I will be honest. Dead honest in fact. China Wine is a difficult wine for me to drink as a Christian. The lyrics is largely unintelligible and at most times, gibberish. But there are certainly parts that are clearly sexually suggestive. That cannot be denied; however much you paint-brush it with the gospel vinyl. The video itself confirms this. The lusty hip gyrations, the sensual touching, the smooth caressing, the booty shaking, the frontal and rectal dry-humping, the seedy night club ambience, the endless booze, the intoxicating smoke, the insinuation of infidelity, fornication and lewdness, all conspires to give the video a it-can’t-be-edifying-to-the-faith feel. Or, is it just me?
So, when the defence for the City Harvest trial this week gave a summation of the case, I was baffled. Under the guise of theological legitimacy, it reads, “If members of the Church had donated money for the investment of property, and the monies were used by the church as an investment into Crossover, you would not regard that as dishonest. It would be an act in good faith because that investment was for the (church) purpose.”
Having spent dubious millions on the album, the music videos and the songs “China Wine” and not forgetting “Kill Bill”, and I can take it that these investments were a crucial part of the Crossover project, I find it difficult to accept that one can draw any theological legitimacy from them, or that the investments were ultimately channelled for the glory of God and the expansion of His kingdom on earth.
In other words, even giving China Wine the benefit of a doubt, it is a very very long shot from protraying oneself as a scantily clad geisha, working in a nighclub, gyrating those hips in an awkwardly seductive way with equally clothes-deprived dancers intermingling lasciviously to winning souls for Christ, discipling them and spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. I guess my 8-year-old daughter’s reaction said it all when she happened to chance upon me looking at the music video. She turned away, muttering, “shame, shame.”
I know pastor Kong Hee once tried to explain that the music video was merely trying to protray “the reality of a fallen secular world”. As such, it was necessary that his wife serves it up for real, even if she had to pretend that she liked it. In fact, the megachurch couple tried their darnest best to give the impression that they were sincerely doing it as a tactical move to win souls in a world that conservative Christians largely avoided, whether self-righteously or otherwise. It was somewhat like a gospel-packed-in-a-trojan-horse kind of evangelizing or a great-commission-by-no-hold-barred-worldly-immersion kind of gospel blitzing that lends it a shiny veneer of theological legitimacy.
But still, with China Wine and the unnecessarily large amount of money spent on it, the message of the gospel for me turns out to be more stupefying than glorifying. And didn’t Jesus say that in this world there will be trouble but take heart, he has overcome it? It appears to me that China Wine is more a case of succumbing to the world rather than overcoming it. At its best, it is throwing good money after bad albeit with the best of intentions. At its worst, it is throwing good money after a “theological purpose” which had backfired more than it has set hearts on fire.
However I see it, I cannot find any justification for even considering such a project to start with. Surely, there are better ways to turn a culture over to God; however worldly the culture appears to be. (And as an aside, to be fair to City Harvest, they have many worthy projects to reach out to the lost and I applaud the Church for them. Unfortunately, China Wine is just not one of them. Considering the works that Sun Ho and her church members had done in China, especially during the Tsunami and the Sichuan earthquake, and her humanitarian efforts of building schools in China, it is timely to be reminded here that one should never throw out the missionary Baby together with the China Wine bath waters).
Andy Crouch, the author of Culture Making, once wrote, "The only way to change culture is to create more of it." I guess China Wine took that advice and turned it on its head. It had in a drunken stupor reversed the order of things. Instead of creating more of the Christian culture in the world, it has created more of the world in the Christian culture. This is what makes China Wine so spiritually constipating for me. I mean, shouldn't the world be drawn to us by our Christ-likeness rather than vice versa, that is, by our contrived, even if well-intended, “Christ-lessness”? Aren't we the Light of the world and not the "dimmer of the world"?
My concern is that China Wine may give this impression that Christians are encouraged to venture into the secular world, to intermingle with their culture, to create an osmosis mix of sort, to blend biblical teachings with the world’s, and to dance to their music, all in the hope that every gyration of the hip would sow the first seed towards an authentic conversion of the heart. That being said, is there a risk that one may blur the distinction between "being in the world" and "being not of the world"?
Here, I recall what the late Reverend John Kavanaugh once wrote, "…having patterned ourselves after the image of our commodities, we become disenfranchised of our very humanness. Reduced to commodities, we lose the intimacy of personal touch. We cannot truly see or listen as vibrant men and women. We do not walk in freedom, since we are paralyzed by what is. Such is the result of idolatry." Is there therefore a fear that with China Wine, we Christians have commodified our faith by mixing ourselves up with the world? What truly are we crossing over to? Is there a risk that we may mix up our allegiance to the wrong master? Will we also run the risk of becoming christian schizoid "busy sowing wild oats for the first six days of the week and then go to church on sunday to pray for a crop failure?"
I think, quite unfortunately, Pastor Kong Hee has turned the Great Commission where Jesus send out his disciples into the world to change it to the Great Attraction where leaders invite the world into the church and run the risk of being changed by it. The contrast I see here is unnerving for me. The great commission is to impact the world with Christ centeredness but the great attraction is to join the world with program-centeredness. My concern is that it is more a case of attracting and less a case of convicting.
Further, there is another concern about the definitional scope and extent of theological legitimacy, that is, using church funds to do God’s work. My question here is this, how deep must one enter the world in order to bring the world out of the world? In other words, how much must one conform to the world in order to transform it back to God? One author wrote, “The common belief is that if we change our outsides, we can change our insides.” Obviously Jesus reversed that approach. He had come to change hearts and to allow changed hearts to change lives, and ultimately to change the world. I guess changing our world in the hope of changing ourselves runs the risk that this quote seeks to admonish, “it is not the ship on the water but the water in the ship that sinks it.”
In the book Wise as Serpents Harmless as Doves: Christians in China Tell Their Story by Jonathan Chao, the author recounted a story about a Christian named Sister Chen who was thrown into prison for her faith during the Cultural Revolution. This story is telling of how a life can change another by standing out and not blending in. Here’s the full extract of it.
“Another sister, who was born in Guangdong, was arrested in 1958. She continued to preach the gospel in prison…she was imprisoned along with all kinds of prisoners: corrupt officials, robbers, immoral persons, political prisoners, etc. There was one prisoner who gave everyone a hard time. Not even the prison warden could do anything about her. She would not wash her face, brush her teeth, or comb her hair. Whenever she got a chance she would open her mouth to scold others.
No matter what the warden did to her – and he applied all sorts of punishments to her – still it was useless. The Communist prison keepers then asked the Christian sister to talk to this hopeless prisoner. “Alright, I’ll try,” replied our sister. Sister Chen then lived together with the other woman prisoner. She prayed for her. Gradually the woman changed. She bathed herself, changed her clothes, and even combed her hair. The prison warden was greatly surprised and asked, “How did you change her?”
“I had no strength to change her. I prayed for her, and I believed that God could change her.”
The transformed prisoner expressed her desire to receive Christ as her Savior and Lord of her life. Many other prisoners in the same prison also came to believe in the Lord. They said to the sister, “In the past we did not understand you. Now that we have lived together with you, we have discovered that you are different from others. Through you we have come to understand what it means to believe in the Lord.”
I sincerely wonder whether those unbelievers can say the same thing, or even experience/express a fraction of that sentiment, after watching China Wine.
Let me end with Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. You will recall that he told her that she shall drink of the river of life (living waters) and shall thirst no more. I thank God that he did not, in the spirit of the crossover, sit her down, gossip about her past husbands, and hope that she would treat him as one of them before dropping a few hints of salvation here and there. That's not Jesus' MO.
Jesus stood firm, he laid down the keys of the Kingdom, he spoke to her with authority, conviction and most of all, love, and won her over by his character. The woman knew that Jesus was different, that is, not like those she knew. In other words, Jesus did not crossover to the world to save it because I guess the Rock of Ages does not move but everything else around it is moved by him. This is what I’d call culture in the making. Cheerz.
Image is taken from here.