Skip to comments.The Rise of Reformed Christianity in the World’s Largest Muslim Country
Posted on 01/12/2017 1:33:40 PM PST by Gamecock
With more than 16,000 students, Universitas Pelita Harapan is one of the largest Reformed Christian universities in the world. Started just 22 years ago, the university offers a law school, medical school, engineering school, and teachers collegeall from a distinctly Reformed worldview.
We dont even have that in the United States or Europe, said Ric Cannada, chancellor emeritus for Reformed Theological Seminary. Here it is in Indonesia. Isnt it just like the Lord to do something like this in the least likely placethe country with the largest Muslim population in the world?
Though Christians compose only 10 percent of Indonesias population, the nation is so populous that roughly 25 million Christians live there. About one-third are Catholic, while the Protestants are typically either Pentecostal or Reformedas in, really Reformed.
Over here in the States we talk about the Reformed world- and life-view, but theyre doing it, Cannada said. Doing it on steroids.
Bankrolled by an enormously successful Indonesian businessman with a love for God and Reformed theology, the Pelita Harapan Foundationwhere Cannada is a senior adviserhas opened 55 Christian K12 schools in the last 25 years.
No Reformed Balance Sheets
Pelita Harapan is the mission side of businessman James Riadys domain. But of course he also has a business sideand its enormous: 30 hospitals, 64 malls, 125 department stores, and the countrys largest media group.
Both are informed by the Reformed tradition, said Niel Nielson, the former president of Covenant College who now leads the foundations education wing and sits on the board of directors for the hospitals and department stores.
[The Riady family] is passionately Reformed in their theological perspective, and they link all that together in terms of how they understand the corporation, he said. There is energy and focus on integration unlike anything Ive seen anywhere in the world.
Nielson says the thick-walled silos between faith and education or vocation that often exist in the United States do not exist there, in terms of the driving mission and vision.
Were passionate about businessabout economic sustainabilitybut also about a biblically informed vision of common grace that leads to saving grace for the country, Nielson said.
Though theres no such thing as a Reformed balance sheetyou either show profits or you dont, the board talks a lot about the creation mandate and the fact that were called to steward the gifts God has given us.
That means building quality hospitals in low-income areas. It means Christian doctors talking with their Muslim patients not just about the health of their bodies, but also the health of their family relationships, communities, and souls.
We tell them we believe theyve been uniquely created in the image of God, and he has a purpose for every human being, Nielson said.
These Christian convictions dont stay behind-the-scenes, even if theyre rarely center stage. For example, Riadys 60 coffee shops dont serve tracts with their beverages, but they do play Christian music, and employees go out of their way to treat people with dignity. All of his businesses aim to deliver high-quality products and to deal honestly with everyone.
Nielson said whats going on in Indonesia is similar to what youll hear in the faith and work conversation in the United States. But he added that it seems easier to give the concept legs in Indonesia. Thats partially because of the high level of religiosity in the country. Most Indonesians (85 percent) identify as Muslim, and nearly everyone feels strongly about their faith, and expects to see that in others.
Riadys Financial Support
The other reason Reformed enterprises are taking off is the financial backing of the Riady family.
Riady came to Christ in 1990 while struggling with depression. I was so desperate, he told Fortune Magazine in 2001. I couldn't even look at my wife, or talk to her, or kiss her. I started praying in my room, and God showed me this filma reflection of my life. Everything that came out was all the sins I committed. I thought I was a good man. God said, Youre a horrible man. I cried and cried and criedbig sins, small sins. Since then I try to be a better person, and my life has changed. One by one, the family has all turned to the Lord.
Even after his conversion, Riady wasnt perfect. He pled guilty for unlawfully reimbursing donors to the 1992 Bill Clinton presidential campaign with foreign corporate funds in 2001 and was fined $8.6 million. The year before, the Riadys were fined $500,000 by the Indonesian government for artificially inflating the stock price of one of their companies.
But in the early 2000s, after surviving three heart blockages, Riady turned his focus to theology in earnest.
One of Riadys religious influences comes from Indonesian megachurch pastor Stephen Tong, who founded the Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia in 1989. According to Cannada, Tong has been one of the key leaders and a positive Reformed influence for a long time.
Spices and Scripture
But Reformed theology and its influence have been around Indonesia much longer than Tong. It came first in the late 1500s with the Dutch, who aimed to monopolize the spice trade with their Dutch East India Trading Company.
Along with traders, the Dutch sent pastors who, like much of Holland, embraced Calvinism.
Those pastors reached out to the indigenous people, but Calvinism never became dominant in Indonesia for at least two reasons, according to Yudha Thianto, professor at Trinity Christian College and author of The Way to Heaven: Catechisms and Sermons in the Establishment of the Dutch Reformed Church in the East Indies.
First, the entrenched presence of Islam. Second, the Dutch came as conquerors, not as friends, which made conversion to their religion seem traitorous to native Indonesians.
But the Dutch were there for a long time, until August 1945. So Calvinism had plenty of time to gain a toehold. By 1945, missionaries and pastors had felt the influence of Abraham Kuypers teachings about the importance of common grace and Gods involvement in every square inch of creation.
So in the late 19th century, mission agencies started Christian schools, Christian hospitals, and Reformed churches.
Thianto, who was born in 1965, was raised in one of those churches.
I grew up singing the psalms and hymns rooted in Calvins Geneva, adopted by the Dutch, and then brought to the archipelago and translated into the language thats now Indonesian, he said.
Regrettably, many of these churches eventually lost their biblical and theological vigor.
By the end of my parents generation, Reformed Christianity had become too practical in terms of their reaching out. Theyre close to what I would call social gospel, reaching out to the community without preaching. They were trying to apply the every square inch in their everyday life, but they forgot the doctrinal foundation.
But theres good news: Thiantos generation has instigated a kind of renewal, now about 25 years old, that has led to many rediscovering a new excitement for evangelism that finds its source from Reformed roots.
We were tired of application without content, Thianto said. At least three of my peers are now presidents of seminaries in Indonesia, which are evangelical in their name and Reformed in terms of the engine underneath it.
Cannada is concerned by the state of many churches in Indonesia. So he and Nielson began a new denomination: the Presbyterian Reformed Evangelical Church of Indonesia, modeled after the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The goal is simple: to start a local church everywhere theres a Christian school.
So far the denomination has only two churches. Karawaci Presbyterian Church (KPC) at Universitas Pelita Harapan offers chapel services for university students, while a daughter church is located near one of the K12 schools in eastern Indonesia, more than a 1,000 miles away on another island.
The university chapel services see about 4,000 attendees each week, most of them students. About 200 people in the all-English service of KPC are expatriates living and working in Jakarta, as well as native Indonesians who are more comfortable in an English service.
The second church was set up when teachers at the K12 school, accustomed to attending the university chapel, asked for a church they could attend.
Looking for Pastors
The new denomination is looking for pastors with the same eagerness with which Pelita Harapan seeks Christian teachers and health care workers.
No question, the biggest challenge is finding leadership, Cannada said. Typically in the States, when we think of missionaries, we think about sending money. We dont need money. We need people.
As mission fields go, this one isnt physically difficult. Many Indonesians speak English, and no one needs to raise support since Pelita Harapan can pay salary, benefits, and a plane ticket back and forth.
Its just a huge, huge opportunity, Cannada said.
Though Christians wont likely overtake the Muslim majority in Indonesia, they will, according to Nielson, act as salt, a flavoring that softens and enriches human life and culture.
We dont talk about changing culture, he said. We talk about blessing people and about flourishing and about helping to contribute so their lives become better.
Its not always smooththeres sometimes pushback, especially from hard-line Muslims. But many other nonbelievers recognize the good work of Reformed Christians.
For instance, in one heavily Muslim area, leaders wanted us to bring in a hospital, because theyre the highest-quality ones around, Cannada said. There were protests by some of the people who said we were trying to Christianize the area. They held us off for a while. But eventually the government leaders said, We want you anyway.
The hospital was built, and now the people come to the hospital because it offers so much better health care.
Nielson points to this as a consummate example of common grace.
Even though its not saving grace, common grace is still grace, he said. In that sense, it does change cultureit makes it a kinder, gentler, more inclusive place where people can get jobs and support their families. And where people have a sense of hope for the future.
In this context openings for the spread of saving grace aboundall across the worlds most populous Muslim nation.
Good! It’s a disgrace whenever I hear of the damn Charismatics and all their mumbo jumbo confusion over even simple things like justification growing in numbers. It is good to hear that the true Gospel is growing, not the counterfeits!
Been a while since I’ve seen the GRPL.
FWIW, Trump is/was presby via his Scottish immigrant mom.
I know how you feel. It’s easy to feel like we are drowning in a sea of heterodoxy and outright false religion.
I know a Reformed missionary (David Sitton) who began hacking his way through the jungles of Papua New Guinea in the 70’s, when cannibalism was still a real risk. He spent decades there facing unbelievable physical and cultural obstacles. But due to his faithfulness, and the work of a few other fearless brothers, today they also have a nascent Reformed movement. Whenever I hear him speak I’m ready to drop everything and go to some foreign hellhole to spread the Word.
Thanks for posting this. We (I) tend to accept the false premise that the world is in the control of the evil one. Satan may usurp the throne for a time but the Messiah laughs at him (Psa 2). It would be great to see a revival in Indonesia. Where the truth is expounded faithfully it is amazing how much power it has. I’m not a charismatic by any means but I truly believe that the word and sacrament faithfully administered have divine power. God bless these dear brothers in Christ.
Please add me to the GRPL! Thanks!
I thought I was on the GRPL list. Please add me to it.
Nevermind, I see this is an old post that someone revived. I thought it was new.
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