Rev. denHartog is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
This has been a very exciting summer for us. We spent two weeks in Singapore. Our hearts greatly rejoiced when we were invited to come to Singapore to speak at the “Family Camp” of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church. At first I was going to write only about our experiences in Singapore, but then we enjoyed an equally exciting time in our church in Redlands, California, where we were asked to speak at the youth retreat sponsored by Hope Protestant Reformed Church.
Being part of the two events mentioned above gave us the opportunity to experience two ‘worlds,’ different in so many ways. Singapore is an Asian culture, in many ways so different from America, though in both places the culture is worldly and ungodly. Singapore is an ultra-modern city, bustling with business, phenomenally successful and prosperous by worldly standards. It is an amazing experience coming into Singapore’s grand Changi airport. Outside the airport one is immediately impressed by the modern-day freeways, lined with beautiful plantings, the many expensive, gleaming, brand-new cars traveling on them, the impressive housing estates, the signs of ever growing prosperity, massive building projects going on everywhere you look. New sky-scraping office buildings and hotels are continually being built. Singapore has a population of over four and a half million people. The plans of the country are to increase this population in the next decade to over six million. And all these people live on an island covering about 250 square miles.
It is overwhelming to stand for a short time in the city hall subway station where trains from all over the island come together. The massive subway system is as grand as any in the world. During the busy times of the day, trains run as often as one every minute! As you are standing there, thousands and thousands of people rush by you. Very strikingly, the crowds that pass by are made up predominantly of young people, well-dressed and with the look of being business-orientated. They are all rushing off to their jobs, many related to the high-tech, fast-moving industry that drives the prosperity of Singapore. Being in Singapore for just a few days one can experience modern inventions that are more advanced even than those in many parts of America.
A very unusual dimension of the world in Singapore is the presence of few children. Though there are children of course, many Singaporeans postpone marriage in order first to succeed in the business world. Many in the modern society of Singapore consider bringing forth children far too bothersome and limiting. Raising children is considered by many a degrading, menial task that can be performed by uneducated domestic servants imported from other countries. Many of the young women of this society consider successful careers in which they are constantly advancing to greater heights of worldly achievement and glory to be far more desirable than staying home and taking care of children. The few children that are born to young successful Singaporeans are driven to attain even greater heights than their parents.
Standing in the midst of this society, seeing it all rush by and seeking earthly prosperity and success, as Christians we are impressed by the utter vanity of it all. Because of the pressures of Singapore society, many are burned out already in their early fifties or even sooner. No matter how successful they have been, after just a few short years of a very high-pressure lifestyle, men and women are left with nothing of any lasting personal value and significance.
Evident in Singaporean society, where the culture is predominantly pagan in philosophy, is a rapid development of worldliness. There is an openness in the display of immorality and an acceptance of this as a legitimate part of the culture and excitement of the world. Private clubs provide expensive entertainment and an unbelievable variety of cuisine for long, drawn-out dinners. Soon Singapore will have its own casino gambling.
Singapore society does not have the restraint that for years somewhat slowed down the ungodliness in our own nominally Judeo-Christian culture. Young people everywhere make use of computer technology and high-tech inventions that promote a worldly philosophy and a lifestyle that leave the present older generation far behind. All of this has its great influence on those seeking to live a serious Christian life in this worldly city.
Just two weeks after being in Singapore we found ourselves in Los Angeles Airport. Also here one sees thousands and thousands of people rushing by. The culture is obviously very different. There is much more evidence of a multi-racial and multi-cultural society. There is a far greater presence of pregnant young mothers and families than in modern-day Singapore. Especially in public places there is much more evidence of the poor and rich, though not so much of the extremely poor as in other countries in the world that we have visited. Though our society is generally nominally Christian in character it is becoming less and less so. There is evidence of gangs and crime and the drug culture on every hand, much more than in Singapore. American beaches display shocking forms of immorality not seen in Asian society. The in-your-face brazen display of the wickedness of immorality, takes on a somewhat different character than in Singapore. There is greater danger of crime and violence. There is the toleration of open blasphemy against Christianity that few other societies would permit against the prevailing religion, all in the name of religious freedom and individual rights. The Word of God prophesies that nominally-Christian society will exceed in wickedness and ungodliness the culture of the pagan world.
America has the modern-day phenomenon of mega-churches. Many people in America still go to church. But the church for the most part has become so superficial, apostate, and ungodly that its members in their lifestyle are hardly distinguishable from the world where they live. The truth of God’s Word has been largely forgotten, the law of God is despised and trampled underfoot, and sound doctrine is imagined to be totally irrelevant. Worship services that should be directed to exalting the glory of God and of the Savior and promoting His truth and holiness have been changed largely into forums of worldly, popular entertainment, exciting mass audiences and giving them the imagination of being active and zealous ‘for the Lord.’ One is utterly amazed at what such churches do to attract people. Across the street from Southwest is a mega-church that uses the Lord’s Day for such events as car shows and the circus.
In both of the cultures described above, God has His church, a very small remnant of society, elected by His grace, redeemed through the precious blood of His dear Son Jesus Christ, sanctified by His Spirit, called to a life of holiness and godliness. True Christian living in both of these societies is extremely challenging. Also in the sphere of the church that we lived in for a short time, there are amazing contrasts between Singapore and America. In our Protestant Reformed Churches we have a strong tradition of the Reformed faith and the heritage of God’s covenant that God in His mercy has preserved among us for several generations. In Singapore we worked among a church made up largely of converts from pagan religions. Most are first-generation Christians, but there is now also the presence of the second generation of covenant young people. In the church where in the past we have served, there has not yet been a marriage between two young people born and raised in the sphere of the covenant.
In the providence of God we had a wonderful experience among the saints of God in Singapore. We spent ten years of our life in Singapore, during which time we saw the wonderful works of the Lord in saving His people and forming them as His church. There was the evidence of the beautiful zeal of first love for the Lord. We served in a church that began largely with young people. Christian marriages were taking place with unparalleled frequency during those days. Children were being born and receiving the covenant sign of baptism.
At the camp that was held at a resort in Malaysia, I gave five speeches on the subject, “The Pursuit Towards Godliness.” I was truly impressed, as I often have been during the times we lived in Singapore, at the amazing ability of the saints in Singapore to listen to the Word of God. Five speeches in just four days! There was interest in things spiritual. Most of the activities at the camp were very directly spiritually orientated. There was wonderful blessed fellowship with dear saints of God. We experienced again the beautiful reality of how God saves and gathers His church in all nations and among all peoples. By God’s grace, by His truth, and through faith in Him, we are one in the faith and knowledge of our God and Savior. We feel a bond of Christian love that is profound. We are one also in the great struggles and challenges we face in Christian living. We are one in the struggles against sin and temptation in the world. We confess our own great weakness and that our only hope is in God alone. We are one also in facing the great challenges and serious calling for the future.
One of the greatest of these challenges in any church is that of raising a new covenant generation to continue in the truth of God. It is God’s purpose that the church grow through the work of evangelism. This is beautiful and exciting. Through this work new converts and their families are brought into the church. This will continue until the day of the glorious return of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. But it is also clear from the Word of God that the church continues according to God’s own covenant purposes in the line of generations. The strength of the church in the midst of this ungodly world, whether in Singapore or in America, will by the grace of God be seen in the new covenant generations that arise in the midst of the church. “For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
Often on the mission field personal piety and godliness are stressed. This is of course good and very important. At the same time, there must be a consciousness of corporate Christianity in the church of Jesus Christ where Christians understand the great significance of their membership in the church and their calling to maintain the truth of God by instructing the generation to come. In maintaining this calling it is of greatest importance for the church and her members to be in the world but at the same time spiritually separate from it. She must condemn this ungodly world and flee from it. She must have a radically different and antithetical lifestyle.
In America, as in all the world, there is always the great danger of apostasy. We see in our land dreadful apostasy in the church. We see young people who were born of believing parents and were more or less instructed in Christian religion from their childhood days later in life living in gross wickedness and ungodliness, forgetting their glorious heritage and despising the covenant of God.
At the Redlands Retreat I was heartened to see a group of our covenant young people, most of whom had been raised from childhood in the sphere of the covenant among us. Many of them seemed to be serious and spiritually minded, well grounded in the truth of the Word of God, and deeply concerned about their own walk with the Lord as well as the future of our Protestant Reformed Churches. Many were deeply concerned about Christian marriage. The retreat gave opportunity for young men and women to find each other in the sphere of the covenant and of the church. It was a joy to see interests beginning between young men and women, some of which have in the past continued to develop and have resulted in Christian marriages in churches of God among us.
The general subject of the Redlands Retreat was “Maintaining a Spiritual Life.” For my speech I chose the sub-topic “Spiritual Growth.” The theme passage from Scripture for the Retreat was II Peter 3:18: “But grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.”
The important question for the church in Singapore and for her members is, will the church continue in the new generation that is arising? Will the first love for the Lord that often characterizes a church raised up on the mission field continue in a pagan culture in the next generation. Is there in the church a steadfast willingness to be different from the world and to oppose its wickedness, and not to go along with its life of vanity? Will there be a newgeneration that is strong in the knowledge of the truth and committed to maintaining and living by that truth, or will the powerful influences of a pagan culture lead many away to join the world again? There is a strong drive in Singapore for worldly success and glory. Sadly, we also saw some young people very committed to success and prosperity, drifting and troubled in a pagan culture, and timid about taking serious stands and commitments to the truth. This could only bode great spiritual dangers for the future of the church.
In America, and particularly in our Protestant Reformed Churches, we have many generations of the glorious heritage of the truth, the truth that we should love to call the Reformed faith. Sadly, there are in our midst also some young people whose lives are characterized by vulgar conversations and shamefully immoral, ungodly behavior. We have to be seriously concerned about the new generation that is arising among us. Have we taught our covenant children to be truly spiritually minded? Have we taught them to be strong and uncompromising in the knowledge of the truth?
America has a dreadfully apostate culture. Once nominally Christian, it is now without a doubt exceedingly pagan in its culture of gross wickedness and ungodliness. This culture is promoted in our day by the powerful instruments of the mass media. Sadly, America is perhaps today known the world over more for this popular culture than for anything else. Hollywood and Broadway and Vegas are of great influence in our land. There is today the influence of the world of the Internet, having an even greater potential to destroy young people with the most shocking wicked philosophy and lifestyles ever in the history of the world.
Who would deny that our covenant young people are affected by this culture? Some of our young people seem to be more knowledgeable about and ready to talk with each other about this culture than they are about the glorious truth and great salvation of the Lord. We face the extremely important questions, are we truly growing in the knowledge of the truth, in the grace and knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ? Are we in our generations manifesting sincere, distinctive, antithetical lifestyles, in true holiness and godliness, living in obedience and fear before the Lord in an increasingly wicked and apostate world? Do we realize, not less and less but rather more and more, that we must condemn the wicked world in which we live and be separate from it?
Having experienced life again in two different cultures and two church settings, we can say that our earnest prayer to God is that we can as churches in two parts of the world help each other to grow in and continue in true distinctively Reformed religion, both in doctrine and in life. I believe that, because of the generations of the heritage of the Reformed faith that God in His mercy has preserved in our midst, we have much to communicate to the church in Singapore, and she and her members can still learn much from the heritage that God has given and preserved among us.
We are thankful for the exciting years of work we have enjoyed among the saints in Singapore in the work of missions. May the Lord continue to give us such blessed opportunities in His worldwide church and kingdom.
There is an urgent need for us to be always examining and judging ourselves, our own churches, homes, and families, and to be earnestly concerned about the future of the cause of God’s covenant and kingdom in our own midst.