Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore (ERCS)

Cheah Fook Meng has recently graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary. He is a member of the First Evangelical Reformed Church of Singapore.

When the ERCS first started as a new denomination with only one church 14 years ago, the congregation was very new to the Reformed faith. The leaders had just emerged from a crash course in the Reformed faith under Pastor denHartog. And even after the ERCS was instituted, leaders and people were still spending hours trying to understand the Reformed faith from the creeds and the Scriptures. The pioneers of the ERCS, who had once been busy with street and school evangelism, now concentrated their efforts in studying doctrines. 

Someone once said that the intellectual content of Calvinism can easily quench the evangelistic fervor of a new Calvinistic convert. This, they say, is true for both an individual and a church. While the danger is always there, this is not true of the ERCS, and should not be true of anyone or any church. The new Reformed faith and life in the ERCS did not extinguish the evangelistic zeal of its people. Instead, the Reformed faith gave the people a new confidence in evangelism. It assures us that God will gather His people, and that He Himself will indeed give the increase in the work. If there is any decline in Reformed evangelism, it must surely be attributed to the lethargy of the leaders and the complacency of the people. The Reformed faith is not antagonistic to evangelism and missions. Rather, it promotes it. It stresses the love of God for His lost sheep and emphasizes powerfully the ability and willingness of God to save. 

With this new found insight, this newly formed band of Reformed people in Singapore went knocking at doors with a powerful confidence, "God will surely gather His people." 

In the early days of our history, not only did our people continue the evangelism spirit we had from our school days, but as a church we now were able to carry the message of the gospel to other places outside of Singapore.

The first foreign work God opened for us to do was in Malaysia. Malaysia is immediately north of Singapore and has a large population of Malays. Being an Islamic state, it is not easy for Christians to carry out evangelistic work in the country. Once, our Reformed Baptist friend, Pastor Poh Boon Sing, was put into prison for more than a year for having Bible studies with a few Muslim neighbors. Angered at his efforts in bringing the gospel to these few Malays, the community reported the work to the authorities. One night two security officers knocked at his door, and arrested him for what was supposed to be just a night of interrogation. But a night became days, and days became months, and the months became a year. Everyone trying to do gospel work in Malaysia must be cautious. 

Our most recent efforts to have a Reformed church in Malaysia was several years ago, in a place called Penang. Penang is a place that is predominantly Chinese, and is famous for its hot and spicy food and for its snake temple. The place is steeped in idolatry and the city boasts of its huge Chinese temples. 

The contact to work in Penang came when a group of Malaysian Chinese students returned from their studies in Scotland. While at Scotland, they came into contact with the Free Church of Scotland. There in the Free Church they became acquainted with Psalm singing and the basic tenets of Calvinism. When they returned to Penang, they met in the home of an Australian military officer who is a member of a conservative Presbyterian denomination in Australia. The group, about 10 in number, soon decided it was ready to be formed into a church. And when they heard about the ERCS, they contacted our mission committee, and we acted immediately on that call. Both Pastor Mahtani and I were there for about four days. During this time, we were able to hold worship services for them, and Pastor Mahtani preached twice to them. The preaching was well received, and the group was eager to have further contact with us.

However, when we returned to Singapore and were about to make a second visit, news came to us that the group had decided to turn to the Reformed Baptists in the capital city for help. What transpired during that time, we take it to be under the providence of God. The leader of the group, the Australian officer, had returned to Australia. Some others in the group were baptistic in their view of things. And they felt also that they should ally with the Reformed Baptist group in their own country for a united testimony to the Calvinistic faith. Thus the group now is a Reformed Baptist church. Although we were disappointed at the outcome, we still maintain our good relations with them, and fellowship with each other in a Reformed Minister Conference each year in Malaysia. 

Malaysia is our nearest neighbor. Hundreds of Malaysians mount their motorbicycles and hop on the buses each day to come to Singapore to work. They are attracted to the good money and good life in Singapore. And because evangelistic activities in Malaysia are restricted, I believe that the Singapore churches ought to seize the opportunity to reach out to the hundreds and thousands of Malaysians that come to work in the country daily. 

At present, the ERCS is of course busy with the work in India and Myanmar. The work in India started when a call was extended by an Indian pastor to Pastor Mahtani for our pastor to speak in a discipleship conference in India. The opening gave our pastor opportunity to address the issue from a Reformed perspective. When in India, Pastor Mahtani spoke also to several individuals about the Reformed faith. Soon after he returned to Singapore; letters came pouring in from the India saints for more instruction in the Reformed faith. In response to this enthusiasm, a second trip to India was made to investigate the work before declaring it as a mission field. Everything seemed good and positive. But we had only one problem. We do not have enough men for the work. At best now, we can continue the work only by means of correspondence. Now and then tapes, books, and materials are, sent to those people in India who have shown keenness in the Reformed faith. 

The work that is foremost in everyone's mind now in the ERCS is the work in Myanmar. The genesis of the work was rather unusual. It all started with two Burmese Bible students being expelled from a local Bible college. Without a school to attend, they came to us and asked if we were able to provide them the training in the Reformed faith. At the same time when this happened, their own church in Myanmar was going through a church crisis. A larger group of people under a certain Moses left the denomination. The issues involved in the crisis were both theological and financial. I was told by the two Burmese students that one of the crucial theological issue concerns the doctrine of limited atonement. In any case, the interesting fact about this group is that they wanted to form a new church under the Three Forms of Unity. This is quite remarkable, for these are people who are not very conversant in the English language. Little would one expect that continental Reformed confessions like the Three Forms would be known to them.

Through the two expelled Burmese students who approached the ERCS Theological Training Committee, our churches came into contact with their seceded churches in Myanmar. After much prayer and discussion, the Mission Committee of the Churches decided to send Pastor Lau with a delegate to investigate the field. The problem we had was that Myanmar forbids the entry of allChristian pastors and missionaries. When Pastor Lau in his visa application indicated that his occupation was a pastor, the application was immediately turned down. Here we faced a dilemma. I suppose, in a situation like this, one has to use his "sanctified wisdom." We felt that having our pastor enter the country as a tourist, without specifying the occupation, does not at all breach the law at work in our conscience. So with this, our two pastors were able to make two visits to the country. During these visits, conferences were held to teach the people the fundamental teachings of the Reformed faith. 

People who think that the Reformed man lacks power today ought to make a visit to these village people in Myanmar. They hunger for the truth every time. They sit for hours under the preaching. They travel far just to be able to hear the truth proclaimed. They are eager to spread their new love for the Reformed gospel. 

The result of these visits, contacts, and correspondence was the emergence of a new Reformed witness in Myanmar, the United Reformed Church of Myanmar. The denomination has three churches, and has a membership of about 1200 people. With their active zeal in local evangelism, the church could grow bigger than its present size. The ERCS at present is committed to holding two conferences every year in the country to help the growing saints. Besides this, we are also considering having several of their pastors to be trained in Singapore for a short duration of six months. 

The work in Myanmar convinces us that the Reformed faith is alive in Asia. Everywhere in Asia, from Japan to Korea, in Malaysia, in Singapore, pockets of people are coming to know the doctrines of sovereign grace. One reason for this awareness is the increasing abundance of Reformed literature in these countries. In countries like Singapore and Malaysia, where people are able to read and write English quite comfortably, the spread of Christian literature is very important. It is a sad fact that Reformed churches are not always very active in missions. And for this reason most of the people in the third world countries come to know the Reformed faith through reading. That was the case with the ERCS, and it is also the case with the Reformed churches in Myanmar. Speaking to a key Burmese Reformed leader last year, I learned that what converted him from his dispensational Baptist background was the reading of A.W. Pink's Sovereignty of God. It was hard and slow reading for him, but through it he was led to see the beauty of sovereign grace. 

This is where I am sure our friends in the Protestant Reformed Churches can help us. You do not have a lack of good Reformed literature. Friends in Grand Rapids especially have easy access to good solid Reformed books, both rare and recent. But Reformed Christians in India and Myanmar do not have that access to good books. Even if a copy is available, it is not cheap. A school teacher's pay in Myanmar can buy only a bag of rice for month. 

Even in Singapore, where Reformed books are more available, not many are keen on reading them. Efforts must be made to promote good reading. And for this, several members in our churches are working on a first Christian public library in Singapore, called the Evangelical Library of Singapore, TELOS. The purpose of the ministry is to make Reformed books available to the Christian public. For this book ministry to serve well we need Reformed books. 

What about the future for ERCS? Will there be more mission opportunities in the future? The answer is a definite yes. From every point of view, there is gospel work for us to do in Singapore. Geographically, Singapore is a strategic island country. Thousands and millions of people cross our path. Many of these people have not heard the gospel. Besides, we are surrounded by many unbelieving neighbors who need Jesus Christ. Economically, we are able to send medical and financial aid to poorer countries. With the wealth that the people enjoy from the prosperity of the country, we are able to visit our neighboring Christians to meet their needs. With our advanced telecommunication system, we are able to send out the Reformed gospel through the internet and such. Socially, we are able to communicate both in English and Mandarin, two important languages if one is to engage in missions in Asia. 

But I have in mind right now possible mission work in China. Why China? The reasons are not hard to find. In the first place, China is opening its door. While communism is still the main diet of the people, free trade is encouraged. Private enterprise is mushrooming in the big cities. Foreign investments are increasing. Even McDonalds and TCBY can be seen in the streets of Shanghai. Secondly, accompanying this open door policy people are also becoming more open in their thinking. Independent thinking has been stifled; for many years because of the communism and the cultural revolution. But young people in the recent years are becoming more daring in their thinking, and are exploring questions about freedom and life. Unlike the older generation, a growing number of people today are willing to listen to the claims of the Christian faith. Thirdly, what is especially intriguing to us is that the Chinese government is looking to Singapore as a model to develop its social and economic plans. Joint ventures have already been undertaken to develop four industrial cities in China. Models of Singapore's transportation and telecommunications are being implemented in the Chinese cities. Singapore's business investments in China are growing at a rapid pace. With cities in China that are inhabited by Singaporean nationals, it would not be impossible at all to start a Christian nucleus in that country for our own people with the aim to reach out gradually to the other Chinese people. While we admit that this work is hard, yet it is not impossible. 

Fourthly, one important reason why as Chinese Reformed Christians we should consider working in China is because the outspoken leader of the underground Chinese churches is Dr. Jonathan Chao, a Chinese Reformed theologian. This man has a burden for China, and he has the desire to train the Chinese leaders in the proper theological truths. If we in the ERCS are able to help actively and contribute to this work started by Charles and Jonathan Chao, we would be doing a great favor for the Chinese people. For years the Chinese underground Christians have been running away from the authorities and were unable to learn and develop theology. But with Dr. Jonathan Chao and his China ministries, the Christians in China are given, for the first time after the cultural revolution, clear theological guidance. And what is important is that it is not the heresy of Scofield that is now promoted in China by this new generation of theologians(though it still exists in large proportions), but it is the gospel of Calvinism. 

One last reason why we in Singapore ought to consider the suffering saints in China is that the government recently passed a new bill concerning the house churches in China. There are two types of churches in China. There is the Three Self Churches, which are run by the government. There are, secondly, the underground house churches. The former are really under the complete control of the government. The latter meet secretly in homes, and even openly in makeshift church buildings, unafraid of government harassments. 

The government last year ordered that all the house churches must be registered. In this way the authorities would be able to monitor the whereabouts and the activities of these house churches. Those that failed to comply would be closed down immediately. When the house churches responded immediately to this new bill with a mass registration, the government rejected the offer. The government insisted that each house church must be registered as a single unit. The purpose of this is obvious. The government wants control over each movement. 

With this new bill the Chinese churches enter a new chapter in their history. What will become of the house churches is hard to say at this moment. But with increasing control it means also restricted activities. If the Chinese churches outside of China do not double their help to the suffering saints, the opportunity may not come again. 

How then can we help in the ERCS? China today still does not permit full-time missionaries in the country. At best, we can only make short visits to bring them Bibles, literature, and encouragement. To teach in the underground churches may even invite heavy persecutions to the saints in the area. What they need is Bibles and more Bibles. This we can and must do. We in Singapore have always wanted to do it, but we were slow in acting on this urgent need. Now that we have access to the addresses of these suffering saints through a friend of mine in Hong Kong, the duty is surely for us to bring them the gospel while it is still day, for the night comes when no one shall be able to work. 

China for the ERCS? Yes!