GCI Update

Need a theology adjustment?

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

It’s common to hear people complaining that theologians use long, complex sentences full of esoteric terms to address matters that seem irrelevant to everyday life. Perhaps you’ve felt that way at times, but have you considered that all of us are theologians of a sort? We all have opinions about God—whether he exists or not, and if he does, whether he is actively involved with his creation or is uninvolved, watching us (as the song made popular by Bette Midler declares), from a distance. This song, written by Julie Gold, does not claim that God is uninvolved with his creation, but that the troubles we sometimes face in life look less overwhelming from the “distance” of God’s perspective. Given that God’s view of things is often quite different than our own, it seems we all are in need of a theology adjustment.

The all-important question: Who is God?

In GCI, our theology adjustment came about (and continues), in part, through the writings of theologians who carefully conform their reasoning to God’s self-revelation in Jesus, the Living Word of God, communicated to us by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, the written Word of God. These theologians begin with the all-important question, Who is God?, which leads to asking Who is the God revealed in Jesus?, then Who are we in relation to God, in Christ? These questions, rather than being irrelevant, are fundamental to all aspects of life, including faith and morals.


Broadly speaking, theologians study God and his relation to the world. Accurate theology begins with inquiring about the nature or character of this God who is revealed by Jesus to be the tri-personal, relational being who created humanity (male and female) to image God as relational beings. No matter our level of theological expertise and training, when we read the Bible based on this foundational understanding, we avoid many common errors in biblical interpretation. Reading Scripture on any other basis is like trying to make orange juice by squeezing the tree instead of the fruit!

Let me give you an example of this error. One of the most well-known verses in the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes shall not perish but have eternal life.” To understand the fullness of this scripture, we must begin by asking Who?—who is this God who loves the world so much? Our knowledge of who he is, what he has done and said, and what he wants for us is essential for us to enjoy being in a relationship with him—one that affects every part of our lives.

In his first epistle, the apostle John declares that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). Thus we understand that in sending his Son to save us, God was acting out of his nature. God, as love, is the one who loves—an understanding that contradicts the wrong views of God held by many, that in turn, lead to wrong views concerning how we are to love, live, work, play, marry, parent, purchase and worship. Our view of God affects all of life! That’s why we all need to aspire to be good theologians. And so I ask, do we need a theology adjustment?

A theological adjustment on the battlefield

T.F. Torrance serving as a military chaplain (Source)

T.F. Torrance often told of his service as a military chaplain in the British army during World War II. On one occasion he came across a young soldier on the battlefield who was mortally wounded. Looking up at Torrance, knowing he was about to die (and thus about to meet God), he asked, “Padre, is God really like Jesus?” Torrance assured him by saying, “He is the only God that there is, the God who has come to us in Jesus, shown his face to us, and poured out his love to us as our Savior.” Torrance then prayed for the young man as he took his last breath. That was not the first or the last time Torrance was asked the same question, and he welcomed it, though he was troubled when it was being asked by Christians who did not seem to know who God truly is.

T.F. focused much of his teaching on the communion God established with humankind in Christ, a communion that takes place in time and space. Torrance, along with other Trinitarian theologians, was careful to point out that Jesus came to reveal God as a tri-personal, loving, relational being who desires relationship with us. Jesus then commissioned his church to proclaim the good news that in Christ, through the Spirit, we have access to God our Father. As the world’s Savior, redeemer and reconciler, Jesus is the One through whom we enter communion with the Father, Son and Spirit, and through whom we receive eternal life. This gospel is the sole foundation for all good theology for it is what Jesus taught and exemplified. It is also the message the apostles taught the early church and the message we teach.

Living in Jesus’ story

By shaping and enhancing our faith, good theology helps us live in the middle of Jesus’ story, which, in turn, leads to good practices grounded in the reality of who God is and what he is doing throughout the universe. The universe is being reshaped by the first coming of Jesus, and will continue being reshaped until he returns. There is no other centerpiece to Christianity than Jesus—no commandment, no day of the week, no secret code, nothing but the life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of Jesus. Apart from all physical creation, Jesus has opened a new chapter of life for all humanity—a new chapter that all who respond to his calling may experience. Note C.S. Lewis’ comment:

The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the “first fruits,” the “pioneer of life.” He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because he has done so. This is the beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened. (Miracles, p. 237)

Rejoicing in life’s new chapter,
Joseph Tkach

Good news from Myanmar

As noted in the report below from GCI mission developer Rod Matthews, last year GCI more than doubled its number of churches and members in the Southeast Asia nation of Myanmar (formerly Burma). This was the result of a group of congregations led by Pastor Chan Thleng seeking and being granted membership in our fellowship.

Chan Thleng

Chan Thleng had previously met with Wong Mein Kong, Southeast Asia Senior Pastor, on his several visits to Myanmar in response to this request to become part of GCI. Chan Thleng was the leading pastor in a group of congregations mostly based in the Chin Hills area in northwest Myanmar around the town of Matupi. He had also established a home congregation in Hmawbi, near the capital of Yangon in the south of the country. Chan Thleng had seen our website, read our literature and was delighted with the refreshing and genuinely good news revealed by and in Jesus Christ.

During past meetings, they had discussed our theology and pastoral approach, and as he came to know us better, his enthusiasm about bringing this group into our fellowship grew. However, he had to have some lengthy discussions with the pastors of his northern congregations to ensure that they all understood and agreed with the theology and the proposal to become GCI congregations. Last year Chan Thleng made a trip to Matupi and at the end of a conference of the elders there, they unanimously endorsed the proposal to become GCI congregations.

Last December, Ruth and I travelled with Wong Mein Kong and his wife, Chew Yeng, to Yangon, Myanmar to meet with Pastor Chan Thleng and visit his Hmawbi congregation. We first met at our lodging (see picture at right) where we discussed a wide range of topics related to our future together. We also planned the upcoming services in Hmawbi. What a great day it was!

After a 40-minute car trip out of Yangon, on roads getting progressively narrower (see pictures below, top row), we were welcomed to the Hmawbi church compound by nearly 70 men, women and children (see pictures below, bottom row). As per their custom, we were presented with leis of flowers and escorted into the church building.

We joined the enthusiastic worship accompanied by a single guitar, and savored the warm welcome and community spirit. Most of the people are of Chin descent and speak only a Chin dialect or Burmese, and little English. Both Mein Kong and I gave messages translated for the audience. Next I rehearsed a little of the process that had led to this celebration and then, in front of the congregation and elders, prayed over Chan Thleng confirming his leadership as an elder in GCI and acknowledging him as our designated coordinating pastor for this group of congregations now part of our fellowship (see picture at right). The ladies’ group sang in celebration and the children presented two songs to everyone’s delight.

After the service, a community meal was served to the entire congregation, having been prepared over open fires on the property (see picture below). Chan Thleng lives in a small one-room house next to the church building; and not far away is a piece of land that the church has leased to grow lotus flowers to sell as a means of supplementing local income to support the church.

In addition to the Hmawbi congregation, there are another six in the Chin Hills, and one in Rakhine state, each with its own pastoral elder or leader, and with a combined attendance of over 300. Before we departed the Hmawbi church, Chan Thleng mentioned that it was his earnest desire to conduct a conference of elders in Matupi in March so all the elders in the group of congregations in the north could meet and hear from Wong Mein Kong and myself. Chan Thleng later, after a trip to Matupi, confirmed that the conference will be held there on March 24-25.

Getting to Matupi will be quite a trip for us needing a flight to Yangon, another flight or bus trip to Mandalay, and then a more difficult bus trip on rural roads into the high country in the west of Myanmar where Matupi is located. We are looking forward to meeting all these people who have been led to become part of GCI.

In a recent message, Chan Thleng reported on his trip to Matupi:

By God’s grace, and with one elder, I started our trip on Feb 10 and arrived safely on the 11th. We stayed two days in Matupi, visited church members’ homes and prayed for them and had worship services on two nights. We then visited six villages in the area [see pictures of the area below], holding worship services at night in which we told about GCI’s motto, vision, doctrines, ministries and Trinitarian theology. These people are interested in GCI and were blessed through our sharing. They love the meaning of grace, which some of them had never heard about before. God blessed this sharing of the gospel. One family joined GCI.

Concerning the planned conference in Matupi, Chan Thleng wrote this:

The topic for the conference will be GCI’s motto: Living and Sharing the Gospel. We plan to discuss about our planning for 2017—how to improve the work of the Lord spiritually and physically from now into the future. We will share our views and experiences, learning more about one another and the difficulties, failures, and successes we encounter.

We were surprised during our visit when Chan Thleng announced his plans to marry a young woman named Lydia, daughter of our elder in the town of Paletwa. We’ll have much to celebrate in March!

Pictures from a GCI congregation near Matupi

Myanmar has great potential for the expansion of GCI’s gospel work in Southeast Asia. We’ve been contacted by many small ministries and several Christian leaders running Bible Schools in Myanmar, including one in Mandalay where Mein Kong and I were invited to teach on this last trip. We’ve developed close friendships with several pastors who look forward to Mein Kong’s upcoming visits to that nation.

We have a particularly close relationship with a young man who lives in the China Hills area named Van Thawm Lian (pictured at right with his wife Priscilla and daughter Junia). With financial support from GCI, he has already translated and had printed a number of our publications in both the Burmese and Falam Chin dialects. Thousands of copies have been distributed to pastors and interested people throughout the Chin Hills area.

Just recently, Van Thawm Lian let me know that with the small donation of AU$250 that we sent him, he has been able to reprint another 2000 copies of our booklet “What is Salvation?” in Burmese, and now is distributing those booklets this his own evangelistic outreach. As other churches become aware of this booklet, they are asking Van Thawm Lian for quantities to distribute. He has established a small Bible School called the Freedom Bible Institute with about six students this year and is seeking more. One of his challenges is that no one from the rural areas of Myanmar can support themselves financially in a seminary and he has to provide food and lodging for them as well as classes. It’s both inspiring and humbling to see the sacrifices being made by and instructor and his students—people who sense a calling to learn and then to take the good news to their own people.

Responding to the refugee crisis

How shall we respond as congregations to the current refugee crisis in the United States (and elsewhere in the world)? This is a complex crisis fraught with controversy, and so caution (including non-partisan reserve) is in order. However, it is our conviction that the gospel certainly speaks directly to this issue.

Galen Carey, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) was one of seven panelists at a recent briefing for members of the U.S. House of Representatives on refugee resettlement. His helpful, biblically-reasoned and thus instructive remarks are found at https://www.nae.net/responding-current-refugee-crisis/.

Note: GCI in the United States is a member denomination of the NAE.

Recent ordinations

We are pleased to announce that the following individuals recently were ordained as elders. We thank God for raising up these leaders in the body of Christ. We offer them, and their congregations, our congratulations.

  • Aida Gaspar (6/26/16) Cabanatuan City, Philippines
  • Jesus Samar (12/29/16) Polangui Albay, Philippines
  • Myrla Dawal (12/29/16) Legaspi City, Philippines
  • JoAnn Lagge (12/17/16) Souix Falls, SD
  • Hilda Babol (1/22/17) Baao, Camarines Sur, Philippines
  • Lito Olaguer Jr. (2/24/17) Rayon City, Philippines
  • Cleo Henderson (3/5/17) Memphis, TN