In the April 1, 1978 issue of the Standard Bearer there appeared an article entitled “Singapore.” In this article the Foreign Mission Committee informed you that it had sent two emissaries, Elder Dewey Engelsma and myself, to Singapore to investigate a possible field of labor with a group of young people who call themselves the Gospel Letters And Tracts Department (GLTD). This article, written on the basis of past correspondence with the GLTD, was necessarily brief and incomplete. Having finished our investigation, however, we would now like to give you a more detailed idea of the situation as we found it in Singapore.
Singapore itself is a rather small island on the tip of the Malayan peninsula, approximately 24 miles long and 15 miles across. Nevertheless, it is the fourth largest seaport in the world and boasts a population of over 2:5 million people, which makes for very crowded living conditions. The largest percentage of the population is Chinese, although there is a significant percentage of Malayans and Indians as well. Singapore is predominantly a pagan country embracing many false religions. One can find Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Chinese ancestor worshippers, and others in Singapore. The Christian church is also present in Singapore, with many denominations represented. In addition to Roman Catholic and Anglican, there are also Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches on the island. But these have by and large followed the general trend today of apostasy. All we can say is that at best they are devoted to Arminianism. And it was in that spiritual climate that we found the GLTD.
What is the GLTD? Who are these people?
To understand the GLTD we must first understand some of their history. The GLTD had its beginnings a little over 10 years ago as the Monks Hill Bible Club. This was actually a Bible study group formed by a number of new converts attending the Monks Hill Secondary School. In the course of time, however, the members of this Bible Club turned their attention more and more to evangelism and the distribution of Christian literature and tracts. This, by the way, is still one of the main concerns of the group today. But in harmony with this, they changed their name to the Gospel Letters and Tracts Department. Although the GLTD has always been an independent organization, many of its members at one time were also members of the New Life Bible Presbyterian Church in Singapore. But about two years ago most of the GLTD withdrew its membership from Life Church. The reason was dissatisfaction with certain practices, viz., Life Church employed a Hindu and a Roman Catholic to teach in its school. Consequently, most of the members of the GLTD are not affiliated with any church. At about the same time that the GLTD broke away from Life Church, they received a Baptist missionary pastor. Actually this missionary pastor was one of the original members of the GLTD who had gone to the U.S. to study for the ministry in a Baptist Seminary. His Baptist teachings, however, especially his views on baptism, were not received by the GLTD. As a result he left to labor elsewhere.
At present the GLTD has approximately 120 members. With one exception they are all single individuals. The exception is a man without children whose wife is a Hindu. The GLTD is also very young. Most of its members are 18 to 21 years of age. In addition to this they are all converts from paganism. They have all been born of pagan parents, reared in pagan homes, and indoctrinated in the idolatry of paganism. In fact, their parents and families are still in the darkness of heathendom. With but two exceptions, each of these young people is the only one of his or her family that has been brought to the Christian faith. The two exceptions involve sisters that were led to conversion. These young people, therefore, have never had the advantage of a covenant home or upbringing. In fact, many of them have been persecuted and beaten by their parents for their faith.
As we have suggested, the GLTD is not an organized church with properly ordained officebearers. It is a society that is seeking to be organized into a church. And even now they are for all practical purposes functioning as a church with a full-orbed “church life.” The exact structure that this assumes is of course different than ours. And the reason is that their situation is different than ours. Perhaps the chief determining factor is their difficulty in meeting together as a group. Most of them have no means of transportation. In addition to this their parents discourage and even militate against participation in the activities of the GLTD.
Bearing this in mind, we can understand that the GLTD meets only once a Sunday for worship. It is simply impossible for most of them to meet twice. They do, however, make the most of the situation. For their worship service lasts from 2 to 3 hours as their leaders on a rotating basis exhort them from the Word of God.
In addition to this the members of the GLTD meet during the week for Bible study, much as we do in our Bible societies, although, again, because of the difficulties of getting to meetings, they do not all meet together in one place. Instead there are little groups scattered here and there throughout the city of Singapore, meeting wherever there happens to be a concentration of members. Some meet in schools, especially those that attend school. But one night we also met with a small group in a park under a street lamp. They have no other place to meet.
The GLTD also provides instruction for its members, much as we do in catechism. This instruction is especially for those who are young in the faith. For this purpose they have three “Saturday Club Meetings” and several Sunday School Classes. Attendance is voluntary, however, because of the difficulty that many members have in coming.
In addition to this the GLTD also has a Ladies’ and a Men’s Fellowship that meets every week for varied activities. They have three prayer meetings a week—one on Wednesday evening and two on Friday. The Friday meetings are for those who attend school and are not able to attend the Wednesday evening session. They also have an annual Bible Camp in December (it is warm all year round in Singapore) and a Vacation Bible School, both of which are for the purpose of evangelism. The GLTD, therefore, is for all practical purposes operating as a church.
As far as the spiritual life and walk of the GLTD are concerned, we were deeply impressed. They are very much devoted to the cause of God and very careful to conform themselves to the law of God. In many ways we can look to them as examples. We found, for example, absolutely no trace of the paganism of their past or of their families. One might expect a problem with this, especially after reading Paul’s epistles to the church at Corinth. But we found not an inkling of this. The members of the GLTD walk very antithetically over against the paganism of Singapore. They are truly lights shining in the midst of darkness.
In addition to this we found that the GLTD also knows how to give. The average worker in Singapore earns much less than do we. We were told that a common laborer earns about $8.00 a day. In addition to this most of the members of the GLTD do not work but go to school. Yet, while we were there their collections on Sunday were from $300 to $500. We were told that they have been as high as $800. In addition to this, the GLTD provided us with free lodging and gave us $100, which probably would have .covered all our expenses had we been able to adjust ourselves more to the oriental culture. The GLTD is definitely not looking for a financial handout. Their interest in us is purely of a spiritual nature.
In addition to this, the GLTD also knows how to suffer for Christ’s sake. As we have indicated, many of the GLTD have been beaten and persecuted by their parents when they first came to the Christian faith. But yet they persevered in the faith. And in almost all cases, we were told, their parents became more tolerant when they saw the transformation that the grace of God had worked in the lives of their children. Perhaps more striking yet is the fact that in spite of all this, these young people hold no ill-feeling towards their parents. They love their parents, are concerned for them and their salvation, seek to please their parents, and are very obedient in the home. Our own young people would do well to follow their example.
Where does the GLTD stand doctrinally?
The GLTD does not have a doctrinal stand. What we mean by this is that the GLTD is not doctrinally one. They do have a “Statement of Faith”; but this Statement is brief, incomplete, and allows for many different and divergent views. In harmony with this, the GLTD embraces anything from Arminianism to a somewhat Reformed position.
We found in our discussions with the GLTD that many of them want to be four-point Calvinists. On the one hand, they want to maintain sovereign predestination, total depravity, irresistible grace, and preservation of the saints. But on the other hand, they also want a universal atonement of Christ, along with a universal love of God and a universal offer of salvation. They make the common distinction between the hidden and revealed will of God. Although God sovereignly elected some and not all (hidden will), He nevertheless reveals Himself as loving all and seeking the salvation of all in Christ. And it appears as though they want this for the sake of the addressability of the gospel. They have difficulty seeing how one can effectively do mission work unless he can come to the unbeliever and say, “God loves you, Christ died for you,” etc.
Once again, however, this does not represent the position of all of GLTD. Some have difficulties with other of the five points of Calvinism. And others accept all five points, although at the same time they do speak of a common, non-saving love (grace) of God.
Perhaps this wide range and diversity of doctrine in the GLTD can be explained from their history. Until about two years ago, the whole group was totally Arminian. But through reading, some of the leaders came into contact with Reformed theology and started to develop in that direction. As they did so, they were able to take some of the members with them, some part way, and others hardly at all.
What must we think of the GLTD?
In many, many ways the GLTD is to be highly commended. In many ways they also put us to shame. Indeed, the GLTD is not without its weaknesses and shortcomings. And they will be the first to admit that. Their biggest weakness is in their doctrinal position, or lack of it. But considering the paganism out of which they came, considering the total Arminianism they embraced only two years ago, considering their youth and lack of experience, considering the church situation in Singapore, considering many things, we were utterly amazed to find what we did in the GLTD. While many today are departing from the truth and the sacred ways of God, these young people without the benefit of older leaders have been advancing towards the truth. Amazing!
What is our future with the GLTD?
The GLTD is looking for help and leadership. They recognize their need for growth and development. They also recognize that they can get no real help from the existing churches in Singapore. They came to us looking for help. They heard us; in many ways they were receptive to us; we were able to show them many things from the Scriptures, even on matters of disagreement. But both they and we recognized that it is premature to send a missionary to labor among them. For the differences that exist between us have been clearly spelled out. And now they need time to think things over. Is the Reformed faith as we maintain it the direction in which they want to go? They want to make sure. Remember, it was only a year ago that they had trouble with a Baptist missionary pastor. And so it was decided that we would begin a tape program of instruction with them, following the Heidelberg Catechism. This will give them the opportunity to decide in the future whether or not they will want a missionary from our churches.
The Foreign Mission Committee asks for your support in this and that you remember this work and the GLTD in your prayers.