AN OLD college professor of mine had a unique way of giving the class pop-quizzes. In fact he graded us collectively by questions he asked randomly. Whenever someone tried to 'wing' it, he would calmly say..."when you assume and presume, you shall be consumed. And after a few sessions we all knew that our pop-quiz grades were as good as consumed!

The taking of grants before the Sibu by-elections has led to both assumption and consumption among Christians and other faiths. Faith and ethics are not neat little categories that Christians or non-Christians may demarcate. There is no biblical basis to separate the secular and spiritual as diametrically paralleled. Jesus never implied that individual ethics of believers as a community or that of unbelievers is subjective. The scriptures suggest: "and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:17). In other words Christians are called to activate Christian worldview. It is also called to expose philosophies that sanction the ethic of being privately corrupt and publically clean as false and incompatible with Judeo-Christian values.

The church is called to be a headlight and not a taillight. As American civil rights leader, Martin Luther Jr. stated, it had often digressed to become the latter. We are instructed in scripture not to conform to the ethical standards, worldview or philosophy of the age. Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (1844 - 1900). German philosopher, philologist, and poet as a moralist, rejected Christian values and championed a "Superman" who would create a new, life-affirming, heroic ethic by his "will to power." While the church in the Malaysian context is bombarded with 'utilitarian ethics,' can it afford to be aligned with a postmodern emergent worldview. Can it sanction leaders and political parties that do?

[These quotes are taken from official pastoral letter encyclical of the Bishop of the Methodist Church]

" First, the giving of grants to religious bodies for the advancement of religion, as well as to other bodies like schools, etc., is a government responsibility. To receive such is a citizen’s right. After all, the money given is actually taxpayers’ money. "Indeed the problem in our country is that most of the money for religious bodies is usually given to one particular religious community, with relatively much smaller proportions given to other communities." In so far as the money was given to the churches this time round, it can be said that the government is trying to right a past wrong." Further, the churches concerned never asked for the money. No one should therefore charge them with wrongdoing."

"The Christian church is concerned about morality and politics. Nonetheless, it cannot take sides in party politics forvarious reasons, including the fact that there are Christians on both sides of the political divide." Furthermore, the church must also guard against being perceived as being used as a tool by political parties, whether those in government or those in opposition. "In light of the above, rejecting the grants given by the government in this instance is not necessarily the solution, because it could be misinterpreted as a rejection of the government in favour of the opposition." Clearly we are caught in a delicate dilemma, which has been forced upon us."

"The Methodist Church in Malaysia respects the right of the leadership of the four churches to decide on what to do with the grants that have been given. At the same time, the General Conference Executive Council, which includes the Bishop and all the Presidents, will deliberate on this matter and advise the four churches concerned accordingly. "Rejecting the money would appear as if the churches were 'siding' the Opposition. Certainly more vocal pro-Opposition Malaysian Christians would prefer that, but I much prefer the Bishop's stance of maintaining political neutrality."(pastoral letter of encyclical from Bishop of the Methodist denomination).

If one is to examine this letter objectively, it seems that the concerns expressed reveal an underlying paradigm and philosophy of the said church leadership. It vociferously argues that if it had rejected the money it would have been construed as pro-opposition. and that according to this excerpt of the pastoral letter would be "a rejection of the government." It then goes on to state that it is caught in a 'dilemma', and conclude by consoling itself as one committed to maintain political neutrality.

Something is incongruent in the above treatise. Firstly, how does it define neutrality? When the Council states that it is against being used as tools by both parties is it speaking truthfully? And subsequently, it consoles its decision to accept the grants as a neutral stand. How can this be so when it claims not receiving it will deem it pro-opposition. Can one claim neutrality by default?

Secondly, there are arbitrary flaws in its rationale and critic. It explains that grants were not asked while clarifying that it is entitled to it because the money comes from tax payers. Then it warns those who reads the pastoral letter that no one should charge them with wrong doing because "it is a dilemma that is forced upon us." My simple question is this: Did the Barisan goverment force the four Methodist churches to accept the grant? Did the General Conference Executive Council deliberate on the context, time and nature in which these grants were given to the four churches?

Thirdly, the tone and content of the pastoral letter seem to be one of appeasement. It appears that it would rather appease the Barisan and accept the grants then to be identified with the opposition. With such inclination, the church has no basis to claim neutrality on any account. Appeasement however subtle in nature disqualifies the council impartiality and indicates a subliminal fear and political allegiance towards the Barisan Naisonal. There a few considerations from scripture and church history to ponder:

Was the first century church allegiant to the Roman empire and its senates? Though scripture exhorts believers, to go the second mile and not to retaliate, it makes clear who is to be our Lord and Master, and allegiance. Though the bible exhort believers to pray for its king, rulers and nation, it does not qualify political appeasement as a means to an end. On the contrary, it was clearly instructed on kingdom principles and how to draw from it as its constitution. Often that meant taking an unpopular minority stand against corruption, nepotism and bribery. The price of kingdom living was death and execution. In Jesus own words,” I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (Matthew 16:33).

Jesus was not talking about the world in a centripetal sense but one of institutional hierarchy. There appears to be a condescending view of scripture by some who maneuver under a cloak of orthodoxy. It seems scripture is no long the sole criteria whereby the church or Christians are to stand by. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul clarifies: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.(2 Timothy 3:16-17).

May we humble ourselves in the light and authority of scripture without letting the spirit of the age to determine our allegiance and testimony. The church, irrelevant of denomination or tradition is not the measure of all things - scripture is. Like individual believers, it too will be judged like the seven churches in the book of revelation. By centering our lives on scripture, we create a paradigm and walk that puts all other centers in perspective.

Is there a demarcation between faith and ethics in matters besetting the Church? Paul writing to the Colossian church makes a relevant exhortation for believers bombarded with situational ethics and ethical relativism: "see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." (2 Colossians 2:8). The church is not called to strut like the world, instead it is called out of the world to lead others through a narrow gate. In matters of faith and those beyond it, Christians are called to develop its worldview from a Judeo-Christian reference point.

One of the greatest treasons as we look back in church history is to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Being called out to be salt and light is a non-negotiable entity, one in essence that sets its identity from which it had been called out of. The early church was often called to disown its convictions and faith for "favours"... what the Sibu church had received in monetary incentives came with an unwritten transaction. One does not need to be a political scientist or theologian to comprehend that. May we not short-change the world by being a sorry reflection of it. The church does not create or define God's truth or standards, God's truth and standard defines and empowers it.

In the great literature of all progressive societies, love is a verb. Reactive people make it a feeling. They're driven by feelings. Market driven spirituality has generally scripted us to believe that we are not responsible, that we are a product of our feelings and enviroment. But such "religious" sounding scripts do not describe reality or knowledge of things as they are. If our feelings or temptation to appease political regimes control our actions, it is because we have abdicated our responsibility and empowered them to do so. Kingdom believers make love a verb. Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self, like a mother bring the newborn into the world. May the church never forget who gave birth to it and at what cost it had been purchased from the world. Now is the time to carry the cross and count the cost.