“Are you ready to praise the Lord this evening?” roars the worship leader on stage. The crowd goes into ecstasy with thunderous applause and shouting. Amidst it all, the 7 piece church band springs to life with rock-stars like fervor. At this moment, the hall lights darkened and disco-like lighting comes to life. The singing of the worship leader covers the entire 5000 seater hall. The scene is reminiscent of a disco party.
Congregants are still streaming into the hall as the weekend service had started not long ago. Ushers lined up the entrance smiled and greeted people with the standard “welcome to church” greeting. Entering into the hall, the congregants are greeted once again by ushers equipped with walkie-talkies. The locations of the empty seats are broadcasted through the walkie-talkie. The congregants were asked their preferred seating arrangements and then led away. At this point, another usher with handheld flashlights took over and led them to their seats. The usher would stood there smiling and leaves only when the congregants are settled in their seats. The ushers functioned as part of well-oiled machinery, filing up the hall and making sure there are no empty seats in between.
The seat is a comfortable movie theater style seat with armrests and a front pocket to put things in. Slotted into the front pocket is the monthly church magazine adored with pictures of church members and articles ranging from lifestyle fashion to holiday recommendations. A label on the armrest indicated the details to the free Wi-Fi connection and instructions to download the church app onto the smartphones.
This is the Christian Lifestyle City Church or CLCC, a new generation of churches that emerged in Asia and around the world in recent years. It is a Megachurch. A Megachurch is a church with congregation of more than 2000, typically one preaching a conservative or evangelical form of Christianity.
CLCC is founded by its Senior Pastor-Founder, Derrick Tan. Pastor Derrick, as he is known, now serves as its Senior Pastor (Volunteer) who draws no pay from the church. CLCC started from humble beginnings as a breakaway Bible Study group from a Lutheran church. Advocating a form of true worship, or as he called it, shameless worship, Derrick was a strong believer in the Pentecostal doctrines, charismatic style of worship and speaking in tongues. This put him in trouble with the leadership of the Lutheran church and led to his eventual expulsion. Being a youth leader in the Lutheran church, his expulsion caused upheaval in the 25-member youth ministry. Twelve of the youth members followed Derrick and left the church.
Derrick’s father left the family when he was five. Since then he had been the de facto male leader to his three younger siblings. He first went to church at the age of seven. He was down with high fever for several days. Out of desperation, his mother brought him to be prayed for by a pastor in the Lutheran church. Derrick recovered the following day. Being a non-Christian, seeing God moved and healing himself, Derrick was grateful to God and became a Christian together with his mother. As time goes by, Derrick got more involved in church and became one of the Youth leaders.
When he was 16, Derrick was praying in his room and felt intense heat in his body. Feeling very uncomfortable and reminiscent of his childhood fever experience, Derrick opened his mouth and tried to shout for help. All he could muster was some gibberish. The more he tried to talk, the more gibberish he sprouted. This went on for half an hour when he suddenly heard a voice speaking to him:
“This is tongues. The Holy Spirit had filled you and you can now speak in tongues. I had called you to build me a Church. Raise up a new generation of believers that live in a whole new lifestyle devoted to Me and change the world.”
Derrick kneed down trembling. He knew this was God speaking. He had just received his calling from God. He shared this experience with some of his church elders who advised him that tongues is for private utterance. However, he could not control it and often speak in tongues in services. Sometimes, he even spoke in tongues when he was leading worship in Youth services.
Derrick, being set free by the Holy Spirit, felt that worshiping God should be an expression of love and excitement. He is often the lone guy jumping up and down with excitement during singing of praise songs in services. He would also weep in tears and knee down during worship. This is a break from the stoic style the Lutherans are used to. Being a Youth leader, this caused embarrassment to the church leaders, particularly Pastor Peter Wong.
Pastor Peter Wong was the pastor who prayed for Derrick when his mum brought him to church. He had been a father figure in Derrick’s life. In fact, Pastor Peter Wong married Derrick’s mother and became his stepfather when he was 10. They shared a good father-son relationship with Derrick looking up to him as a model and mentor. However, their differences in doctrine gradually drove them apart.
Derrick was exuberant in his newfound beliefs. Soon, he attracted a following within the youth group. He wasn’t the only guy jumping up and down in excitement during praise songs anymore. He started to share with his following his newfound beliefs and doctrines concerning it during their Bible Study sessions. They became entrenched into him and took everything he said as the authoritative Word of God. The Lutheran leaders saw this as seditious and bad for the church. They tried to talk to Derrick and the members but to no avail. The more they tried, the more resistance Derrick showed. And the members who were into Derrick’s teaching mirrored him.
Finally, The Lutheran church leaders decided to expel Derrick. With much heaviness in his heart, Pastor Peter Wong went to Derrick and broke the bad news to him. He advised Derrick to get himself grounded in the Bile and agreed to pay for him to attend Tung Ling Bible College. Unknown to Derrick, twelve members of his Bible Study group also decided to break away from the church together with him, on hearing the news of his departure. They call him up and asked for him to continue giving them Bible Study. With blessings and some financial support from Pastor Peter Wong, Derrick started his Bible Study group.
At that time Derrick had just completed National Service and is into his first year of University study at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore. He took a part time theology course at the famed Tung Ling Bible College while juggling his studies and the Bible Study group. Derrick started attending a newly started Pentecostal Charismatic church in town, The Family of Christ Church (FCC).
The FCC is shunned by most churches as they are deemed as too extreme. The founder of FCC, Reverend David Joseph, cited his spiritual roots in Toronto Blessing of 1994. There were frequent displays of holy laughters and healing in the church. The service would be from two to four hours, depending on the “flow” of God. FCC is also known for its tight reins on its members, implementing rules and study hours for their student members. FCC is big on tithing and giving. It is also one of the first charismatic churches in Singapore to own their own church building, a converted movie theater.
Derrick took to FCC like fish to water. The style of service and worship resonated with him. He also believe that the tight reins on members is good to ensure purity and holiness. Under Derrick’s influence, all of the Bible Study group started to attend FCC. This draws more irk from Pastor Peter who had been financing their Bible Study group.
Back in Tung Ling Bible college, Derrick’s association with FCC is often the cause of meltdown in his discussions with his lecturers. Derrick is sold in on the prosperity and healing doctrines of FCC. He also believe strongly in the 7 pillars doctrine, something that he sees as a way of life. For the early church. This is not in direct contrast to his lecturers as they believed in a watered down version of the 7 pillars doctrine. In fact, they agreed with Derrick on all of his points for all of these doctrines. They only ask of him not to be so extreme and radical. When they could not convince him, they turned to the only man who could – Pastor Peter.
“But we are radicals in this world by virtue of Christ. Christ is a radical in his days.” Derrick argued.
“No, son. Christ is not that radical. Christ still pay his taxes, does his duties as son, Jew and teacher. Jesus still conform to the norms of the society although his beliefs are radical. It is entirely different from FCC or your approach. FCC discourages their male youths from excelling in national service as it robs them of time to serve God. What kind of doctrine is this? This is seditious in nature and betrays what Jesus taught us. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar. This is what Christ taught us on submitting ourselves to secular leadership.” Pastor Peter retorted.
“FCC is not discouraging. It is merely asking all of us to put God first in our lives. God is peace and discourages war…..”
Pastor Peter cut in,”And there are 30 members of FCC in jail right now for being conscientious objectors to National Service.”
“Dad, those are the extremes. They had been counseled to. Please do not assume the whole basket is bad if you find one bad apple in it.” Derrick defended.
“Derrick, I had not touched the other stuff yet. I know your beliefs and sands. I’m not asking you to change that. I know it is God’s calling on your life. But please distance yourself from these demonic teachings. I know you see us Lutherans as old fashioned and preferred the charismatic styles. I do not object to that. No FCC please. That is a cult. I want you to leave now.”
“Dad, I understand your concern. I’m 21 now. I can differentiate between good and evil. I know you have my interest at heart but this is the learning season of my life. And there is no other place that I can get good charismatic teachings.” Derrick pleaded, knowing that he is dependent on his stepfather for finances. He cannot afford to offend Pastor Peter to the point that he gave up on Derrick.
“Alright. You can stay there but don’t get carried away.” Pastor Peter relented.
Derrick nodded in agreement. He was glad that the conversation had ended. They had had that conversation before and it always ended the same way as it was that day. He could not recall how many times that was but all he knew is he is always glad when it is over.
“Derrick, another thing. Your teachers had been talking to me….” Pastor Peter continued.
Derrick sighed. “Not again. These old men could not win me through the discussion and uses my dad,” Derrick thought to himself. Mustering his most sincere voice, Derrick said,“Okay. We had talked on this before. I will not embarrass them in front of the class. I will not raise my questions again. I will try not to.”
Pastor Peter cautioned,” Son, Christianity is about balance. It is not about doctrines, styles of worship or even about how radical we are for God. The world is full of diversity. We are Chinese and we have a saying: the same type of rice feed a multitude of people of different characters, types and origins. Loving God is about loving all peoples. This is achieved by embracing and catering to the diversity. No one doctrine or style is greater than the other. You may think Lutherans are old fashioned but in Martin Luther’s days, we are the charismatic churches of today – breaking new boundaries for the Church and Christianity. God moves in different waves and movements at different times. Remember that.”
The words of his dad echoed in his ears as Derrick closed his eyes and waited for his entrance cue in the back stage. “Loving God is about loving all peoples.” Derrick whispered to himself. He was in deep thoughts when he heard a voice calling out to him.