The School of Theology provides good, basic training for the church worker to immediately go forth and preach the gospel. But beyond the basics, the SOT alumni courses give deeper understanding on doctrine. Alumni from various countries, like our writer, share why they signed up for “Introduction to Protestantism and Evangelicalism” earlier this year and what they have gained.
“Proper Integration of Doctrine, Experience and Practice”.
“Dangers of Liberal Theology”.
These are just some of the topics that alumni from City Harvest Church’s School of Theology (SOT) have covered so far in the ongoing 10-week SOT Alumni Course 1, “Introduction to Protestantism and Evangelicalism”.
Being an SOT graduate does not mean that one already has a complete grasp—or even a good grasp—of Christianity or church doctrine. Some SOT graduates choose to further their theological studies, while others attend external Bible study classes, conferences or seminars to grow in their theological knowledge.
Last year, when Pastor Kong Hee pointed out that City Harvest Church and The Harvest Network are Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal, I realised I needed to have a deeper understanding of what each of these terms meant, and why they mattered.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT MAKES YOU A PROTESTANT AND EVANGELICAL?
To be honest, I have been in church for quite a number of years, but up to the time I started this course, I found it hard to articulate what these characteristics meant, especially “evangelical” and “pentecostal”. I could not really explain how they applied to our lives, beyond what Pastor Kong had already shared in service. I felt like I needed to go deeper, but doing my own online searches was not ideal, as there are so many different sources of information, and I needed clarity and discernment to wade through the material.
Why is it even important, you may ask. As leaders, having the right doctrine, understanding and application is key to our leadership. As a church, our vision, values, ministry and the way we operate are all determined by our doctrine. Without understanding, church members could be doing things in their own way or building their own doctrine, using our feelings or something we read as a guide, instead of the Word of God. Rather than leading people towards a deeper love of God and His Word, without knowledge, we could lead them astray if our doctrine is skewed and not Biblical.
Cindy Olivia, a pastor at GPdI Pillars in Christ in Jakarta, Indonesia, feels the same way. She signed up for the course because of the need to be further equipped with knowledge of different doctrines in order to better guide her church congregation, which is made up mostly of young people. “With the rise of online services, different teachings are now accessible to our members, and that can easily cause confusion,” she explains.
GOOD EVENING, SOT!
When the first alumni course launched, the world was still in pandemic phase, and travel restrictions were mostly still in place. Hence, lessons are held virtually over Zoom, even through halfway through the course, the world began opening up.
Each lesson is conducted in English, with simultaneous interpretation in Mandarin, Bahasa Indonesia and Japanese. We spend two hours (sometimes more if there are many questions) together every Wednesday evening—231 alumni from 12 countries. Pastor Kong conducted the opening session to give us a real-world background on what the Holy Spirit has been doing through CHC and THN, while Pastor Bobby Chaw, Pastor Tan Kim Hock and Pastor Lin Junxian taught the lessons on the brief history and core doctrines of Protestantism and Evangelicalism.
I was personally grateful that we were learning about Protestantism and Evangelicalism, which were not covered back when I attended SOT in 2009. Students could choose to do the course as an audit (no credits awarded) or for credit, which requires them to read 18 chapters of Eddie Hyatt’s 2000 Years Of Charismatic Christianity, and sit for an examination at the end of the course.
Despite it being a virtual course, it feels just like “regular” SOT, with a gathering of international alumni, and a time of praise and worship before each lesson commences. My favourite part of the course is the question-and-answer session after the main lesson has been taught. With so many of us from different countries and different church backgrounds, the questions often provoke thought on doctrine, lifestyle, even traditions.
Just like SOT, some of the alumni have had to make sacrifices or grit their teeth through difficult circumstances in order to attend the alumni course.
Pastor David Mang Thang of Yangon City Harvest Church in Myanmar gets only a few hours of electricity each day, which affects the Wi-Fi connection he needs to attend the course. Yet, his hunger for the word of God motivates him to keep on keeping on. “It’s a blessing for me to learn so many new things, especially from the questions asked by other students,” he tells City News. “I have a better understanding about the differences in theology and doctrines, which will help me lead and bless my church-planting ministry in Myanmar.”
For Kinuko Nagano of Kumamoto Harvest Church in Japan, attending the course while holding a full-time job in the tourism industry has not been the easiest situation to manage. “I often have to work overtime at work and so I log in late for classes. It became so difficult to continue, I considered quitting halfway through the course. But in the midst of this situation, God knew what was in my heart and told me to go back to school. I was deeply encouraged by God, who did not give up on me.”
Kinuko’s obedience has led to her getting to know God and His ways more. “When I attended SOT back in 2012, I received Isaiah 58:7-14 as a revelation from God,” she explains. “Over the years, I have gradually come to understand what God wanted to teach me and what His will is. However, I still did not fully understand what verse 14 meant—’then you will find your joy in the Lord.‘ During this course, I received another revelation that one of the five solas of Protestantism—soli deo gloria, which means ‘to the glory of God alone’—is the key to finding my joy in the Lord. I learned that it means to display God’s glory, to live out God’s will, and to live a life that genuinely reflects His will. By trusting God completely, being in agreement with His will, walking with Him, and living in His presence, my heart would be completely filled with Him and my joy would overflow.”
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED
For me, attending the alumni course has brought greater spiritual clarity and a deeper love for the Word of God. I find myself reflecting on what I’ve learnt each week, and also what I need to unlearn.
One of the things we learnt was the three levels of doctrines. First-order doctrines are essentials upon which hinges our salvation; second-order doctrines are beliefs that Christians may disagree with each other on, and these are the main reasons why there are different denominations. Third-order doctrines are beliefs that Christians may disagree over, but we can still remain in close fellowship within a local church (these are usually mysteries or subjective opinions). Having a clear understanding of what constitutes our first-order doctrines establishes a solid spiritual foundation, then we will not be easily shaken by what we hear from other people, or what we see happening during social movements.
Grace Cho, a full-time church worker in Jeonhari Church, South Korea, echoes this. “We are living in the end times, and there is an urgency to fulfil our mission before Jesus comes back,” she notes. “Learning about the levels of doctrines helped me understand what is important and what is not so important in our spiritual journey. Having clear first-order doctrines helps us detect heresies and false prophets in this era. I also understood how important it is to choose the right church to be rooted in, because the church is where we grow to fulfil our mission here on earth. When it comes to third-order doctrines, I’m reminded that we should not focus on the differences between churches, but on winning souls!”
The class also studied the dangers and deception of liberal theology, a crucial topic since we now live in a world where information (or misinformation) is widely and easily accessible through social media. Being equipped with this understanding does not mean we have the right to judge or condemn others, but rather, it means that more than ever, we have to be anchored in our spiritual beliefs, and more relevant in the way we interact with the world.
For Pastor Cindy, this first course has provided clarity and courage, and inspired her to sign up for the second course, “Introduction to Pentecostalism”, which kicks off 29 June.
“Aside from the knowledge taught, it’s the spirit caught,” she says. “I see a willingness and humility to learn from one another, and a need to foster unison in the body of Christ. I’ve also gained courage to know what to stand for in my beliefs, and wisdom to deliver the truth with love. We should never settle for the level of our current understanding. Learning will lead us to impact more people!”
“Each week, through the lessons, I find myself returning more to the Bible,” says Grace. “I also saw how the hand of God moved in the history of the Protestant church, and how we could take the important lessons from the past to apply to our present and future. I’m thankful to be a witness for our Lord!”
Given the positive experience of the first alumni course, I’m looking forward to “Introduction To Pentecostalism”—I hope to gain a fuller understanding of what Pentecostal beliefs are, and how they apply to my daily walk with the Lord.
But right now, my friends and I are revising for our end-of-course exam in two weeks—it’s one of the best ways to retain knowledge and keeps me focused during lessons!
The second SOT alumni course, “Introduction To Pentecostalism” runs from 29 June to 14 September. Sign up here before the closing date of 26 June.