Rev. Mahtani is pastor of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore.

Besides giving greetings this afternoon on behalf of the ERCS, may I express our thanks particularly to the Contact Committee of the Protestant Reformed Churches which has labored hard over the years to make this Conference possible. May God bless your labors as you continue to seek the unity of the Spirit through the spread of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and through further contact with the Lord’s people all over the world. Do not be discouraged when in the busyness of laboring to uphold the Reformed faith you are falsely accused of having no desire to evangelize and to seek unity with other brethren of like precious faith. This Conference is clear proof to the contrary. Our prayer is that, through our sister-church relationship, perhaps God will encourage you to be even more mission-minded in the days to come unto the glory of God.

With that I would like to enter immediately into my speech. I am to speak to you on the subject, A Reformed Theological Seminary in the Pacific Area.

I will divide my speech into five main parts.

I. The Developments In The ERCS Which Point To The Need To Train Men

I believe that the mention of our development in Singapore is directly relevant to my speech this afternoon. In fact it is due to this positive development, clearly the evidence of the working of God’s Holy Spirit, that there now is an urgent need to train more men.

The Lord, the Mighty God Who is on His throne, He Who has done whatsoever He hath pleased, has graciously blessed us and our churches in the island of Singapore, and under His faithful blessings and with the wonderful guidance of His Holy Spirit, the churches continue to grow numerically as well as spiritually. As you can well remember, our church in Singapore began with a core group of some very young people, whose average age was between 14 and 20, with only a few married couples. We are still young in Singapore, compared to the people of God in your churches, but the scene in Singapore is fast changing. Eight years after the institution of our church, half of the membership of our churches is now families—either young married couples or young families with young children. We still do have many young people and many unmarried single adults, but you can imagine what a change that is in our church life with so many new and young families.

This change is not just a physical one, so that we now have more than 50 children, but also very much a spiritual development. Let me explain. When we came to know the Reformed faith some years ago, we came to grips by God’s grace and Holy Spirit with the doctrine of grace, and those truths filled our hearts with joy and blessedness. Those truths pertaining to particular grace, as beautifully explained and defended by our Reformed Confessions, continue to be the hallmark of the churches in Singapore. God is on His throne, and He has done whatsoever He hath pleased, over against the idol gods of man’s hands. That is the gospel which continues to be preached and loved in Singapore. However, a wonderful development is taking place. The infant church is suddenly seeing her own infants—more than 50 of them—gifts of God’s gracious covenant, the precious heritage of the Lord. This has meant that now our people are becoming more and more conscious of the truth of God’s unconditional covenant—when we have to deal with questions of infant baptism, the calling of covenant parents, the responsibilities of Christian education for our children, and many other related questions. You can understand that it is with these experiences that the people are now beginning to grapple more and more with the beautiful idea of the covenant, as clearly taught throughout the Bible, and which you in the Protestant Reformed Churches love and steadfastly defend. This development is reason for great joy and thanksgiving, but it also points our young churches to greater responsibilities and awesome tasks. It all points us to the need of good Christian schools, and to the need to catechize our beloved children. But more importantly it points to the fact that God is pleased now to establish those churches in Singapore, and that we will need more ministers to serve in the churches as they grow both physically and spiritually. We must have the vision, the foresight, and the hope that this exactly will happen, according to God’s good pleasure.

Another major development in Singapore has been the opportunity which Covenant ERC has faced in doing mission work in India. We are small and our resources are limited; but, true to our name—Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore—we are seeking to spread the Reformed faith far and wide. Thus when the opportunity came to go to India to investigate the field and labor with the contacts we have there, Covenant sent her pastor and his family there for two months. It is premature to decide anything about this field, but the Lord is giving us exciting work to do. If the Session of Covenant decides that this is a field, she will bring it to our Classis to see if we could make it our denominational mission field. Let us remember that the harvest is ripe, but the laborers are few, and let us pray that the Lord of the harvest will send laborers into His harvest. You can see how the churches in Singapore will have to think seriously of training more men for the ministry.

These developments are more or less directly related to our speech this afternoon on the matter of ERCS seeking to have some kind of theological instruction in Singapore. What I am about to speak on is by no means the immediate goal or pursuit of the ERCS. We are far from being ready to start a Theological School in Singapore. But the idea is there, the vision is there, the hope is there. And I believe that this is indeed the Lord’s will for us, that we should start at least to talk about and do preliminary work towards this great and blessed project of setting up a Reformed Theological School in Singapore. Therefore I appreciate the topic which has been given to me, because I can speak to you from my heart.

II. The Present Theological Schools Available In Singapore

This may sound a little surprising to you, since you may have in your mind that Singapore is a heathen country, and therefore to find any Theological School would probably be in your mind out of the question. Well, as a matter of fact, although Singapore is basically made up of people who are Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Muslims, and adherents of various other religions, Singapore has become the center of learning and of communications, and many churches and denominations have taken advantage of that and used Singapore as a base to train and send these men out to many parts of the world.

This afternoon we do not have to spend a whole lot of time looking carefully into all the theological schools we have. You have to trust me. You have to believe me when I tell you that the schools available are not distinctly Reformed. As far as we know, before God and out of love for God’s glorious kingdom, and in particular with the conviction that we need a distinctively Reformed Theological School, we can say that we have done enough investigation to convince us at least, that there is not a good school in the Far East, nor perhaps in the Pacific, where we could send our students to be properly trained for the gospel ministry.

We feel that perhaps for “neutral” subjects, like languages, we could send our students to at least some of the schools. However, in certain cases, due to the liberal and pentecostal tendencies of these schools, there is reason for concern about the very atmosphere into which we put our students. There are dangers of course when we send our students to all kinds of different colleges. Many churches have done such a thing, only to find that, in due time, the church is split with divisions and schisms, because the ministers all preach something different. But what if these students only learn, so to speak, “neutral” subjects? For example, our study committee for theological training has suggested that subjects like Greek, Hebrew, English and Philosophy/Logic can be taken in these various institutions if we cannot do it ourselves. Whatever our answer to this particular question, it is still clear to us that there is a need to give some solid systematic instruction of the Reformed faith to students aspiring for the ministry. It is now my purpose to try and persuade you of that need.

III. The Need For A Solidly Reformed Seminary In The Pacific Area

All that we have said already does point us to the direction that there is indeed a great need for starting a Reformed Theological Seminary in that part of the world. But I would like to offer some spiritual and biblical grounds for this, and ask you to consider these carefully.

First of all, we need a Reformed Theological Seminary in that part of the world because the Reformed faith is the truth of God which we believe is founded upon the Holy Word of God and which is therefore the truth which we must continue to seek to establish. Whatever it takes us, if this is indeed our conviction and our heart’s sincere belief, that the doctrines which are taught and defended in our Creeds are the faithful teachings of Gods Word itself, then we must seek to have a school which will uphold and disseminate these truths, and prepare men to preach them faithfully. A Reforrned theological school in that part of the world, I am convinced, will be the means of establishing, and solidly grounding, the Reformed truths in the young church that God in His providence has been pleased to raise. There is simply a great need systematically and carefully to instruct the people of God in the Reformed faith. Especially men who are seeking the ministry of the Word, but also elders, teachers, fathers—there is a need to teach these men what the Reformed faith is in all of its different aspects.

Now it is true that all this has to be done by and through the faithful preaching of the Word from the pulpit. But is there not a need for men who are going to have to lead the people of God to be even more grounded themselves? This in fact is a biblical injunction, given to us clearly in II Timothy 2:2. We are to instruct faithful men so that they in turn will teach others the truths of God’s Holy Word. This is a very important calling which the church of Jesus Christ must not neglect. She is to spread the gospel. She is to care for the church in all her pastoral needs. She is to deal with all the different problems and trials which face her in this world. But she must realize that intrinsic in her very calling as the church of Jesus Christ is the calling to train men for the ministry. The church through her pastor is called to do this work, as is evident in II Timothy 2:2. However, because it is quite impossible for a man who has a flock to do this task alone, it is only proper that the churches in common seek to set up a school where the ministers of the denomination could be trained to serve the Lord in His church in days to come.

Secondly, I believe this is the very obligation of the Reformed church in particular. The Reformed church is one which does not hold simply to an individualistic philosophy which emphasizes only personal salvation and leaves every believer to fend for himself and to serve the Lord in whatever way he chooses. The Reformed truth is covenantal—it recognizes that God is the God of His people, of His church. The Reformed church therefore is concerned, not in an anxious way, but with an understanding of the God-given responsibility to teach the children, as well as the generation to come, the statutes of Jehovah God, to ensure that the men who are going to teach are themselves well-trained in the truths of the Scriptures.

Thirdly, we are called as the people of God, to raise a standard (Isaiah 62:6-10). There may be many other schools around, but we are called to raise a standard; to hold up the banner of Gods truth high and as clear in view as possible for all around us to see. This we must do first of all for the glory of God, and secondly for the welfare of Zion, blest city of God.

There are also practical reasons why we need a Reformed Theological School in that part of the world. It is quite obvious that there is a request for such an institution. This request is becoming more and more urgent. When people come to hear of the Reformed faith for the first time in the Far East, they are asking if there can be a way wherein they could be further instructed systematically so that they could in turn bring these glorious truths to their homes and churches.

This brings us of course to the very mission strategy which we believe is the biblical and wise one to take. The theological instruction of students is very much related to mission work. The churches in Singapore are not looking at this, as an abstract matter, a mere theological training for the sake of intellectual attainment. They are looking at this need in the light of further mission work that could be done in that part of the world.

At this point it would be proper for us to point out the legitimate concern that is raised by our elders that our men not go abroad for too long a time. It is not that coming to the USA would be in itself detrimental, although bringing a poor man from India, for example, may indeed not be a very good idea; but the point is more this, that the training given to men who enter the ministry could best be in the atmosphere of their own country and needs. At least most of the training should be right where the candidate will fellowship and serve, so that the people know his ministry and he also knows the people to whom he will be ministering later. The concern raised therefore is legitimate. However, I do feel that there is much to say also for training which is abroad, at least for a shorter period. There needs to be a time where there can be objective, disciplined study and training without the actual work and distraction which must come while in the field. Therefore the view we are taking is that while the student may need to go abroad for seminary, in order to shorten that time period he should be trained as much as possible in a local context.

IV. The Reason Why Singapore Would Serve As An Ideal Location

Simply from the viewpoint of her strategic geographical location, Singapore, standing at the crossroads of the East and West, would be an ideal location for such training. More and more, Singapore has become the center in all of Southeast Asia for communications and learning. Not only countries in Asia, but also Western countries have come to know Singapore as a kind of center in Southeast Asia. If Singapore would have a Reformed seminary where instruction would be given on a regular and systematic fashion, we have reason to believe that students from Burma, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Korea, Japan, etc. would come to be trained. Not only that, but other Western countries in the Pacific Area, like New Zealand and Australia, would probably be interested.

It would of course be financially a lesser burden for anyone from Southeast Asia or the Pacific Area to come to Singapore than to come to the USA.

Consider, too, that although Singapore is a modem city, it remains a non-Christian society, and therefore is not only a field for instruction, but also for missions. The point is this, that Singapore would be ideal for theological instruction because there is a constant need there now for further missionary work to bring the Reformed faith to that part of the world. But we need men to be trained first, and from here sent to the different parts of the world as the Lord opens the doors.

V. Concluding Remarks—The Plans Which The ERCS Are Deliberating Upon

The churches in Singapore are in no way ready to begin any kind of a theological school. Their resources are limited, their present immediate needs outweigh what we have tried to show in this paper to be important. In no way must I relay to you the idea that we are all ready to start a seminary.

However, we are in a situation now where the need is very real, and various decisions have to be made. There are a couple of students, one from each congregation, who have indicated deep interest in studying for the ministry. Although the pastors are going to have to try to teach them in this coming year, in the long run it would be doing injustice to their work. I know that preparation and instruction in theological training takes a lot of time and energy, because I have tried doing this. However, we pastors in Singapore simply have to acknowledge, and the saints there realize, that we are unable to give such instruction. We are not trained, and we have limited time in our busy congregations. Even if we tried our best, our training could never be comparable to a systematic and formal instruction.

Therefore we have come to the Synod of the PRC this year with the request that they send us a man to help us start this training. Singapore is thinking of having a one-year trial period in which this visiting professor or minister could help also with the other work, like missionary work, when he is present with us. Having heard from the Contact Committee as well as the Mission Committee of the PRC’s interest in doing this kind of work with the ERCS, we have come to your Synod this year with a specific request to send a man to help us look into both theological training as well as missions.

One must understand that starting a Seminary or Theological School is not something we can do overnight, or even in just a few years. Singapore understands that full well, and therefore suggests a feasibility study first.

However, although your Synod has decided that it is not time yet to plunge into something like this, we fully understand the PRC’s concern and in fact appreciate their caution and wise advice.

Still, allow me actually to tell you the plan which Singapore has. It is to give instruction to students interested in the ministry until they are ready to go to the Seminary. The instruction will therefore be more pre-seminary level. Also students who may not be seeking the ministry may attend—elders, teachers, parents. Such pre-sem training will for now be on a more informal basis. But this nevertheless means that the pastors in this coming year will be expected to teach. Hopefully, by our being very busy with work, the PR churches will be encouraged to send us a man as soon as possible.

However, as the Synod has decided to send delegates for this coming year at least for a shorter period of time, I believe that such a visit will help us as sister-churches together to decide what truly is best for our churches, and what truly will be according to His Holy Word.

I would like to close with the reminder that what seems impossible with man is possible with God. Before I end my speech, I have just one more remark to make—and that is this—the king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord, as rivers of water, He turneth it whithersoever He will. The Lord has overruled the position of the Government in Singapore on Family Planning, and the people in Singapore are now being encouraged to have more and more children. The Family Planning Board is now changed to the nursing foundation. We can rejoice at that, but let us also believe that this is God coming to Singapore and saying—my people, whom I have called by my Name, they are going to continue to see my blessings, and I am going to raise up a generation. The Lord has so worked in the authorities that we can now have covenant families, and we can have more children, as the Lord is pleased to give.

Perhaps the things I have said sound impossible; but let us remember this confession—our God is in the heavens, and He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased. Consider with me whether or not what I have shared with you is truly the will of God. And may God by His Holy Spirit guide us to do that which is well pleasing unto Him.