(Part 1/1) The Case for Singaporean Protestantism
Story time, so I’ve been trying to share with my friends what I’ve learnt about the History of Singaporean Christianity over the past few months of reading, and I thought I’d just try to summarise some of here and see if that works better. Can? Also I’m reading from a script, cos I like writing a lot more than I like speaking, so I hope this makes it better. K lezgo.
Background, so Singapore is a multicultural society, we have Taoist and Buddhist Chinese population, Hindu Indians, Muslimin of every race as the prevailing religion of the land and of the indigenous people, and then we have Christians. Now, aside from being Baptised a third-generation Roman Catholic as an infant, why would it make cultural sense for me as a Chinese Singaporean to be intentionally Christian? Is this just another example of selling out and submitting to a white man’s faith? I want to answer that today and hopefully give us some clarity, especially to those of us who grew up feeling that Christianity is somehow foreign and maybe even oppressive.
First, we have to start with National Identity. Why Malay culture and religion is protected in our constitution, and why that should change the way we see ourselves as Christians. So where I see this being relevant is in the narrative of Singapore being the ‘Antioch of Asia’. Evangelism, though central to the faith, can become shallow if we just mindlessly tell people to come to Church, especially when there is a whole backstory of the Alam Melayu, the Malay World, and how Islam and Christianity has shaped it over the past 600 years. Long time, I know, but I’m just going to cover the main points here and what I believe is that Singaporean Christians should see ourselves as part of this wider Alam Melayu, not just as a religious minority in our Island City, and only then will we be ready to explain our faith in a way that makes historical sense.
In 1963, which was the year Singapore merged with Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah, the Filipino politician Wenceslao Vinzons, proposed a Greater Malayan Confederation based on Jose Rizal’s idea that the peoples of Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, aka the Maphilindo, were part of a Malay Race artificially divided by the Colonial Powers. So it was supposed to be like ASEAN, but Malay. And did it work? No, cos that year we kena the Konfrontasi, Malaysia and Indonesia buey gam, yadda yadda. Nonetheless, this was quite a different idea of the Malay Race from what we have in modern Singapore.
So what’s the diff? Well, our story begins with the destruction of the Kerajaan Singapura by the Karaton Majapahit 1398 and understanding the ethos of these two nations is key to understanding the layers of our national identity. The Kerajaan Singapura was the state founded by the Buddhist Prince Sang Nila Utama in 1299, when he, lets say it together, ‘saw a lion alamak, named the village Singapura, then run very far’, but between this and when ‘years later ang moh came’, there was a crucial cultural shift which has lasted till this day, and that is religion of Islam.
The popular story goes that the last Raja of Singapura, Raja Parameswara, converted from Buddhism to Islam and took the name Sultan Iskandar Shah. Sway sway his Island kena hammered, so he cabut to Melaka and established his own Islamic Sultanate, the Kesultanan Melayu Melaka. So now we have two nations, the Hindu-Buddhist Karaton Majapahit and the Islamic Kesultanan Melayu Melaka and these two nations will become the basis for modern Indonesia and Malaysia. The Kesultanan Melayu Melaka is also the state that gave us the Malay Annals, which chronicles the establishment of Malay monarchy, Malay language and Malay Islam, the three pillars of Malay identity in modern Malaysia and Singapore.
Now, when Raffles and Farquhar landed in Singapore in 1819, they found a small community of 120 Malays and 30 Chinese, so that’s like one double-decker bus of Malays and a classroom of Chinese, not a lot of people. They had just come over 8 years earlier in 1811 from Johor. They had no Masjids, (I’m going to call Mosques Masjids here), no Madrassahs, no large businesses, just a kampung with a lot of fish. Raffles took this small community and made it a British Trading Outpost. Now, that doesn’t mean Singapore was under the British government just yet, that won’t happen until 1867, it was just a small town managed by the British East India Trading Company, which was like a private company but run by British people, and they were just here to make money. No social policies, just trade.
The oldest Masjid then was set up by an Arab, Syed Omar bin Ali Aljunied, who founded the Masjid Omar Kampung Melaka in 1820, and then came the second oldest Masjid, the Masjid Sultan at Kampong Glam built by Sultan Hussain Shah of Johor in 1824, using the money he got from selling land in Singapura to Raffles. So now, under Raffles, Singapore had a Malay Language speaking population, was overseen by the Malay Temenggong of Johor, and had established Malay Masjids for Islamic worship. So far so good. And in 1867, when the British government took over Singapore from the British East India Trading Company, they simply wanted it to stay that way. Since then, the Malay ethnicity, language and religion has been established by law up till today, so the protection of the Malay community in our Constitution, Malay as our National Language and the establishment of the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, MUIS, by the government of the Republic of Singapore is a reflection of this historical reality.
Anyway, this change in leadership caused some problems in the local Christian community. In 1867, we had four main churches, the Anglican St Andrews Church, now St Andrews Cathedral, the Presbyterian Malay Mission Chapel, today Princep Street Presbyterian Church, the Roman Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd, today the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, and finally the Armenian Apostolic Church of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the oldest Church in Singapore, now more commonly known as the Armenian Church. So if you notice, that one of these things are not like the other, yes, you’ve guessed it, the Presbyterian community was as a whole Malay and Peranakan, which was problematic, because to the Kesultanan Johor and the British Government, Malay equals Muslim, not Christian, so the congregation was decisively converted back to Islam, and in 1885, the building was transferred to the English Presbyterian Church along with its remaining Peranakan Congregation, and since then, the Presbyterian Church in Singapore has remained very the Chinese indeed. Long story short, the British East India Trading Company and the British government took a small and newly settled community in 1819 and turned it into an established Malay town by 1867.
Okay so recap, to the British, and in modern Singapore and Malaysia, Malay identity means Malay laws, Malay language and Malay Islam, but to the wider Southeast Asian community, however, especially in Philippines, Malay can encompass the peoples of Malaysia (including Singapore and Brunei), the Philippines and Indonesia (including Timor Leste), all Austronesian speaking populations with heritage in the Majapahit and Melaka cultural sphere. We can see this also in the Majapahit Merah-Puteh (the Red and White) on the Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore Flags, as well as a variation of the Melaka coat of arms, the yellow star and crescent on a blue background, as a canton on the Merah Puteh of the Malaysian Flag; which represents Melaka Melayu identity on the foundation of their Majapahit roots.
Okay so, if we take the wider definition of the Alam Melayu, then where does Christianity fit in? Around a third of the Alam Melayu is Christian, with a 2 to 1, Roman Catholic to Protestant ratio, and the remainder being almost entirely Muslim. In Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, the Protestant population has its roots in the Anglicanism and Presbyterianism of British Christianity, having early adherents in the Malay and Chinese population in Singapore, as well as the Dayak population in Sarawak. Protestant identity thus is very much intertwined with what it means to be part of the old British and Dutch controlled regions of the Alam Melayu, just as Roman Catholic identity is central to the Filipino and East Timorese societies, and as modern day Christians, we have to take into serious consideration the deep historical relationship that our Christianity has with Malay Islam.
To give a general example, even though only about 3.5% of the Indonesian population is what we in Singapore consider Malay, Bahasa (which is what I’m going to call the Malay Language) has become the National Language of Indonesia, instead of Javanese, which was the language of government since the time of the Karaton Majapahit. And this is because of the role in which Bahasa has played as the language of religion, with which Shafi’i Madhhab Sunni Islam and Magisterial Protestant Christianity was taught and debated in throughout the Alam Melayu.
Another example, Reverend Keaseberry, the founder of the Presbyterian Synods in Singapore and Malaysia worked with Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, Munshi Abdullah himself, the Father of Modern Malay Literature, a devout Muslim, to translate the Alkitab, the Christian Bible, into Malay. In fact, Reverend Keaseberry was so influential that when he passed away in 1875, his old student at the Malay Mission Chapel Boy’s School, ahem Maharajah Abu Bakar of Johor, placed an engraved stone plaque on his tomb in mourning.
When the Kesultanan Johor became a protectorate of the British government, the predominantly Anglican administration respected the Malay and Islamic heritage of Johor enough to establish it in Singapore at the expense of the Malay Protestant community. That is the respect, interdependence and peaceful cooperation that Protestant Christianity and Sunni Islam has demonstrated since the start.
History has to frame our modern evangelistic efforts, we have to be deeply rooted in Malay culture and language, and in respectful cooperation with the Muslim community in our common effort to further the sophistication of our literary scholarship all to the Glory of the God of Abraham.
Beyond this, recognition of the Diocese of Singapore and the Presbyterian Church in Singapore as the Magisterial authority of Singaporean Protestantism, since the very beginning of our Nation, has to be maintained, with its traditions studied reverently to conserve the rich theological, national and very personal underlying foundation of our worship. Beyond the Methodist and Charismatic Revivals, beyond American Evangelical influence, beyond various movements in Nondenominational Christianity, Protestantism has to first and foremost be fundamentally a part of who we are as Singaporeans. We must remember that our Faith, the faith of the Apostles in the Lord Jesus Christ, was decisively established on our Island home at the same time as when our earliest Mosques were being built, at the very beginning of our nation’s history, and in that we can be confidently and unapologetically be Christian to the core.
Okay, so end of story. Disclaimer, of course I have my own biases in this sharing, so best to fact check everything I say, but… I hope that you might also maybe leave your thoughts in the comments below, and expand or comment on what I’ve talked about. I can’t promise it’s a safe space, but I can guarantee that learning something new is always worth it. Aight, I’mma head out. Thank you.
(Part 2/3) The Case for Protestant Magisterial Authority in Singapore
Aight in this essay, I want to pick up where I left off and explain what I mean by magisterial authority, especially for those of us who are now interested in engaging with Christianity, how understanding that concept guides us in how we should approach learning about the Church and maybe even how we should approach integrating ourselves and our families into this new community of Faith. Let’s begin.
So, in the Roman Catholic Church, magisterial authority refers to the authenticity of the Church’s interpretation of the Faith, which comprises Scripture and Tradition, to be received and accepted by all Christians, but this is not what I am referring to in this case. Since the Reformation, Protestants have held that it is instead the Faith that interprets the Church, and that since the leadership of the Church is ultimately subordinate to authority of Scripture and Tradition, it is the responsibility of every Christian to be well versed enough in matters of Faith to challenge inconsistencies within the Church as a whole, whether it be found in clergy or laity, to cleanse our institutions of corruption with the truth of the Gospel. Therefore, in this case, Magisterial Authority refers not to the authority of the Church, but to the Church’s shared authority with the State, in the combined process of enlightening the Nation. K lezgo.
At the time of the Reformation, four distinct Protestant groups emerged, the Lutherans, the Reformed, the Anglicans and the Anabaptists, and aside from the Anabaptists, the remaining three of these groups would retain their symbiotic relationship with the State, where the State would give legal protection to the Church, and the Church in return would recognise the legitimacy of the State, both distinct sources of authority that would embody scholarship in Divinity, including Theology, and the Humanities, traditionally encompassing both the Arts and Sciences, as the integrated academic foundation of their national identity. It is therefore the combination of our political and religious heritage that illuminates our collective unconscious, the values and customs of our society, in a way that can be examined and carefully updated as the challenges we face change from generation to generation.
In Singapore, as I have explained in the previous essay, we have the early establishment of the Anglican and Presbyterian (or Scottish Reformed) traditions, with a long intertwining history with the British East India Trading Company, the Colonial British Government and the Administration of the Kesultanan Johor since 1819. To me, the magisterial authority of the Anglican Diocese of Singapore and the Presbyterian Church in Singapore means that if there was a form of Christianity that could effectively coexist with our national politics, and in which every kind of Singaporean can meaningfully be a part of, then the Anglican and Presbyterian traditions would be it, because like that is what they were designed to do. My intention here is not to discredit or downplay the impact of American Revivalism through the Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal or the other various Nondenominational movements in Singapore since 1867, I’ll talk more about that in the next essay, but for now, I want to focus on describing the ways in which our Christianity has conserved the unchanging and foundational traditions of worship from the Reformation for future generations.
And so what I’m going to do now, is to try and summarise Anglicanism and Presbyterianism. So while the previous essay dealt with the historical sociology of Singaporean Protestantism, this one will be more about Historical theology instead. Enjoy.
So back to the Reformation. With the famous words proclaimed in response to the Papacy by Martin Luther in 1520, “Solam Scripturam Regnare” (scripture alone to rule) in his Assertio Omnium Articulorum, with his excommunication in January 1521, and his exile in the Edict of Worms a month later, the divide between the Roman Catholic Church and Luther’s new Evangelical Catholic movement would become irreconcilable, now with Luther under the worldly protection of Prince Frederick III, elector of Savoy, up against the whole of the Western Christian world; in an uphill effort to reform the Catholic Church of the West into the true “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” declared in the Nicene Creed. He had sought to cleanse it from all corruption through the Euangelion, as in the Gospel, not the anime, by re-emphasising the teachings of the Doctors of the Church, especially the likes of St Augustine and St John Chrysostom, in agreement with the first four Ecumenical Councils, and above that, by restoring the purity and simplicity of worship, but above all, by reaffirming the supreme authority of the Christian scriptures in all matters of Faith. Now, Prince Frederick was in no way a supporter of that movement which we would today call Protestantism, yet his belief in justice for all and due process with fair trial motivated him to protect Luther anyway. This would set the precedent for the Magisterial system that bound both Church and State in cooperation, even if Protestants comprised a religious minority.
In Switzerland 1529, the Reformed Evangelical Catholic movement of Zwingli would manifest as an extension of Luther’s Reformation, with a unique Sacramentology and a more grassroots coexistence with their Roman Catholic State governments and neighbours, in contrast to the emerging Lutheran States of the Holy Roman Empire. It is this movement that would extend itself into Scotland in 1560, where the Scottish Parliament would pass the Scots Confession of Faith by John Knox into legislation. In England, around the same time, the first few versions of the Book of Common Prayer and the Forty-Two Articles of Religion would be published Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, ahem not King Henry the VIII; likewise texts which reflected a Reformed Evangelical Catholic Tradition, instituted for the newly independent Church of England. So this was, yes, the OG Brexit in all its memeable glory.
Fast forward to 1603 and King James VI of Scotland would take the English Crown as King James I of England, yea as in the 1611 KJV guy, resulting in two kingdoms having the same king. Like imagine if the Malaysian King got elected as the President of Singapore, something like that. Anyway, this would precede the English Civil War of 1642, now sianballs also having to involve Scotland, with all the resulting religious shifts along with it. It was there at the Westminster Assembly in 1643, right in the middle of all the chaos, that the English Parliament commissioned their Scholars of Divinity to reconstitute the Tradition of the Church of England in a way that would be more compatible with the Church of Scotland. What they came up with was the Westminster Standards, the now subordinate standards (as in subordinate to Scripture), or the Confessional Tradition of the Presbyterian Reformed Faith. These documents were then ratified in Scotland, but were repealed in England in 1660 after the fighting stopped, which meant a restoration of the now 39 Articles of Religion, as well as the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal, which was revised in 1662. Instead of a Confessional Standard, England instead used their texts as its Liturgical Standard, forever defining Anglicanism as distinct from the wider Confessional Reformed Evangelical Catholic family, both sides taking a little bit out of Lutheranism, which was foundationally Confessional, but also called for a Vernacular application of local Liturgy, in line with the practices in the Tewahedo Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Point is, Anglicanism equals the 1571 Articles of Religion and 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal; Presbyterianism equals the 1643-49 Westminster Standards.
Presbyterianism here is pretty straightforward, the Westminster Standards consist of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the core of the Presbyrerian Tradition, outlining the regulations in which worship can be conducted, both in traditional and contemporary styles, the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms, which is literally the Q&A of Presbyterianism used for preaching and teaching. And lastly, we have the Directory of Publick Worship and Form of Church Government, which is exactly what it sounds like. So these are sort of like the back end data access layer of Presbyterianism, that determines how the front end presentation layer is designed, something like that, or like the research behind the textbooks you use in school lah.
Back to modern day, in addition to the Presbyterian Church in Singapore, which traces its roots back to 1829 with Rev Benjamin Keaseberry, we also have various independent Presbyrerian congregations, most notably the Bible-Presbyterian movement beginning at the founding of Life-Bible Presbyterian Church in 1955 by Rev Dr. Timothy Tow and the English Service of Singapore Life Church. This is also where I had my first encounter with Protestantism ever back in my Secondary School days. Anyway, we also have non-Presbyterian Dutch Reformed Churches, which are here called the Evangelical Reformed Churches.
Our Anglican Diocese of Singapore on the other hand requires a bit more explanation. So it uses the Alternative Service Series 3 as its ordinary form of liturgy, while maintaining the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. Wait, what is a Series 3 and what happened to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer? Well, that has to do with the changes in English Anglicanism resulting from the Oxford Movement of the 1830s, which redefined Anglican Identity as going beyond mere Protestant, towards something more Anglo-Catholic, as in focused on ecumenical unity not just with the Evangelical Catholics (as in Protestants), but also with the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Catholics (as in the Eastern and the Oriental Orthodox), and this was right after the British Empire had become the New World Police by yeeting Napoleon from France, who in turn had just taken down the Spanish Empire that had practically ruled the world before then, and now England also wanted to be the New World Pastor.
On the other side of the Tiber, this was followed by the 20th Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church in 1868, the First Vatican Council, aka Vatican I, where the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was first officially defined, which in turn quickly caused the uh Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht to just like “how bout no” the Pope.
So now we have a strong England and a fracturing Rome, setting the stage for the Church of England to propose the 1928 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, a more Ecumenical liturgy that could appeal not just to the Anglicans but to all Christians, whether in Protestantism, Catholicism or Orthodoxy, and this was, in a very anticlimactic fashion, totally rejected by Parliament. Okay, so no problem, they just redefined it as ahem Alternative Service Series 1, and not as a replacement of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the authorities just like okay lah okay lah close one eye. Then, Series 2 came out, which was Series 1 plus some changes with uh modern liturgical prayers and practices added in, and then there was Series 3, another addition but more in line with a Reformed Evangelical vibe, and this is the liturgy found in our current Diocese of Singapore Service Book, but, relak, the story is not over yet.
Back to England, in 2000, the Church of England approved an experimental liturgy that will be edited and updated depending on how well it works, but so far there has been no updates lah, and this would be known as Common Worship, which consists of Order One, which is a modern English version of the proposed 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and Order Two which is the same Elizabethan English 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but slightly updated, so one very Ecumenical and another very Anglican, and this would be, just like in Presbyterianism, the front end presentation layer built on the foundation of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer at the back end, and in Singapore, instead of Common Worship Order 1, we have Alternative Service Series 3. Simple enough.
Also, these ecumenical liturgies being more “just Christian” and less “just stay Protestant” has allowed the Anglican Communion to unite in Full Communion with the Old Catholic Union of Utrect in Europe, as well as the Eastern Reformed Mar Thoma Syrian Church in India, and the Independent Catholic Philippine Independent Church, the Aglipayan Church. So Anglo-Catholic equals “just Christian” and Anglo-Evangelical equals “just stay Protestant”. Singapore Series 3 Anglicanism? Very Reformed, very Protestant.
Okay so back to the start, what does this tell us about how we should approach learning about Singaporean Protestantism. Well, to make it straightforward, start with a good foundation in Scripture, which is fundamentally what Protestantism calls for, and once comfortable, you should move on to reading the Westminster Standards, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, all while incorporating its principles into your daily prayer life. At that point you should be pretty comfortable with the life of the Church and know where you fit in.
To me, it was also this strong historical foundation that had helped ready Singaporeans for the multiple Revivals in our 200 year long history, spearheaded by the Nonconformist traditions of the Baptist, Methodists and Pentecostals and resulting in the dynamic expansion of Nondenomonational Christianity up till this day, which I’m going to talk about in the next essay. Aight thanks.
(Part 3/3) The Case for Protestant Revivalism and Expansion in Singapore [Updated 29 July 2020]
So, Part 3, so far we’re covered topics related to the following traditions: Anglicanism, both of the Diocese and of the Church of South India’s Immanuel Congregation, as well as the Eastern Reformed Mar Thoma Syrian Church; Presbyterianism, both affiliated and unaffiliated with the Synod, including both Independent and Bible-Presbyterians, which in totality makes up a grand total of only about 10 percent of the Singapore Christian population, anticlimax, with about another 40 percent being Roman Catholics of the Archdiocese and of the St Pius X Priory. Then, what about the other 50 percent? Well, here’s my overview. Lezgo.
The Methodist Church of Singapore was a plant from the then Methodist Episcopal Church, now the United Methodist Church of the United States of America, in 1885. Today, it is the largest single Protestant institution in Singapore, and the only local Methodist institution that has membership in the World Methodist Council. It comprises about 7 percent of the Christian population, not including other unaffiliated Methodistic congregations, such as the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene, and others.
Next to arrive was the Assemblies of God of Singapore, Singapore’s main Pentecostal institution, planted by the General Council of the Assemblies of God, from again the United States of America, here comprising about 3 percent of the Christian population, planted in 1928, fresh from the Azusa Street Revival of 1906, and it is still the only local Pentecostal Institution with membership in the Pentecostal World Fellowship. Beyond them, other Pentecostal congregations include the Foursquare Gospel Church, the Church of God Cleveland, TN. and others.
Also, for clarity’s sake, this essay will take the technical definition of Pentecostal, not every church that has a rock band is a Pentecostal Church, you need to have a clear doctrinal lineage traceable to the Azusa Street Revival, as well as a Methodist Apologetic Framework grounded in a Baptist Confessional Sacramentology to be considered properly Pentecostal. So this does not include, I repeat, does not include City Harvest Church or Cornerstone Community Church or Lighthouse Evangelism or any other congregation that may otherwise be thought of as Pentecostal. This would also mean that this category does not include any Oneness Pentecostal groups, who deviate from Methodist and Baptist Trinitarian theology, such as the Chinese True Jesus Church, who well either way are considered heretics with invalid Baptisms, not in Communion with the rest of Nicene Christianity, including not just Protestants, but also the Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians as well.
Also, to give a very brief definition of heresy, it does not just mean “I disagree with you”, it refers to Christological positions deviant from the Early Ecumenical Councils; so to make it simple, you have to either explicitly deny the Divinity or Humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ for it to be a legit heresy. Unless this very specific controversy is an explicitly Christological issue, it may still be wrong, but it is not a heresy. Okay? Moving on.
That brings us to the Singapore Baptist Convention, comprising another 1% of our Christian population, planted in 1937 by the Swatow Baptist Church, an affiliate of the American Baptist Churches of, let’s say it again, the United States of America. However, the Convention has, over time, come to align itself closer with the tradition of the Southern Baptist Convention instead, even adopting the Southern Baptist “Baptist Faith and Message” as its Confessional standard. Also, since international recognition is bae, then like the previous two examples, the Singapore Baptist Convention is the only local Baptist Institution with membership in the Baptist World Alliance. Now, there are also many independent Baptist congregations, not with the Convention, ranging the whole spectrum from Fundamental, too many to count, to Charismatic, like Faith Community Baptist Church. And this, my friends, is where our Protestant Apostolic Tradition ends.
Recap, so let’s round it all off, the Singaporean Christian population, so far, consists of 40% Roman Catholics, 10% Magisterial Protestants, 10% concentrated power of will, especially Methodists, Pentecostals and Baptists, collectively referred to as Nonconformists. So now I’m going to go through what Nonconformist Protestantism is, and how it has, throughout our History, interacted with and led to the expansion justu of the remaining 40% of the Christian population, the Nondenominationals. But first, let me take a history.
So cutscene, back to 1606, three years after the King in the North took the Southern Crown, a Priest of the Church of England, John Smyth, would pang seh his homechurch and as a result, would get deported across the causeway to the Netherlands in 1608, where Menonnite Churches were still somehow legal. Okay, to oversimplify, Menonnites are a kind of Anabaptists, and to the people at that time Anabaptists were unfortunately known for their terrorism. They didn’t want to be a part of the Magisterial Church, so no legal protection from the Government, and some of them, yes some only, went to form gangs to protect themselves lah. Anyway, we do have a Mennonite Church in Singapore, and I’m not saying they are terrorists, okay? relak, but that’s just how the governments of that day saw them, so that’s why when John Smyth and his Baptist movement came around, they were so scary to everyone, cos how do you know you found an Anabaptist? Well, it’s when they don’t want to Baptise their babies at the Magisterial Church. So when John Smyth and his Baptists refused to conform and Baptise their babies at the Church of England, then no one liked that.
Now, John Smyth had a lot of funny and constantly changing beliefs and practices throughout his life. Even by today’s autistic standards, he was probably one of the most eccentric people in all History, but underlying it all would be his commitment to the Apologetic Framework of Soul Competency, the very heart, soul, cock and balls, of the Baptist movement, with a huge collection of resulting sermons recorded in the poetic musical setting of the modern Baptist Hymnal, along with its Collective Worship Scripture Readings, the latest of which was revised by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008. It teaches that before you engage in the life of the institutional church, the Ekklesia, you have to first accept your own personal responsibility to follow your own God given conscience and not just follow what your leaders tell you to do. Anyway, if this sounds in any way like Aristotle’s Concept of Moral Responsibility, that’s because it is. This was the time of the Renaissance, where the rediscovery and popularity of Classical Philosophy and Law in England caused serious reexamination into the relationship between the Divinities and the Humanities, and while most people would, even back then, like keep the two separate, the inability of the Church to speak in a way that common people would understand led the early Baptists to try and quite literally bridge that halal gap. And as of today, they are one of the earliest still continuing nonconformist churches.
Okay now, so that’s on the inside, but on the outside, the Baptists also have a rich link to the Apostolic Tradition of the Reformation, with Confessional roots in, what we today call, Presbyterianism, underlying their trademark Sacrament of Credobaptism, or Believer’s Baptism, which they got from the Menonnites. Essentially, wait until the child is old enough to understand what Baptism means and then Baptise them into the Communion of the Church. In 1689, continuing in the Puritanism of pre-1662 Classical Anglicanism, which was a lot more Reformed, the Baptist Churches of England published the Second London Baptist Confession, a slight edit of the Westminster Confession that had been commissioned by the English Parliament in 1643. It was from this text, that the “Baptist Faith and Message” is descended from, the one used in Singapore, likewise revised in 2000 by the Southern Baptist Convention.
A generation later, the Nonconformist Tradition would be handed down to baby boy John Wesley, born in 1703 to Samuel Wesley, a Nonconformist turned super High Church Post-1662 Prayer-Book Anglican Priest and Susanna Wesley, the educated daughter of a Nonconformist pastor and world class housewife and mother. Now, baby boy Wesley, would become the big daddy of modern Methodism in 1738 when he would undergo what he called his “Conversion Experience” at a Moravian Gathering at Aldersgate, London. Now, Wesley at this point had been emo max, after an epic fail of a Church Plant at Savannah, Georgia, in the pre-independent Thirteen Colonies of America, where he chased the wrong skirt, got jealous, excommunicated her lover and then got kicked out of his own Church for being a simp. Word travels quickly back to England, but after Aldersgate, Wesley was determined to turn his life around. So he went to Herrnhutt Germany, to look for the Moravian towkay Nicolaus Zinzendorf, and after some intense heart to heart talks, he returned to the Church of England a new man, preaching his Apologetic Frame of Christian Perfection, after which he would sail back to America with his Methodist kakis to participate in the legendary First Great Awakening, their sermons and many others still poetically conserved in the modern United Methodist Hymnal, revised by the United Methodist Church in 1989. Brings tears to my eye.
Okay, so what’s Christian Perfection? It is the belief that at the point at which we choose to accept the Gospel, the process of God cleaning up our lives begins, until we end up falling into perfect love with Him completely. Now if this sounds like Rene Descarte’s Moral Resolution, that’s cos it is. I think you can see the trend here. I mean, it’s the Enlightenment, and people still love Philosophy and its lingo, so not much to elaborate on there. Wesley explained it as Arminian Soteriology, but lol let’s just say there’s a reason why we differentiate between Wesleyan Arminianism and the OG Arminianism of the Dutch Remonstrant Church. Moving on.
Like the Baptists, Methodists also have a rich link to Apostolic Tradition, with Liturgical roots in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in contrast to the Baptists’ Presbyterian basis. Therefore, along with Hymns and Scripture Readings, the United Methodist Hymnal also includes Liturgical forms of prayer, unlike the Baptist Hymnal.
Fast forward to 1790, with the Second Great Awakening, Methodist Circuit Riders and Baptist Preachers spread out all over the continent, with revival camp meeting after revival camp meeting, forever establishing the Baptist Faith in the South and the Methodist faith in the southern Midwest till this day. This would culminate in the next Philosophical shift, from the Renaissance, to the Enlightenment and now to the Modernist Era of the post Napoleonic world, as the deepening of the theological mix of the Baptist and Methodist traditions in America saw the rise of the next Nonconformist movement in 1906 at the Azusa Street Revival, where the Methodist preacher William Seymour would develop a Modernist take on the Methodist Apologetic Frame, which is recorded in the modern Sing His Praise Hymnal, most recently revised by the General Council of the Assemblies of God in 1991, and combine it with his Baptist congregation’s Confessional Sacramentology, now established in the 1916 Statement of Fundamental Truths. Seymour called for the embrace of the “Full Gospel” of our Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, Baptiser, Healer and Coming King, a personal experience resulting in the manifestation of Charism, or Spiritual Gifts from the Holy Spirit, such as Glossolalia, the ability to Speak in Tongues. Now if this sounds like a metaphor of Sigmund Freud’s Theory of the Unconscious. Then Yes, it is. Simple enough.
Okay, so these three American Nonconformist institutions came to Singapore between 1867 and 1963, when Singapore was still a part of the British Empire. There were already Anglican and Presbyterian Churches around, so how did they get from being the xinjiaos to taking up even more breathing space than their laojiaos? Well, two people, the Methodist Rev Dr John Sung and the Baptist Rev William Graham, better known as Billy Graham; responsible for the two largest, national level, revivals in our two hundred year history.
In 1935, the Rev Dr John Sung would come to Singapore and preach at Telok Ayer Methodist Church, and even at Zion Presbyterian Church despite being a Methodist. He was here to bring a new wave of Evangelism to the Chinese community and inspired people from all walks of life with his message of Salvation unto Holiness and the hope of Christian Perfection. He would also be credited as one of the key influences in Rev Dr Timothy Tow’s ministry, and thus was influential in the initiation of the Bible-Presbyterian movement, and it is from Rev Dr Tow that we get our record of Rev Dr John Sung’s parting words with Telok Ayer Methodist Church, where he said ‘The Lord has given me only 15 years to finish my work, so I can afford no let-up in this revival ministry to turn all China and Southeast Asia to Christ.’. To this day, the Chinese Protestant Community owes its resilient and steadfast spirit to the timeless example of Rev Dr John Sung. Absolute legend.
Two generations later, in 1978, about 340,000 people would gather at Singapore’s National Stadium to hear the preaching of the one the only Rev Billy Graham, available in six different languages, a memory still fresh in the minds of our parents’ generation. The Protestant community had gathered from every Tradition to hear the message of the Soul’s Competency to choose its eternal salvation and hope in the Gospel, and it brought all to tears.
It was with the charge of these nationwide revivals that would motivate well known Charismatic preachers: Kong Hee, Yang Tuck Yoong and Rony Tan to lead their congregations out of the Anglican Diocese of Singapore and the Presbyterian Church in Singapore to plant new ministries under the Charismatic banner.
Now, nondenominational Churches have always existed in Singapore in relatively small numbers, the Plymouth Brethren, Evangelical Free Church, Churches of God, Adventists, and now we have the third wave Charismatic movement. These Churches would seek to promote adherence to the teachings of Scripture with a rejection of religious Tradition instead, and have likewise been faithfully contributing members of the Singapore Protestant Community. They have participated in the organisation of the Multiple Revivals, Welfare Services and Christian Education throughout our history, and since the 1980s have been instrumental in conserving the integrity of Scripture through a new Postmodernist philosophical era, growing in numbers to take up about 40% of our Christian population today.
So the Protestant Church of Singapore: Anglicans, Presbyterians, with Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals and various Nondenominationals, all with strong claims to the soul of our City, from its colonial beginnings to Merdeka, to where we are today. And with that, chingchangballabingbang, I end my series.
The future is in your hands, so go in peace, whether young or old, to do what you may with what has been given to you, in Jesus name, Amen.