Saturday, June 03, 2006

Singing Singapore's Praises

I have just finished the better part of the week lecturing in Singapore, a city/state of 4 million people living on an island of 250 square miles, just north of the equator (think hot and humid). It was of course at one time a part of the British Empire but now perhaps has 2% British population and is very much its own master, including having the busiest port in the world.

When John Calvin envisioned the ideal city state, I think he had something close to Singapore in mind in some respects. It is certainly the cleanest, most gleaming big city I have ever visited. The people are mostly of Chinese descent though there is a huge Malay, Indonesian, and Indian population as well. Its form of government is like the British a Parliamentary system with a Prime Minister.

This nation has 14% that claim to be Christian of some variety, with a large Moslem and Buddhist population as well. It is truly a cosmopolitan place, in an Oriental sort of way. Singapore has compulsory military service for all able bodied males (2 years and a bit) and it also has no tax exemption for church, nor tax deduction for giving to churches. Giving then is done on a truly charitable basis to the church, knowing it is not tax exempt. I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. The largest denominational presence in Singapore is Methodists (I was pleased to discover) but not due to British Methodist influence. Rather this is a success story of American Methodism. There are many good sized and lively Methodist Churches and boy do these folks sing vigorously as all good Methodists should. If only they drove on the same side of the road as American Methodists, but everything is right hand drive here, as in the U.K.

I was here to give the usual Da Vinci Code seminar lectures and speak to pastors about the cultural factors that have led to this being such a popular book and movie. We had lots of good and deep discussion. I had enough time to tour the city, sample the wonderful Chinese cuisine (especially Sezhuan), visit their world class zoo, see their celestial shopping malls (including a five story technology emporium with every techno gadget known to man) and enjoy warm fellowship with new friends. I was especially honored to make the acquaintance of Bishop Daniel of the Coptic Church visiting his little flock of 20 persons here in Singapore. He confirmed what I already thought about claims that the Coptic of the Gospel of Judas is translation Coptic just because it has Greek loan words. This is false. He also confirmed that 'koinonos' means companion-- it is not the word for spouse or wife! So much for the Gospel of Philip suggesting Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

What especially impressed me was the cooperation of various of the churches here-- the Anglicans hosted the event in St. Andrews Cathedral in cooperation with Methodists, Presbyterians and others. It was an ecumenical venture co-ordinated by Bishop Solomon (a wise man indeed :) of the Methodist Church and K.T. Lim of the National Council of Churches-- these folks are all conservative Christians, so don't think liberal thoughts about this arm of the World Council of Churches. Christianity is alive and well here, and doing better than in its neighboring country Austrailia where only 2 % go to church.

Most Singaporians live in apartments, most of which as government built or maintained. Not surprisingly land is very sparse and precious on this island and few can afford to own a home. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and with its excellent public transportation and facilities everyone can have a reasonable standard of living. I set foot in the South China Sea yesterday and it was like a warm bath tub--- no waves to speak of unfortunately. Otherwise this was a perfect visit. God bless Singapore the island jewel of the Orient.


Joshua Luke Roberts said...

Ben, on your 2% figure for people going to Church in Australia, I thought I might add a little insight. To my understanding weekly Church attendence in Australia is at least 7%. This figure goes higher when monthly attendance is taken into account. Also a far higher percentage of people in Australia still identify themselves as Christian in some way (roughly 65-68%, according to the 2001 census).

The following report comes from the National Church Life Survey (, an Australian based organisation of co-operating denominations, including Catholics, Anglicans and other Protestants. Keep in mind that the organisation does not include all denominations in Australia, particularly precluding various strands of Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxy, so the figures would really be higher.

A full report, NCLS Occasional Paper 3: 2001 Church Attendance Estimates, is available from March 1st on the NCLS website -

Table 1: Changes in Weekly Attendance, 1996-2001

Denomination 2001 Estimated Weekly Attendance % change since 1996

Anglican 177700 -2%

Apostolic 9100 20%

Assemblies of God 104600 20%

Baptist 112200 8%

Bethesda Ministries 2700 na

Christian & Missionary Alliance 4100 na

Christian City Churches 11400 42%

Christian Revival Crusade 11400 -7%

Church of the Nazarene 1600 33%

Churches of Christ 45100 7%

Lutheran 40500 -8%

Presbyterian 35000 -3%

Reformed 7100 -1%

Salvation Army 27900 -7%

Seventh-day Adventist 36600 na

Uniting 126600 -11%

Vineyard 2500 -17%

Wesleyan Methodist 3800 -7%


CATHOLIC 764800 -13%

TOTAL 1524700 -7%#


NCLS does not include Eastern Orthodox churches or non-trinitarian denominations such as Latter-day Saints. Decline in some Pentecostal denominations appears to be mainly due to some congregations changing denominational affiliation between 1996 and 2001.

* The total for Anglican/Protestant does not include non-participating Pentecostal and small Protestant denominations and groups. These were estimated in 1996 to total around 130,000 additional attenders.

#Percent change since 1996 excludes Bethesda, C&MA and Seventh-day Adventist.


Australian Bureau of Statistics - 4174.0 Sports Attendance, Australia (02/12/2003)

Kirsten said...

Could you explain the following: "the Coptic of the Gospel of Judas is translation Coptic just because it has Greek loan words." Thanks.

shir7ie said...

Hi Dr Ben, it's been such great pleasure to have you here in this LALA land--> Singapore that is:) I must say you have been very gracious and kind with your words indeed, in giving us pictures of wonders about our Singapore. Three cheers for your help in presenting to us the Crack of the Da Vinci Code, honestly I was not very sure whether I would be staying throughout the 2 consecutive days seminar, assuming that it would be a long_ish talk, but time just flew so quickly when I heard you & your outpouring Godly wisdom! To God be the glory. Do visit us again...hopefully soon! Be blessed, Dr Ben=>