East Asia Regional Conference

Kinasih, West Java, May 27th ‘05

Student Engagement in the Society
(Rev. Mangapul Sagala)

I thank God for the opportunity to share the word of God with you, especially dealing with the student engagement in the society.
Both of us –my self and bro. Lyndon- will share our thoughts. After that, we will continue our discussion with question and answer. We hope the participants not only raise the questions, but rather we hope that you also kindly share your thoughts.

First, I will focus on the theological basis, and brother Lyndon will continue with practical insights. Indeed, we are blessed to have him with us, since he has a good background to share this topic with you tonight. He is a lawyer, and comes from the country, Philippines, where his people, including IVCF- have proven their involvement in the society as well as the nation (remember people’s power).

If we study the Church History, we will find that God’s people give various responses concerning their engagement in the society.

First, intentional separation.
This term is used to distinguish with the group who agree to be involved but in reality separated (no involvement).

There was a group of people who thought that society was polluted by sin. Therefore, the proper response to the society is separation. Withdrawal from the society is considered as the best way to live holy before God.

This group finds support from the Old Testament. They find that the people of Israel were to practice separation of life in several ways. For instance, they were prohibited to engage in the religious practices of the neighboring heathen nations, such as offering their children as sacrifices, practicing fortune telling, and consulting mediums, witches (Deut.18:9-14). They were also prohibited to partake or to eat certain unclean foods or ceremonially forbidden foods (Lev.11). Certain objects and persons in certain conditions (e.g; those infected with leprosy) were unclean and were not to be touched (Lev.12-15).

Besides this Old Testament ‘support’, this group also gains support from the New Testament. They even find a stronger emphasis on the fact that God has called his people to be unique. The New Testament teachings such as “You are a chosen people (1Pet.2:9), “the holy people called by God” (Eph.4:1) are considered as separation from the world. There are other verses that are used to support this attitude: 1Pet.2:11; 2 Cor.6:14,17: the believers should come out of the non believers and to be separated and to touch nothing unclean. Eph.4:17-19; Eph.5:7: therefore, do not be partners with them. etc.

Secondly, compromise.
This group does not agree with the separation attitude; since we live in the world, we cannot escape from it. Therefore, we need to readjust or to reevaluate our values so that we will be accepted. However, this is done in compromising the word of God. This means, giving away the truth that we receive from God.

Since our discussion is not about separation nor compromise, but rather engagement in the society, therefore, we will discuss this attitude in more detail.

Third, engagement while maintaining identity and values.
Why and how can we do that? Is it possible? Actually, contrary with the separation attitude, if we read and search our Bible carefully, we will find that from Genesis until the book of Revelation, the people of God are commanded to be actively involved in the society. The Greek term “ekklesia” (church) should not be understood as a separation in the absolute sense, but rather we are called out of the world to be sent back into the world. God had called Abraham out of his family, people and nation not to be separated from the world. Instead, God wished to build a great people thru him, and thru him all people will be blessed (Gen.12:1-9).

Some theologians argue very strongly that the presence of the Churches of God in world have to be seen as the sign or symbol of God’s care with his people. Therefore, we can find many verses in the Bible where God rebukes his people because of his ignorance with his environments. Amos 1:3; 2:4-8. One of the clearest evidences about the engagement of God’s people with the society can be found in the book of Jeremiah. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God commands his people to be engaged with their society. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, BECAUSE IF IT PROSPERS, YOU TOO WILL PROSPER”. (Jer.29:7).

Turning from the Old Testament into the New Testament, we shall also find the same teaching. The Gospels as well as the letters clearly teach us to be involved in the society. Separation from the world is contrary to the nature of the Church of God. I think of the clear evidences can be found in Mat.5:13-16, the Sermon on the Mount.

Having said that, the task is so great and almost impossible to be carried out. Indeed, it is not only a difficult task, but it is also a very risky task. Jesus himself has asserted that we are like the sheep among the wolves (Mat.10:16). Therefore, we need to be wise (shrewd) as snakes and innocent as doves. These two qualities will avoid us from being deceived, but also not to deceive others. What does it mean?

First, we need to know clearly the condition and problems of our societies. What are the problems? Political problem? Economical problem? Corruption? Social problem? Pharaoh in Egypt (Poverty, Social injustice? Human rights? religious problem? (pluralism, relativism? Etc). Sometimes, our problems are not so much on unwillingness to engage in the society, but rather, our ignorance of the problems. In a negative sense, “we are in the society but not really in the society”. We need to know, to sense, to struggle with the people. We need to have a strong will to follow what are happenings: by reading the newspaper, magazines, watching the TV news, etc. It is very sad to see some students do not have a strong interest to know what is happening. They just ignore the newspapers, magazines, TV, and other medias.

Secondly, we need to know ourselves. Having known the field, we need to know our strengths as well as our weaknesses: SWOT (Strength, Weakness, opportunities and threats). We need to train our students, to equip them so that all of them will be able to face and solve the problems. Perhaps, before giving them such good trainings, first of all we should motivate the students to realize the importance of engagement in the society, that it is also our calling from God.

Thirdly, we need to know the methods that we are going to take. We understand that we have a different approach and method to achieve our goals from one country to another country. I fully agree with that, none is so called the universal approach. Therefore, let us struggle together -as staff workers as well students- to find out what will be the best methods for our own country.

Finally, I have mentioned previously the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5:13-16). Let me share with you some of the important things:

1. Identity.
Let us remember our identity as salt and light of the world.

Notice the words: “you are the salt”. Jesus does not say, “Be the salt of the world”. Hence we need to be aware of our identity, not to loose our identity. We need to keep in mind the words of our Lord: “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (5:13).

2. Unity.
“You are the salt… you are the light”. This means that “salt” and “world” should be united. No separation. The “salt” exists not for itself. A little salt is useful when it involves (engages) in our food. But it does matter how much the salt would be, if it is only kept in the storage, it is useless. Likewise, let us always bear in mind that we exist not for ourselves but for the world. We must not live for our own. This is very clear, especially when we focus our eyes on the life of Jesus while Jesus was living on earth.

3. Strategy.
Talking about the strategy, Jesus has asserted that we should not put the light under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house (Mat.5:15). So we need to pray and prepare for our students that by the grace of God, they may achieve certain positions in the society. May we are able to challenge our society with the right things, hence not merely to accept the challenge of the world.

4. Quality.
Both “salt” and “light” describe the quality. We notice that in order to give light to this conference room we only need little lamps, far less than this room. And yet, it is clear enough. It is the same thing with us. In terms of numbers or percentage we may be small, and we are minority. Nevertheless, if we have a good quality of life, hopefully, by the grace and power of our Almighty God, we shall be able to contribute significant things in our society. May God bless you.

Soli Deo Gloria.-