DIRECTalk: Philip Siew: theLight of truth still shines

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About 9.5% (approximately 3 millions) of the total population of Malaysia of around 30 million are Christians. The 12 theological seminaries in Malaysia are all expanding to meet the needs of Malaysian Christians as well as the anticipated challenges ahead.

During Rev Dr Philip Siew Tye Yau, Principal of Malaysian Theological Seminary (STM)’s working visit to Sibu, the Chief Editor of Methodist Message, Mr. Wong Mengli interviewed him in the office of the Methodist Message and they talked about the current development of these seminaries in Malaysia.

“According to the record of Malaysia Association for Theological Schools (MATS), there are 12 theological seminaries in Malaysia. The five seminaries that offer theological courses in Chinese are Malaysia Theological Seminary, Malaysia Bible Seminary, Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary, Methodist Theological School in Sibu and Sabah Theological Seminary.”

There are about 600 full time seminarians in these 12 theological seminaries and these 12 seminaries are meeting the current needs of the Malaysian churches. However, for specific needs we have to explore the kinds of pastors that the churches needs. For example the Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary is more focused on the training for mission works while the other seminaries predominantly train pastors for shepherding churches.

Of course every seminary hopes to recruit more students. For example the Malaysia Theological Seminary set up the BM Department to meet the needs for BM speaking pastors in West Malaysia and not to compete with the seminaries in East Malaysia. Currently the BM speaking churches in West Malaysia cater not only to the indigenous peoples of West Malaysia but also to those from East Malaysia who have moved there. All these churches need BM speaking pastors.

A pastor needs to grasp the environment of his ministry

Rev. Siew says that the primary aim of a theological seminary is to help seminarians build a solid foundation in the Bible, faith and theological knowledge. A pastor should have a solid foundation and understanding of the faith and be keenly aware of and understand his ministry. That’s why STM also conducts related courses like theological study relating to our society, the contextualization and localization of theological courses in the Malaysian context, the relationship between church and our society and so on. Even for Missiology and Homiletics courses, discussions are held on how to effectively carry out the ministry of the gospel “in accordance with the situation of our country and the many challenges and limitations.”

“Taking STM as an example, we have several departments. One of them is the Centre of Bible Engagement which is mainly for Bible study and research. Another is the Centre of Religion and Society which explores how Christians can witness for the Lord and establish mutual respect and understanding with others in this multi-culture and multi-religion society. Of course we will never compromise our faith but still need to interact and communicate with people of different faiths and cultures in way that is just and righteous.”

“On top of that, we are also in contact with people of different religions, eg., those from the Academy of Islamic Studies, Universiti Malaya. The lecturers and students from the Faculty of Islamic Studies, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia has also visited STM and our students and lecturers have in turn visited them too.”

Rev Dr Philip Siew was once invited as the speaker representing Christianity at a public forum on the issue “all religions reject violence”. The other speakers at the forum were scholars from other religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. He liked this forum because there was complete freedom of speech without restriction or prior warning on avoidance of sensitive issues. During the forum he had the opportunity to explain about “Trinity” and about “why Jesus is the Son of God” through questions raised by the floor.

Three key points about

Talking about encouraging more Christians to devote themselves to serve full time, Rev. Siew believes that having a right value is very important: whether one values life now or focuses on eternity; that is related to how much one knows about our Lord and the relating vision as well as how one can understand his actual needs through the revelations in the Bible.

“Matthew 9:35-38 mentions about three key points on dedication. The first point is to have a vision about the condition of others. Our Lord Jesus Christ saw that many were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Of course, these people “could be from any strata of the society.”

The second is to have a compassionate heart, just like when our Lord sees us. Our Lord is willing to forsake the throne and glory in heaven for our sake. The third is to turn the vision and the compassionate heart into action – not just praying, but to dedicate oneself for full time ministry.

Rev. Siew emphasized that seminary provides only a basic theological education. The students have to apply, practice and grow after the theological training. He praised some pastors who are doing a good job in building relationships with the community that they serve. In his Homiletics Course he always instils in the hearts of his students to establish a gospel ministry so that there is no wall between the church and the community.

Becoming a pastor!
What a waste!

“You are capable, you have talent, you should stay back to earn a comfortable living after tertiary education.” If one embraces an such idea, Robert Morrison and James Hudson Taylor would not have come to China; the Cambridge Seven would have settled down in the UK.

He thinks that it is time for the Chinese to change their values. Though there are some changes many still think that “becoming a pastor is a waste without good prospect.” This is because they do not see the immortal value of God’s eternal plan.

In recent years more Chinese are dedicating themselves to full time ministry. He is very touched that in STM many successful Christian engineers, accountants, CEOs of international direct sale company and magicians are letting go of their “bright prospect” and “social status” and dedicating themselves to full time ministry. At the same time more and more middle-aged Christians are dedicating themselves.

In the face of current political and economic chaos in our country, Rev Siew emphasizes that we need to deeply root our faith in God’s word, revelation and truth. We should seek God’s word to understand God’s plan for us today. We thank God that His truth is the light and guide for us in this sombre and dense atmosphere. Most importantly we ought to face this era with this unchanging truth.

On the issue that Christians are being accused of siding with the opposition parties, Rev Siew said that this is just the impression of the general public. From the stance of biblical truth we support any party that serves truthfully, mercifully, justly and truly serve the people.

“Why should the people overthrow the ruling parties if they are genuinely righteous, patriotic and serving the people? We want to change the government only because the government is corrupted and not otherwise.”

Rev Siew studied in the Trinity Theological College in Singapore from 1978-1983 and in 1991 he graduated from South East Asia Graduate School of Theology (SEAGST) with Master of Theology (majoring in the Old Testament). In 1993 he graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a Master degree in theology majoring in Missiology and in 1999 obtained a Doctorate degree.

Interviewer: Menglei
Interviewee: Rev Philip Siew
Recorder: April
Translator: KT Chew
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