City Harvest Church turns 33 on 7 May 2022, and this is an opportune time to return to the eight distinctives of Pentecostalism that define CHC’s values.
City Harvest Church was founded in 1989, famously by a group of youths led by Pastor Kong Hee. In its 33 years of existence, it has gone through great mountain top experiences and valley lows, but the fact remains that CHC’s story is not over yet.
This birthday, to understand the way forward for CHC, it is fitting to return to its roots as a Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal church.
In the past few months, CHC members would have heard this pronouncement from the pulpit more than once.
A Protestant is one who believes in the five solas: by Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, by Christ alone and glory to God alone. An Evangelical is a Christian defined by four aspects: they believe the Bible is the infallible word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit; they believe in the penal substitution that took place on the cross; they are born again, and they believe in community engagement.
A Pentecostal is a Christian who believes in the direct experience of God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Modern day Pentecostalism began with the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, founded by William J Seymour. Seymour was a black man who grew up in a family of slaves, yet God used him to spark off a revival that resulted in more than 600 million Pentecostal Christians today.
The effects of the Azusa Street Revival reached Singapore in the 1970s and a revival began to break out in the island state. In 1989, City Harvest Church was birthed out of that revival. The first 10 years of CHC’s existence were spent going beyond the walls of the church to win the lost and help the poor. It was at this time that the church started its community service arm—City Harvest Community Service Association—and its Church Without Walls movement.
The next decade of CHC was spent in the mission fields. Throughout the 2000s, church members were passionate about spreading the gospel both locally and internationally. It was such a busy and intense period that few took time to really understand why they were doing all that, and where the passion for missions originally came from.
The third decade of CHC saw the church hit by a severe crisis. Pastor Kong and five others faced a long court trial that resulted in them spending time in prison. It was an extremely difficult season for the church, but by the grace of God, CHC survived and continues in ministry today.
“Our story is not over yet,” said Pastor Kong to the church staff in a recent meeting. “We have a job to do. We must finish what we started three decades ago.”
THE EIGHT DISTINCTIVES OF A PENTECOSTAL CHURCH
To understand the roots of CHC, one has to go back to the Bible. “Our beliefs, our affections and our practices are founded on what God did on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2,” the pastor said.
1. We love the presence of the Holy Spirit
The first thing that happened on the Day of Pentecost was that the Holy Spirit “gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). To CHC, Christianity is experiential, and City Harvesters can never have enough of the experiences the Holy Spirit brings.
2. The liberation of women in ministry
Acts 2:17 reads, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
To the Pentecostal Christians, “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy” indicates that God loves women as much as He loves men. Thus, many Pentecostal churches ordain female pastors.
It’s common for Christians to hold the belief that wives should submit to their husbands in a marriage and therefore a woman’s overall role is to submit. Pastor Kong clarifies that both men and women have to submit to one another in the fear of God (Eph 5:3).
Since the Azusa Street Revival, women have been ordained as ministers and many have served as prominent teachers, evangelists and missionaries.
3. The Spirit’s empowerment of youths
Out of the four categories of people mentioned in Acts 2:17, three speak of young people. According to the latest report given by United Nations, there are about 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 to 24 in the world today—the largest youth population in human history. In many Southeast Asian countries, a large percentage of the population is under 19 years of age.
Statistics show that 75 per cent of all Christians receive Christ before they turn 19. This is why, for the last 100 years, Pentecostal churches have focused a lot on youth ministry. Campus ministry and the Emerge youth movement are vital elements of CHC.
4. Compassion for the poor and needy
Acts 2:18 reads, “And on My menservants and on My maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.”
When King James translated the Bible, he used the polite terms “manservant” and “maidservant”, but Peter was talking about the slaves in the Roman Empire. The slaves own nothing; they received no salary and were the poorest people in society. Paul declared that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is for them too. The Holy Spirit breaks through all social classes and divides (Gal 3:28).
In the days of Seymour, the blacks were not allowed to mingle with white people. When he was in Bible school, he had to attend lessons outside the classroom. When the Azusa Street Revival hit, Seymour allowed people of all races and statuses to come together to experience the Holy Spirit.
This is why CHC members are always excited to help the poor and needy. In 2021 alone, the church through CHCSA and the Church Without Walls movement helped about 4,000 underprivileged people. Pastor Eileen Toh, who oversees HarvestKidz, CHC’s ministry to children, reported a 20 per cent growth in the children’s ministry that year, and attributed it to CWW efforts.
This is not surprising, Pastor Kong said. “When we are able to break down all divides and reach out to the poor and needy in the name of Jesus, with the love of the Spirit, people will come to love God and worship Him.”
5. Awakening of the last days
In Acts 2:17, 19-20, Peter describes what happens “in the last days”. That is why everything that the Pentecostals do—their beliefs, affections and practices—is driven by their eschatology, the doctrine of the last days. They believe that Jesus Christ is coming back a second time and when He does, He will establish a 1000-year reign.
As such, the things Pentecostal Christians do are in anticipation of the Second Coming. When the Second Coming happens, there will be no more sickness or pain; therefore, Pentecostals anticipate healing today. When Jesus returns, there will be no more sin or wickedness; hence, Pentecostals anticipate a life of purity and righteousness by the Holy Spirit.
At the Second Coming, Christians will be completely immersed in the life of the Spirit; Pentecostals, therefore, hunger for more of the Holy Spirit in the present age.
6. Love for unity
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love. At the Second Coming, every tribe, nation, people and tongue will worship God as one body, in perfect love and unity. This means that Christians need to learn to love the body of Christ today.
The term for love and unity in the body of Christ is ecumenism, which means the household of God. While Christians may not agree with another’s doctrine or the way another denomination does church, they need to find common ground on which they can stand together. Jesus commanded Christians to “love one another; as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34)
During the Azusa Street Revival, differences in race, gender and denominations were all set aside for the sake of global missions. Different denominations came together to love God and love one another; they found common areas to agree on. It was at Azusa Street that Pentecostalism began as an ecumenical renewal movement.
The Pentecostal experience was for every church. In those days, Seymour would tell those who were baptised in the Holy Spirit to bring the experience back to their church and spread the fire there. Pentecostal Christians are in a unique position to foster unity among the different Christian denominations because they have this in common with the rest: the love for the Holy Spirit, His presence, His spiritual gifts and the Spirit of love for God.
7. Passion for evangelism and missions
Acts 2:21 declares “that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. Because the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh, Pentecostals believe that the Spirit works in every culture, even among the non-believers, to draw people to Christ. Paul in Acts 17 found that even among the Greeks and the pagans, the Spirit worked in them to draw them to Christ.
8. The revelation of truth
When Peter stood boldly on the day of Pentecost to quote the Scriptures, he said in Acts 2:16 that “this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel”. Peter did not come up with this revelation by himself—it was in the Scriptures.
Pentecostals love the Word of God but they are almost always busy reaching the lost, discipling new believers, raising up church leaders and helping the poor. Thankfully, Pentecostal theology is unique in a way that it is not primarily scholastic—one does not have to study, research and go to Bible seminary in order to grow in God.
The way Pentecostal Christians learn about God is through the oral mode of communication—through sermons, testimonies, worship, moving in the Spirit and fellowships with one another. Instead of reading thick books with deep teachings, Pentecostals like to read from pamphlets. Instead of attending Bible seminaries, they attend conferences.
One of the ways Pentecostals experience God is through music. To the Pentecostals, music is as important as studying theology because it unites people, transmits spiritual truths and values and gives them a vision for life.
Take the song “Way Maker” by Leeland for example. The lyrics “Even when I don’t see it You’re working / Even when I don’t feel it You’re working” teach a deep theological truth to even those who are uneducated and may not understand a theological book.
When a person is listening to a worship song, it does not matter if they are rich or poor, literate or not. Music unifies Christians to come together to pray in one accord and to build each other up in the Spirit corporately.
The oral mode of communication was also Jesus’ method of teaching. He did not start a Bible school or give lectures, but he taught sermons and shared parables. He demonstrated the love of God through signs and wonders. Over a meal, He taught His disciples what it meant to love the poor.
However, studying the Bible is still necessary; Jesus was scholarly even though He taught orally. Thus, a good Pentecostal leader marries the scholastic aspect of theology with the oral aspect.
THE MISSION GOD GAVE TO CHC
As a Pentecostal church, though CHC does not share in all the doctrines of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches, it has rediscovered that Pentecostalism share certain ancient spiritual disciplines (or practices) that were a major part of their traditions that preceded us.
In Roman Catholicism (which came before Pentecostalism), there was an emphasis on “the concept of sanctification and transformation into Christlikeness…which every Christian must try his life in doing so.” There was an re-awakening of the holiness movement which preceded the Pentecostal movement which focuses on “the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for the Christian to live a holy and righteous life.”
In Eastern Orthodoxy, there is an emphasis on the concept of theosis—to be transformed into Christlikeness as we come into a loving union with God. This language precedes the modern language of being partakers of the divine nature of God and the need of being one with God as the greatest pursuit in our Christian walk. As we spend time with God in daily prayer, we can/need to include quiet contemplation/meditation before the Lord—the practice of silence and solitude—which is an ancient Eastern Orthodox spiritual discipline.
From the Eastern Orthodox doctrine, CHC learns concepts of Christian spirituality like theosis and the importance of spending time with God in silence and solitude. The focal point is on the love of the Spirit, and that is what Pentecostal Christians believe in. They believe that loving God is the greatest pursuit of their lives.
“We must not lose our Pentecostal distinctive,” urged Pastor Kong. “Thirty-three years ago, we were birthed in a great Pentecostal fire by the Spirit. Even today, we’re still strong in the Spirit’s presence and power. We are still strong in tongues, in healing and deliverance, in miracles, in praise and worship.”
He continued, “We have strong women leaders among us, full of the Spirit. There is still fire and strength in our youths. We are helping the poor and needy every week and our compassion for the poor is growing deeper—in CHC, every wall of division is broken down. We believe that rich and poor, young and old, male and female must be empowered in the Spirit. God has a wonderful destiny for everyone.”
“We live with the Second Coming in mind, and we want to get people saved,” he added. “But we are okay to go through suffering and our faith and love will not wane. In the last year, I have taught you deep spirituality from Catholic roots—silence and solitude—and you love it. I taught you the deep intimacy of spiritual union—theosis—from the Orthodox and you love it. We are grateful for the Bible- centredness of the evangelicals. God has deposited deep truths into all in the body of Christ. We don’t have to agree with everyone, but we appreciate the revelation of the Spirit that is given to them.”
Pastor Kong believes that God has prepared CHC to demonstrate what a Pentecostal church is. “The Holy Spirit is always so close, so real and so alive among us. No matter how many suffering and hardships we had gone through as a church, we always bounce back—it makes us pure, more devoted to God,” he added.
“A revival is just around the corner, and I believe that if we stay focused, God can use us to do amazing things.”
This story was edited on 21 September 2023.