In his book “When Missions Shapes the Mission: You and Your Church Can reach the World”, David Homer writes, ‘Teaching and understanding what the Bible says about God’s heart and plan for the nations cannot be just an occasional tip of the hat to missions. It must be an integral part of the big picture of the church. When the church approaches ministry from a principle-based perspective, the biblical principles lead to no other conclusion but that we have been blessed by the grace of Christ to be called His people. But that calling is never isolated from the eternal design of the Lord to reach all nations with the hope of new life in Christ. From the covenant with Abraham, one of the most basic principles upon which our identity as His people is founded is that we have been blessed in order that we may be a blessing: “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing … and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3)’
In the book of Acts we see missions as an integral part of the local church. Acts 9:30 records the local church at Jerusalem sending Paul, a newly converted believer who was bold but still young in the faith, to a safe place in Tarsus to allow him to grow his faith and learn from the Lord. Paul spent about eight years in Tarsus, and though little is mentioned in the Bible about this period (the so-called silent years of Paul), this season of preparation is probably critical in getting him ready for his later ministries, especially for his missionary journeys. Then in Acts 11:25-26 we see Barnabas bringing Paul from Tarsus to Antioch, where together they served in a local church for about two to three years, primarily teaching God’s words to others. In Acts 13, during an occasion when the local church at Antioch was worshipping and fasting, the Holy Spirit called upon the church to set apart Barnabas and Paul as missionaries to the Gentiles. The church then laid hands and prayed over Barnabas and Paul, commissioned and sent them out. As Paul embarked on his missionary journeys, twice he returned to the church in Antioch to report on what had happened and to seek prayers and likely to solicit continual support (Acts 14:26-27; 18:22). During his third missionary journey, Paul also wrote a letter to another local church, at Rome, to ask for their support in helping him get to Spain (Romans 15:24). Spain is at the western edge of territories of Roman empire at that time, so having gone to the eastern parts of the Roman empire in his earlier missionary journeys, Paul’s intention then is to literally carry the gospel to the other end of the earth. From these New Testament accounts, we see local churches in action in various stages in missions. It begins with the equipping of the believers, which sometimes we gloss over as there is a human tendency to focus too much on the latter sending and going parts of missions. However, without the local church first exercising faithfulness in discipleship — growing Christian character, encouraging general fruitfulness, teaching sound biblical doctrines, providing training in ministry – we would not be able to raise up continuous streams of faithful and effective labourers for the Lord of harvest. With the saints equipped, in the subsequent passages from Acts 13 onwards we see the local churches sending out the mission workers and continuing to provide support to them.
Similarly in our church, missions begins first at home in Singapore with the constant inculcation in every worshipper of the importance to love God and to make disciples. Then as a natural consequence of the obedience to God, we engage in the spreading of gospel to other countries, with different people in the church playing different roles. Some are involved in the planning and administration aspects through serving in the missions committee or in project-based teams, and others served by going to the missions field, either in short-term trips or to be permanently based in the field.
We highlight here our missions effort to the SQ as our focus is on reaching the unreached people group, in North Asia. In year 2000 our church adopted the SQ people, and since then short-term mission teams have been going there yearly. In the early years, the common types of activities carried out in the trips were prayer walks in the villages, and when opportunities arose, the gospel was shared with the locals. In more recent years, the short-term trips have taken on the form of conducting of training for the locals, such as conducting English camps for children, camps for youths, or camps for university students. The conducting of the training provides more avenues for the team members to show the tangible love of Christ to the participants and to share with them the gospel. Equally important in our missions strategy for SQ is the support of full-time local Christian workers we partner with. These local workers are far more adapt at reaching the SQ people than someone sent from outside and they carry out various form of evangelism work among the SQ people. All our SQ efforts are overseen by our non-resident missionary to SQ. He travels to SQ regularly to meet the local Christian workers and partner churches and to conduct training workshops for them.
Thailand is another other country where we have much missions effort in. Short-term mission trips to Thailand began in 1996 with a mission exposure trip to Chiang Mai. Following the establishment of the Thai congregation in our church in 1998, missions to Thailand has gradually been given more emphasis over the years. In the past few years, there are yearly recurring mission trips to areas in southern Thailand and northern Thailand by combined teams consisting of worshippers from both the Thai service and English congregation. One unique characteristic of the Southern Thailand mission trips is that majority of the participants are from the YZ, and it has been an effective vehicle in providing the youths with exposure to overseas missions. In 2015, Sister Pannee Chia from the Thai service in became our first full-time missionary to be sent to Thailand, and she started a home church in the house of her parents in a village in Chiang Rai province in northern Thailand. She leads Sunday worship services in the home church, disciples the believers in the home church, organises activities to bless the local community such as conducting guitar classes for youths, and makes home visitations to the sick and the poor. Slowly but steadily, a number of locals have come to faith in the Lord, win over by the love of Christ that they have experienced through Sister Pannee.
Only a small proportion of us will be involved in the ‘going’ part of missions, with the majority of us in the equipping, sending and supporting roles. As we commit to support missions, let us be mindful that our support and giving needs to be serious and when necessary sacrificial, so that the workers are appropriately supplied to carry out God’s work. Regardless of our good intentions and best efforts, our financial support will still be limited. A more significant form of support that we must always endeavor to give, which is unlimited, is to regularly pray corporately and individually for the missions efforts and missions workers. Let us be never tired in going on our knees to the Lord of the harvest.
 St. Paul’s Silent Years, Robert E. Osborne, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Mar 1965), pp. 59-65
The Bible is a single unfolding story about God and His plan and purpose to gather to Himself a people from all the nations of the world. This chosen people is to be God’s holy nation and Christ’s eternal bride. At the heart of this plan of God is mission (from the Latin word “mitto”, meaning “to send”). According to Ajith Fernando, mission ‘refers to God sending people to announce His work of judgment and redemption’ to the world and its nations. The purpose is to transform the hearers of the message to become people who can fully love Him, who will express their sincere love to God through worship and obedience to Him.
One of the powerful statements of a missionary call in the bible can be found in Genesis 12:1-3. God promised to bless Abraham:
- I will make of you a great nation,
- I will bless you, and
- I will make your name great.
This is immediately followed by the purpose, so that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. Thus God promised to bless Abraham in order that Abraham will be a blessing to the nations. God’s promise to bless Abraham is not intended to exclude the nations from His blessing, but to provide a channel by which all the nations would be blessed.
After Christ’s death and resurrection, the Lord commanded the disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19-20). There are two main goals, with the first to “make disciples“: to teach others the truth about Jesus, to show them their need for Jesus, and, once the Holy Spirit has drawn them, to encourage them to live faithfully according to teachings of Jesus. The second goal is baptism, for the believer to make a public declaration that he or she has left the old life of being part of the Godless world and joined the church, the people of God, to be identified collectively as followers of Christ.
Today we often use the term “missions”, as distinguished from “mission”, to refer specifically to the Christian ministry work that spreads the gospel crosses geographical and cultural boundaries (thus “missions” is one part of the total mission of the church). The way in which the gospel is spread will be different for every culture, and to a large degree, the method must be specific to the hearers. Different degrees of education, sophistication, and familiarity with Christian concepts will influence how the gospel can be shared. However, the core message is the same: God is perfect and holy. We cannot please Him because of our sin. We deserve death and eternal separation from God. Yet, in His great mercy, God sent His only Son Jesus Christ into the world to provide for us sinners the way of eternal life. Jesus – God and sinless man – died for our sins and rose again. Therefore, eternal life is a free gift to all who will trust in Christ as the Lord and Saviour of their lives.
In missions, the consideration of what constitutes “all the nations” in the Great Commission is important. When we think of the word “nations” we usually think of the countries of the world. However, in the New Testament, the Greek word for “nations” is “ethnos” (from which the word “ethnicity” is derived), and it is much more specific than the political nation-states we usually think of, and more correctly refers to ethnic groups. In missions a more specific term, the “people group” is commonly used and defined as the largest group of people within which the gospel can spread without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance due to differences in culture, language, religion and geography. Members of a people group share the same ethnic identity and typically have a common language, a common religion, and a common history. E.g., in China, there are many different ethnic groups, but even among those ethnic groups there are divisions according to the languages they speak, culture and religious practices. Thus, although the China government officially recognises that there are 56 ethnic groups in China, the Joshua Project (a missions resource), counts 543 people groups in China.
In 1974, the late missiologist Ralph Winter drew attention to the priority of unreached people groups. ‘An “unreached people group” is a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize their own people.’ In other words, unreached people groups lack a church that has the sufficient numbers and strength to reach their own people. Obviously, if there are no Christians within this people group, there will be none who can share the gospel with them. Since unreached people group refers to a people group with no viable and relevant church, the non-Christian neighbours of ours in Singapore would not be termed “unreached.” They need the gospel but there are probably several churches already available in Singapore in their own language and culture that they could go to if they choose to. In other words, they may be termed “unsaved” or “unevangelized”, but not “unreached” because they are part of a “reached” group.
According to the Joshua Project, there are 7,080 unreached people groups, accounting for 41.6% of all people groups in the world and constituting of approximately 3.1 billion people. Of much relevance to us Christians living in Singapore is the related concept of the 10/40 Window. The 10/40 Window is the region of the eastern hemisphere and the European and African part of the western hemisphere, located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator. It is a general area that has the highest level of socio-economic challenges and least access to the gospel message and Christian resources. Approximately 5.04 billion people reside in approximately 8,641 people groups in the 10/40 Window, with 5,933 of these people groups considered unreached, having a population of 3.05 billion people. Hence, the majority of the unreached people groups are found in the 10/40 Window, and it includes countries such as China, Pakistan, Thailand, and Japan. With the greater access to air travel in recent years due to the proliferation of budget airlines, it is much easier for us who live in Singapore to travel to the countries in the 10/40 Window to be God’s messenger to the unreached people groups. May each of us seriously ponder the call in Romans 10:14-15:
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!
 Winter, Ralph D., and Bruce A. Koch. “Finishing the task: The unreached peoples challenge.” Perspectives on the world Christian movement (1999): 509-524
This year, we have given some emphasis to the importance of church membership. As part of our mission to love God and make disciples, we want to build up the community of God’s people here in True Way along the 3Cs – biblical Convictions, Christ-like Character and Competency in doing kingdom’s work. For any community to thrive, for any community to be serious in wanting to build each other up, commitment is necessary and the first step in this direction is to become a member of the church where we make our vows before God and the community that we will be committed to Sunday worship, committed to serving the Lord using our abilities and material possessions and committed to showing love by building each other up. The grace that enables us to put our faith in Jesus is the same grace that will empower us to uphold our pledge of commitment.
I first brought up the subject of membership during the church camp in June where we had a very interactive dialogue session. Since not everyone went for the camp, I decided to preach a sermon on 5 August entitled ‘Is Church Membership really required?’ to reach out to the whole congregation. (If you were not present that Sunday, please tune in to truewaypc.com-> Resources-> Sermons.) This is followed by one more dialogue session last Sunday during community lunch. As you can see, I am wrapping up the whole education process with a perspective.
I want to assure you that I am not hard selling membership so that I can boast to the world how huge True Way Presbyterian Church – English Congregation is. You don’t see our membership size reflected anywhere in our bulletin. What the bulletin reflects is only the Sunday attendance. The only time we have to make known such information in a report is when the English Presbytery AGM comes around.
One of the hot topics that arose from the two dialogue sessions was the sharing of testimony in front of the congregation. Some have expressed that they are too afraid to engage in public speaking. This has caused them to withhold their baptism or transfer. Some asked whether other Presbyterian churches have this requirement. Some even questioned whether it is biblical for us to have such a requirement: “Does the Bible command us to give our testimony before we can be baptised?” I want to be upfront and inform everyone that this is not a requirement by the denomination and neither is it a commandment in the bible. However, why should we find fault in giving our testimonies when they serve to glorify God (remember we are trophies of God’s grace and our testimonies will point people to God) and they also serve to edify the congregation? We should be sharing our testimonies on the go but a good start is for us to share on the day we make our commitment or re-commitment to God and his people during our baptism or transfer respectively.
A sister at one of the dialogue sessions shared that she too had a lot of fear when it came to public speaking. But she thought to herself: “Since I have decided to join this community and submit to the leadership of the pastors here, I should obey what they are asking me to do as long as it doesn’t contradict God’s will and surely the sharing of testimony cannot be contrary to God’s will.” She came forward for her transfer and managed her fear in public speaking just by focusing her eyes on a specific place in the sanctuary when she shared her testimony. As I have mentioned in my sermon on membership, leadership recognises that we should not put unnecessary obstacles to discourage people from coming forward for their baptism/transfer so we are prepared to work something out with you so that your story is still told albeit in a way that is not so daunting for you.
I really appeal to the long term regular worshippers in our midst to transfer your membership to True Way. Some of you are already integrated into this community; it really doesn’t make sense for your name to still be parked in the nominal roll of your previous church when you are no longer part of the community there. Some of you are spouses of members of True Way. What does it mean to be one with your spouse? If you are apprehensive over the number of sessions the membership class entails, see this as another opportunity to learn God’s Word concerning the doctrine of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, of the Bible and of the Church. The materials for the class are designed to help you say your vows with understanding. There is one lesson on Presbyterianism where you will get to learn the distinctives of being a Presbyterian. I am sure you will grow much in the knowledge of God and his purposes as you attend the class.
As a church leadership, we really want to take our responsibilities seriously: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17) and “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you…”(1 Peter 5:2)
As a member of the church, you will get to vote your leaders into office, and once they are voted in, they are your shepherds, pastors and elders who have to exercise oversight and give an account for you before the Lord as they keep watch over your soul. For the oversight to be effective, we are urging every member of the church to belong to a Discipleship Group (DG). We are not a big church; neither are we a small church. The DG will be a good platform for the shepherds to be accountable for you. Every DG is under the purview of a pastor/elder and if there are pastoral concerns that the DGLs cannot handle or would like the pastor/elder to come alongside, the shepherd can be called upon to follow up on that particular member. So do cooperate with us, obey us, submit to us, especially when we have explained to you the biblical and pastoral basis for what we are urging you to do.
It is my prayer that we will all join the church not as a consumer but as a builder. Let’s be committed to play our part in building the community within. This commitment to the body of Christ is an outworking of the commitment that we show to Christ himself whom we call our Saviour and Lord! In all these, we are not alone. By the grace of God, the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives; it is a process where we grow in our discipleship, for his glory.
Recently, the Vatican made an announcement that Pope Francis has declared the death penalty inadmissible in all cases “because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” and that the church will “work with determination for its abolition worldwide”. While this is not the first time that a Pope has spoken out against capital punishment – his predecessors such as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were also against it – the pontiff’s recent declaration signifies an official revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Previously, the Catechism which is the compendium of Catholic teachings and beliefs, allowed the death penalty in some cases if it was “the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the unjust aggressor“.
As a Christian, what are we to make of such a claim that the death penalty is considered to be an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person? Furthermore, does it mean as the Pope seems to suggest, that Scripture mandates moral and political objection to capital punishment in all circumstances?
Interestingly, the explanation from the Catholic Church of Singapore on her official website is that she will not impose her position on any government. The church also made mention that she “respects the responsibilities of state authorities to ensure the protection of those under their care and, as in all areas, will continue to work with them to serve the common good”.
Within the Protestant tradition, that there are some who oppose capital punishment albeit with different reasoning. For example, those who hold a more pacifist view consider all killing as morally wrong under all circumstances. This view opposes not only capital punishment but also war or military action since it would invariably result in the death of others.
When it comes to the death penalty, there is room for Christians to differ on whether there is biblical justification to support or object to it. Although many believe that the Bible does mandate or at least permit capital punishment under certain circumstances, some have argued that the death penalty should not be meted out because of the New Covenant priority of mercy. Those who are in favour of capital punishment explain that God has ordained human government to act as his agent in applying justice to wrongdoers (Romans 13:4, 1 Peter 2:13-14). Others have a different conviction about how justice should be carried out without any seemingly retributive measures.
Apart from doubts about the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent, some express reservations about whether any judiciary system can be trusted with such a severe responsibility. After all, there have been instances where innocent people were executed. However, the potential for the miscarriage of justice lies not only with the death penalty but also with almost every aspect of criminal justice, including prison sentencing.
Without going into further discussion about both sides of the argument, we can all agree that human dignity is a factor of tremendous significance in ethics. This is because Scripture is clear about the sanctity of human life as humans are made in God’s image. Nevertheless, thoughtful Christians need to bear in mind that while human dignity is of concern, it should not become an end in itself at the expense of confusing justice and mercy.
In order to properly form our Christian ethics, Scripture must take priority over our human sensitivities. We must also learn to hear God’s Word both contextually and as a whole. Therefore, to discern whether it is true that the death penalty is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of a person, we must first turn to Scripture.
At this juncture, we need to make a distinction about the inherent morality of the death penalty and secondly, whether the death penalty should be applied. When we consider Scripture, it would seem that there is really no question about the inherent morality of capital punishment. In the covenant with Noah, God not only spoke specifically about the evil of murder but also made provision for the death penalty. In fact, it seems God grounded the shedding of blood by man in the dignity of human life (Gen 9:6). In other words, human dignity, as many Christian thinkers observed, is connected with justice.
Likewise, we find that the Mosaic law given by God also legislates the death penalty for various transgressions (Exodus 21-22, Leviticus 20, 24). This would indicate that human dignity is not inviolable where justice is concerned. It also means that the death penalty is not some vengeful human invention. Rather, it is a divine imperative and a pattern found in in the Old Testament.
As much as the presence of the death penalty in the OT does not automatically mean that it should also be meted out by our judiciary system, we note that in the New Testament, several passages imply its appropriateness. For example, Apostle Paul cautions his readers not to do wrong for the state is God’s servant and “does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:1-5). The thief on the cross humbly acknowledged that his misdeeds were indeed deserving of the punishment he received (Luke 23:41).
Regardless of our conviction about the death penalty, Christians should be even more concerned with the state of the souls of those who end up on the wrong side of the law. As we minister to them and their family members, what we are trying to do is more than rehabilitating them to society and restoring their broken relationship with others. Our prayer is that they will ultimately be reconciled with the Creator who gave them their dignity. And on this note, we take heart and praise God who is so holy and gracious that the death penalty would hardly be an obstacle to him who desires all to be saved through the atoning sacrifice of His Son (1 Timothy 2:4, 1 John 2:2).
Recently, I attended the D6 Family Conference and begin to ask myself “Is our church unintentionally hurting families?” If not, our church maybe hurting families without even intending to. The phrase “family ministry” is typically used by many churches today to represent the one, centralised effort to serve families with the gospel. This sounds obvious, but old methods of serving families essentially prioritised church involvement. Family ministry recognises that parents are ultimately responsible for the spiritual guidance of their children, regardless of where they are on their own faith journey. The church’s role is to support them in that effort.
Great Awakening pastor Jonathan Edwards described the Christian household as “a little church” and declared that “the head of the family has more advantage in his little community to promote religion than ministers have in the congregation.” The assumption that believing parents should train their children in God’s precepts is woven throughout the pages of Scripture (see, for example, Exodus 12:25–28; Deuteronomy 6:6-7; 11:1–12; Psalm 78:1-7; Ephesians 6:4).
In Deuteronomy 6, as well as in other biblical passages, it is clear that God designed the family as the crucible in which the reality of the person of the living God is to be both taught (through formal education) and caught (by the example of the parents’ lives).
What is the role of the church in building strong marriages and families? One vital life sign of a healthy church is the health of its marriages and families. If truth doesn’t work inside of the home, why are we surprised it doesn’t work outside of the home? If we can’t help two people to function biblically in their marriage, how can we expect those same two people plus their children to function biblically as a family? How can we expect them to come to church on Sunday morning with hundreds of other families and magically function as the Body that God has designed? If it’s not happening with individual couples and families, it’s virtually impossible that it will happen when the corporate body meets.
Parents need to be trained to equip their children to defend their faith in an increasingly hostile world. Resources for children on apologetics are only beginning to be widely produced. Nearly all of these resources for teenagers are designed to be taught at church, not at home. With the rapid growth of cultural inclusiveness that increasingly demands not merely the toleration but the celebration of diverse religious beliefs and sexual orientations, children must be able to defend their faith—and the persons who are in the best position to equip children are their parents. Their parents are, after all, the ones who spend time with them day-by-day and who usually hear their questions first. That’s why our churches should be turning our efforts toward the development of apologetics strategies and content to train parents to equip their children to defend the Christian faith.
Yet, in many churches, church leaders have not equipped or even acknowledged parents as primary disciple-makers in their children’s lives. Packed rosters of age-segmented activities coupled with silence regarding parents’ responsibility to disciple their children have contributed to the unspoken assumption that the Christian training of children is best left to professional ministers and the Sunday school. As a result, Christian parents desperately need focused guidance to know how to follow God’s design.
Obviously there are challenges faced by family ministry today. Dr. Paul Hiebert, while analyzing his Mennonite background, stated that one generation of the Mennonite people believed the Gospel, the next assumed the gospel, and the following generation denied the Gospel. This makes us think of the family. The first generation believed that it was their responsibility to teach their children, the next assumed the responsibility but passed the work off to someone else, and now the current generation is, in large part, denying their role in the process. One of the most difficult challenges in family ministry is teaching parents that they are the means of cultivating Christ into the lives of their children. Parents are very serious when it comes to training their children in the academics and aesthetics (evidenced by the number of enrichment classes they send their children to). Where discipling their children are concerned, they have given up ownership of this vital parental role. Of course the church will continue to teach their children, but more importantly, we want to equip and train the parents to do the hard work of the ministry within their homes.
Family is the foundation of the church, not vice versa. If husbands, wives, children and siblings are living in a home whose members don’t embrace the faith in their daily lives, no amount of church or Sunday school will break the bonds of a disintegrated family. If we want to raise faithful families and grow future leaders, we must start in the home. That is where true discipleship starts. Parents do not underestimate the influence you have over your children. There is never a guarantee that children will do exactly as you teach, but you have the greatest opportunity for discipleship because you live the day to day with your children. You have countless moments to walk alongside them and share faith with them. Disciple making is serious business. It can’t be left to the church or chance. A Christian family doesn’t magically appear because we wish it into existence. Parents must be serious about the task of passing on their faith, about living the way God calls them to live in front of their children and others, all day, every day.