Friday, August 04, 2006

GEP/CAP Alumni and Christian Fellowship

After the wedding that scored one for Uncle Harry's eugenics, an old schoolmate pounced on me whilst I was somewhat distracted by the punch bowl. I haven't spoken to you for ever so long, he said still high, in drama queen mode, a perfumed arm around my waist, ditch your dinner plans and let's catch up. Don't worry, he said to the 3 strange men following in his wake, this one's "one of us". By which, it was hurriedly clarified, he meant a GEP and CAP alumnus, not a member of the tight-t-shirt brigade.

Having hitherto studiously avoided all contact with both the GEP and CAP Alumni Associations, I was caught, unceremoniously, like a tired overused deerintheheadlights.


GEP/CAP AlumnusWe drove out somewhere and sat for hours and hours, nursing drinks and faffing about and gabbing with an incredible ease not expected amongst perfect strangers, yabbering on about matchmaking at poetry readings at Borders, stinkingly bad postcolonial Singaporean plays (let's not name names here, hey), dissecting Bob Yeo and Kuo Pao Kun and Fast Cars, Fat Virgins, recalling a time when the only drama company in Singapore was Act 3(!), wondering where Theatreworks was headed, enquiring after Haresh Sharma, Alvin Tay (whom somepeople scared away from his day job) and The Necessary Stage (where everyone used to lodge themselves after scaring Alvin away from his day job), resurrecting banned plays, getting excited over Ivan Heng's W!ld Rice and the Singapore Theatre Festival, bemoaning bit parts in the New York theatre circuit, dissing method actors who forgot the outside-in bit of Konstantin Stanislavski, accusing someone of sounding like Ovidia Yu, cackling over the offstage antics of the Ronin boys and KK Seet's sailor boy suit and specialoccasion kimono, and finally and frankly (probably the fault of KK Seet's aforementioned getups) excogitating each other's sexualities and pornographic preferences (during which, though I neither care for it nor indulge in it, I demonstrated knowledge of far more categories of pron than the others even imagined were in existence. Scary. I blame the altar boys of years past and certain people who are now wrist-slapping members of the judiciary).

Isn't it great, someone said as we were winding down for the night, that somehow, something binds "people like us", whole generations of GEP guinea pigs and CAP riffraff? The devastatingly lowbrow humour, the ability to sprout absolute nonsense in the most interesting and persuasive of ways, the deerlike adroitness, chasing each other up pointless but entertaining craigs of increasingly dangerous heights, the givenness of knowledge of certain items of general knowledge like the natural occurence of Fibonacci numbers and the properties of Red Dwarves so that tedious explanations (and accusations of atas-ness and elitism) don't get in the way of good stories...

But laterthatnight/earlythenextmorning, whilst thinking about my DG and commiting them to God, I realised that comfortable (and comforting) as friendship with people of the same background is, Christian fellowship is much much more.

Gloria Jean[At this very point, another GEP/CAPper whom I haven't met for eons enters from the wings. I punch him, he pulls up a chair, demands updates, comments on the incompatability of the zodiac signs of certain newly-weds and, in more or less the same cheeky abrasive breath, proceeds to diss cheap Singapore plays, pretentious soundscape sessions, members of our old group who've betrayed the brotherhood by getting hitched and the cowardly sexuality of mutual friends. He also manages to sprout effusive praise for his own poetry and his literary wannabe Moleskine.]

But back to Christian fellowship. The prayer that Jesus sent up to his Father before he was betrayed is instructive:
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:20-26)
He was praying for not just the infant church, but also the church for all generations. And he had 2 main requests: (1) "that they may all be one" (v21); and (2) Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am" (v24).

In his masterful book, "Understanding The Church", David Jackman points out that what Jesus is asking for is spiritual unity among all of God's people, based upon their individual union with Christ:

Spiritual Unity is a Unity of Believers
Spiritual unity is the unity of believers. It is a given unity among those who have heard the Word of Christ, the Bible – God's ordained means of bringing people to spiritual life and who have built their secure foundation on the rock of Scripture. This is a unity that goes far deeper than styles of church government, methods of worship or denominational labels. We are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). This oneness in Christ unites the members of God's family in their confession that Jesus Christ is Lord, and a resolve to practice his lordship under the authority of his Word that nothing can destroy.

Unity with God
In v21, Jesus prays that "all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me". The pattern of Christian unity is that deep union between the Father and Son. It is one of the deepest mysteries of the Bible how the Son on earth and the Father in heaven could be one, but we do know that the closeness of union between Jesus, the Son of God on earth, and his Father in heaven was the common life that was in them.

Although Jesus Christ was man, we know too that he was nothing less than God. The life of God was his life. He was not God dressed up in human clothes. He was not a Godlike human as though he were not truly God; nor was he a man who although greatly inspired was not truly God. In Christ, the two natures – divine and human – are found forever in the one person. He was and is both truly God and truly man. This means that there never was a time when Jesus did not exist; from before the creation of the world he was, because he is God from everlasting. Moreover, there never was a time when he was not God. Always, he was the eternal Son of the eternal Father.

We cannot begin to get our minds around this. The amazing thing is that v21 says that this life of God is to be within every individual Christian as a personal experience:"May they also be in us". Who are "they"? Clearly, the Christians who are going to believe in him. Who is "us"? the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, united in the Trinity. Jesus is saying, therefore, that spiritual unity is unity with God, or, deeper than that, it is a unity in God. If we are a Christian, we are in Christ, in the Father and the Son, and that means that the life of God flows into us and from us into the world through the Spirit.

Someone who lives in God has the same desires that God has. Christians long to win a lost world back to God, because that is their Father's heart. Someone who is living in God is becoming more and more like him, in a life of love and holiness. Wherever we go in the world, wherever we meet other believers, we can recognize the family likeness, so that however different Christians may be, in all sorts of ways, there is still a depth of fellowship and unity that has no other explanation than that all share the same life. They are one in Christ Jesus because they know and love the same Saviour. Therefore, spiritual unity is not achieved by commissions, synods, or committees; it is achieved by the Holy Spirit in each one of God's children, knitting their hearts together in love and uniting their minds in God's truth. It is a unity with God that nobody can create and nothing can destroy.

Unity for the world
At the end of v21, Jesus prays,"May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me". Jesus is saying that the spiritual unity of Christians has an evangelistic effect. When the world sees Christians as one, the result is that the world will believe that the Father has sent Jesus. When the world sees Christians quarrelling and divided from one another, defensive and critical of others, they will conclude that our gospel is a fiction. It cannot be real because it does not work.

Real heart unity between believers shakes the world because there is nothing like it anywhere else in human society. Where you find a group of Christians who love one another and are united to one another you will find something that is unique to the church. The world cannot begin to copy that in any way.

True spiritual unity is powerfully evangelistic; it is a unity for the world to see.

So more than any unity that a common educational backgrounds, value systems, thought patterns and quirkiness can bring, there is a real organic unity of believers which is created and grounded in God. It is a unity for the world to see, a unity which will one day find its completion in glory; but here and now it is a unity of Christian love which is unlike any other quality of human life. If, in the closing hours of his earthly ministry Jesus made this desire the great substance of his prayer, should we not make its fulfillment the great passion of our lives?

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