2017 – a special year for Reformed churches the world over. Lest we forget, this year we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. If anything stands out from the Reformation, it is the reformers’ fierce struggle for the truth. They counted God’s truth above all. They would readily lose their lives for the sake of the truth. In the words of Guido de Bres, chief author of the Belgic Confession, the persecuted believers would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to fire, rather than deny the truth of God’s Word”1. We are humbled and grateful to be the children of the Reformation, and to call its glorious heritage our own.
2017 is particularly significant for CERC, because she will celebrate her 30th anniversary. Thirty years ago in 1987, she was organised and instituted as a church. CERC’s history mirrors the history of the Reformation, a history marked by painful and bitter struggle for the truth. When she was first organised, CERC was made up of first- generation Christians. They were new believers who had just come to know the Lord. Most of them had come from pagan backgrounds, formerly worshipping idols, ancestors, and were deeply entrenched in superstition. Many suffered persecution on account of their faith. But forsaking their unbelief by the sovereign grace of God, they remained steadfast in the faith, and were organised into an instituted church.
Graciously, the Lord has preserved CERC through numerous trials. Today, CERC is growing spiritually with a group of second-generation believers. Many of them were raised in the church and have married, cleaving to those who love and confess the same truths as they do. Besides, God has added many others who were not born in covenant homes to CERC. There is doctrinal strength, and true, spiritual unity that is based upon the truth.
There is good hope for the future in CERC. The third generation arises. Plenty of covenant seed are being added to the church. God is demonstrating His gracious promise to be a God unto His people and to their seed after them. He has not cut us off in our generations. Sovereignly He maintains His covenant of grace with us and our children. He sees to it that His truth is believed, confessed, developed, and maintained in our midst. He uses false doctrines in other churches, in Singapore and elsewhere, to sharpen our understanding of His truth. Always God uses apostasy to increase a love for the truth in His people. He uses the lie in order that His truth is defended, developed, and cherished by faithful believers.
Only ten years ago, lest we forget, CERC still belonged to a denomination of Reformed churches, the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Singapore (ERCS). Ten years ago, the ERCS denomination was dissolved, and the only two member churches – First Evangelical Reformed Church (FERC) and Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC) – went their separate ways. Several years after the split, CERC reunited and became sisters with the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA) and their sister church, the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland (CPRC). FERC recently became a sister to the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA), whose distinctive doctrine is that of a conditional covenant2.
These developments in Singapore are not only ecclesiastical in nature. They are doctrinal. Although the split ten years ago concerned the doctrine of marriage, differences then have led to differences today over the doctrine of God’s covenant, common grace, and the well-meant offer of the gospel. Ten short years was all it took to expose these differences. Through her ecclesiastical contacts, FERC has introduced the doctrines of common grace, the well- meant offer of the gospel, and the conditional covenant into the Reformed churches in Singapore.3 These are important doctrinal developments that deserve our analysis.
Through the controversy over divorce and remarriage that raged in the ERCS, CERC was led by God to see the glorious and beautiful truth of marriage. Her members now confess the lifelong permanency of marriage, which Scripture incontrovertibly teaches in 1 Cor. 7:39 and Rom. 7:2-3. With humble boldness we reject, repudiate, and condemn the false doctrine of divorce and remarriage, which doctrine permits the “innocent party” of a lawful divorce to remarry. This doctrine not only violates the clear teaching of Scripture, but also makes marriage a conditional relationship, a relationship dependent on the faithfulness of a spouse. If a spouse remains faithful in the marriage, then the marriage bond remains intact. But if a spouse becomes unfaithful and commits adultery, then the “innocent party” may divorce and remarry. This weak view of marriage destroys what God has joined together, and disobeys what He has commanded not to be put asunder (Matt. 19:6). This conditional view of marriage ultimately denies the power and efficacy of God’s grace to maintain what He has established.
CERC will not permit divorce and remarriage. God will not allow it.
Unashamedly we confess that marriage is an unconditional relationship of love and friendship. Husband and wife love each other unconditionally in marriage. They cleave to each other for life because God has made them one flesh in marriage (Gen. 2:24). At no time is their marriage conditioned on the faithfulness of either spouse. Where there is sin against each other, even the grievous sin of adultery, there is forgiveness in the cross. In the comforting words of the Reformed Form for the Confirmation of Marriage which repudiates divorce and remarriage, married couples have the “certain assurance” of the grace of God in all their afflictions.4 They do not, and may not, take it upon themselves to break up their marriage. God’s grace gives them the “certain assurance” that He will uphold them in all their trials and afflictions. This is the comfort of the gospel of grace. Believing this comforting gospel, faithful believers are assured that God’s grace enables them to assist each other faithfully in “all things that belong to this life and a better”. Believing this faithful promise of God, married believers vow “never to forsake” the other, and to live holily in marriage as long as they both shall live.
Behind the marvellous truth of marriage’s lifelong permanency stands God’s everlasting covenant of grace. God’s covenant is His bond of marriage- friendship with His elect people in Jesus Christ. That covenant is described in Scripture in terms of a marriage (Jer. 3, Ezek. 16, Eph. 5:22-33). Jehovah is married to His beloved Bride, the Church. Faithfully, He maintains His marriage to her, even though His wife sins against Him so grievously, and ever so often. He remains married to her, for theirs is an unconditional relationship of love and friendship.
CERC believes, confesses, and preaches the unconditional character of God’s covenant. That God’s covenant is unconditional means that it is not dependent on man’s will for its origin, establishment, or maintenance. God is absolutely sovereign in establishing and maintaining His covenant. By His sovereign decree of election He chose a people for Himself, bringing them into His covenant in time and in history by the preaching of the gospel. He maintains His covenant with them sovereignly, and perfects it in the new heavens and earth, where His people will dwell with Him in perfect bliss. Never is God dependent on the will of sinful man for the establishment or maintenance of His covenant. The covenant is His.
Today, after ten short years, the evil root behind the false doctrine of divorce and remarriage is exposed. What the last ten years proved beyond any doubt is this: the doctrine of marriage is inseparable from the doctrine of God’s covenant. Touch the doctrine of marriage, and the doctrine of the covenant will necessarily be affected. So close, so intimate is the relationship between the earthly and the heavenly marriage, that to spoil or to exalt the one would impact the other. If marriage is conditional, so is God’s covenant. If marriage depends on the faithfulness of a spouse, so does the covenant depend on the faithfulness of man. Conversely, if marriage is unconditional, so is God’s covenant. If marriage does not depend on the faithfulness of a spouse, neither does God’s covenant depend on the faithfulness of His people.
Today, those who stood for the truth in the controversy are vindicated. History has vindicated them. History is making it clear that the split ten years ago was a divide between the truth and the lie. History is making it clear that God’s blessings abide with those who are faithful to His truth, and that those who reject His truth further apostatize from the faith through false doctrines and heresies.
Ten years have passed, and many of the younger generation in CERC do not know the bitter struggle for the truth only ten years ago. Lest we forget our history, it is imperative that the church continues to instruct the younger generation what happened ten years ago. Lest our children forget their parents’ and grandparents’ bitter struggle for the truth, we must teach our covenant seed to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to their forefathers. To those who find themselves in churches where false doctrines have made inroads, search the scriptures! Return to the old paths; remember your first love! The Lord will confess those who overcome, and clothe them in white garments (Rev. 3:5).
The church of Jesus Christ is always a militant church, so long as she is in the midst of this world. Like the reformers of old who counted all things but loss for the sake of the truth, it is our high calling to teach our children to battle for the truth in these last days. The words of Rev. Herman Hoeksema, who warned those who would shy away from controversy in the battle for the truth, is fitting: “Let those who are shy of controversy remember that in this world it is impossible to maintain the truth unless one is ready to defend it against the gainsayers”.5
1 The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Grandville: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005, 22.
2 Acts of the 2015 Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, Baldivis, 2015, 36-7. Taken from http://synod.frca.org.au/2015/acts/Acts_Of_FRCA_2015_Synod.pdf. See also The Covenant of God and the Children of Believers by David Engelsma. Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2005.
3 See the speech “What is the Grace of God” by Maurice Roberts. (http://ferc.org.sg/OtherRecordings.aspx). For Wes Brendenhof ’s conditional covenant theology, see “I Will Be Your God” – An Easy Introduction to the Covenant of Grace” by Wes Brendenhof (Inter League Publication Board, 2015).
⁴ The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches, 306-10.
⁵ Hoeksema, Herman. God’s Goodness Always Particular. 2nd Ed. Jenison: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2015. EPub Edition.
Written by: Aaron Lim | Issue 41