The Induction Service and Inaugural Lecture of the Lee Huai Kwang Chair of Religious Education at TTC

On 29 August 2019, Trinity Theological College (TTC) held its induction service for the Lee Huai Kwang Chair of Religious Education, the fifth endowed professorial chair of the college.  Rev Dr Lim Teck Peng, associate dean of the college, was appointed to the chair.  This is also the first at TTC for a lecturer teaching predominantly in Chinese to hold an endowed professorial chair. With this appointment, TTC reaffirms the importance of Christian scholarship and her long-term commitment to the growing ministry of the Chinese-speaking churches in this part of the world. 

Rev Dr Lim’s inaugural lecture revolves around Christian religious education, language and national language policy.  As he said: “It is not too abstract, but still requires us to do some hard thinking.”  The lecture was divided into three parts.  The first part began with Acts 2.  Recalling how the descent of the Holy Spirit led to the apostles preaching the Gospel in various local or vernacular languages, Rev Dr Lim expounded how such vernacularisation of the Gospel at the inaugural moment of the church throws light on the significance of vernacular language or mother tongue in Christian religious education.

At the personal level, the vernacularisation of the Gospel implies that Christians should strive to help others to know the Gospel in his or her heart language, and to encounter Christ therein.  In church history, such vernacularisation of the Gospel has been the conviction of many Christian teachers over the centuries.  Their endeavours create the unique space of encounter in which people will hear the Gospel in a heart-felt and liberating manner. 

Shifting the attention from the first-century Jerusalem to the twenty-first century Singapore, the second part of the lecture focused on the social dimension of language and its implication for both the nation and the church.  Quoting PM Lee Hsien Loong’s words: “Knowing MTL (Mother Tongue Language) helps to centre us as an Asian society and retain our Asian roots and values,” Rev Dr Lim highlighted how bilingual policy enables Singapore to become a member of modern states while retaining her Asian identity. 

Singapore’s bilingual policy has added significance for Christians in the light of Acts 2.  The church therefore needs to think fundamentally and to discern her role, situated between the state and individuals, in matters concerning the maintenance of mother tongue.  Despite ongoing debate among the academicians over the extent Singapore’s bilingual policy has or has not worked, the church, through a biblical lens, should engage bilingualism in such a way than brings blessings to both the church members and the public.  The English-speaking churches, for example, may want to engage the bilingual policy by finding ways to intentionally encourage children of different ethnic background to appreciate their own and others’ mother tongues.  Citing the idea of “MTL fortnight” in schools as an example, Rev Dr Lim mentioned that besides Chinese and Tamil members, there are also members of many other ethnic groups in the church.  It is meaningful and significant if the church can find ways to remember and celebrate the stories of encounter between different ethnic groups and the Gospel.  As a Christian community who places great emphasis on cross-cultural missions, sorting out the relationship between the Gospel and mother tongue, and that between the church and national language policy is no trivial matter.  To sort out these matters, there is no better place to start than one’s own turf.

The last part of the lecture focuses on the plausibility question concerning mother tongue-based religious education in Singapore where MTL is second language.  The lecture was brought to a close by the prayer that “the recipients of this Chair will be found faithful in the eyes of God and His people as teacher and servant.”

林牧师(博士)的就任演讲内容涉及基督教宗教教育、语言和国家语言政策三者之间的关系。演讲第一部分以使徒行转第二章开始。这一章叙述了五旬节圣灵的降临如何使到使徒们用不同的地方语言——也就是不同地区的母语——来宣讲福音。林博士尝试阐明使徒行传第二章中福音的母语化如何为教会提供一种神学视角,去理解母语在基督教宗教教育所扮演的角色和重要性。

从个人层面来看,福音的母语化意味着基督徒应该尽力帮助别人以他最能触动心灵的语言去认识福音,并在其中与基督相遇。在亚洲以及世界各地,福音的母语化是透过圣经译者,还有努力以地方语言讲道和教导的宣教士而实现出来。他们为福音努力,他们的工作开展了一个特殊的相遇空间,让人能在其中聆听福音,心灵被触动,被释放。

在演讲的第二部分,林博士将视线从第一世纪的耶路撒冷转向二十一世纪的新加坡。林博士尝试从语言的社会维度来阐析语言的问题对教会以及国家的重要性。双语政策让新加坡一方面可以跻身现代化国家的行列,一方面又可以维持她的亚洲身份认同——用李显龙总理的话,就是“母语能让我们具有亚洲社会的特质, 保存亚洲传统和核心价值观。”

使徒行传第二章中福音的母语化让新加坡基督徒能用一个信仰的视角去理解双语政策的意义。教会因此也需要从根本的层面思考自己和新加坡语言政策的关系。介于国家和个人之间,教会应思考在国家语言政策上所应当扮演的角色。

五旬节圣灵降临的事件提醒我们,无论我们个人的语言偏向或社会的通用语,教会是让各民族看到母语的尊严和重要性的地方。这尊严和重要性在福音母语化的那一刻就已经向世人展现出来,并刻印在教会的心上了。透过历史中许许多多忠心的上帝仆人,母语的尊严和重要性被展现出来。从这个角度来看,尊重和支持母语是教会基本的态度,这和语言的经济价值、政治地位和高抬我群语言的认同政治是没有关系的。

母语教会是新加坡一个特殊的母语群体,始终默默存在着。从推广母语的需要来看,母语教会既能提供终身学习母语的机会,又拥有丰富的语言资源。以华文教会为例,不同代的基督徒华校生共聚一堂,他们是教会的中坚分子。作为一个特殊的母语群体,我在想母语教会是否愿意考虑把社区服务的概念扩大到母语推广的这一块。2010母语检讨委员会报告提到:教育部将协助学校扩大与社区的合作,制造机会让学生使用母语,并灌输正确的文化与价值观。如果教会能把社会服务的概念扩大到母语推广这一块,这对社会会是一种祝福。问题是:母语教会应如何涉足推广母语? 这除了考验教会的能力之外,恐怕也在考验教会对福音与母语、对教会与国家语言政策之间的关系所具有的理解。

对于英语教会而言,教会如何涉足国家双语教育政策这领域,并思考自己在其中的角色。教会可以如何教导孩子欣赏自己或别人的母语?在这方面,教会可以参考教育部所实施的母语周的做法。除了华族和印度族会友,英语教会中其实还有其他同种族的信徒,教会是否可以考虑用不同的方式记念这些不同族群与福音相遇的故事,让更多人因此可以认识到文化与基督的关系?作为一个十分注重跨文化宣教的基督徒群体,梳理出教会如何看待福音与母语,以及教会与国家语言政策的关系,这是重要的。

演讲的第三部分聚焦的是母语宗教教育可行性(plausibility)的问题。母语为第二语文的政策对母语教会的冲击是大的,但是母语教会其实仍拥有丰富的资源来开发母语为第二语言的宗教教育。成功的话,新加坡母语教会的经验还可以成为普世华人教会的参考。作为一个跨代群体,华文和淡米尔语教会都拥有极为丰富的文化和语言光谱。为下一代制造一个活泼、有效又具持续性的宗教教育空间,这不只是教师的责任,也是所有人的责任——包括家长在内。在这方面,教会中在母语源流接受过教育的成人若能先了解母语为第二语言者的学习心理,这或许是一个重要的起步。

母语宗教教育的可行性问题必需是由教会集体努力去回应的问题,教会需要集思广益去回应一个最终也是国家要面对的挑战。