So this was the big news in Singapore today: The City Harvest Church case. The reactions to the final verdict – and reduced sentences of all the accused – span the whole gamut of emotions: from relief (understandably so from the congregation) to outrage (understandably so from the general public).
My personal reflections concerning the case can be found here, so I won’t be repeating those points. As I write this post, I think my main reaction to the latest development is one of sadness. And I feel sad in two ways. Let me explain.
The first. I personally find incongruence when there is this sense of relief from either the accused or the congregation members over the reduced sentences: it’s almost as if someone had said, “Phew, I am thankful that this reduced sentence shows that I have been exonerated!” No, it is still a guilty verdict! It reminds me of this episode in 1 Samuel 15. Here king Saul was given a specific command by God, to utterly obliterate the Amalekites. But Saul did not fully obey God. And when he was confronted by the prophet Samuel, these were Saul’s incredible words, “I have carried out the commandment of the Lord!” 1 Samuel 15:15. Saul hadn’t, but truly believed he had. There was nary a trace of conviction over his disobedience even when confronted with it. In fact, the only time Saul displayed anything even remotely close to repentance was when Samuel told him that the kingdom would go to another person due to his disobedience. Saul was not repented over his sin; he only feared the consequences of his sin.
This stands in stark contrast to the king who succeeded Saul. His name? David. David was called a man after God’s own heart. But David himself would fall prey to temptation and sin: he would commit adultery and eventually murder to try and cover up the affair he had. However, when confronted by the prophet Nathan, David’s response was strikingly simple, “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Samuel 12:13. There were no excuses. There were no denials. There were no cover ups. David confessed his sin and repented over them.
It is particularly galling to me that at no point in this case that has dragged on for years, has any of the accused, and in particular, Pastor Kong Hee, expressed repentance. When I say this, I can immediately imagine staunch members of City Harvest Church defend Pastor Kong, and the rest, by bring up the “the law of the land does not always reflect the principles of Scripture” argument. While that is technically true, in this case, what constitutes their crime is namely deceit… and guess who is called the father of lies in Scripture?
The second. What saddens me the most is we who bear the name of Christ often bring the most shame to His name. And I am as guilty of this as anyone. Before a watching world, we lose our prophetic voice when our deeds don’t match our words. We are seen as hypocrites. And indeed we are: when we preach repentance, but don’t repent ourselves. When we call our people to integrity and holiness, but don’t ourselves live lives of integrity and holiness. I shudder to think of how we may stand before the Lord on that day and account for those who have been put off the gospel of Jesus Christ, because of our poor testimony. It is a sobering thought.
One verse keeps jumping at me today. A familiar verse in Micah 6:8, which says this,
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
This passage in Micah, to me, describes the City Harvest case. Justice has been done: because the guilty sentence has been meted out. Kindness was shown by God: the guilty had their sentences reduced. Most importantly, both these were done in order that we take heed to walk humbly with our God.
I continue to pray for my brothers and sisters in City Harvest Church, and in particular Pastor Kong Hee and the rest who have been implicated; that they would indeed learn what God may be teaching them through this incident. That justice and integrity matters to God. That mercy is given to the repentant. That false triumphalism is antithetical to the Christian faith.
For the rest of us in the body of Christ, it is not for us to cast a disparaging look upon City Harvest. Rather, we are to recognise that we too are men and women with feet of clay. We too often stumble and fall. As fellow pilgrims, we ought to keep interceding for one another; that God would grant us grace for the journey, that we would be molded into the image of Jesus, that we would live a good testimony before a watching world.
ps: I do know that many who are not Christians and even many who are, do not believe justice has been done (they believe a heavier sentence was justified and perhaps for good reason). However, the gospel of Jesus Christ is similarly ‘unjust’, if I could use this term and clarify what I mean.
The story of the Bible is this: God, in love, created human beings to have a deep friendship with Him. Human beings chose to reject His love and went their own way. This sin broke the relationship between Creator and creature. But God, in order to restore this broken relationship sent His Only Son, Jesus Christ, to earth. Jesus lived the perfect life (the life each and every one of us ought to have lived). Jesus died the sinner’s death (the death each and every one of us ought to have died due to our sin). Jesus rose again on the third day, defeating Satan, sin and hell. And for those who repent of sin and trust in Jesus, He promised forgiveness of sin and restored relationship with God and finally, eternal life.