At the occasion of the institution of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore on January 24, the new congregation published an attractive little booklet commemorating that significant and joyful event. From our visiting seminarian, Lau Chin Kwee, I obtained a copy of this booklet. In it there are especially two documents which I want to share with our readers, so that they may gain some insight into the work of the Lord that has been accomplished in Singapore and so that they may share somewhat in the joy of this wonderful occasion. The first document is “The Resolution Of Membership,” which was read in unison at the time of the institution of the church there. The second is a “History Of The Evangelical Reformed Church Of Singapore” under the title “. . . And They Shall Be Unto Me A People.” We here present these documents as published in the booklet, with only a few editorial corrections in these compositions.
The Resolution Of Membership
We, who in times past were without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world, are now made nigh only by the blood of Christ; such that we who were once not a people are now the people of God; which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. We confess according to the Holy Scriptures as from the depth of our own hearts that it is not of ourselves that we are thus, for we were dead, but of God Who by His Holy Spirit made us alive. Our boast is in God alone: for it is by grace that we are saved, not of works; nor of the power of our own will, but of God.
Seeing, therefore, that God Who chose us from before the foundation of the world is pleased to gather us as a Church, built upon the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets contained in the Holy Scriptures, with Christ as the corner stone, we seek to be joined to the same.
Being persuaded that the truth which is commonly called the Reformed Faith, which truth is laid forth in the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dordrecht, does faithfully express the doctrines taught us in the Word of God in the Old and New Testaments which we believe, we thank God that He has caused us to believe and love the same. We therefore heartily and with praise to our God desire to be formed into the institute church of Jesus Christ, the Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore, that she may be the pillar and ground of the truth in this region.
We endeavor henceforth, not by our own frail strength but by the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, as members of this church to confess and live according to this doctrine, in daily repentance, not grudgingly, as though under some harsh yoke, but willingly, seeing that this heartwarming and devotional truth is most gracious and comforting to us who once slaved under the ruthless tyranny of sin. We give God our King glory and thanks that He has given to us in His infinite love and unsearchable wisdom His servants, men qualified by the Holy Spirit to minister to us in the office of elders and deacons. We submit cheerfully to their care, readily seeking through them God’s provision of the counsel and care of the Great Shepherd of the sheep. We count it joy to sit under the doctrine and rule of the elders by the Word, receiving in godly obedience the Word preached, and subjecting ourselves to their admonition and discipline when we err from the Word, that we may be restored.
We drink heartily with thanksgiving at the wells of mercy which God has provided in the deacons as they administer the ministry of mercy and encouragement.
Finally, we seek by grace in our offices and as members of the body of Christ to serve our Lord in the church according as He gives us opportunity and power; in mutual encouragements, in searching the Word, in prayer, in tithes and offerings, and in what place soever we are, that the church may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. From Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. AMEN.
Composed by: Brother Francis Quek
Approved by the Commission
“. . . And They Shall Be Unto Me A People”
This is the story of a company of believers who are now being formed into a church, the Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore; a brief account of this people and their many struggles, hardships, and joys. This story is, however, not like the many others where the sole determiner of events is the random choice of the human actors. We embark on a story of the sovereign leading of God of a people who were once not a people, but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
We invite you, in the course of this account, to walk with this band through their pathway, one with many narrow corridors of strife and purging, and strewn with dangers and hope to the present, and experience with them the grace of God to His Church. Many there are who had been numbered with them but have left; many with misunderstandings, but it is God Who leads.
The ERCS had its beginnings as a Bible class in a public school, the Monk’s Hill Secondary School. In the year 1962, a teacher in that school, Mr. Goh Seng Fong, began to witness among the students. As the Lord blessed his labors, he met with the young converts every day during recess, before and after school. This teacher, then in his twenties, had a tremendous zeal for God; and with his intense concern and friendliness, it is not surprising that many students flocked to such Bible class gatherings. Of the many in the group in those early years, our brother Lau Chin Kwee, who joined in 1965, remains with us.
As the group grew, she was brought under the wing of the ‘Youth for Christ’ and became formally known as the “Monk’s Hill YFC.” The group had by then picked up momentum, and the short daily meetings in the school soon proved insufficient; so, under the umbrella of the YFC, she began meeting on Saturdays at Newton Life Church, a Presbyterian Church near the school. Under the diligent labors of Mr. Goh, who spared nothing in time or wealth to help the young people (he conducted extra tuition classes for the weaker students on his own time and often brought the group for meals on his meager salary) the group flourished.
In 1967, some of the older students were exhorted by their mentor to attend Sunday Worship Services at Gilstead Life Bible Presbyterian Church, which he was attending. The group continued her progress, and then, between 1967 and 1968, she encountered her first split. At the time when the older members attended Gilstead Life, there were close ties between Rev. Timothy Tow of Gilstead Life and the minister of a fundamentalistic Baptist Church. Many of these students, then leaders in the Monk’s Hill YFC, became very close with the Baptist minister, visiting his home often and frequently inviting him to preach at the Saturday meetings at Newton Life Church. The Baptist minister gradually influenced these young leaders with his differences with Gilstead Life concerning baptism. As a result of this, many of these young leaders left to join the Baptist minister. By the grace of God, brother Lau Chin Kwee, sister Shi Soi Fah (the now Mrs. Tan Boon Kwang) and one or two others remained.
All this while, Mr. Goh had been teaching the group the proper honour for the Word of God and godly separation from the present wicked world. Between 1968 and 1969, these young Christians began to see the errors of the YFC, which were worldliness and their support for neo-Evangelicals such as Billy Graham. Thus led by the Lord, the group broke away from the YFC and the use of Newton Life Church. By grace again, the young group found favor in the eyes of Rev. Timothy Tow and were given a room in the premises of Gilstead Life Church; and the group now called Monk’s Hill Bible Club shifted to Gilstead Road.
At this time, Mr. Goh developed a close relation with the JSM (Jesus Saves Mission) and later became their domestic missionary. The work of the Monk’s Hill Bible Club was therefore left very much in the hands of her young leaders. As this work slowly evolved, there has been a “Gospel Letters and Tracts Department” in the Monk’s Hill Bible Club, and the group adopted the name of the department, with the Monk’s Hill Bible Club becoming an outreach of the GLTD. The original design of this change of name was for the group to merge with and become part of the Gilstead Life Church Sunday School, a plan which never materialized. The GLTD was thus left to fend for herself, with no ties with any church save the use of the place and the friendly counsel of Rev. Timothy Tow.
September 1972 saw the departure of Mr. Goh to the United States of America for ministerial training. With none to finance him, a young GLTD pooled all her resources to come up with $800 (a sum collected through the humble five to ten cents daily pledges of the members). With this, his entire savings and love gift from JSM, he set out. In the States, he found a Baptist College willing to take and finance him.
Meanwhile, the GLTD attendance dwindled to eleven persons. It was at this time that the Lord raised one of the present leaders, brother Johnson See, who led the group with a few brothers and sisters. The work had to be supported by some of the older members, then in their late teens, giving tuition. Brother Johnson See labored undaunted, and slowly but surely the numbers grew. The turning point took place when the first annual Bible Camp was held in December 1972. After the camp, students from schools other than Monk’s Hill Secondary School were added, and the attendance at the Saturday Club meeting where brother Johnson See spoke every week grew to thirty.
From 1973, the GLTD continued to grow until in 1975 she numbered seventy. During this time an Executive Committee of GLTD was formed to ensure the smooth running of the work. In 1975, some of the leaders realized that the GLTD could not remain perpetually a Christian Organization. The idea of moving toward church formation led to sharp dissension in the group: for there were those who felt that the GLTD should become an independent church with Mr. Goh’s return as her pastor, while others felt that she should merge with and become part of the BP (Bible Presbyterian) movement. A conflict within the leadership led to the leaving of some of the leaders as the rest sought church formation.
In that same year, the Lord saw fit to introduce the GLTD to the Reformed Faith they hold today. The Reformed Truth, or the eternal truth of the Word of God as it was formed again at the Great Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century A.D. after many years of spiritual famine under the corrupt teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, had been all but forgotten in many churches. In Singapore, the Reformed faith was scarcely if ever heard of even in churches which are supposedly Reformed, like the Presbyterians, Anglicans, etc., which have Reformed Creeds.
Two ministers, Prof. H. Hoeksema and Rev. C. Hanko of the Protestant Reformed churches of America, were passing by Singapore; and brother Ong Keng Ho (then not acquainted with the GLTD) who had received the truth through the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Christ-church, New Zealand, was trying to arrange for Gilstead Life Church to organize a series of lectures by the visiting ministers. It was suggested to him to ask the GLTD to host the lectures. The three lectures were held (There were only two lectures at the time. HCH) and in the process, brother Lau Chin Kwee came to know brother Ong and was introduced to the Reformed Faith.
In March, 1976, the GLTD rented a unit of its present premises in a zinclroofed kampong house at 356J, River Valley Outreach (R.V.O. a name used even unto today). At first, only the Sunday Fellowship, which was set up earlier to cater for the many who had left school and could no longer attend the Saturday morning meetings, used the place. For a time, a number of the members of the group attended the Gilstead Life Church Worship Services on Sunday mornings (for though GLTD never became a part of Life Church, many of her members attended and became individually members of the church whose premises we used) and went to the Fellowship at R.V.O. in the afternoon. At that time they were so weak of means that the 120 dollars-rent for the place was a sum they had to call a general meeting to approve and to stretch our funds to accommodate. It was at this small place, twenty feet square inclusive of a hall and two rooms, that the seed of the ERCS Sunday Worship was sown. It was decided that in line with their desire to set up an autonomous church, the GLTD should have her own services at the completely unfurnished R.V.O. The wall separating one of the rooms from the hall was torn down (by the members themselves wielding crowbars and hammers) to make way for the increase in numbers. Since then, the group has broken down the wall of the other room, acquired two more adjacent units of the kampong house, and graduated from floor sitting to chairs.
The spark of truth kindled in the heart of brother Lau Chin Kwee in 1975 was soon a raging fire within his breast as he studied the Reformed Truth on his own, and he could not help but pour it forth to the rest of the group. About the middle of 1976, brother Lau Chin Kwee began to teach the Heidelberg Catechism (a Reformed Confession now a creed of the ERCS) at the Saturday meeting, incurring the opposition of some leaders; but like a living shoot striving incessantly against the huge rocks in its quest to rise above the ground, the truth then firmly rooted in our brother’s heart was not shaken. At times he felt that none stood with him, and it was not until the end of that year that some of the brethren began to hold the same truth of Sovereign Grace which he loved.
In the twelfth month of that same year, Mr. Goh, the Christian teacher who started the group in 1962 having then completed his theological training, returned and began immediately to work in the GLTD. He became the group’s ‘missionary pastor,’ sent from his church in the United States, and being anabaptistic by persuasion, he tried to bring his teachings to the group. The respect of the group being very much with him, he taught them the Congregational form of church government, with a one-pastor (elder) rule, opposed the doctrine of the universal catholic church, and tried to propagate his teachings on the mode of baptism. He advocated baptism by immersion and considered all persons baptized in other modes (i.e., sprinkling or pouring) unbaptized and therefore proper candidates for re-baptism. The members of the GLTD, having learnt the honour for the Word of God, searched the Scriptures; and many were thrown into perplexity. Forums were held on the mode of baptism, where brother Lau Chin Kwee did battle with Rev. Goh before the entire congregation. It was surely by grace that brother Lau Chin Kwee, being untrained, managed to hold his ground. As the conflict mounted, Rev. Goh left GLTD, and a few members left with him. Still others, confused and discouraged about the intense conflict and instability of the group, also departed. This took place in mid-1977, and it was a time of grief.
All this while, the Reformed Truth was brewing in the hearts of some members of the GLTD; but even after the departure of Rev. Goh, they faced much opposition from the rest of the leaders. Among the dissenters against particularly the doctrine of limited atonement, the strongest was brother Johnson See; but by God’s all-wise grace, he was led away for further studies. In Scotland, brother Johnson, away from his heavy responsibility to lead the brethren in what he was then convicted of, came also to embrace and cherish the Reformed Truth. In Singapore, brother Lau Chin Kwee, knowing the allegiance of the group for the Word of God, continued with those who loved the same truth to show the rest that the Reformed Faith and Scriptural Christianity were one and the same. It was a time of trial for these brethren, but they labored on amidst much opposition and discouragement from other factions of the group.
In January 1978, brother Lau Chin Kwee, having this view to propagate the Reformed Truth in this part of the world, left his job as a school teacher for the full-time ministry. This made him the second person to do so, joining brother Tan Boon Kwang, who felt the call in 1976 and was already studying in the Far Eastern Bible College of the Bible Presbyterians.
Already in 1977, brother Johnson See had made contact with Professor Hoeksema of the Protestant Reformed Church(es) of America for advice and help in the issues confronting the GLTD. This dialogue went on until in 1978, when the GLTD asked the PRC for help, they sent the group two emissaries, Rev. J. Slopsema and Elder Dewey Engelsma, to investigate how they can best help. (Note: My correspondence with Brother Johnson See began in mid-1977. Already in his first or second letter to me, which was primarily concerned with questions concerning baptism, Brother Johnson See began to inquire about the possibility of our churches sending a missionary to help the GLTD. I purposely ignored this inquiry for a time, because I thought it was premature. When, however, the inquiry persisted, I forwarded all the correspondence to the Foreign Mission Committee, along with my suggestion to them that they investigate this matter, if necessary by sending emissaries to investigate on the spot. This resulted eventually in the sending of Rev. Slopsema and Elder Engelsma. HCH) Being the first Reformed delegation here, they bore the brunt of the attack on the faith. Those holding the Arminian position then assailed them at the public meetings. Neither did those believing the Reformed faith support them at these meetings: for they saw in the emissaries an invaluable avenue to answer the many questions heaped on them. There was also the majority who desired to know the truth of the Word, who sat silently considering what was said. It must have appeared at those meetings that the GLTD was entirely rank Arminian.
After the departure of the emissaries, a tape programme was set up in which the PRC sent tapes to Singapore explaining the truth held. A commission of ten GLTD members was set up to study the doctrines the PRC brought to them. The Lord worked in the hearts of the members of the GLTD, and soon there was a clear dividing line between the Reformed Truth and the error of Arminianism. Those who believed in the truth were strengthened; many who were seeking the truth came to love the Reformed Faith. It was also a period of extreme contradiction, and many members left the group as the Lord prepared the GLTS to be a vessel of His truth. The pain of seeing many bosom friends leave was somewhat alleviated as God added others to the group, but it was a period fraught with discouragements.
While this was going on, the GLTD had prepared a Constitution which was submitted to the authorities: for hitherto they were not officially recognized as a Society by the government. With registration with the civil authorities, the name of the Gospel Letters and Tracts Department was changed to the Gospel Literature and Tract Society in January 1979.
That same year, a second PRC delegation of emissaries was sent to Singapore. The work of the first delegation, who came a year before, was not without fruit; and by the time Rev. M. Kamps and Elder Dewey Engelsma came, much of the wrangling concerning Limited or Particular Atonement and Irresistible Grace was dispelled. It was through the hands of the second delegation that the PRC received the unanimous request of all the members of the GLTS, at the unanimous recommendation of the study commission, to send them a missionary.
After the departure of the emissaries, the leaders of the group discussed at length the advice of the PRC men to stop the administration of the Lord’s Supper until the church was organized. After much study of the Word, the sacrament which had been administered by the BP minister on the invitation of the GLTS was discontinued on the ground that the Word of God gives the observing of the sacrament only as it is supervised by elders of the church, of which the group had none.
In February 1980, a missionary from the PRC, Rev. Arie den Hartog, arrived in Singapore with his family. A man of great zeal and compassion, the group grew quickly to love and respect him; and in a matter of months the American of Dutch origin became accepted in a very real sense as the missionary pastor of the predominantly’ Chinese congregation. From him the leaders learned to a considerable extent what a meek and warm pastoral heart is.
In June of that year, the GLTS, then united firmly under the Reformed Faith, requested that the PRC grant Rev. Arie den Hartog permission to organize her into a church. This request was granted on condition that the leaders of the GLTS first subscribe to the Three Forms Of Unity. The leaders were unable at that time to subscribe to the three Reformed Creeds, being unfamiliar with them. They found it impossible, furthermore, to have the entire congregation choose the creeds under which the church will be organized. The church will always contain new members and young Christians; and if the GLTS had to wait until all members had studied the creeds to a degree sufficient for adoption, it would mean that the ERCS would never be. How could a people be taught to decide what it is they want to be taught, not knowing it? It was at this time that “Congregational Church Government” was exposed clearly for what it is: a church’s self-rule instead of the rule of Christ through His office bearers. It was again by grace that even before Rev. Arie den Hartog arrived, the GLTS was exposed to the Biblical concept of Presbyterian or Reformed Church Polity, where Christ rules His Church through His Elders and Deacons. After the departure of Rev. Goh the GLTD received a series of taped sermons on the subject from the OPC New Zealand and some notes on it from the United States. Wonder of wonders, when the GLTD studied the material, they found the notes from America were in fact the sermon notes of the tapes from New Zealand. It was not, however, until the time when the matter of adopting creeds was faced that the GLTD saw the full picture of the practicality of this truth under the teaching of their missionary Pastor.
Although the GLTS felt that they ought already be organized at that time, so that they could study and adopt the creeds as a church, they had to wait a considerable period again for institution. A Commission of four would-be Elders, brothers bng Keng Ho, Tan Boon Kwang, Tang Kok Leong, and Francis Quek, and two Deacons-elect, brothers Johnson See and Teo Hwee Meng, were elected. They were to study the Creeds and decide whether the GLTS could be organized upon them and hold office in the church upon institution.
In September of 1980, Brother Lau Chin Kwee, on whose shoulders had fallen the awesome responsibility of leading the saints in the GLTS through many difficult years, bade a tearful farewell to the church and went, with his wife, to further his ministerial training in the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches in the United States of America.
The Commission set out immediately to work on the Constitution of the ERCS, upon completion of which they proceeded to study the Creeds. It proved to be a very busy time for the office bearers, on whose shoulders rested not only the work of the Constitution and the Creeds but also the work of oversight of all the work of the GLTS, which was considerable, and the pastoral care of all the members. For this reason, elections were held again and God provided three men, brothers James Tay, Siew Chee Seng, and Leong Fai Chong, to be Deacon-select; and brothers Johnson See and Teo Hwee Meng were elected Elders to fill the need. Even after the increase in number in the Commission, there was still a lot of work to be done, especially when the frequency of the Commission meetings for the study of the Creeds was increased from weekly to thrice weekly. The study of the Creeds was completed in November 1981, and with that the ERCS was ready for the final push toward institution. All the members and regular worshippers were visited by the leaders to prepare them to be in a real sense spiritually involved in the spiritual work of building the church of Christ, as well as physically. Of the office bearers elect, only brother Francis Quek will not presently be ordained, as he had to leave Singapore for the further studies his parents want him to have.
At this time of institution, too, the ERCS is finalizing the purchase of a building at 291 River Valley, not far from her present premises. The work of resettling the Church had been on the mind of the GLTS members all along; and a Building Fund was initiated as early as 1976, when the Lord began leading them toward institution. The group is not one of much wealth, and the majority of the members are not beyond their twenties, but God had taught them to give. The place after renovation would cost close to $300,000, but they trust the Lord to teach them to give sacrificially and supply them all their needs. God will surely bless.
When one views the history of the ERCS until her institution, one cannot but confess that it is all of Sovereign Grace. From the beginning, God planted the seed which initially appeared as an ugly shoot. Trials and toil, hope and joy were the portion of this young band as they trod the pilgrim way together. As the tree began to take shape, God introduced the Reformed Faith at first in a trickle and then in its soul-overwhelming torrents. God had prepared a vessel of unworthy clay to bear the treasures of His truth.
On the day of institution, 24th January, 1982, the members of the ERCS will read the Resolution of Membership together from their hearts, a unified confession of their calling to be formed into the Church of Jesus Christ. All that they declare they shall endeavor to do, not by their own frail strength, but by the grace of God. God has led them thus far. Who can doubt that God will lead them on until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ? Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.