The Church of Jesus Christ in Asia - Challenges and Responses (Part II)

        Author: Wong Kim Kong

This is a continuation of the article in Part I.


11(I) The toothless tiger

(i) By and large the Christian community is insignificantly represented at national, regional and local government levels of administration. Recently, there have been a few political representatives elected to Government positions. Some Christians are also working among the big government bureaucracies and in the private sector agencies. In matters affecting the church, many are not well committed, equipped or bold enough to make representations on behalf of the church. Only a strong conviction can move them.

(ii) Prayers are needed for more Christians to be brought into Government agencies for the Christian witness to be felt and seen. Such informal representation, that can allow Christians to be vital instruments of God, can open doors for Christian inputs to be given in relation to government policies on religion and practice. They can also be a blessing to the church in contributing advice and relevant information in enhancing its role and propelling church growth in the countries concerned in particular and the Asian church in general.

(iii) The national Christian bodies will have brief them and get the churches to provide prayer support for them to be given the love and a deep conviction to be instruments of the church in their individual capacities. It is compromise with non-Christians ways in us as God’s vessels that ultimately lessens our bargaining.

11(J) Split Personalities


(i)  An unfortunate phenomena that has begun to adversely affect church growth is disunity and skirmishes among Christian denominational grouping. This is noticeable not only in the urban areas but more so in the frontier tribal zones where competitive evangelism efforts are being pursued concurrently by various denominational churches as a soul-winning strategy. These churches that are merely struggling could become more marginalized due to dissension through relational problems- a cancer that can kill the church. Internal strife between clergy and laity, competition and duplication of ministries among churches (e.g. Bible Collages) are wasteful and discouraging to donors. However, regional and national Christian organizations such as the Evangelical Fellowship of Asia, national evangelical fellowships and national Christian entities have, through concerted unity-centered efforts, generated inter-church harmony and unity via national events as well as local pastors’ fellowship activities.


(ii) Serious thought has been given to the fall of thousands of churches that once influenced great civilizations –Greeks, Romans, Persians and Egyptians. Today only Egypt has a sizeable Christian community. Apart from theological, ecclesiastical, cultural and social problems, splits and dissension among Christians have been the  prominent causal factors. In Europe rationalism and secularism have cause Churches to be marginalized to the fringe of society. The church was the “King” in the society is now a pauper. In the western world the reasons for church decline have been attribute to internal haemorrhage (religious wars and schisms), anaemia (lacking in mind and spirit in encountering rationalistic and secular onslaughts) and sepsis ( affection with things of the world).


(iii) Unification efforts have been more prominent in Philippines, Malaysia. S.Korea  and Singapore but are more desirable. However, the gaps between the Roman Catholic Church, the mainline church and the evangelical church continue to be latently as well as manifestly present. Deep theological and doctrinal divides will therefore make unity of the churches a difficult thing to be achieved.


(vi) The different churches or denominations need to develop a corporate sense of identity- the Body of Christ universal; a sense of belonging and caring for one another, openness to each other and to the Holy Spirit. We are to learn together to open up to the Lord the things that hinder openness and oneness, confessing these things and claiming together the cleansing of the Lord. Out of this pursuit a common vision is emerging, “for a body of people growing together, sharing together, bearing each other’s burden, loving each other in the power of the Holy Spirit”.




(v) In order to improve working relationship among different denominations, it is vitally important, first, that we get to know one another. I believe that we should take every opportunity of meeting together, engaging in dialogue with one another, and courteously putting forward a truly biblical form of Christianity. This is not easy, as we move in very different constituencies. All the more reason why we should make the efforts! It is easiest for charismatics in their denominations to come together, as they have a very great deal in common in terms of experience of the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.


(vi)  Next we should be prepared to communicate openly with members of other denominations. As Mr. Boler, the former Chairman of NECF Malaysia once said “We evangelicals do not know how to say the right things in the right ways”. If we are church leaders, we should make an effort to go to the pastors’ fellowship meetings. We should be prepared to listen, ask questions, look ignorant, and be vulnerable to others’ probing questions. Many are misinformed about each others’ intentions, and when they hear the facts they become much more gracious and accepting. We have to learn to step outside mainstream denominational life. But whether people are accepting or not, we have to learn to take the flak meekly, knowing that in doing so we are sharing in the vulnerability of Christ himself. Any Christian could find himself in a similar position. We can either react self-protectively or with an openness that is in fact the only way to a greater depth of reality.


11(K) The theological dictums


(i) Confusion-generating theological directions by local preachers as well as false teachings and fallacies that are being “imported” from the West, particularly by “independent” preachers, have exposed the churches in Asia to various forms of doctrinal corruption. Self-theologizing, on the increase in recent times, must give way to church building based on pure biblical foundations. These trends have certainly caused internal weakness in the church. Added to these are the number of 2nd ,3rd and 4th generations of Christians who are “nominal” and complacent enough to be oblivious to the urgent call to fulfill the Great Commission of God. Sunday Christians largest fill the pews of the non-traditional church today.


(ii) To overcome this challenge intercession is vital for hindrances to be removed and for the Holy Spirit to manifest God’s power. All must come to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus, be nourished by the Word of God. The church must by all means hold on the uniqueness, superiority and finality of Christ. This is the greatest challenge and heaviest cross to bear- belief in them and the will to practice.


(iii) Authentic and accurate homiletic interpretation of the scriptures must be restored in the teaching of the Word.


(iv)  Appropriate contextualization of the scriptures should be made to traditions, practices and beliefs in order to avoid syncretism in our faith and learn how to overcome excessive practices that are detrimental to our witness.


(v) There should be developed a systematic accreditation by networking with recognized preachers and teachers of God’s Word. Such networking and system development could well be undertaken by National Evangelical Christian Fellowships of nations concerned.


11 (L) The chameleon deception


(i) In the midst of multiplicity of Christian denominational churches and beliefs, various cults in the disguise of Christian –based doctrines, have emerged causing much concern to governments and the church alike. The Falun Gong and qi-based religious groups in China have brought tension within and without national boundaries. On the local scene we see in Taiwan the God Save the Earth Flying Saucer Association cult has to hide its face in disgrace after predictions of the Last Day failed. The Sung-Li cult has admitted to faking divine powers and conning millions of dollars. It is said Sai Baba sect and Bahai faith, too, have made inroads into lives of Indians and Chinese.


(ii) Prophets of Doom and their cults stalk in various parts of the globe, who cults further confuse and victimise believers by depriving them of their sole possessions, advocating suicide, murder such as Branch Davidian of David Koresh, Texas, Heaven’s Gate in the USA, Order of the Solar Temple Khristos, Kiev. Though they may have their roots and locus operandi outside Asia, they invariably would have persuasive moves to get Asians to subscribe to them. Although the immediate impact of Christian-based cults have brought confusion to non-believers, their adverse impressions are waning over time.


(iii) This has been due to the good testimony of the Christian population at large. God’s redemptive, healing and deliverance power in churches grounded in promises of God brought growing credibility in the minds of the unsaved peoples. Consistency of church programmes has also contributed to the growing good image of the church as opposed to the “doctrines” of cult leaders. It cannot be denied that the church at large certainly has contribute to the Reformation. Awakening Movements, World Missions, Social-Concern programmes etc. But the stark fact is only 7% of Asians are Christians today.  


(iv) In this context it can help us to Dr Tan Kim Sai’s observation and suggested solution that “ Churches in Asia (excluding North Africa and the Middle east) today are bring squeezed in between the post-Christian West and the pre-Christian East, really need to pause for a moment, look back to the past two millennia of church history, and learn some bloody and tearful lessons from it”.


(v) The emergence of cults and sects blinding further the unsaved, have to be arrested through intercession and equipping the church with the skills to use gifts of the Spirit. These powers and principalities (Eph. 6:12) can be paralyzed by the praying church.


(vi) The falsity and deception caused by cults and sects will have to be confronted and exposed through publications that can generate further discussion and dissemination of cautionary literature. Again there are substantial evidence of victims whose plight could be made known openly as a counter strategy.


(vii) Skills in fathoming and applying Biblical authority discerning God’s Word need to be enhanced in both preachers and believers. Cultic practices will have to be studied so that biblical provisions could be used to overcome demonic powers through the amour of God.


11 (M) The awakening lions


(i) Apart from the emergence of cults and sects the last decade also witnessed a resurgence of all major religions- Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. As mentioned earlier, religion-based party leaders have begun to influence political rulership as witnessed in Malaysia and Indonesia recently. This trend is threatening to communities of other religious faiths. The resurgence, consolidation and expansion of Islam are expected to continue irrespective of whichever political party is in control. The Asian Church is generally of the view that religious freedom (as in enshrined in many national constitutions) is a pre-requisite for national harmony. The practice, however, is a far cry from official proclamations. In fact of late religious proponents within ruling or oppositions have demonstrated a greater fervour to ensure the political system rules the nation concerned through religious tenets, which has caused fear and deep concern among the followers of other faiths. The ‘Ghandian’ non-violence stance has over time given way to open persecutions, mob-violence, and hideous crimes including murders of significant numbers of Christians and Muslims. Hindu fundamentalism is on the upward path and has become closely affiliated to the political regime and has become a means of consolidating power through inculcation of allegiance within the fabric of government and the bureaucracy and other components of society. Such tendencies have led to further internal religious confusion and tensions- latent and manifest.


(ii) In Muslims dominated nations political and religious forces are intensifying fundamentalist beliefs. Afghanistan has adopted extreme measures with people of opposing sects or other faiths being classified as infidels and among them been exterminated.


(iii) The Buddhists too have recently consolidated various organizations from different language media, racial origins and traditions (e.g. in Malaysia 250 organizations have been brought under one umbrella body called Fo Qing (Young Buddhist of Malaysia). The Taoist have also come together to form National Taoist organizations.


(iv) Religious overtones have caused a deep-seated latent fear in the minority religious groups. Many lives have been lost and over 400 churches in a particular country in 1999, it is said, were burnt in racial (and religious) riots in East Timur and other parts of in Indonesia. Separatist movements in Acheh, South Philippines, Mollucas are religion-based. Christians have become victims to persecutions carried out by political and the armed forces.


(v) How can the church respond to these challenges ? Though civilizational dialogues at national and regional levels have been convened, much remains to be done to create a more permanent and stable climate that prevents religious clashes. The reawakening of the major religions in Asia is an issue that is embedded with religion, culture and ethnicity and other intrinsic values dearly held by the respective groups. There is no standard formula to restore harmony. The efforts of inter-religious bodies have been of minimal consequence. Underlying all these are the spiritual forces- principalities and powers of darkness- that the church has to deal with through fasting and prayer.


(vi) The fact remains that it is not Bahaullah, Sai baba, Sun Myung Moon, Nicheran Buddham Maitreya Buddha, or any prophet but Christ Jesus Himself who is the Messiah. No entity in heaven or on earth can usurp the Lordship of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Thus the church has to have this unswerving conviction and recognize that Christian mission and evangelism is a spiritual and worldview warfare. The church has to recognize and equip itself with the needed “spiritual professionalism” to deal with not only multiple religious forms and meanings, but to boldly grapple with deeply embedded beliefs and cultures.


(vii) Western influences have further contributed to build impenetrable fortresses that bind the mind of billions of people. A host of influencing factors that form the basis of the clash of worldview such as elitism, self-righteousness, idolatry, moral stance, secularism, ethnocentrism, imperialism to name a few, have to be understood and put into the context of core gospel values before new down-to-earth and pragmatic approaches in evangelism could be looked into by the Asian church. “Territorial spirits”, it has been said, have continued to cement the doubts and unbeliefs of these billions. Constant warfare is therefore is of paramount importance.


(vii) Any new approach would require a paradigm shift in terms of looking at the worldviews. “Contextualization of the Gospel and Christian theology is a must”. A deeper understanding and explication of the Gospel and theology is needed to help meet the aspiration for “oneness” or “union” with God, or “heaven” as expressed in theosophical Hinduism and Confucianism. In addition to atone of sins the approach has to be tailored to the Eastern tradition of union with God through life in Christ. This could also draw the potential New Age believers too to Christ.


(viii) Pastors and church leaders need to be equipped to give the answer to everyone who asks them the reason for the faith and hope they hold as in 1 Peter 3:15. The church cannot afford to withdraw in intimidation.


(ix) The indigenous population is sizeable in several Asian nations (e.g. 57.7% in Malaysia). More effective networking and working in unity and esprit de corps and less competition is a must recommended so that these communities can see the unity and love of God’s people and respond more favourably to mission agencies and workers on the ground.






11(N) Titanic


(i) Another central issue is the enormity of the Asian population that has yet to be reached and brought to the saving grace of Christ. In terms of landmass it has one-fifth of the total world area. Though development programmes have helped improve infrastructure and transport facilities and reduce traveling time into the interior parts there are still areas that are difficult to access and this is an ongoing problem to be reckoned with.


(ii) Asia has a predominantly huge rural population. This is a big challenge to the church ministry of – in terms of communicating with about 3000 ethnic communities spread over vast expense of landmass in the interior parts. This is further complicated by missionaries having to equip themselves with ability to familiarize with and minister to the enormous population that speak 2000 different languages.


(iii) Though the church of today has greater capacity in terms of church workers, facilities and responses as well as the capability- trained workers and believers- to contact the unsaved people, there is room for expansion. Communicability has a direct correlation with the effectiveness in evangelistic ministry. This area has not had much response and has made evangelism as well as the introduction of social services, and other amenities an uphill and gradual process. Emphasis has to be given to this problem, with a two prong approach, namely, (a) equipping locals as change agents within the indigenous communities and (b) involving the church community more in numerical terms.


(iv) Further the existing mission organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Operation Mobilisation and others need to come together to plan a systematic evangelism programme to avoid wastage of funds, personnel and time. Networking among denominational churches, relief agencies and church planting organizations need to work together with national and regional evangelical bodies such as Evangelical Fellowship of Asia.


11(O) The unmeasured  asset


(i) The evangelical leaders of Asia need to be equipped and trained to face and deal with many modern issues of life and society of our nations. Under the tremendous pressure of economic crisis, external influences and world-views, our evangelical response can be very difficult and complex. The situation would require a complete re-orientation of thinking, approach and strategy of the visionary leaders of churches today.


(ii) The emphasis on growing local churches and vibrant fellowships, also places enormous pressure on the pastors or leaders to demonstrate effectiveness through church growth. The increasing expectation of quality pastoral care, efficient church administration, effective communication, exemplary lifestyle and commitment to their calling have further aggravated the pressured increased the tension. These pressure and tension on Christian leadership have produced more casualties than success.


(iii) In order to cope with the high demand and expectation, we resort to every mean to achieve the goal and satisfy our congregations. Often with our limited experiences and knowledge, we draw on secular models and principles of leadership, which at time have adverse impact on our churches. There have also been efforts to restructure and remodel our existing ministry programmes to address the above problems, but what specific efforts have been undertaken to nurture, mentor and strengthen the existing leaders to face with the challenges? The focus is always on programmes more than leadership development. From pastors, elders, chairmen of church committees, right down to deacons, a systematic leadership development programme to nurture, and to train the middle and upper leadership is desperately needed.


iv) There is an urgent need for a radical rethink on assets for development and actualization of the church future ministry. The traditional focus derived from business culture has always identified assets as capital assets. However, we need to recognize that the assets that help to develop any ministry are human assets utilizing knowledge, wisdom, skill and opportunity. The present time definitely belongs to those who have knowledge, skills and the access to the means to use it. Realization of the abilities and potential of the leaders is only possible, therefore, with the motivation, opportunity and means to use and enhance their own knowledge and skill. Today, the focus in many churches has been on the transfer of funds, resources and services between ministries and ministries, programmes and programmes.


(v) It is also recognized that knowledge without wisdom and experience in its application is deficient. Priority must be given to adequate mentoring and coaching of leaders especially the young, in order that the emphasis on the leadership role is in servanthood and not status.


What is the role of the Church in Asia ?


(vi) We believe that a visionary Christian leader makes the transfer of leadership possible by nurturing and mentoring people who will accomplish more than he will. It should be our desire to provide significant resources of education, training and mentoring to facilitate future leaders’ participation in ministries. Leadership training models already exist. However the shift necessary requires a firm hand from the top down to change the systemic focus. Inertia is monumental. All efforts must be supported by frequent sustainment training coupled with aggressive systemic accountability checks and balances. The evangelical fellowship as a national body will have to birth this initiative and to provide the following focus.


  1. To facilitate the collection of resource materials and development of skills
  2. To equip leaders for knowledge and skills acquisition and application
  3. To facilitate the communication and impartation of knowledge and skills to the wider Body of Christ in each nation in particular and larger world in general.
  4. To provide adequate mentoring, training and coaching of leaders. \


            A corporate effort of the evangelical fellowship may be clear but without the conviction of the needs and the willing participation of the leadership of churches concerned, we will not be able to do much. It is our prayer that the church would consider this issue critically.


12.0 Conclusion


(i) While having to face constraints in terms of limited finances, geographical vastness and communication problems, illiteracy in local languages and dialects, shortage of “labourers” (Church workers ) in the midst of plentiful “harvest” of potential souls, political, ethnic and religious impediments and a host of other challenges, the Church of Jesus Christ in Asia has to press on to fulfil its three-prong mission of fulfilling Christ’s Great Comission, demostrating God’s love to the poor, lost and the needy, and preparing God’s people for the coming of the Lord.


(ii) Based on current and potential challenges ahead, I would like to suggest that the church in Asia seeks God’s will, His wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit in facing the challenges and responding accordingly. Here are some thoughts that I would like to humbly submit to this congregation of God chosen people in this forum.


12(a) Maximising opportunities


Thus, while there are problems affecting the Church now and as we will experience in the beginning of the new decade, there are also prospects and opportunities for us to maximise upon. What is required is continued prayerful vigiliance and looking to God for a proper understanding of times, so that like the children of Issachar in the Old Testament, we will know what we ought do (1 Chron.12:32).


12(b) Seeking God and Understanding Times


Having the understanding of the children of Issachar the church will have to wage warfare against all forces hindering God’s plan for Asia. Prayer chains and rallies (where possible) at individual, church, national and regional levels could be initiated. Concerted prayer efforts (not just seasonal ones) to thwart opposition by “territorial” and other demonic forces can move this mountain. The power of the Holy Spirit must be manifest. The fire of revival and renewal of the church has to be ongoing with worship that is vibrant and authentic. The churches in the communist (China, North Korea and North Vietnam) and army controlled (Pakistan and Myanmar) countries need to networked with and special assistance provided as required by them.


12(C) Paradigm shifts of worldviews of mission and evangelisation


A paradigm shift in worldviews of mission and evangelism is needed. The approaches by the church have to be contextualized to Asian cultural and spiritual needs. In this context the church has to be also outward looking in terms of grasping events in the political, economic, social, technological and spiritual arenas. These will have to be understood in the context of prophetic scriptures and God’s guidance in order that the church can develop a proactive stance and not be caught by surprises. Governments can benefit by wise counsel of Christian leaders working closely with the church. The teaching institutions will have to tailor training of pastors and church workers to understanding the realities and sensitivities out there and developing capabilities in outreach out in line with the paradigm shift. Believers too need training as they can supplement and complement church ministry efforts.


12 (d) Maximixing Cyber-age Technology for God’s Glory


The cyber-age technology must be harnessed and maximized in achieving mission objectives. They can help produce proactive forecasts and other relevant information and statistics for planning and activating church growth. The intelligent use of web-sites on the Internet to subtly counter false claims, reports or opinions on religious matters that affects the church can help build up credibility of the church as a viable force. Evangelism programmes on the Internet, radio, and TV (where possible) have to be customized and cultural and political context to become more acceptable to the local communities.


12(e) Proactive roles of Churches, Christian organizations and Individuals


The church, national, regional and international Christian business related organizations and Christian leaders in government and non-governmental agencies will have to discard archaic modes in achieving the mission objectives. Timely and effective feedback of happenings can help them develop corrective action to avoid being overtaken by events.


12 (f) Finality of Christ – the ultimate


a)      As an institution that is integrated into broad social, economic, political, religious and moral order of the society, the Church of Asia, by her action, could affect the prevailing equilibrium. For this reason, the Church needs to be attentive to the impact of current development and changes in Asia. The Church should be able to offer some meaningful views and much needed answers to these issues affecting region in general, and our nation in particular, within the broad framework of God’s plan for His Kingdom. As Christians, we believe that there are divine plan and purpose in history. To bring about the fulfillment of these, God has intervened actively and directly in the present Asian affairs. God’s plan in history is revealed in the scriptures and it is there too that we read how it is being unfolded. Plurality of religions, cultures, traditions and ideologies is a reality that has to faced by the church. It is mission work in this context that the cross is heaviest to bear. Irrespective of denominational differences the one must be an “exclusivist” pertaining to salvation. The uniqueness, superiority and finality of Christ cannot under any situation be compromised with.


b)      Humankind has spiritual yearnings and aspirations and is truly searching for rest and bliss. The paths used are manifold. To walk on the right way, in the truth and to attain the ultimate bliss, Jesus is the answer. Here is the responsibility to lead them to God’s salvation, love and compassion and perfection. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit the church has the responsibility to share faith, hope and love to the Asians out there.


c)      There is no room for spiritual complacency. We need to pray for sensitivity, boldness and faithfulness to His Word, knowing that in God we are a people of substance. As the apostle Paul has exhorted, the Church has to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17) for God’s perfect will to be done for His church in Asia and the world.




(Editors’ Note: This paper was presented at the Cyprus 2000- World Evangelical Fellowship Congress held on 21-24 February 2000 in Larnaca, Cyprus).




  1. Dr Bryan L Myres, Vice President, World Vision International in “Church in Asia Today” (1996 Asia Lausanne Committee for World Evangelism)
  2. Rev. Dr Tan Kim Sai in Paper entitled “ The changing religious and cultural scene and the missionary challenges of the churches” presented at the sixth National Christian Conference, April 1999 in Malaysia.3.Dr Bryan L. Myres-abid-
  3. Bishop Datuk Yong Ping Chung in “With Christ into the new millennium: bearing hope in a changing world”1999 Christian Conference Paper.
  4. abid
  5. Samuel P Huntington in Essay on “The Clash of Civilisatian” in Summer 1993 (Foreign Affairs: Vol 72, no 2)
  6. Far Eastern Economic Review, November 18,1999 (Page 55)
  7. Saphir Athyal in “Church in Asia Today”
  8. Dr Tan Kim  Sai in “ The changing religious and cultural scene and the missionary challenges to the churches”, a Paper presented at the 6th National Christian Conference in April 1999.
  9. abid
  10. John Hick, Problems of Religious Plurism. New York: St MartinsPress 1983; page 28.



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