Keeping the sacred canon

This is the second of three pieces that speaks about the sacred space, order and calling of our city.

Rev Canon Terry Wong // September 22, 2018, 10:09 pm


Photo by Tomas Vysniauskas on Unsplash

Jerusalem is built like a city that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord,
to praise the name of the Lord according to the statute given to Israel.
There the thrones for judgment stand, the thrones of the house of David.
(Psalm 122:3-5)

Today we define a city by its size, in contrast to towns and villages. But in biblical times, a city was defined not by population size but density (Psalm 122:3).

What makes a city?

A city is a social form in which people live in close proximity to one another. According to the American sociologist, Edward Glaeser: “Cities are the absence of physical space between people.”

500 years from now, what will people say of Singapore?

A closely compacted city offers safety and stability within her walls. There is diversity and interaction, leading to cities becoming growth centres for civilisations. A city has more of everything: The good, but unfortunately, the bad and the ugly as well.

By this definition, Singapore was a city from the word go.

After 50 years as an independent city-state, it is hailed today as a world-class city.

While I will not make the logical leap of equating Singapore with the long and ancient influence of Jerusalem, there is something to be said about the discipline and order which will make any city great.

Fifty years is a very short time. The first Premier of China was asked about his evaluation of the French Revolution, which happened around 200 years ago. He was well educated, and served in the very difficult Cold War years of the 1950s and 1960s.

He said, gently and quietly: “It is too short to tell.”

Indeed, 50 years is simply “too short to tell”.

500 years from now, what will people say of Singapore, assuming that she is still remembered?

Cities’ lives have consequences that last far beyond our physical lifespans.

The role of the Church in the city

What role can the church play to strengthen the discipline, order and foundations of the city?

After all, we have been called to be the “salt and light” in the city.

We don’t preach the Word to the city; we are the Word in the city.

By Jesus’ definition of salt in Luke 14:34-35, the Church is called to hold back what is evil (as disinfectant) and promote what is just and good (as fertiliser).

There is a call in Psalm 122 to “praise the name of the Lord according to the statutes” (Psalm 122:4). It begins with His Word. We are to live according to it.

We don’t preach the Word to the city; we are the Word in the city.

There in the city are “thrones for judgment … of the house of David” (Psalm 122:5). Authority is located at the heart of the city, and it is honoured. This goes against the grain of what is popular today – a mindset where every pillar of authority is being questioned.

But since when has the truth been popular?

Influence in a city

I hear it again and again: The church is the last bastion where morality and order are upheld. Change the church and you change society.

There is tremendous pressure for the church to capitulate on her long-held beliefs in areas like marriage, family and sex. Large sections of the church have been infiltrated, and through them, there is constant pressure on the church to conform, to be less salty and luminous.

How ironic.

The coming together as man and wife in a union characterised by mutual life-long faithfulness and the bearing of children is something which every civilised culture and society has invested enormous resources in, by creating institutions that support and encourage this arrangement, and prohibiting alternative arrangements that undermine it.

But since when has the truth been popular?

Throughout the millennia, the Christian church has played a crucial role in supporting and strengthening marriage, in whichever society it has found itself.

It was largely under the influence of the church that marriage itself became a legally recognised and protected institution in many societies.

The church has recognised the intense physical and psychological pressures involved in maintaining the existence of families, and endeavoured to provide support at the individual level at all times.

As Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, put it beautifully:

What made the traditional family remarkable, a work of high religious art, is what it brought together: sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children and their protection and care, their early education and induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face – the face of love.

It would be ironic in the extreme, if today, the viability of the very societies that the church has helped to build up (through biblically based teachings and values), is jeopardised by a betrayal by the church of marriage and the family. This is already happening as parts of the Church in the West and Asia give in to the pressures of society.

If the church as a “canon”, or a standard, caves in, the “thrones of judgment” will eventually give way too. With that, the city will disintegrate. Society will revel in her new-found freedom, but only to suffer a long hangover for which future generations will pay.

This was first published in the Courier Online magazine, an online publication of St Andrew’s Cathedral, and is republished with permission. Part one can be found here. 

About the author

Rev Canon Terry Wong

Rev Canon Terry Wong is the Vicar of St Andrews Cathedral. He writes weekly for the weekend service bulletins.