IN February, 1999, the Moderator of Synod received a letter from Mr Bernard Yong, an elder of the Covenant Grace Church, Singapore, in which he set out his Churchs position with regard to doctrine and practice. This position seemed to be much in harmony with that of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland and since the letter expressed a desire “to be accepted as a part of a greater assembly in the Church of Christ”, it was brought to the attention of the Dominions and Overseas Committee. The Committee decided to draw the Synods attention to the letter and it was agreed that it be suggested to that Court that Church deputies be sent to Singapore to meet this group. The Synod decided to leave the matter in the hands of the Dominions and Overseas Committee. Accordingly, on 9th June, the Committee agreed that I should visit Singapore in August.
On 28th July I departed from Glasgow Airport for Amsterdam where I boarded the KLM flight for Singapore. The following day, on arrival at the airport I was met by Bernard Yong and his wife Lai Yee. They had arranged accommodation for me at a hotel located near the buildings within which the Covenant Grace Church meets for Sabbath worship services and I was taken there from the airport. We were meeting for the first time but from the outset I felt very much at ease in their company. They were to show me much kindness in the days ahead.
It is the practice of this congregation to meet for mid-week prayer meetings in the homes of members in turn and on the evening following my arrival I conducted the prayer meeting in the home of a lady called Kim Eng. Including children, there were around twenty souls gathered in that apartment. Among them were a number who had visited Scotland and even Lewis and Harris. One couple Sim Thiam Chye and his wife Gek Eng told me that they had experienced much kindness from a couple in South Harris who turned out to be Mr Donald MacDonald, our missionary there, and his wife. They were on holiday and were spending the night in a caravan at Finsbay! Another couple Victor Lee and his wife Jean had toured the north of Scotland spending a night at Ullapool. Also present was Dr David Chin, a communicant member in the Free Church. He and his like-minded wife Ming Shu had practised medicine in Edinburgh for over two years and are well known to the Rev Hugh and Mrs Cartwright. Here also I met for the first time Tham Wing Keong and his wife Foo Kim Leng both of whom are leading members in the group, and a number of very pleasant young men among whom were Bernard Han, Kheng Huat and Peter Heng. Later, among the regular worshippers I was to meet a young couple Ivan Ho and his wife Wen Yee, Dominic Ho, Paul Teo and also a number of women whose names were Sim Poh Khem, Chee Foong Yee and Nancie Koo. From that first evening I felt entirely at home among them. They invited me to their homes but my visit being of short duration I was only able to visit a few of them. I was entertained in a most hospitable manner and all of them appeared keen to make my stay among them enjoyable. In this they were successful and I would desire to express my gratitude to them. As the days passed by I was more and more impressed by what I saw and heard. It is plain that seekers after the truth seek not in vain wherever under heaven their portion is allotted them. Here were men and women not only well-versed in the Scriptures but well-versed in the writings of the Puritans and Scottish divines. Boston was frequently quoted and I noted that one young man had armed himself with a copy of Fishers Catechism! I soon discovered that I had not come to preach to a company who were in need of being taught the first rudiments of the faith. Very often I found them ahead of me. This is all very remarkable in an environment which is to a large extent heathen, with temples dedicated to various false deities numerous on every hand. The Singaporean authorities even facilitate heathen practices such as the burning of paper money and incense to appease spirits by providing the receptacles necessary for these purposes beside apartment blocks. These practices were a common sight. [I was also very glad to meet Mrs Winnie Lee, who is a communicant member in our Gisborne congregation. She was home in Singapore for a period but living some distance away, she was not able to attend the services.]
On Sabbath, 1st August, I preached, morning and evening, to the assembled company. Since they have no building of their own, the members of Covenant Grace Church meet in the morning in a room provided by a hotel and in the evening in a college class-room. These venues are not ideal but they are meantime adequate for the purpose of worshipping God in public. About forty souls were present on the Sabbath morning, somewhat fewer at night. The average attendance would appear to be about thirty including children. The services were conducted strictly in accordance with our Churchs practice and as it was already customary for them to stand when praying and to sit when singing there was no difficulty whatever. Only the Authorised Version is used and the Metrical Psalms are sung in the same manner as is done throughout our Church. The second mid-week prayer meeting was held in the home of Victor Lee and the following Sabbath the services followed the same pattern. On the following Monday (9/8/99) there was a congregational “conference” held in the home of Wing Keong where I tried to answer certain questions which were submitted to me in writing beforehand. These included the following:
Whether it is possible to have a church affiliation in which some differences in understanding and application of confessional standards are respected?
Whether all members of a confessional church are required to be perfectly in accord with the received interpretation of confessional standards, or is this necessary only for office holders?
Whether there is any clear scriptural support for an ecclesiastical requirement for celebrating the Lords Supper over 4 days, and once or twice in a year?
In providing answers I have to acknowledge the help given by the Rev K M Watkins with whom I was in contact by e-mail.
The congregation is largely composed of young families brought together as a result of being of one mind in regard to the foundation doctrines of the Christian Faith as defined in the Westminster Standards. They all profess to believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God and the supreme and only rule to direct us in regard to doctrine and practice. The elder, Mr Bernard Yong, and, I would think, the majority in Covenant Grace Church would appear to be very much of one mind with the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland as far as doctrine and practice is concerned. They are anxious to learn and in my informal meetings with them I spent a considerable portion of the time answering questions and clarifying the Churchs position on a variety of matters. It is in matters related to practice that most differences came to the surface. Some found it hard to accept that the taking of public transport on Sabbath to attend the public worship of God was forbidden by the Fourth Commandment and one or two appealed to the views of John Bunyan who, sadly, seems to have been of the view that the Sabbath was not a creation ordinance. Even obtaining Government permission to purchase a car is very expensive in Singapore and few are able to afford one. The answer to the problem may be the purchase of a mini-bus. This idea was already in the mind of Bernard Yong. Booklets obtainable at our Glasgow bookshop were very helpful when discussion centred on the propriety of women having their heads covered when present in the public worship of God and the impropriety of women wearing mens garments. There was also some difference of views on the Establishment Principle and in this context American influence seemed to be detectable. When it came to discussing eschatology, the post millennial view did not seem to be well known among them, but I presented it to the best of my ability and on arrival home I sent out to them several copies of the Westminster Standard booklet on the millennium, which not only sets forth the views of Jonathan Edwards, but also in succinct form the views of other divines as well.
As a matter of courtesy, I contacted Pastor Chacko and I was kindly entertained in his home. Although he uses the Authorised Version only, his manner of conducting public worship is not in accordance with our way of doing so. On 12th August I arrived home safely. I have reason to be thankful to the Most High for His care and keeping of me. It was good for me, I felt, to have gone to Singapore and I am grateful to have had the opportunity of doing so. It is always encouraging to meet young people who appear to have a genuine interest in the things pertaining to “the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” and in Singapore, I met a choice number of them.