Rise of Middle-class Christianity

Rise of Middle-class Christianity

Written by: Joseph Koh (Photo by: Zann Lee)

Have we lost the plot?

In an Asian society, it is commonplace for the busyness and stresses of work to inundate us. While we’re already cooped up in the office for significant portions of the day, there remains a palpable pressure to “do more.” My job sure got to me — it threatened to complete me as I had assumed that corporate success would satisfy my soul. I sunk to a point that my brand of Christianity was lukewarm, listless, and limp.

The routine of work crept into my life like forest vines, enveloping my heart, and its thorns cutting into flesh without me even noticing. Crowded out by mindless activity, my heart no longer desired to go for mission trips; all I was looking forward to was my next vacation. My inner life was tangled in petty and shallow desires, such that I no longer prayed for the nations (which led to our Moving Mountains initiative). My love for God and people grew tepid, strangled by the worries of modern living.

The thicket only started to unravel when this truth arrested my heart: Christianity was never meant to make our lives more comfortable. On this side of eternity, we should always be wrestling or contending for something. Jesus warns us in Matthew 10:22 (NIV), “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

There were two distinct areas in my life that stood in the way of carrying my cross daily: Prosperity and Popularity. 

Prosperity 

How often have we listened to sermons that expounded on how we can be healthy, wealthy, and successful? Inspired by pop psychology and taking a form similar to motivational speeches, we today regularly feed on messages that detail how everything in life can go our way. 

I believe that Singaporean Christians today — myself included — are tempted by prosperity more than before. We’re hooked on blessing. We’ve fallen in love with ourselves more than God, such that Christianity is force-fitted into our vision for life success, rather than the inverse. Snugly found in the well-manicured walls of the church, we are increasingly insulated from those who are suffering and we tend to only interact within our (middle- or upper-class) social circles. In some ways, the church has become a hangout for the well-to-do rather than a harbour for the destitute.

When I took stock of my life a couple of months ago, there was no doubt that my middle-class sensibilities had taken over: I was fixated on marketplace success, material comfort, and travel escapades. The intended clarity of Christian living was muddled by self-reliance and self-gratification. I was still going to church and checked-off all the Christian rituals that were expected of me, but I had conceptualised a strain of Christianity around my Self.

The depravity of my heart was exposed when I came across 1 Timothy 6:9 (ESV): “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” The snare is deceitful as it numbs you from the higher and superior things. I had  forfeited the unseen and eternal for the tangible and temporary.

A seemingly innocuous desire for wealth can cause our lives to spiral out of control. Material comfort casts scales on our eyes, shutting out the true reality that this earth does not have room for us to lay our head. God is not quite done with redeeming our broken world and beckons us to rise up from our cosy slumber. 

109b. Rise of Middle-class Christianity

Popularity

Another unmistakable facet of my brand of tepid Christianity was a desire to be friends with the world,  under the surreptitious guise of “relevancy.” As someone new to the office, I did not want to stand out, therefore I dared not to speak openly about my faith and was furtive about key words like “God” and “Christianity.” My faith was tempered with timidity; my heart covertly ashamed of the gospel.

In conspicuous contrast, Jesus was despised by man (Isaiah 53:3) and never wavered in countering the culture of His time. He knew full well that He came to redeem it rather than conform to it.

It is no different for us today; 2 Timothy 3:12 warns us, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The Galatians were well-aware of suffering for Jesus’ sake, as when they paddled against the savage tide of culture, they eventually lost their friends, rights, and possessions.

Francis Chan says, “If you love the world, the world will love you as its own.” With open arms, it takes us in with no questions asked, indoctrinating us in its ways. We cannot flirt with the world in the name of popularity — we were never meant to belong here (John 17:16).

The pressure among Singaporean Christians for prosperity and popularity mounts with each day. Guided by the media and sermons we consume, we could be pointed towards a Christianity that is comfortable but docile.

If your brand of Christianity has been more about your comfort than your character, may you call upon God to grant you the clarity that you crave. There could be a few areas that you need to give up but let us remember that Christ had to turn in His life so that we may truly live. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:9-10 ESV)

JOSEPH thinks that Nasi Lemak ought to be Singapore’s national dish. He is passionate in discovering how faith can collide beautifully with urban culture, and believes in mentoring the next generation. He also wishes that a singular Singaporean accent will emerge in his lifetime. Follow him @firesandtimbers

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