summarise well the body of doctrine taught in the Scriptures – by calling myself “Reformed” I am actually inviting others to hold me accountable, to invite them to inspect what I believe as stated in those confessions, and to investigate whether those confessional claims actually correspond to that which is in Scripture, as I desire to continually reform myself under the authority of the same. Ask anyone what they believe the bible teaches, summarily, regarding salvation, the sacraments, the church, and the end times, and those things are their “labels” – they are there whether or not people admit it. By keeping it private, though, we have no means of publicly assessing those views by means of Scripture, and hiding it will only dilute the conversation.
With those disclaimers aside, the perception of the stark choice between us in the church context has created a momentum among Jakartan Indonesians, particularly in the english-speaking, third-culture, foreign educated, demographic. This momentum is fuelled by a thirst for a richly biblical theology, a vision for a big, sovereign God, a dissatisfaction in crass emotionalism and anti-intellectualism and a sobering up from the false promises of the prosperity gospel. On the other hand, this momentum is equally fuelled by being wary of an air of spiritual deadness, legalism, a community-repudiating pathos, and an authoritarian (Confucian?) way of thinking.
The momentum is further perpetuated by exposure to the ministries of John Piper and Tim Keller – an exposure to the rise of Reformed theology in America – and a further realization that such ministries are still rare in the city of Jakarta – a realization that biblical doctrine and a community that exhibits love, dependence, and service, do not have to be opposites. This momentum, this realization, has caused many from this demographic to pursue theological vocations – seeking to earn degrees in theology from various Reformed Seminaries abroad, and seeing that, even apart from a full-time position in the church, theology, in all of its rigor, is inherently practical, and that theologically astute professionals working apart from the church is just as necessary as theologically astute pastors. This conviction, though already assumed in many places outside of Indonesia, is still a conviction that is rarely found here.
This community is growing, and picking up speed. Churches are planned to be planted, answers are being sought, and ministries are growing. But there is to be no vain triumphalism here. This could still be nothing but a fad – an exemplification of wishful thinking and naive optimism. There is to be no expectation of some on-going, stable, growth without any interferences or obstacles to be overcome. But the momentum remains present and palpable, and I do pray that it might be here to stay.
With that said, I do believe that some things are necessary for this to remain faithful to God.
1. Accountability to each other and older, wiser, biblically astute mentors.
This is an essential part of that which makes a healthy community, and that which propels a life obedient to the Lord. We are weak, and we must never ourselves be convinced that we can live independently in the Christian faith. We need a wise, loving, theologically accountable community to keep us going, humble, obedient, and loving. I can recall many names that the Lord has brought into my life, without whom I would not be a Christian. Obedience and community go hand in hand.
2. The posture of patience, prayer, and personal devotion
Nothing can be worse than rash impatience. Pragmatism is at basic inconsistent with the Christian faith. Obedience must drive our decision-making, not an imprudent desire for instant effects and numbers. Patience must be the characteristic of the healthy christian community, driven by the desire to be faithful to Scripture, and not by our own egotistic inclinations. With that in view, we must keep ourselves in the Word and in prayer ceaselessly, being theologically self-conscious before the presence of God. A church community is about worship. This is about Him and what He wants – we do not get to define for ourselves how we are to do ministry – we must only listen as to that which He commands.
3. Implement Confessional Foundations
Cults of personalities are many, and personality-driven churches abound, often in place of substance. The foundation of the church cannot be a human personality, and that which defines the church cannot be the preferences of select persons but rather defined by a theological confession, tried and tested by church history. Standardizing the theological foundation is necessary to the health and fidelity of the community. In my view, as fellow Covenantal Thoughts author Tezar Putra had stated it, 20 life times could come to pass before a better confession than the Westminster Standards could come to existence.
4. Implement a parity of eldership
I confess here – I am a convinced Presbyterian. Having a confessional subscription as a pre-requisite for ordination along with a church structure led by a parity of elders is necessary to keep the leadership of the church accountable by way of checks and balances. Men of beyond reproach, able to teach sound doctrine (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-9), and obedient to the Lord. Some may argue that this have been tried and tested in Jakarta, but perhaps the problem is not with the structure itself but the way in which it has been carried out. Perhaps in this new generation, this new demographic, it can learn from the mistakes of the past.
Only the Lord knows what will take place in Jakarta in the next few years, but I do hope that in all of this, obedience to the Lord takes precedence over all other interests.