week to thank God for
what He did for Methodists
By MALCOLM TAN
MAY 24, Methodists the
world over celebrate the day and the fact that John Wesley's heart
was "strangely warmed".
spiritual experience (which took place at Aldersgate Street in
London) became an unforgettable occurrence because of its impact
on the life of churches and nations through the transformation
of Wesley and the spiritual movement which resulted.
Singapore Methodists did more than just observe the day. Led by
our Bishop Dr Robert Solomon, the whole week of Aldersgate Convention
2002 was set aside to give thanks to God for what God has done
more than 250 years ago and for the people called Methodists to
learn about or rediscover their rich spiritual heritage in the
Wesleyan theological tradition.
As our Bishop emphasised
throughout the week - "We do not follow John Wesley - we
follow Jesus in the company of Mr Wesley!" Again, "we
listen to Wesley because he teaches us faithfully about Jesus!"
are a singing people: They sang with gusto at the Wesleyan Hymn
Festival on the evening of May 25. - Methodist Message picture
by CHIA PAK YUEN.
To help us to know more about our spiritual roots, Dr Thomas Oden,
the Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew
University, gave three nights of public talks (May 21 to 23, 2002)
in the beautiful sanctuary of Paya Lebar Methodist Church (PLMC).
He also addressed the combined Pastors' meeting on the morning
of May 22 at which all pastors from the three Annual Conferences
On the evening of the 24th itself, Dr Oden was the speaker for
the combined Aldersgate Service, also held at PLMC. For those
who followed the meetings throughout the week, his teaching styles
varied meaningfully for the various occasions - academician/lecturer
(May 21 to 23 evenings), pastor (May 22 morning) and preacher/evangelist
(May 24 evening). No wonder all who came for the meetings appeared
to be listening intensely to what was being shared by him.
We shall focus here on Dr
Oden as lecturer and preacher. As is widely known, about 20 years
ago, he found himself, upon reflection, abandoning the radical
theological tradition for a more orthodox doctrinal position.
In his own spiritual and ideological journey he has described
himself as "a former convinced proponent of the radical demythologising
biblical criticism of Rudolf Bultmann (on whose work I wrote my
doctoral dissertation)". This meant that for many years he
regretfully tried "to read the New Testament without the
premise of incarnation and resurrection". Today, he confesses
instead that he "grows ever more grateful that (his) own
Wesleyan evangelical ethos is deeply grounded intuitively in the
classic Protestant confessional tradition".
Bishop Dr Solomon, with Dr
Oden, singing at the Aldersgate Service. Behind them, from left,
are the Rev Dr Vinson Samuel, the Rev Khoo Cheng Hoot and the
Rev Dr Isaac Lim. - Methodist Message picture by CHIA PAK YUEN.
Oden raises issues that arouse
interest of thinking Methodists
This is being interpreted by him to mean that for Methodists,
the doctrinal core cannot be amended or "improved upon".
Consequently, according to him, "traditional Wesleyans can
give thanks for the sagacity of the founding fathers and mothers
of our tradition". He therefore combines both the burning
conviction of a recent convert and the deep maturity of one who
has faithfully served and taught in the Methodist communion for
The three public talks were conducted in a serious, straightforward
but learned manner. They were preceded by about 20 minutes of
prayer, announcements, hymn singing and choral items. The three
Annual Conferences were responsible for an evening each, with
the Chinese Annual Conference (CAC) looking after May 21, Emmanuel
Tamil Annual Conference (ETAC) responsible for May 22, and Trinity
Annual Conference (TRAC) responsible for May 23.
The Pastoral Prayers for each of the evenings were said by the
respective Conference Presidents - the Rev Khoo Cheng Hoot (CAC),
the Rev Dr Vinson Samuel (ETAC) and the Rev Dr Isaac Lim (TRAC).
Not one to avoid controversy, Dr Oden touched on many a topic
that would address the interest of thinking Singapore Methodists.
John Wesley's views about church schism, the old/new doctrine
of biblical separatism and infant baptism were addressed on the
On the second night, Wesley' views about the Holy Spirit received
some attention. Dr Oden summed it up well: "The filling of
all the faithful with the Spirit was not primarily to manifest
extraordinary gifts, but simply for bestowing the mind of Christ
upon all so as to elicit the fruits of the Spirit in all
What happened at Pentecost does not happen occasionally, but ordinarily
and normatively within the faithful community of the baptised."
Those with an unhealthy fixation on the miraculous and those who
dogmatically insist, on the other hand, that God does not continue
to wonderfully pour out His Holy Spirit today, need to pay attention
here. Dr Oden also said that the doctrine and experience of the
witness of the Holy Spirit within the heart of the believer (Blessed
Assurance!) is the great Wesleyan emphasis within the overall
teaching about the Holy Spirit.
On the third night, the point was insightfully made that spiritual
renewal encompasses more than vibrant "feel good" experiences.
Besides the experience of the Living God, doctrine and discipline
were the other characteristics of the Wesleyan Revival more than
250 years ago.
Surely one of the desirable things
coming from the Aldersgate week would be that Methodists would
want to read John Wesley's sermons once again and learn from
him the deep and timeless truths of God.
Night itself was a memorable occasion with the black-robed pastors
from all three Annual Conferences processing together in "one
accord" led by the Cross, Banner of The Methodist Church
in Singapore and the Bible held respectively by the three Conference
Lay Leaders - Mr Chan Fook Kay (CAC), Mr Kim Seah (TRAC) and
Mr M. Geevananthan (ETAC).
After Dr Oden preached on "The Church and Sanctifying Grace",
the Holy Communion was administered by Bishop Dr Solomon, who
was assisted by the three Conference Presidents and senior pastors.
Aldersgate Convention 2002 ended on a high note on the evening
of May 25 - Methodists, who are known for their love for singing,
clearly sang with great joy at the Wesleyan Hymn Festival.
Surely one cannot but look forward to next year's Aldersgate Convention
with the deep conviction of both Mr Wesley and Dr Oden: "The best of all is that
God is with us!"
The Rev Malcolm Tan is Pastor-in-Charge
of Barker Road Methodist Church.