February the 15th commemorates the anniversary of the British’s surrender to the Japanese in 1942. Total Defence represents Singapore’s comprehensive defence strategy, relying not merely on military might, but also social and economic stability, among others.

I wonder what a “comprehensive defence strategy” would look like in the context of the Singapore Church. What best safeguards the local Church’s interests or even our existence? What values and conditions amplify, rather than compromise our witness for Jesus? Or what Biblical principles would ready us for – as the Apostle Peter says – a defence of the faith (1 Peter 3:15)?

These days, I hear from Christian groups and particular churches an increasingly audible voice emphasising the need for “righteous” state laws.

It seems that legal reform or petition-protests are some of the more prominent ways modern Singaporean Christianity is known by society. We are recognised by what we claim to fight for – marriage models, gender identity, parliamentary bills.

I wonder if anyone else senses a slightly palpable anxiety to Christianise our country or societal context – are we trying too hard to be a “righteous nation”?

Let me humbly propose that the local Church must come to terms with not having to “Christianise” our Singapore.
 The Bible and the history of the Church has shown that although having a Christian nation is quite a good idea, the biggest problem is that we are bad people.

I suggest the true reason we feel the need to comprehensively legislate Christian-y “righteous” laws is that we fear alienation and persecution.

This must be shocking to know, but we Christians regularly forget/selectively ignore what Jesus said about what it means to be part of His Church: That living out the Way of Christ is actually not easy at all.

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own (John 15:18-19)!

When we do forget His admonishing encouragement, we begin to worry ourselves sick with somewhat moot questions like: How can the State ignore the Church’s interests if it departs from the existing (traditional!) legal recognition of monogamous marriage? How can the Church’s (democratic!) voice about abortion laws and foetal rights be ignored?

We regularly forget/selectively ignore what Jesus said about what it means to be part of His Church: That living out the Way of Christ is actually not easy at all.

Trust me when I say I care deeply about these issues and the implications of championing Christ in such conversations. But I write mainly to challenge our motivations and implore the local Church to search her heart.

Many of these contentious issues and the gradually changing socio-legal landscape terrify Singaporean Christians because we have lived in a relatively “peaceful” age. Here in Singapore, there’s hardly any tangible opposition too overwhelming that significantly challenges our Christian values and principles. Not yet, perhaps. Can you think of any?

So let’s ask ourselves: Do we merely long to preserve the status quo? Are we defending the faith or preserving ourselves? Is this our version of “comfortable Christianity”? Why not go all the way and have the Church write the statute books for the State?

As one of my favourite author-preachers, Paul Blackham, writes: “Think for a moment how utterly strange it would be to imagine Jesus of Nazareth lobbying Herod or Pilate for better marriage laws so that His teaching might find a more comfortable place in society. The Christians in the catacombs were not administering the states records.”

Yes, we are instructed to also pray for whatever conditions God deems necessary and rightful for His Church to grow here in Singapore – to “intercede for all who are in high positions … that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Yet, we are seriously misled if we expect that the state and the statute books exist to soften our socio-political-legal conditions so it’s easier to be a Christian!

Let us to consider these issues against the backdrop of history as the Bible recorded it for our starting point.

From the beginning, Israel the ancient Church was called to be a light and literally the righteous (yes!) peculiar nation of the Living God witnessing of the coming judgment and the redemption found in the Promised Messiah (Deuteronomy 4:1-8, Isaiah 49:6).

But, very soon, as the entire Old Testament records, things went south. The Christian nation was a good idea – it was well, God’s idea! But the Christian nation was a forgetful and adulteress people.

Nevertheless, the Living God’s punishment on Israel remained part of His marvellous plan to shine His glory through them. So, even when the Babylon and Persian kingdoms lorded over Israel, we read of awesome dudes like Daniel and his friends standing steadfast for the LORD’s name in the face of the superpower kings of their time.

When Christ took on flesh, He was walking with His enslaved people swallowed by the darkness of the Roman empire (and mostly, ironically, by their own denial of God).

I recognise strong need for believers to represent Christ in the public sphere and speak for the welfare of the Church, and generally, the nation. But, at the same time, let’s not forget the Gospel narrative we’re so privileged to be a part of.

Our Early Church fathers witnessed for the Name of Jesus in the midst of severe Roman class divisions, daily bathhouse debauchery and extreme gladiator cruelty.

The multitude of New Testament churches were commanded to stand faithfully in the many (every!) pagan cities of first-century superpower Rome.

Against socially and legally permissible norms, they were called to uphold steadfast marriages (for example, in the letter to the Ephesians), a perceivably impossible standard of sexual purity (among the Corinthians) and mind-boggling master-servant working relationships (see the book of Colossians) in an age of widely acceptable sexual promiscuity and abusive slavery!

Has anything changed?

Have we forgotten how many of our brothers and sisters all around the world today continue to live as the Early Church did – under ridiculously “unrighteous” laws and governments? Does their solution lie in a ousting the corrupt incumbent or political rehabilitation? Wasn’t that one of the primary misunderstandings the Jews had about Jesus and the coming Kingdom of God anyway?

Is it rights-based campaigning or the Christianising of states that has sustained the Church through the ages?

Again, I emphasise the strong need for believers to represent Christ in the public sphere and speak for the welfare of the Church, and generally, the nation. The Singapore Church’s firm stand on the casino/integrated resort and the recent gambling bill are good examples.

Yet, can we seriously rethink how we proclaim Christ and witness for Him in the public sphere? Is our imposition of “Christian morality” on others stopping them from hearing the Gospel? How many non-believer friends do you have who readily assume your “Christian” stance on homosexuality even when you’ve never discussed the issue with them? How many of such friends have actually engaged personally with Christ and His words through you?

As an author-friend of mine recently noted in his book, “Christians stand against many things. But no one knows what they stand for.”

Out of our genuine desire to see God’s kingdom come and His will done, are our earthly battles ironically obstructing the very path leading to Christ? In navigating the world as offensive people of the Cross, is the local Church being defensive instead of resting in her eternal Defence who is Christ?

In closing, I’d like to speak into our anxiety: This earthly kingdom is not our country (this is not Home, truly!) – fix your eyes on the Better Country, that is a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16).

Secondly, nevertheless, for anyone reading this who stands before governors and leaders for the name of Jesus … Be strong, endeavour mightily within the royal realms that our Heavenly Father has called you to shine in – but should you “lose” your battles, take heart too:

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.
– The Church’s One Foundation

And if you struggle in a very personal way with such issues, be it certain painful conversations with particularly closed loved ones, remember the Apostle Peter’s exhortation to make a defence of our faith (1 Peter 3:15) was never meant to be a mindless shouting match.

Rather, put on “sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” in the preceding verses. And take heart also, for “now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed”. (1 Peter 3:13).