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Soaring High and Preaching the Gospel across Boundaries in Faith, Hope, and Love

Led by the gracious hand of God, the Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary (HKBTS) has been fulfilling its mission of theological education in Hong Kong for 70 years, and under His blessings HKBTS has been growing and evolving. The year 2021 marked the 70th anniversary of HKBTS; and if we also count the 80 years of operation of its predecessor, the Leung Kwong Baptist Seminary in Guangzhou, we have a history of 150 years. The last year can indeed be celebrated as our "dual birthday." Here, I would like to reflect on and count with you God's blessings, and share with you His Word, as well as looking ahead together toward the seminary's future development.

The Four Pages of HKBTS

One of the key preaching methods in contemporary homiletics is inductive preaching. What is inductive preaching? Simply put, sermons should be shaped according to the same process of creative discovery employed by preachers in their exegetical work. When preachers study biblical texts, they do not know in advance what those texts mean; they must search for the meaning, putting clues together until the meaning emerges at the end. Likewise, listeners ought to move through the sermon as a process, putting together various bits and pieces of evidence until they are able to discover the key claims and appeals of the sermon in the conclusion. What does inductive preaching look like? It involves a series of minor "movements" building cumulatively toward a climactic "Aha!" Hence, sermon structure is important.

One of the ways of organizing the sermon is Paul Scott Wilson's notion of "the four pages" of the sermon. His preaching is based on the law/gospel structure: the law is God's judgment of human sin; the gospel is God's redemption. Wilson recommends dividing the sermon into four pages. The "four pages" are the four fundamental movements. Generally speaking, page four is a paean to God's grace, one that is capable of nurturing faith.

I would take this opportunity to talk about the four pages of HKBTS. They are of varying lengths with the first three pages being relatively short; page four is fairly long, one that is yet to fully develop. The four pages together coalesce into a big story, spanning 10 to 12 years.

Page One: Stand on Tradition amidst Struggle and Envision the Future

Page one was the inauguration of HKBTS's new president in 2009. The title of my Presidential Inaugural Speech was "A Beginning and a Future That I Can See." The background text was from Mark 13:

As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Mk 13:1-2)

Yet, Jesus Christ has promised: All who put their faith in Him "will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory" (Mk 13:26).

In 2009, when I read about Jesus' description of the destruction of the Temple, I thought of the state of the seminary at the time. But we also believe in the promises of Christ who will descend from heaven in glory. That day I still held out my hope, and said: "We need to reassess how to pursue excellence in theological education."

  • First, an excellent theological education can build up excellent servant-leaders. Excellent servant-leaders have moral characters that are worthy of the gospel of Christ
  • Second, excellent servant-leaders have theological wisdom, "[having] the same mindset as Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5), which is to say the thought, emotion, and action of Christ Jesus have become our thought, emotion, and action.
  • Third, servant-leaders with theological wisdom are able to respond to church and society; they are capable of using their eyes and ears to see and hear new developments around them, and of responding to them and taking action accordingly.

My feelings about the prospects of creating excellent theological education were well reflected in the words of the poet: "When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. …" (Ps 126:1-3) We looked forward to rebuilding the Temple, really "like those who dreamed" carried on dreaming. When we were at our wits' end, not knowing what to do, things would surprisingly turn out fine. Hence, we prayed to God that He would make us stand as firm as a rock and fill us with joy.

Indeed, we are built on tradition and born amidst struggle, but we can see a new beginning and envision the future.

Page Two: Soaring High in Faith, Hope, and Love

Page two was HKBTS's Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving Worship. "Soaring High in Faith, Hope and Love" was the theme of the seminary's Diamond Jubilee Celebration as well as the topic of my thanksgiving worship sermon. Scripture verses used in the sermon were from Philippians 3:13-14:

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

In 2011, I mentioned that the Apostle Paul was a master mentor who had followed Jesus Christ for some time and known Him fairly well, but he still wanted to get to know Him on a deeper level, so much so that he was pressing on toward the goal, hoping that through the fellowship of sharing in Christ's sufferings he could experience the power of Christ's resurrection. Likewise, I could also hear Paul calling upon our seminary faculty and students to seek to know God more deeply, and to experience Christ's resurrection power.

I hope HKBTS becomes a disciple community because of Christ's resurrection power. This disciple community has the same mindset as Christ Jesus, making schooling a lifelong pursuit. Inside the disciple community, students receive instruction from teachers and God, and teachers receive instruction from God too. Together both are learning the thoughtfulness and wisdom of Jesus Christ. In other words, the best mode of theological education is discipleship or apprenticeship training wherein teachers are true disciples of Jesus Christ, molded by Him and live a righteous life. Inspired by teachers, students learn the Bible, church history, systematic theology, Christian ethics, preaching, missions, religious education, church music, counseling, and the like.

The marks of this kind of theological education based on a disciple community are faith, hope, and love. Faith, hope, and love are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Faith is the trust we put in God; hope is to wait for God's redemption; and love is to receive and show hospitality to sinners, the poor, strangers, and enemies.

After the thanksgiving worship, one Board member came up to me and said: "Your preaching in front of the congregation seemed to be intended for the teachers." I replied: "You're right. Speaking to the teachers in front of others is to show our aspiration that we ‘walk the talk,' not ‘talk the talk.'" This shows we are a disciple community.

Indeed, we are aiming at "soaring high in faith, hope, and love" together.

Page Three: Magnifying God the Almighty, Preaching the Gospel across Boundaries

Page three was the 65th Anniversary Thanksgiving Concert and Worship Service. "Magnifying God the Almighty, Preaching the Gospel across Boundaries" was the theme for the celebration of the seminary's 65th anniversary. I used the same topic for my thanksgiving worship sermon. Scripture verses used in my sermon were from Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. …for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. …He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful…"

In 2016, the reason we sang the hymn Magnificat was to witness that although the seminary was born amidst struggle, we continued to grow stronger through God's grace. The other reason was: Magnificat teaches us how to respond to the challenges of society.

We have learned from Mary that despite her low social status, God cared for her lowliness, and through her brought the promised Messiah into the world. Mary knew that the Lord reverses the ways of the world to bring about the Kingdom of God. The key to this reversed order of the world lies in the protagonist of Magnificat, our Lord Jesus Christ. He did not go to the right (where Caesar, Pilate, and the like stood), nor did he go to the left (to stand with the Zealots). Instead, He went to stand with the poor and the sinners so that they could have forgiveness and redemption, and He called them into a community that incarnates the will of God: the church. Through the suffering and love at the cross He triumphs over the power of sin.

Magnificat is still the song teachers and students of HKBTS are singing today, as it is the way the seminary responds to society. Like Mary, we magnify the Lord Almighty in tumultuous times and preach the God's Word across boundaries. We cut across time, stride over space, and overcome all kinds of differences and hardships to pass on the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Indeed, we are "magnifying the God Almighty, preaching the gospel across boundaries."

Page Four: Endowed in Grace for 70 Years; Forward with Faith, Hope and Love

Page four was the 2021 Platinum Jubilee Thanksgiving Worship and Dedication Ceremony for the New Academic Building. The theme for the thanksgiving worship was "Endowed in Grace for 70 Years; Forward with Faith, Hope and Love." Scripture verses for the sermon were from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. We have completed a new building, and will continue with the education of love. We strive to work conscientiously with determined efforts, and provide edification for students.

What is "edification"? The English word "edification" comes from oikos and domeo in Greek. The former means "house" or "residence," and the latter means "to build up." Richard Osmer in his study of the Corinthians points out that "edification" means "to build up the Christian community, which serves as the dwelling of God's Spirit." In Corinthians 3, Paul portrays three images:

  • First, the church is God's field (3:9). Under God's sovereignty, Paul's planting and Apollo's watering act in concert with each other bring about the growth of the church (3:6).
  • Second, the church is God's building (3:9). The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ (3:11).
  • Third, the church is God's temple (3:17). The temple is the dwelling place of God's spirit (3:16).

These three images enable me to see the seminary as God's field where we have to work conscientiously and meticulously under Him. As God's building, the seminary must stand firm in Christ. As God's temple, the seminary is recognized by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, a place consecrated to God.

Paul has pointed out that upon the triune foundation of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, love is the basis of all spiritual gifts, the most excellent way.

Love is patient, love is kind…rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. …And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:4-13)

Hence, love, which is the most excellent way, must be the basis of the teaching of the seminary, as it is built upon the triune foundation. Theological education should not only focus on the transmission of biblical and theological knowledge; it should also emphasize the cultivation of relationships, helping people to love God and one another more. We hope our graduates are thoughtful, caring, and knowledgeable.

This explains why, all along, we love to work conscientiously and meticulously, and teach with "patience" and "kindness," providing an education that "only rejoices with the truth," and with a mind that "does not envy…does not boast…is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil…" (1 Cor 13:4-8). In the same spirit, we face up to what is confronting us and work conscientiously with determined efforts.

With Love and Truth Work Conscientiously and Meticulously

At the start of the 2019 autumn semester, the seminary organized 11 Theological Salons and talks. In addition to these Theological Salons, mini "President's Classrooms" were launched in June 2020 in the form of workshops and seminars to discuss the challenges facing us. We have so far shared our ministry experience and had intellectual exchanges with about one hundred pastors and church leaders in these seminars.

In addition, our Chaplain, Rev. Brian Lam organized four focus groups for more than 20 young ministers to exchange ideas. Three online conferences were held to gather ideas and prepare for the seminary's inaugural Theology Camp for Youth, which took place on September 18, 2021. Over one hundred young people came to the camp. Teachers listened intently to their questions and concerns and had candid dialogues with them.

How to Love Young People?

Building on the success of the Theology Camp for Youth, we extended the focus of our "education of love" specifically for the younger generation. As such, I talked about youth ministry on several occasions. In August, September, and October of last year during worship services at the Kowloon City Baptist Church, the Tsim Sha Tsui Baptist Church, and the Tsuen Wan Baptist Church, I spoke on the same topic: "How to Love Young People?" I repeated this theme not because I wanted to rehash what I had preached before, but because I had thought of so many ideas I could not share them all in one go. In the process, new insights also emerged that I wanted to share with a broader audience, so that they could receive not only the message but also be prompted to think deeper, be touched, and act together.

My speech at HKBTS's Joint Graduation Ceremony on October 24, 2021 and my sermon at the Diamond Hill Baptist Church's Sunday worship seven days later on October 31 were on the topic "waiting room." Again, "waiting room" was the message I shared with heads and students from several seminaries at the annual Ming Yee Meeting held on November 7, 2021. A short while later, on November 21, at the Kowloon City Baptist Church's Sunday worship, I spoke on "Young People, For Real?!" as the sequel to "How to Love Young People?"

Waiting Room

Professor Andrew Root uses a story to illustrate the state of youth ministry in our present age, and the term "waiting room" I mentioned in my sermons during that particular period comes from his story. Root recounts the experience of a young female youth minister, referred to as J. Things were not going well for her as a youth minister, and she almost got fired. The personnel committee faulted her for failing to attract more young people to church and for failing to make church a fun experience for them. Hence, they sent her to youth ministry conferences to receive more training. The conferences asked her to organize more activities, which only left her more exhausted and feeling more lost.

Then an amazing thing happened. A young sister in Christ, Lorena, suddenly fell ill and needed hospital care. J invited the church's young people to pray for Lorena, and quite a few showed up with their parents in the hospital waiting room, sitting down and praying together. On the following afternoon, the church custodian, Bernard, also showed up in the waiting room, and stayed there listening in as kids talked and prayed. Later, a colleague senior came to the hospital. Seeing Bernard there, whom he had been working with in church, he asked, "How come you are here too?" Bernard replied, "Twenty years ago my daughter died, but I was not there for her; I was getting too drunk." After Bernard finished his story, adults in the waiting room started sharing their own stories, ones that had hardly been heard before by most of the young people present.

One of the women in the group called Kathy began talking about having a miscarriage in hospital. At that time, she thought she would never be able to get pregnant again. Shattered, she was in the hospital waiting room waiting for her husband. Meanwhile, an elderly woman, Nicole, a stranger to Kathy, appeared. To her surprise, Nicole quoted a Scripture verse that Kathy's grandmother had often used to comfort her: "…you will weep and mourn…but your grief will turn to joy" (Jn 16:20). In fact, Kathy's grandmother had also struggled with infertility. Kathy asked Nicole how she knew that verse her grandmother used to quote to comfort herself. Nicole said: "I have no idea. I came to the hospital because I have got some blood clots. It looks like Jesus wanted me to be with you." Later, Kathy was pregnant again. Through the whole pregnancy, they prayed together every week. Kathy said: "In this waiting room, God sent Nicole to pray for me, and to bless us."

J said from this point on she looked at youth ministry from a different perspective. Youth ministry is a "Waiting Room," a place where people share their life stories and act together. She added, whenever brothers and sisters were in the waiting room, they would be thinking about Lorena and, instinctively, moved into action to help her whole family. J continued: "I soon invited adults to share their stories. ‘Waiting room' is now a place where people of various ages come together to tell their stories." In the "waiting room," youngsters and adults shared their stories. Some told stories of their own experiences; others reflected on tales steeped in Christian tradition, such as the story about Augustine. They interpreted the stories and learned together God's salvation and His work in their lives. They inspected the stories heard and others interpreted through the lens of the Bible. They were determined to understand the meaning of the biblical stories, figure out what things are true in life, and discern where God is.

Obviously, we can encounter God in the waiting room; we can find Him in human interrelationships. Relationships are the way through which we enter into salvation. When we get into a personal relationship with the living Christ, salvation will come to us. The love of God is manifested in Jesus Christ, who also brings forth both judgment and forgiveness. Jesus was born in Nazareth, and has been called "Christ." He is fully human and fully God. Of course, God chooses to appear within a relationship as a free, divine act.

Youth Ministry: God's Presence in the Waiting Room

Understanding God's presence from this new perspective has changed our perception of youth ministry, compelling us to take a second look at the current practice. What we are encountering now is this: The longstanding strategy for youth ministry workers is to attract young people to church through organizing as many activities as possible. The reality, however, is that many young people can hardly resist the world's glittering attractions; they eventually drift away, making the church feel helpless.

How would this happen? Professor Root thinks that there are some churches actively organizing activities to build up their congregations like planting a forest; others may focus their work on training disciples; however, it is akin to growing trees but neglecting the theological soil that supports the roots of the trees. The churches become a place to showcase activities, but masked behind a façade of frantic activity, they forget the core value of our faith, hence neglecting its theological foundation. Because of this, we should not only consider planning activity schedules, but also understand the importance of teaching with our heart. We need to shift our focus to having "a theological heart and mind" as well as "theology-based practical wisdom." Theology is indispensable, and theological wisdom must be based on the Bible. For youth ministry, the question to ask is not: "How to attract young people to church?" Rather, it is more important to ask: "Where is Jesus Christ?" Youth ministry is for young people to come to experience the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. Youth ministers have to keep in mind that their work is to enable young people to experience God's presence together with them. The goal of youth ministry, therefore, is to facilitate the presence of God with young people, as well as building an environment for young people to be present with others.

On November 11, 2021, at the All Seminary Prayer Meeting, our young students led teachers and staff to pray together. They directed our focus onto God who is "present with people," proclaiming the promise that Jesus is "present with people": "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Mt 18:20). Then, they borrowed Samuel Wells' notion of "being with" to lead us to think and pray together. Our students proclaimed: Because of the calling from Jesus Christ, we are able to be present with our fellow humans and with other creatures, becoming a Christocentric disciple community.

I like having students lead us at the All Seminary Prayer Meeting. Indeed, in the beginning God decided to be with us! The way human beings experience faith, hope, and love is to continuously seek God's presence, and seek to be with one another and all of His creation. As much as worship brings us into the presence of God, the core of our mission is to be present with strangers, hoping they will meet Christ and delight in His presence as well as experiencing a relationship of faith, hope, and love given by God. This is exactly the kind of prayer in the "waiting room," which embodies the notion of "being with." This is definitely our highly anticipated vision for restarting youth ministry in the form of a "waiting room," guiding young people through faith, hope, and love so that they recognize God's manifestation and the sanctity of life, and experience His presence and deliverance.

The story and reflection above show a deeper body of water waiting to be further explored in the ocean of theology. This is directly related to a theology that begins and ends in practice, which will lead to more new thoughts on youth ministry.

Theological Education for Youth in the Form of a Waiting Room

After reading the four pages, particularly the fourth page, of HKBTS, what conclusion have you drawn? What have you heard?

I have heard this: HKBTS, more or less, has to take up the mission of providing theological education for youth. With conscientious and meticulous efforts, we will continue the long-term task of launching theological education for youth through the education of love and in the form of a "waiting room." I hope our education program for youth begins with the more than 150 Baptist churches in Hong Kong. I believe the continuing development of this kind of theological education has meaning not only for church, but also for society, capable of bringing changes to both.

New Academic Building: A Milestone for the Faith, Hope, and Love Project

In addition, the unveiling of the new academic building, built upon the foundation of the last decade, ushered in a new phase for HKBTS. The seminary's teaching and research are now heading in the direction mentioned above, and moving into broader horizons as well. The new building is a symbol of ingenuity and friendship, and a sign of faith, hope, and love between God and His people. In fact, we initially came up with another name for the building—"Faith, Hope, and Love Building." As I recall, when I first took up the role of president of the seminary, Deacon Law Yiu-sheung, wife of Deacon Chan Sai-ying, intended to donate one million US dollars to underwrite the construction cost of the building. As I just started a new position as president, I told her that we should wait until the seminary had reached a higher stage of development; then we would enlist her help. I hoped this extension plan was a spiritual task, able to glorify the Lord's name, and would be completed in joy. Indeed, it has turned out to be a joyful undertaking with everyone fully involved, and doing their utmost to see the project through to the end, truly a testimony to their love of God and the seminary. Now that the building is completed, I repeat, the whole process has been one of joy.

Now, the ground floor you see is the Deacon Chan Sai-Ying Memorial Centre, which can be considered the foundation of the whole "Faith, Hope and Love Building." Deacon Chan Sai-Ying was passionate about the truth of faith, hope, and love. We started visualizing the design from the ground floor up, envisaging to have the floors above the ground level devoted to teaching and research. After that, donations from many people with thoughtfulness, wisdom, and a desire to pursue faith, hope, and love started pouring in to make this "Faith, Hope, and Love Building" a reality. We may recount these stories of charity in detail later in another article to witness God's unbounded grace so that we may give thanks to Him together. Each time I look at the building, it serves as a reminder of the fruits of combing good spirituality and hard work in teaching and research, which is nothing short of an outstanding achievement. Twelve years ago, I talked of nurturing excellent servant-leaders. Now I can boldly proclaim that excellence in research can only be attained through teaching, research, and scholarship guided by the vision of faith, hope, and love.

We are truly "like those who dreamed" and who continue to dream. Back in the old days, there was virtually nothing we could do to move forward, but things have turned around at the end. God has made us stand as firm as a rock, and showered upon us the rain of joy.

Hence, during the construction of the building, we prepared our minds and prepared ourselves for the following teaching and research agenda.

  • First, in the past two months we started assembling international scholars and continue to expand personal networks in order to strengthen interactions with them to advance the seminary's teaching and research.
  • Second, we are in the process of injecting young blood into the faculty and promoting teamwork. The goal is to raise research capabilities of our faculty members. They must be humble and work collectively, willing to team up with their colleagues in teaching and research. They have to work collectively in research, and no longer research alone, or make progress all by themselves.
  • Third, there is a need to increase the number of locally trained teaching staff. In the past, we relied heavily on teachers trained overseas. Now, our recruitment drive includes internationally-renowned scholars graduated from prestigious institutions, but at the same time we will nurture local experts.
  • Fourth, developing practical theology. We will start with research focusing on youth. Then, we will expand into other areas, such as missionary work, evangelism, etc. In the past, we partnered with young alumni in organizing theological camps to teach the next generation. We will continue working with them in the future. When it comes to missionary work, we will work with churches to serve the Lord together. We set aside a room in the new academic building to be used for developing practical theology.
  • As for the fifth to ninth points, I will let the teachers come up with their ideas together. …
  • Tenth, I hope the next generation of our team continues to carry on with the experiences we have accumulated over the last decade, inheriting them and preaching the gospel across boundaries, and moving forward in a more thoughtful and creative way.

Soaring High and Preaching the Gospel across Boundaries in Faith, Hope, and Love!

I fervently hope that the next generation builds on tradition. Although born amidst struggle, may they still see a new beginning and a future, and be equipped with virtues and theological wisdom.

I fervently hope that the next generation continues "soaring high in faith, hope, and love," as well as pursuing lifelong schooling to make HKBTS a disciple community marked by faith, hope and love.

I fervently hope that the next generation "magnifies God the Almighty, preaching the gospel across boundaries," and may they be like Jesus Christ who conquers sin through the suffering and love at the cross.

I fervently hope that the next generation continues to be "endowed in grace for 100 years (or 180 years), and forward with faith, hope, and love."

We thank God for the completion of this new building so that we can gear up and get going. I myself will vigorously promote and strengthen teaching and research at the seminary, and my faculty and staff are definitely willing to join me in this effort. We will continue with the education of love and edification, and work conscientiously and meticulously. We must build the church, which is the body of Christ, in love.

I sincerely hope that HKBTS collaborates more with other seminaries, churches, and academic institutions, and that our seminary and other seminaries love one another and are unified in the Holy Spirit. I eagerly hope to see HKBTS after its 70th anniversary remain young, filled with youthful passion and energy. I deeply hope that amid the Holy wind we "soar high and preach the gospel across boundaries in faith, hope and love." Amen.

* This article is based on the speech delivered at the 2021 Platinum Jubilee Thanksgiving Worship (November 28, 2021).

Jan 2022

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