“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Thank God for His mercy, grace and providence which enable me to attend this retreat. Truly, “God’s Word is like a deep, deep mine with jewels rich and rare.” I admit that I did not realise how vital and precious the doctrine of the “Communion of the Saints” was, until Pastor expounded on it from the Word of God. I thank God for Pastor’s labour in teaching us. I am also thankful to the Lord for Aunty Carolyn and the helpers who laboured to teach the children so that I could sit through all the messages. (I think this is the first time I have been able to concentrate fully since I have become a mother!)
It is my prayer that I will have a closer communion with God so that I can be a channel of blessing to fellow saints, as well as increase and abound in ministering to others and in the work of the Lord.
It was indeed a communion of saints that I have experienced in this retreat. I am especially thankful to those who patiently took time to play with and teach Nehemiah during their free time, not to mention letting him join in the group games. It may have been something trivial to most people, but it was a great deal of help to me in giving Nehemiah good fellowship and company, while at the same time nurturing and encouraging him.
All glory and thanks be to God for this fellowship of the saints.
First of all, I would like to thank God for the love expressed by all the brethren during the retreat. As my left foot was injured during one of the games, some of the brethren really took care of me throughout the retreat, while all the rest showed much concern for me (always checking on how I was doing!). The care that everyone showed me was to me a practical application of the “Communion of the Saints” which we learned during the retreat. Oh, how I pray that this kind of love and care will continue among the brethren even in the future when we return to the church. May we care for and help those who are in need, comforting those who are struggling, both in their physical and especially spiritual life.
Since it is the Lord Jesus Christ who had broken down “the wall” between us and God, as well as between one another, it is vital to remember that our communion is, first and foremost, with the Lord. Without Him, all of the so-called expressions of “love” are nothing but vain babbling.
Now, as some of you may know, I will be away from the church for quite some time, while waiting to see if my permit to stay in Singapore will be granted or not. Irrespective of the outcome, I’m very sure that our communion with one another will continue, as we hold on to our common faith in Christ, serving the Lord in our respective areas. Brethren, let us pray for one another, that our faith will not falter. Till we meet again (here, there, or up in the air), may we all be kept in the love of Christ.
Tan Yeh Wen
I would like to thank the Lord for bringing me to my first retreat since I became a Christian in 2014. Praise God for His grace and mercy upon me that allowed me to come to this retreat, as well as for His providential care which has provided me with the funds to come to this combined YF-YAF retreat.
Thanks be to God for the spiritual feeding received through His servants, Pastor Koshy, Elder Mah and Elder Choy. I am grateful for the spiritual feasting of His Word, and also for the experience of the vital doctrine of the “Communion of the Saints” through the fellowship.
I learnt from Pastor Koshy’s messages that communion of the saints first begins from our communion with God, which He, out of His great love and mercy, extends to us. It then spreads out towards the saints. It is necessary, therefore, that such a communion can only be found as part of the church, where His saints gather, and nowhere else. I had the blessed opportunity to experience this during the 3-4 days of retreat, enjoying the pure joy and peace amidst the unhindered communion of saints, which I cannot find elsewhere in the world. Surely, it was a foretaste of that eternal fellowship that we will have in heaven.
Moreover, Pastor Koshy also taught us that through the communion of saints, God’s love will flow and abound in service to the Lord and His saints. I was joyous to see this truth being manifested as campers wholeheartedly fulfilled their various duties, whether it be kitchen duties, cleaning and washing up the entire compound, or even helping one another in small things.
Last but not least, Pastor Koshy taught us that the communion of saints can be hindered by sin. Through the discussions, I was able to understand that unless I flee from all sin, I would not be able to fully enjoy this blessed communion. How can I have blessed communion with the most holy God and know more about God, if I treasure sin in my heart? And how can I have true communion with the saints, if I am not strengthened by my communion with God? Having tasted this blessed communion, how can I then return to the world? I must indeed flee from all sin, that this blessed communion may not be hindered!
All glory be to God.
Iwould like to thank God for a blessed time at the combined GYF-GYAF retreat this year. The Lord has blessed us bountifully and we have experienced much goodness from the Lord. Thank God for His Word that has taught me that communion with the saints stems from our personal communion with God. If our communion with God were to be in a disinterested, dry and cold manner, then likewise would our communion with the saints be so affected. Thank God also for the daily morning devotions through which I have learnt much about the sovereignty of God in our lives. Truly, God’s name alone must be praised!
Ithank and praise the Lord for enabling me to join this retreat. It is only by His providence and timing that I could come to study God’s Word while clearing my leave.
This retreat has taught me the vital doctrine of the “Communion of the Saints”, which tells us that the love of the brethren is a sure evidence of salvation (1 John 3:14-16). I experienced God’s blessings and spiritual nourishment through the wonderful messages preached by Pastor and also through the fellowship of the brethren. Even the resort that we stayed in afforded us a conducive environment for the purpose of the communion of the saints.
Despite the difficulties faced by our church, God has by His grace continually used His servants (namely our pastor and elders) to care for and minister to us, that the body of Christ may be “fitly joined together” (Ephesians 4:16a), and enabled to “increase and abound in love one toward another” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
All praise and glory to God!
Personally, I had been praying that God would grant us youths a rightful understanding and application of true scriptural unity during these difficult times. Truly, what a pleasant surprise to find out that the topic was “Communion of the Saints” – a wonderful and timely answer from God, which was beyond what I expected!
I was rebuked, corrected and encouraged through 1 Thessalonians 3:12 – “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you”; and Colossians 2:19 – “And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.” Admittedly, I have waned in my concern for fellow brethren, thinking that if they’re backsliding, I’ll just let them be since they are willingly disobeying the Word of God which they have heard and known very well. These passages, however, showed me that, as believers in constant individual communion with God, we can only grow more and more in our love for other members of the body of Christ. I should love them to the point of death, for God says in 1 John 3:16, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
The morning devotion from Psalm 46:10, with a quote of Isaiah 55:8 (“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”), encouraged me not to worry or be despondent even as I am praying as to what to do after my impending graduation, but rather to be still and wait on Him who is God. May God help me to be loving and forbearing with all lowliness and meekness, as well as to submit to Him who “will be exalted among the heathen, (and) in the earth”.
I thank God for this youth retreat – a blessed fellowship with the YAFers and youths of our church. I thank God for the many lessons on the theme “Communion of the Saints”, of which I shall mention two that I have learnt.
Firstly, communion with the saints is dependent on my communion with God. He has given the fullness of Himself (and not just a part of Himself), and so I must know Him more. Only with the fullness of God can I enjoy the fullness of communing with the saints. Secondly, I must love the brethren with wholeheartedness, longsuffering and meekness. Personal grievances cannot be allowed to impede fellowship. I love the brethren because God loves me; I must forgive because God has forgiven me; I must serve, yea even unto death, because Christ gave His life for me.
Indeed, I pray the Lord will help me with regard to these two practical applications which I have learnt. Moreover, I also learnt that each Person of the Trinity plays a unique ministry and role in the communion of the saints. This really gives me a fuller appreciation of the distinct ministry of the Triune God, Who “systematically” extends a divine plan such that I can truly bask in the communion of the saints!
The theme of this year’s retreat, “Communion of the Saints”, was so apt because I have been so blessed by the communion and love of the saints during the retreat.
I was not well on Sunday during the service, so I was a little apprehensive to join the retreat as I might be a burden to others. Nonetheless, God is gracious, and I attended the first two days with a healthy body and a thankful spirit. Among the many points I learnt during the first few messages, was a timely reminder that a Christian’s communion is first and foremost with God, and then with fellow saints.
However, on Tuesday evening, I became nauseous and kept vomiting. During this time, many brethren cared for me, showing the virtues of kindness and love, as mentioned in Ephesians 4:2 which Pastor had preached about in Message 6. Thank the Lord for sustaining me through the rest of the retreat, so that in the midst of my sickness, I was able to recount the words of the hymn ‘Constantly Abiding’ – “Tho the trials of life may surround like a cloud, I’ve a peace that has come there to stay!”
May the Lord bless everyone who has shown care and love for my sake. “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews 6:10).
As 2018 dawns upon us, I pray that our communion with God and fellow saints will be “sweeter as the years go by”. All praise and glory be to God!
God’s loving compassion has brought us to the end of 2017 – to Gethsemane B-P Church, it means 29 years of God’s faithfulness and blessings! The year 2018 will be the 30th year of our church. Let us praise God for the salvation, and all spiritual and material blessings that He has abundantly showered upon our congregation all these years. The following words of the psalmist ring in my heart as I think of the excellence of His loving kindness to our church:
“How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light. O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart” (Psalm 36:7-10).
We thank God that since the inception of our church, the Lord has graciously added a few hundred souls to worship, fellowship and serve with us. In these days, about three hundred people attend our Lord’s Day ministries. His goodness has enabled us to reach out to precious souls through various local Gospel outreach ministries – such as Sunday Evangelism, Prison Ministry, Campus Ministry, Care Ministry (TGCM), the Lions Home for the Elderly (an outreach to old folks in two designated nursing homes) – whereby doors are opened before us every week to reach hundreds with the Gospel. We also have several church-based ministries to edify the members and regular worshippers of all ages. Moreover, every year, thousands around the world are blessed through our Bible Witness magazine, Bible Witness Web Radio, audio and video sermons, as well as Gethsemane Bible Institute on-line courses, on the church website.
Over the past years, the Lord also has enabled us to labour to establish about ten churches, two Bible institutes, plus a Care ministry to reach people lost in drug-addictions. In addition, we also co-labour with like-minded churches and missionaries in foreign lands. Today, our mission activities are found in Ethiopia, Kenya, the Philippines, East Malaysia and India. God willing, soon we hope to establish a publishing ministry in India, which has been an earnest desire of Bro Sujith Samuel, who now labours in the city of Vizag.
Furthermore, I am very grateful for the special opportunity that the Lord gave to me last week to conduct seven lectures and a “Q & A” session for 69 Filipino pastors who had gathered in Bukidnon, Mindanao, the Philippines. This wonderful opportunity came through Dr Jose Lagapa, who now serves as a preacher in True Life BPC. Since 2011, Dr Lagapa, with the support of True Life BPC, has been conducting this Bible conference every two years for the equipping of pastors from fundamental churches in Mindanao. Dr Jeffrey Khoo had been the main speaker in the past conferences. Our missionaries from Cebu and Bohol have also been attending this conference. (Incidentally, Rev Reggor Galarpe and Eld Richard Tiu have during the past and recent conferences ministered the Word to the pastors in the morning devotions.) In the recent conference, Sis Juvy Anaviso (who is now a student in GBI, Cebu) was also there.
Let us pray for Dr Lagapa who travels to Bukidnon four times a year to conduct special courses for preachers who are in need of further training. Let us also pray that GBI, Cebu will be a place of theological training for many more men in the Philippines whom the Lord will call to labour in her thousands of islands!
With the increase in the number of participants in our church fellowships and of our church staff, we have been burdened with the need for a bigger Church Resource Centre. As a church, we have fasted and prayed to the Lord. Our leaders in tandem deliberated and laboured to make progress in acquiring a bigger place. The good providence of the Lord then guided us to register a “company with limited guarantee” (CLG) – namely Gethsemane Bible Witness Ltd – to manage the church’s business and administrative matters, and also to have a larger space for our fellowship gatherings. To date, we also received about S$2.5 million for the purchase of a new place
By God’s providence, the latest development in this matter is that the Lord has brought a buyer to purchase our present CRC for S$1.22 million. The “Option To Purchase” has been signed by our trustees (Eld Alan Choy, Bro Stephen Yap and Bro Neo Kian Seng). We thank God for helping us to secure this deal, which will increase our Building Fund for the purchase of our new premises. As soon as the sale is completed, we hope to start acquiring new premises. Let us continue to pray, and support with our gifts, for this need of our church to be met soon.
More than premises and programmes, our greatest concern ought to be our faithfulness and humility before the Lord. We must resist all temptations of worldliness and falsehood. Purity, devotion and sacrificial service must be our priority. Our preachers and missionaries, together with our elders and deacons, must be men of highest devotion and spiritual integrity!
We all must be vigilant, for the Scriptures warn us that in these last days, many will enter the ministry for self-gain. They are the minions of the devil. They will come to the offices of the church, and view such as a career that will provide a comfortable, easy life. In these days, many churches have been turned into lucrative business enterprises by their pastors. Those who preach for money are exploiters, extortionists and racketeers! The apostle Peter depicted them as those who “… through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” (2 Peter 2:3). In the words of the apostle Paul, they are “… men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness” (1 Timothy 6:5).
So brethren, awake out of your spiritual slumber! Stop your wanderings and return to your Lord! Follow Him as His loyal disciple. We, as a church, have much work to do for His glory. We have a high calling from God to fulfil. Only if we are spiritually renewed, revived and reinforced, can we fulfil all the works that God has called us to accomplish. Therefore, let us humbly seek Him, “expecting great things from God and attempting great things for God”. I end with the promise of God in Jeremiah 33:3 – “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.”
Truly, I covet your prayers for all our elders, deacons, preachers, missionaries and staff involved in our church’s various ministries. We praise God for all of you who love us in the Lord, and encourage and support us in the ministry.
My wife, Carolyn, and our children, Cornelius, Andronicus and Dorcas, join me to wish you: “A Blessed Christmas & a Happy New Year!” Please continue to pray for us.
Let us be united for the praise of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Affectionately your pastor,
Though God’s people have often provoked the LORD, He has not dealt with them according to their sins. Psalm 78:38-39 tell us, “But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath. For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.”
If the LORD were to chide us on every occasion when we sin, we would have been totally devastated. How consoling it is that the LORD will not always chide, though we often offend Him and deserve His chiding! The LORD is unlike those who take every occasion to chide, and never know when to stop! What would become of us if God had dealt angrily with us at every occasion of our sin?
Our text also says, “neither will he keep his anger for ever.” In the preceding verse, the psalmist testified that “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (v. 8). Because He is merciful and gracious, He is also “slow to anger.” His patience toward us is very great. The LORD knows how feeble we are, and shows His pity on us by withholding His anger from us. In Isaiah 57:16, the Lord proclaimed, “For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.” The LORD does not chide us for every fault; neither does He chide us for a long time nor hold any grudge against us. If He had always chided, our spirits would have failed altogether. That would have crushed our spirits!
Such longsuffering and compassion should not be taken for granted. We must quickly put off our sins and turn to Him in repentance and gratefulness. Nothing is more foolish than trying to exploit God’s grace and patience by continuing in sin.
Also, having received plenteous mercy and patience from God, every child of God must now show the same kind of longsuffering to others. Too much chiding might lead others to be disoriented and disillusioned. Some parents, by their constant rebuke and bitter dealing with children, drive them away. So let us be slow to anger toward those who have erred. Let us pay heed to Galatians 6:1a, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.”
Gethsemane Children’s Ministry (GCM) praises the Lord for seeing us through this year’s Daily Vacation Bible School (DVBS). This year’s theme – “Sing unto the LORD” – was drawn from Isaiah 42:10, “Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof.” The children were taught six lessons altogether from selected Bible passages based on the theme.
The LORD has been good to GCM. It was a challenge to find a venue to host this year’s DVBS, but God had prepared 202B, Ponggol 17th Avenue for our usage. He gave us 49 children (from ages 2 to 12) to learn about “Sing(ing) unto the LORD.” He also provided 7 teachers for the 3 classes: Nursery to Kindergarten (N-K), Primary 1 to 3 (P1-3), and Primary 4 to 6 (P4-6). In addition, He moved the hearts of 14 volunteers to help out in the various aspects of the event.
202B Ponggol 17th Avenue is a familiar place for many of the children; it is the home of The Gethsemane Care Ministry (TGCM). As such, there were some enthusiastic ones who came very early daily over the 3-day event. There were also those who loved the venue so much that they didn’t want to go home, and had to be “dragged” home!
The children were divided into three classes for Bible lessons. The N-K class used the hall on the ground floor, whereas the P1-3 class had their lessons held at the porch just outside the house. The P4-6 class had the privilege to use the “hallowed” hall of Gethsemane Bible Institute (GBI) for their lessons. Overall, everyone enjoyed the conduciveness of the premises.
One of the lessons’ objectives was to encourage our Christian children to glorify the LORD God with their own songs. They are to sing like Moses or the psalmist regarding how the LORD had helped them in times of afflictions and difficulties. Another aim of the lessons was to declare the glory and praise of God to the unbelieving children, that they might come to the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The children also had 3 hours worth of craft lessons, where they were divided into two groups. All of them made a box and a frame, plus a file and a notebook for the older kids, as well as a letterholder and a tambourine in the case of the younger ones. All these items were made from recycled materials, such as Bible Witness calendars, which have Scripture verses on them!
An interesting feature of this year’s DVBS was the Bible activity time, where the children were given opportunity to share their reasons for singing unto the LORD. Below is a selection of what some of the children said:
Needless to say, the children looked forward to the games time daily. The children were divided into two teams to compete with one another. There were different games planned by respective volunteers over the 3 days, which were executed with the help of many others, including adults. Though the adults were there to help oversee and organise the games, they sometimes couldn’t resist joining in! Certainly, each afternoon was a fun-filled time for all the participants, even the spectators.
Finally, there were those who laboured at the back of the house to feed the children and volunteers; also not forgetting those who helped to ferry the children to and fro the DVBS premises. They are the unseen workers of the LORD! Last but not least, we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped in one way or another – whether it be in the designing of the registration form, the planning of various activities, or the execution of them all, etc. Truly, may the LORD help us remember to sing His glory and praise all the days of our lives while we have our being (cf. Psalm 104:33)!
By the grace of God, our first opportunity of a sustained Gospel effort in India is granted to us through Bro Sujith Samuel, who has returned to India after completing his theological studies in FEBC. In our last Missionary Conference (June 2017), our Board of Elders commissioned Sujith as Gethsemane’s missionary (under probation), and since then he has been prayerfully working in the city of Visakhapatnam – or Vizag, for short – (a central eastern port city of India) to establish contacts and begin a Gospel work.
Recently, I was joined by Benny Skarih, Cornelius Koshy and Andronicus Koshy to visit Bro Sujith. We praise the Lord for the three days of fellowship and activities we had with Sujith and many of his contacts. This mission trip was very timely and a necessary one to understand the nature, challenges and needs of the Gospel work in that place and also to provide biblical advice to Bro Sujith. Upon our return, I received a short note from Sujith by WhatsApp – “Thanks for coming to Vizag irrespective of your busy schedule. It was a blessed time.”
Below, an extract from Cornelius Koshy’s report of the mission trip is published for your information and further prayer and support for our work in India. I want to thank all of you who have prayed for this mission trip, especially the brethren in Gethsemane Malayalam Fellowship who had laboured much in prayer and co-ordination with Sujith to organise this trip. May God prosper the Gospel work done by Bro Sujith and all faithful men in India for the extension of His kingdom.
Ibegin my report with Acts 1:8, where our Lord commissioned His disciples, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Such was God’s call of our brother Sujith, and we thank God for the first efforts to enter into the city of Visakhapatnam (in short, Vizag), in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in the Indian subcontinent. Andhra Pradesh is one of the five southern states of India – Tamil Nadu, Kerala (from which the Malayalees in our congregation originate), Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Sujith, being a Malayalee, does not speak Telugu, the language of the locals in Vizag. However, many in the city of Vizag speak English and Hindi, the national language of India, and Sujith is able to fluently communicate in both languages.
Day 1, Friday 24th Nov 2017
Pastor Koshy, Andronicus and I arrived in Vizag on the morning of 25 Nov 2017, and were warmly welcomed by Sujith and Praveen. Praveen attends a Baptist church whose pastor, Stevenson, founded a mission work called the Vision Hill Tribes. Sujith has preached on occasion in Praveen’s church because of the pastor’s recent ill health. Praveen, having a keen interest in studying God’s word, stays with Sujith in his apartment whenever he comes to study God’s Word under him.
After a quick hotel check-in, we met two Christians, Ravi and Deepanker, for lunch at a Chinese cafe owned by Christians, thus facilitating conversation over a meal. Ravi is the director of Baylogic Technologies, an IT company which runs software solutions for companies, including the well-loved sermonaudio.com. In fact, Ravi was educated in IT and theology for 3 years in USA before returning to Vizag, during which he became friends with Steven Lee, who then became the founder of sermon audio.com. Ravi is married to Neeta and they have 2 daughters, Sweeshi and Reeshi. Deepanker, a migrant from the neighbouring state of Chattisgarh, was originally working with HSBC in Vizag, but when he believed in Christ and renounced his Hindu religion, he transferred to join Ravi in Baylogic Technologies. Deepanker is married and has 2 sons, Daksh and Akshmit.
During lunch, issues surrounding Sujith’s long-term stay and the viability of setting up a church in Vizag were discussed. At present, much hostility exists towards Christian mission work; it has become very difficult to register new Gospel missions. From these brethren, Pastor was able to receive good and necessary information, which he will pass on to our elders for further prayerful support for our new Gospel work through Sujith.
That evening, Praveen drove all of us in a rented car to the outskirts of Vizag, to a village in Ayyannapalem, to visit a small village church led by a preacher, Dev Kumar. This congregation, as well as many other small clusters of Christian communities dispersed in Andhra Pradesh, are part of the Vision Hill Tribes. However, Dev Kumar’s church is now independent and selfsupporting. Nonetheless, they lack solid teaching of God’s Word, and the preachers and congregants are hungry for solid spiritual food. Sujith travels this long journey weekly by bus to nearby Pinagadi, and transfers in a shared auto-rickshaw into the village to conduct lessons on Theism. If Praveen comes along, he would go on Praveen’s bike.
In this trip, Pastor, continuing with the series on Theism, preached on the “Knowability of God”, translated by a brother called Leo, whose father is also a pastor. The key lesson from Pastor’s Bible Study is that man on his own cannot know God, and that all of mankind’s efforts to reach God have been futile; only through Jesus Christ can one fully know God. The Bible Study was attended by 4 local female students, Dev Kumar’s father (who himself was an itinerant and persecuted missionary) and mother, and Praveen. The team was later treated to some sumptuous homemade local Briyani, which was prepared by the sisters among them.
Day 2, Saturday 25th Nov 2017
The team set off early in the morning (5 am) in a “sleeper” train on a 185-km trip to a border town called Paralakhemundi in a neighbouring state, Odisha. The local spoken tongue there is Odiya, though many of them can speak Telugu because of their geographical proximity to Andhra Pradesh. The story of Sujith’s entrance into Odisha is worth mentioning, for it reflects the Holy Spirit’s working through Sujith’s ministry. Sujith was on a train once, where he met a Bible college lecturer, who then gave him the number of a man named “Henjit”, who was keen in studying the Bible indepth. Sujith then called Henjit, which then led to Henjit’s weekly travel down into Vizag to stay in Sujith’s apartment with Praveen for 2-3 days – to study God’s Word under Sujith. On weeks when Henjit was financially tight, he would miss that week’s journey and save up for the following week’s train expense. On occasions, Sujith would also travel up to meet Henjit, as well as other small churches in Odisha, which are Baptist in doctrinal persuasion.
Upon arrival in the railway station of Naupada (which is still in Andhra Pradesh), the team travelled another hour by car across the border into Odisha. We were effusively welcomed by Henjit’s family (with 3 children: Shine, Rejoice, Little). Henjit’s brother, Joyson, and his newlywed wife, were in the house too, and welcomed us with highest honour. Joyson expressed his keen interest in serving God full-time, and in joining Henjit in the weekly Bible studies with Sujith. In this short visit, Pastor introduced the idea of getting computers for them to engage in online and web learning of God’s Word via the GBI-online lectures and materials, which will be accomplished through God’s timely provision. Apart from weekly preaching in his house church, which is attended by 3 families, Henjit used to frequent the prison to preach to the inmates. At present, Henjit is waiting for the official issuance of a prison pass before continuing this prison ministry.
We then moved off to a small meeting room in Hotel Unique for the main purpose of the trip to Odisha: a pastors’ conference. 14 Pastors from nearby villages gathered for a two-part series on 1 Thessalonians 1, whereby Pastor taught them how to lead a biblical church. The teachings were translated by a very able translator: Nayan Kipchang Limau. The main thrust of the conference can be summarised thus: “A biblical church must have a work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope. They must be sure of their election of God, equipped with [our] Gospel which must be exemplified in their lives, and empowered by the Holy Ghost.” These preachers showed much gratitude and appreciation for the fruitful study. May God continue to use Sujith to equip these hungry preachers with God’s Word and teach them biblical doctrines, even to correct the misguided doctrines held by some.
We were joined by Benny Skariah midway through the conference, who flew into Vizag on Saturday morning, and was driven by Praveen all the way up into Odisha. We thank God for the labour of love shown by Praveen, who later drove the entire mission team back into Vizag, clocking a grand total of 370 km and 8.5 hours of car journey in a day – a tiring but nonetheless fulfilling day of ministry!
Day 3 (final day), Sunday 26th Nov 2017
On the Lord’s Day, the mission team joined Sujith to attend a house church begun by Ravi which meets at the home of a congregant, Anand Kumar. Of great encouragement and help to the congregation here is a European family in Vizag, who join them in the worship and service of the Lord. The order of worship is similar to that of our Bible-Presbyterian Church. Pastor Koshy preached on “The Supremacy of Christ” from Colossians 1, which exalts Christ as the express image and revelation of the invisible God. This message was relevant as some among the congregants seem to hold on to old traditions and myths of the Hindu faith, which liken Jesus to one of the many “avatars” (or manifestations) of God. Pastor therefore preached passionately against this prevalent notion. Cornelius led the children in Sunday School and taught on the Christian response to divine wisdom. Solomon likens wisdom to the gold earrings and ornaments which women adorn themselves with – a familiar sight in Indian culture indeed, thus using Proverbs 25:12 to teach the attitude of Christians towards godly wisdom. The service concluded with a fellowship lunch prepared by the congregants.
After a fruitful 2 hours of lunch fellowship with the congregants, the mission team proceeded to Sujith’s rented apartment – a sizable 3-room apartment with a living room which can comfortably sit 20 persons. However, Sujith expressed concern over accommodating a house church in his apartment because he had received complaints from his Hindu neighbours against any Christian activities in his flat.
With a burden to find an ideal location for Sujith to begin a church, the mission team went to view a small 3-storey shop, owned by Ravi, which potentially could be the space for Sujith to begin his church ministry. It is located along a main road, in the city centre. It can accommodate Bro Sujith and other students who come over to study, and a congregation of 30 people. This matter is yet to be considered by our elders.
The mission team then rushed to the airport to catch their flights – the Koshys to Singapore, and Bro Benny to Kerala – and thereby concluding the short but nonetheless very fulfilling mission trip.
The path ahead of Sujith is still rid with many obstacles. What lies ahead is uncertain, but just as God has guided and equipped Sujith in his pioneering 6 months of mission work, we trust that God will fulfil the good work He has begun in Vizag – even unto the other northern states of the Hindi Belt (as Sujith dearly wishes), and all the way to the Himalayas (as Pastor delightfully remarked)! To God be the glory!
Our Lord Jesus said, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour” (John 12:26).
According to Christ’s own words, it is he who follows Him that truly serves Him. In the context of this passage, following Christ would mean self-sacrifice and even death. He had earlier spoken about His hour of death (v. 23; cf. v. 27) and the need to die like a corn of wheat to bear fruit that will last unto all eternity (vv. 24- 25). Without an absolute commitment (which may even incur death) to go with Christ, one cannot truly serve Him. One should surrender oneself totally to Christ’s leading to be a true servant worthy of His name.
A true servant of Christ will fix his eyes upon his Master, avoiding all else that would distract or lure him away from Him. The servant of the Lord is most willing to serve Him with his whole heart. He will not quit attending to his Master for any consideration of wealth, rank, relationship or fame. He will also be willing to serve Him at His command in any place, in any condition and in any circumstance. He does not choose his area of service according to his own wishes and whims, but according to his Master’s will.
He has no terms or conditions in his service to the Master. He is ready to do the Lord’s work even if it would mean sacrifice and suffering. He is singleminded to know his Master’s will and to fulfil it with all his strength. He is committed to follow every word of his Master and render a faithful service. The pleasure and honour of his Master is his singular passion.
He is thankful that he is allowed to be so close to the Master to serve Him. So he lovingly, diligently, enthusiastically, joyfully presents himself as a servant to his Master. He revels in his privileged opportunity to stay by his Master. With pure delight, he listens to the Lord’s voice – His commands, His counsels, His promises. The Master is everything to him.
The servant of the Lord is very grateful that he is permitted to follow Him everywhere. His joy and honour are greater than those of the great king Solomon’s servants, whose “sitting”, “attendance” (i.e. manner of service), and “apparel” literally overwhelmed the queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:5). Indeed, to every sincere servant of Christ, His presence and guidance are infinitely more eminent and honourable than Solomon’s glorious palace. So Christians, let us serve our Lord wherever He would lead us, be it in the church, in the home, in the school, or at work.
Jesus promises His servants, “if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”
Ah, what great honour is promised to all who serve Christ according to His good and perfect will as revealed in His Word! How wonderful to hear it from the lips of our blessed Lord and Saviour! He will certainly do what He has said. Oh, how tenderly and graciously the Lord deals with His servants! How amazing it is that in the midst of His great agony, He thought about cheering His troubled servants by telling them of the honour that His Father will bestow upon them!
The prospect of being a servant of Christ is the highest and an unsurpassable honour that a man can ever receive. Obedience to Christ is a glorious privilege, for it empowers a man to overcome his wicked lusts and thoughts, and live a godly and blessed life. Being an obedient servant of Christ is to inherit a pure and clean life devoid of the corruptions of sin. To be a submissive, dutiful follower of Christ is to be conformable to Christ. A true servant of Christ is Christ-like. Oh, what an honourable and high calling Christ gives to everyone who follows Him as His servant!
Serving Christ in this hostile world would bring many trials and much suffering to His followers. Jesus Himself has said, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord” (Matthew 10:22-24).
The humiliations and the hurts one suffers for being a servant of Christ serve only to prove his calling and the certainty of the eternal glory and honour the Father will bestow on him. True servants seek not the honour that cometh from man, but from Christ and His Father. So Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12). Paul told the suffering Christians, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Timothy 2:12). Servants of Christ may suffer on earth, but they shall have great honour in heaven!
God does not want His people to be taught by self-commissioned preachers! He disapproved the teachings of such men among the ancient Israelites – “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied” (Jeremiah 23:21). God warned of their ministry as unprofitable and treacherous – they “… cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:32; cf. 14:14; 27:15).
One such preacher was Hananiah. To him, God’s servant Jeremiah said, “Hear now, Hananiah; The LORD hath not sent thee; but thou makest this people to trust in a lie” (Jeremiah 28:15). The preaching by a man who is not equipped by the Spirit of God would cause his hearers to “trust in a lie”. For this reason, Jeremiah squared up to Hananiah. Like Jeremiah, every faithful servant of God recognises the necessity to contend with him who is not sent by God, for that man will not only be ineffectual but will also pose the grave danger of misleading the people into error. Such vigilance and conflict may cause some, especially simple-minded Christians, to become weary. Nonetheless, it must be emphasised that it is necessary, as in the case of “Jeremiah vs Hananiah”, that any “self-ordination” to the office of a preacher must be opposed!
It is to protect the church from such men that God’s Word gives us this condition: that if a man were to come to the office of a preacher (or any other leadership office of the church), evidence of the Spirit-endued qualities and abilities must be found in that man whom God calls into the preaching ministry. Moreover, God’s Word commands the leaders of the church (i.e. pastors and elders) to scrutinise and examine individuals who desire to come to the offices of the church. Even after the appointment of such men to the offices of the church, vigilance must continue so that those who are not of God but had somehow made their way into the offices of the church may not be allowed to start their vile efforts to corrupt the church.
The God-sent preacher is not one who prepares a sermon and delivers it in an academic fashion. The God-sent preacher preaches from a divine impulsion and enablement. He says with Paul, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
God first calls and adequately prepares the preacher before He sends him to preach His Word. Hence, the preacher will not only have a deep desire to preach but also all the necessary qualities and abilities to do the work of a preacher. Only those whom God has called, prepared and equipped to preach His Word will He commission and send as preachers. When God equips a man with all the required spiritual wisdom, character and giftedness, which are outlined in the sacred Scriptures, the leaders and members of the church would be able to witness them.
The preacher is a witness to God’s message and His equipping of him. He is not assigned to be a mere heralder of the divine message, but also to be a living testimony of the message. By faith, he receives the message not just for his hearers, but also for himself, and yields himself to live daily according to the Biblical truths. The preacher is first of all a witness of the truth, then its heralder. His life must be regenerated, renewed, and ratified by the truths of God’s Word.
He must acknowledge the authority of God’s Word. It is not enough to merely believe in the authority of the Word; there must be evidence that he is living under the authority of the Word. He who has not experienced the power of God’s truth in his life cannot share it boldly with others. He must be submissive to what Scripture says, even when his own heart’s desires and feelings are contrary to it.
A servant of God is one whom God has deployed for the service of His kingdom. God will prepare him and place him according to His providential plan in the work of His church. The service of God is a divine deployment, not a voluntary service. Whatever be the office, God’s Word is clear that no man who is not specifically called and prepared by God should enter therein. This principle is clearly mentioned in passages like Hebrews 5:4 – “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” This principle is corroborated by John the Baptiser’s words: “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27).
There are a thousand ways in which God may use His people to serve in the church. But to be in the office of the ministry of the Word (such as teaching and preaching), their giftedness is very different from all other services in the church. When it comes to the office of a preacher, it is non-negotiable that a man shows all the evidence of divine equipping for that honourable task. He must have the humility, integrity, giftedness to expound the Word, co-labouring spirit with other preachers, wisdom, discernment to give counsel to God’s people, etc. Until all these qualities and abilities are evident and confirmed, no one should be appointed to the office of a preacher. Certainly, it does not mean all preachers will be equally capable and effective. Nonetheless, the divine enabling for the task must be evident in a preacher.
Let no one rush to be a preacher. Let no one seek to be a preacher anyhow. Let the man who says that he is called to be a preacher follow the Biblical instructions concerning the appointment to that office. God will not fail to fulfil the call He has given to His servants (cf. Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 3:3). God has not allowed any man who is not evidently proven by the Spirit of God (before the church and her God-honouring leaders) as having the divine calling and enablement, to take to himself the office of a preacher. If the church, especially the pastors and elders, do not sense your giftedness and affirm your ability to preach, then you should not take it upon yourself to be a preacher. No one should discredit the advice of God-appointed men in the church, for they watch over your souls (Hebrews 13:17)! Like Timothy, every preacher must have the affirmation of the presbytery (1 Timothy 4:14). For if a man takes to himself the office of a preacher by going against and neglecting the counsel of those whom God has appointed in the leadership of the church, why should he think that his hearers would hear him?
Paul wrote, “Let him that stole steal no more” (Ephesians 4:28a). This is a prohibition against stealing. The word “stole” in Greek is a present participle verb, which has durative force. Thus, it denotes ‘he who used to steal’ or an actual thief. Whatever form of stealing there had been in a person’s life, once he becomes a Christian, he must stop it utterly.
Jesus said in Matthew 15:18-19 that thefts proceed from the heart and defile a person. Stealing is an unrighteous act that does not befit the followers of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, the apostle Paul listed thieves among those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. He said, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
Theft was regarded as a serious sin in the Old Testament and was prohibited in firm words – “Thou shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15; cf. Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 5:19; Jeremiah 7:9). Jesus cited the commandment, “Thou shall not steal”, in Mark 10:19, and so did the apostle Paul in Romans 13:9. Stealing is a violation of God’s commandment; it is also a social evil that disrupts the peace and progress of every community.
Stealing is taking another person’s property without permission or legal right, and without any intention of returning it. It is the illegal possession of anything owned by others. Many people practise various forms of stealing today – robbery, burglary, shoplifting, looting, petty theft, fraudulent business, profiteering, withholding employees’ promised pay, mismanagement of time and properties at work, cheating on taxes, refusal to pay debts, plagiarism, copyright violation, not giving tithes and offerings to support God’s work, etc.
Let us not engage in any form of stealing. Neither should we admire nor follow the pattern of those who become rich at the expense of others. Do not collaborate with those who covetously deal with others. Some may have committed certain forms of stealing without realising the severity of the misdemeanour. Nonetheless, everyone should repent from the sin of stealing when the Spirit of God convicts him through His Word. And wherever possible, he should restore those things to the rightful owner.
The next advice Paul gives to Christians is “but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Ephesians 4:28b).
A Christian should never pursue any dishonest means of material gain, such as through stealing. He is advised to “labour, working with his hands”. The thief must stop stealing and begin to put in some hard, honest labour. The Greek word for “labour” (kopiáō) denotes toil or engaging in hard work to the point of exhaustion. Paul used this word in connection with “working with his hands”. Christians should prefer hard, manual labour to stealing. The apostle Paul, when he was without any financial assistance, gave himself to hard labour, working with his hands to support the Gospel work (1 Corinthians 4:12). According to Acts 18:3, when he was in Corinth, he supported himself by working as a tentmaker, together with Aquila. In Acts 20:34, referring to his time in Ephesus, he further said “that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.” Without question, he worked hard to support himself and those in need.
Whether it was in a secular profession or in the ministry, Paul was assiduous and hardworking. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, he said, “but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” In 1 Thessalonians 2:9, Paul wrote, “For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” Like Paul, we must dedicate our hands, our minds and our strength to undertaking and accomplishing tasks that are good, instead of doing that which is bad, contrary to God’s law. We must not be slothful or lazy in our work. We must not detest hard work. Christians must always be industrious people. Whether it is at workplace, at home, or in church, let us be diligent to put our hands to useful and profitable things.
A commitment to hard work will not only help us to cease from dishonest and evil activities (such as stealing), but will also provide us with means to earn a living for ourselves and to help others in need. The Bible teaches us to be eager to help others who are in need. Paul was a tender-hearted, generous person who took lead in helping others (cf. Acts 24:17; Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-9). As he wrote in Galatians 6:10, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
Dear Pastor Koshy,
We would be remiss if we did not thank you and the Session in affording all GBPC members/visitors the very informative Reformation lectures over the month of October, commemorating the 500th year since this work began at God’s command. We are indebted to GBPC and the speakers.
It was our great joy to learn of the Reformation, in such detail, and our wonder and joy to learn how God raised great men of faith to keep His church pure and faithful, for His honour and praise.
That the Reformation coincided with the world rapidly entering the “Englishspeaking” era, with exploding literacy worldwide, is truly God’s perfect timing. It also happened at the time of the world when there was a great “rebirth” in learning in theology, philosophy, arts, engineering, etc. Not to mention also the invention of the printing press! Truly, His perfect timing is so evident throughout the whole Bible and through the several eras of man’s history. All things are always determined by God, and none else!
We are truly humbled by the perfect work of God in the Reformation … Thank you for the rounded presentation. It is truly our untold joy now to be able to follow God’s Word and His work in preserving His church until our Lord Christ comes again. We pray the Holy Spirit and His grace will enable all believers to faithfully persevere in faith, and see God’s faithful and wondrous work in keeping His church pure in our time.
God is faithful to His church. Praise God and amen.
Joyfully and gratefully in Christ,
Do not I fill heaven and earth?” (Jeremiah 23:24b) – the omnipresent God asked. There is neither nook nor corner where God is not there. God’s presence fills the vast entire universe. Because of God’s omnipresence, we can be sure that He hears us when we pray. When we pray to Him in the quiet of the night at our bedside, He hears. Out in the field, when a little boy walks and whispers his silent prayer to Him, He hears. Up in the mountain, when a lone hiker cries out to God in his heart, He hears. We pray because He hears us. The psalmist in Psalm 145 expressed this confidence when he sang, “The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him” (Psalm 145:18).
However, there are times when God shuts His ears towards those who pray. Regardless how loudly we shout out our prayers to God or how earnestly we pray, He does not hear. Our prayers, no matter how doctrinally sound or beautifully worded, will be uttered in vain. This is especially so when we regard iniquity in our hearts. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me”. If we are unwilling to forsake any sin, having the purpose to commit transgressions again, God will not acknowledge our prayers. God will turn away from our prayers. John 9:31a says, “God heareth not sinners”. God has no regard for the prayers of habitual sinners who have no repentance for their transgressions. Even though unremorseful sinners may be in fervent prayer, their prayers matter nothing to God.
Why is it that God does not hear sinners? The Bible gives us the reasons. As Christians, the fact that God hears our prayers comforts us. We must therefore be very concerned with the reasons why He shuts His ears to prayers.
1 Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” The omnipresent God sets His eyes upon those who do His will with favour and is ever willing to listen to their prayers. On the other hand, God is against those who do evil even though they may pray unto Him. Habitual sinners face an angry God who is determined to punish them. Not only will their prayers not be answered, the wrath of God awaits them.
People who regard iniquity in their hearts must not think that their many prayers will in any way alleviate their situation. In fact, their “prayer shall be abomination” (Proverbs 28:9) to Him. An abomination is something that God utterly hates. Prayers from a sinful person furthermore incur the wrath of God. The prayers of an evildoer “add oil” to the fire of God’s anger. Proverbs 28:9 says, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” The prayers from anyone who has no regard for the commandments of God are abominable to God. God has no delight in these “sacrificial” prayers of the wicked (cf. Proverbs 15:8).
God does not hear the prayers of evildoers because their sins have separated them from their God. The prophet Isaiah cried out to Judah, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Judah was praying fervently to God to deliver them from national calamity while they refused to repent from steep idolatry. The prophet Isaiah warned them that it was not because God was not able to deliver but because the sins of Judah acted like a vast expanse that separated them far away from their God. God chose not to be close or favourable to them anymore. He deliberately remained remote from Judah even though they might pray to Him.
The distress of wicked Judah did not move the hand of God to help them even though they prayed. Despite the desperate situation they were in, God would be far from hearing their cries and helping them. Proverbs 15:29a says, “The LORD is far from the wicked”.
Let us therefore put away our every hidden desire to sin against God. If we do so, God has promised that He will not “turn away” from our prayer (cf. Psalm 66:20). Truly, “if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth” (John 9:31b).
One of the significant theological slogans that emerged out of the Reformation was Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda (i.e. “The church reformed, always reforming”). It represented nothing more than the Reformers’ desire for the church to return to sound biblical theology. They never thought of their theological work as devising something altogether new. Their intent was singular – renewing or reviving the church according to the saving truths of the Word of God.
Reformers knew that the church had become corrupt, and a change in the church’s beliefs and ministry was critical. Hence, they worked relentlessly to have the church reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God. John Calvin wrote in the preface of his tract, The Necessity for Reforming the Church:
“We maintain, then, that at the commencement when God raised up Luther and others, who held forth a torch to light us into the way of salvation, and who, by their ministry, founded and reared our churches those heads of doctrine in which the truth of our religion, those in which the pure and legitimate worship of God, and those in which the salvation of men are comprehended, were in a great measure obsolete. We maintain that the use of the sacraments was in many ways vitiated and polluted. And we maintain that the government of the Church was converted into a species of foul and insufferable tyranny.”
In that article, Calvin’s greatest attempt was to express “how to restore the Church to its proper state.” He dealt with four topics, which he remarked as “soul and body” of the church. He referred to the topics of worship and salvation as the “soul” of the church, while sacraments and church government were called the “body” of the church. He sought to call for prompt actions to remedy the evils in the church related to worship, salvation, sacraments and church government.
One of the most significant outcomes of the Reformation was the prominence that the preaching of the Word received in the church worship services. In the late-medieval period, sermons were not the common feature of church worship. People had to go out of the church into open fields to hear preachers. Such preachers [e.g. Bernardino of Siena (1380– 1444); Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498)] faced excommunication and even execution. In those days, people went to church to see ceremonies attached to Mass. Preaching was so neglected that it virtually ceased to exist in the church. However, Reformation brought preaching of the Word from the obscurity and secrecy of the fields back into the worship service of the church. The Reformers’ battle for the Word of God had reinstated its preaching to its rightful place in the church.
The Reformers would not leave the souls of the spiritually hungry churchgoers in the hands of irresponsible clergymen who were not keen to feed them with the Word. So, like the faithful and concerned shepherds, the Reformers strived – even though it would mean death to them – to nourish the flock of God with the truths of the Holy Scriptures. Soon the activities of the churches, where the Reformers had laboured, became thoroughly Wordcentred. The proclamation of God’s Word became their greatest concern. In Saint Pierre’s Church of Geneva, where Calvin ministered, the church building was rid of all the statues of saints, relics, crucifixes and even the altar where the Mass was conducted. Even the walls and pillars were whitewashed to hide Rome’s unbiblical iconography. A wooden pulpit was brought into the church and was placed in such a way that the worshippers would be seated around it. By placing the pulpit at the centre from which the sermon would be preached, Scripture was given centre stage. Such changes were also made in other churches in the surrounding areas. Thousands of sermons were preached by the Reformers, thus making available to God’s flock the indispensable means of grace that provided them with salvation, sanctification, wisdom, comfort and revival.
Indeed, the Reformers were eager to get the church aligned to the Scriptural depiction of its faith and practice. Their efforts were not in vain. Eventually, Reformed Confessions of Faith (such as the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms) were drawn up to guide the church in the truths of God’s Word. These standards of faith testify that the Reformers’ efforts to reform the church were truly a movement to bring the church back to biblical theology. A Reformed church is a church that yields to the doctrines of Scripture. Churches in all ages and in all places must be committed to remain faithful to Scriptural doctrines and living – all the more so because of the Scriptural warning that false teachers will arise to bring damnable heresies in to the flocks of God (Matthew 24:5, 11, 24; Acts 20:29- 30; 1 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 2:8, 18; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-9; 4:3; Titus 1:11; 2 Peter 2:1).
Though the Roman Catholic Church had long presented itself as the true, biblical apostolic church, a host of its doctrines and practices were unknown to the apostles and the early church, not to mention the New Testament. So, the Reformers called the church to reform itself by submitting to the sound theology of the Holy Scriptures.
Sadly, many protestant churches of our time make changes to their faith, worship and practice based on contemporary culture. They attempt to legitimise the implemented changes by holding them up as consistent with the Reformation principle of “The church … always reforming”. This motto was never meant to justify unbiblical changes made to the faith, life and practice of the church. Instead, it demands that the church subject itself to the scrutiny of God’s Word and that it continually remain faithful to the truths of the Word of God. Making the timeless authority of God’s Word subordinate to changing cultural values and scientific theories is contrary to the Reformation motto of “always reforming”.
The true intent of Reformation is to reform the church back to Scripture. Even after 500 years, the church needs this same Reformation. The Bible is the only authority for the church, and it is sufficient and efficient to bring salvation and edification to His people.
As we recall the 16th century Reformation, we praise God for the great work He has done through the Reformers. Among the Reformers, John Calvin (1509-1564), though regarded as a second generation Reformer, had played a definitive role in the Reformation. Calvin is credited, along with Martin Luther and John Knox, for helping to revive biblical Christianity.
It is reported that more than 30,000 English-speaking congregations around the world trace their lineage through John Calvin. He was a figure of remarkable significance in the history of the Reformed tradition.
John Calvin was a theologian, pastor, biblical exegete and tireless apologist for Reformed Christianity. His theological works, biblical commentaries, tracts, treatises, sermons and letters helped to spread the Reformation doctrines throughout Europe. He ranks among the most important thinkers in church history. No theologian has been as acclaimed or assailed as much as Calvin.
Calvin’s greatest single work in Christian theology is “The Institutes of Christian Religion”. He wrote it at the age of 27 (though he continued to update and republish it throughout his life). It has altered the course of Western history as much as any other book. It is still read by theological students today. It covers a broad range of theological topics from justification by faith alone to Christian liberty and the doctrines of church and sacraments. The overarching theme of the book – and Calvin’s greatest theological legacy – is the idea of God’s total sovereignty, particularly in salvation and election.
During his pastoral ministry in Geneva, Calvin tirelessly preached over two thousand sermons. He preached twice on Sunday and almost every weekday. It is reported that his sermons lasted more than an hour. Church historians note that Calvin worked himself nearly to death. When he could not walk, he was carried to church in a chair to preach. Even when the doctor forbade him to go out in the winter, he would welcome people into his bedroom and give lectures there. When some urged him to rest, he would ask them, “What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?”
To provide a glimpse of this giant of theology, here are some quotes from Calvin’s pen. (These quotes are adapted from http://www.calvin500.com/ john-calvin/quotes-by-calvin)
An excerpt from “An Introduction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans,” Luther’s German Bible of 1522 by Martin Luther, 1483-1546. Translated by Rev. Robert E. Smith from DR. MARTIN LUTHER’S VERMISCHTE DEUTSCHE SCHRIFTEN. Johann K. Irmischer, ed. Vol. 63 gen: Heyder and Zimmer, 1854), pp.124-125. [EA 63:124-125]
Faith is not what some people think it is. Their human dream is a delusion. Because they observe that faith is not followed by good works or a better life, they fall into error, even though they speak and hear much about faith. “Faith is not enough,’’ they say, “You must do good works, you must be pious to be saved.’’
They think that, when you hear the gospel, you start working, creating by your own strength a thankful heart which says, “I believe.’’ That is what they think true faith is. But, because this is a human idea, a dream, the heart never learns anything from it, so it does nothing and reform doesn’t come from this ‘faith,’ either.
Instead, faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.
Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace. Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire! Therefore, watch out for your own false ideas and guard against good-for-nothing gossips, who think they’re smart enough to define faith and works, but really are the greatest of fools.
Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say or can do.
[An Excerpt From Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Works (1545) by Dr. Martin Luther, 1483- 1546. Translated by Bro. Andrew Thornton, OSB from the “Vorrede zu Band I der Opera Latina der Wittenberger Ausgabe.1545” in vol. 4 of Luthers Werke in Auswahl, ed. Otto Clemen, 6th ed.,(Berlin: de Gruyter. 1967). pp. 421-428]
Translator’s Note: The material between square brackets is explanatory in nature and is not part of Luther’s preface. The terms “just, justice, justify” in the following reading are synonymous with the terms “righteous, righteousness, make righteous.” Both sets of English words are common translations of the Latin “justus” and related words. A similar situation exists with the word “faith”; it is synonymous with “belief.” Both words can be used to translate Latin “fides.” Thus, “We are justified by faith” translates the same original Latin sentence as does “We are made righteous by belief.”
Meanwhile in that same year, 1519, I had begun interpreting the Psalms once again. I felt confident that I was now more experienced, since I had dealt in university courses with St. Paul’s Letters to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the Letter to the Hebrews. I had conceived a burning desire to understand what Paul meant in his Letter to the Romans, but thus far there had stood in my way, not the cold blood around my heart, but that one word which is in chapter one: “The justice of God is revealed in it.” I hated that word, “justice of God,” which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as referring to formal or active justice, as they call it, i.e., that justice by which God is just and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust.
But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn’t be sure that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God. I said, “Isn’t it enough that we miserable sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel threaten us with his justice and his wrath?” This was how I was raging with wild and disturbed conscience. I constantly badgered St. Paul about that spot in Romans 1 and anxiously wanted to know what he meant.
I meditated night and day on those words until at last, by the mercy of God, I paid attention to their context: “The justice of God is revealed in it, as it is written: ‘The just person lives by faith.’” I began to understand that in this verse the justice of God is that by which the just person lives by a gift of God, that is by faith. I began to understand that this verse means that the justice of God is revealed through the Gospel, but it is a passive justice, i.e. that by which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “The just person lives by faith.” All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light. I ran through the Scriptures from memory and found that other terms had analogous meanings, e.g., the work of God, that is, what God works in us; the power of God, by which he makes us powerful; the wisdom of God, by which he makes us wise; the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.
I exalted this sweetest word of mine, “the justice of God,” with as much love as before I had hated it with hate. This phrase of Paul was for me the very gate of paradise. Afterward I read Augustine’s “On the Spirit and the Letter,” in which I found what I had not dared hope for. I discovered that he too interpreted “the justice of God” in a similar way, namely, as that with which God clothes us when he justifies us. Although Augustine had said it imperfectly and did not explain in detail how God imputes justice to us, still it pleased me that he taught the justice of God by which we are justified.