American evangelicals are moving away from orthodox understandings of God and Scripture. This year’s State of Theology survey revealed the top five misconceptions that US evangelicals hold:
- Jesus isn’t the only way to God.
- Jesus was created by God.
- Jesus is not God.
- The Holy Spirit is not a personal being.
- Humans aren’t sinful by nature.
CT polled three Christian leaders in the Philippines, Singapore, and Cambodia to find out if these modern heresies are also widespread in their respective regions, how believers can address them, and what heresies may be more common in their contexts.
Timoteo D. Gener, president, FEBIAS College of Bible, Valenzuela, Metro Manila, Philippines
With Catholics making up 80 percent of the Philippines’ population and Protestants, including evangelicals, making up around 10 percent, these five heresies are not common among those who call themselves Christians, especially evangelicals who are part of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC).
There remains high regard for the authority of the Bible—as well as belief in the Trinity—among these Christ-followers. There are, however, indigenous non-Trinitarian heretical groups like Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ), Ang Dating Daan (The Old Path), and the more recent “Kingdom of Jesus Christ,” whose pastor-founder Apollo Quiboloy claims that he is the “Appointed Son of God.”
Many years ago, Benigno Beltran’s Christology of the Inarticulate (1987) revealed the prevalence of modalism, the belief that God is a single person who reveals himself in three forms, among folk Catholics. Countering modalism in faith and practice remains a continuing challenge for biblical Christians in the country. It helps that PCEC has a theological commission addressing the challenges of false teachings in the churches.
Modalism seems to be an easy way out among unthinking believers in understanding the mystery of the triune God. Perhaps we need a fresh rethinking of the Trinity from an Asian perspective that looks at the concept through the lens of the family, yet being mindful and cautious not to veer into tritheism.
Soo-Inn Tan, director of Graceworks, a Christian publishing and training ministry, Singapore
Most churches in Singapore are evangelical and/or Pentecostal and so are orthodox in doctrine. I doubt any church would knowingly be guilty of the five heresies except perhaps No. 4: “The Holy Spirit is not a personal being.” Although all will confess that we worship one God, in practice and language we tend to see the three persons as completely separate and the Holy Spirit as more of a force.
Singapore is a very busy society obsessed with productivity, and this approach to life is very much in the church as well. We may hold to all the right doctrines, but we don’t invest the time needed to work through the implications of what we believe for life and discipleship. Followers of Jesus are concerned with running many church programs but are not encouraged to invest time in reflecting on what we believe and therefore how we ought to live.
I believe it is not just a matter of what we teach but how we teach. At Graceworks, we believe that lives and minds are shaped relationally, so Graceworks is committed to promoting spiritual friendship and spiritual mentoring. We also publish books that try to connect the Word with the issues of the day, such as sexual identity, mental illness, and racism. If people see that the Word speaks to current events, they might be more interested in going deeper into theology proper.
Radha Manickam, president, Cambodian Ministries for Christ International, Seattle
Today in Cambodia, people are open to anything religious, and we are seeing more and more cult groups appear and sow confusion among the churches here. This includes cult groups from Korea, China, and the Philippines. In several, the founders claim to be the son of God and say Jesus did not complete the act of salvation. One Cambodian church leader said God was also swayambhu, a Sanskrit term referring to Hindu self-existing gods. He also claimed all Khmer Christians worship the “eldest angel,” as Cambodians often pray to devas, or angels. But the Bible says we don’t worship angels; angels are the servants of God.
I teach several classes where I address this issue and we go back to basic Christian doctrine and see what the Bible says and what it doesn’t say. One thing that we stress is that the Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” (John 1:1) and “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (v. 14). When Jesus was on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30). Many other verses point to the fact that Jesus is God. No one can claim to be God or the Savior, because salvation is through Christ and Christ alone.