Note from the Editor: This interview was conducted by the Salt Shakers when Rev. Emmanuel Singh was in Singapore for his examination on 29 October 2016, according to Article 9 of the Church Order. Rev. Singh sustained his examination and subsequently was installed as CERC’s missionary to Kolkata on 8 January We thank Rev. Singh for his time and insightful remarks.
Salt Shakers: How did you come to know the Reformed faith?
Rev. Singh: It was 2003, and I was a performing artist before I came to the ministry. I was a musician in a band performing in America. One of the performances in Minneapolis was at the Bethlehem Baptist church, where John Piper ministered. You know John Piper? Another Calvinistic preacher…
SS: Yes, John Piper.
Rev. Singh: At his church in the afternoon, our band had our practice in the morning for an evening performance. At lunch-time, I was just browsing the rooms, and one of the rooms was their bookstore. I found this pink-coloured book; the name of the author is also Pink. (laughs).
SS: A.W. Pink.
Rev. Singh: Yeah, A.W. Pink. The book is called The Sovereignty of God. At that time, I was a student of theology in India. I worked in a Christian organisation called Operation Mobilization. I worked with them for nine years. It’s a para-church organisation. So mainly, my responsibility was in America to raise funds for this organisation through music performing and speaking to people about the untouchable Dalits. I was mainly performing music. During this time, many of my band members were Presbyterian, and many of them were Calvinist. Even our lead singer was a Calvinist.
Now the church where I grew up is a Brethren church. In the Brethren church, the spiritual mentor taught me a little bit about Calvinism. In the Brethren church, most do not believe Calvinism. However, one of the elders also taught me that Calvinism is a very true doctrine. This is not practiced by the Brethren or widely accepted, but personally I was convinced by the issue. But (besides that), I was not really bothered about what was Calvinism. But when I was in the US reading these books, that brought me closer to understanding especially about the doctrine of soteriology.
Rev. Singh: Yes, because this book teaches soteriology: the operation of God in salvation, the operation of God in prayer, and many topics. But the primary focus of this book is to lead us to understand that God is sovereign in all things. So reading that book was a big battle in my life. Do I remain faithful to the organisation and “reform” the system, or do I reform myself? (Laughs) Like Luther. In the end, I left the organisation.
SS: So your organisation didn’t believe in God’s sovereignty?
Rev. Singh: Yeah. So though I was playing in different states, in my mind I kept asking questions about doctrine. It was the Lord’s provision that He brought me to read these books. I believe that it was by God’s sovereignty that I read these books – to understand God’s sovereignty.
So, after that, I finished my Masters of Divinity from the same organisation in India. Now when I was in seminary, they asked me to use the NIV Bible, and I never used the NIV before. There was a lot of conflict with my professors. My professors told me that most of the cult groups use the King James. NIV is more accepted by worldwide Christians. But my definition of NIV was –
SS: “Not Inspired Version”. (Laughs).
Rev. Singh: “Not Inspired Version”. Yes. So a lot of conflict, and after what I read from the Sovereignty of God, I realized that it doesn’t quite match with Piper, John MacArthur, other fundamentalist preachers. We must understand the whole counsel of God. If someone wants to teach the bible, teaching only soteriology is not enough. Soteriology is one part of doctrine. But you also have to understand the ecclesiastical order of the church. The gospel allows us to be regenerated, saved… what after that? There is the church. You also have to relate to the true church of God. I was confused by all these preachers, and that’s when I realised I have to rely on the Scriptures alone. In America, a lot of people follow the preachers. It is the same in India – many people rely on the preacher more than the word. I felt there was a big conflict with what I was studying and what I believed.
In India I had to leave the church. I spent Sundays reading the word with my family. Because going to church, you become very sad, hearing all the wrong doctrines. I was thinking: what do I do? Where can there be a good sermon to listen to? Because, on the internet, you can find many kinds of sermons. Sometimes they are very good, sometimes they are very rubbish.
So suddenly, I searched for “reformed gospel”, and Reformed Witness Hour came up. I listened to Pastor (Carl) Haak, and I felt, this is something – what I believe, what I teach, this man also does. But then, I thought it would be very difficult to reach this man. Because you know in America, in big churches, you cannot reach the pastor. When church members die, the pastors don’t know. Big churches number fifty- sixty thousand. It is very difficult to talk to the ministers of these churches. I thought, it would probably be very hard to reach Pastor Haak also.
But one day I saw on the Reformed Witness Hour that there is a phone number. Back then, it was very expensive to make a call to the US. I said (laughs) – let me try. Money is not important, what is important is the truth. So I called him. He was so excited to hear about me, and he asked, would you like to study the bible? And I said, yes, I would like to study Reformed doctrine more!
Although I was a theological graduate, when I came to the Reformed faith, my degree was not enough. So then, he connected me with other Reformed ministers – Rev. Van Overloop, Jason Kotering, Rodney Kleyn, Pastor Haak himself, Rev. Woudenberg, one of the PR missionaries. So we all started to do skype calling, one hour a week, for me to study the Reformed doctrines.
In the meantime, I had resigned from my previous organisation. I had joined that organisation originally to be a missionary. It was difficult to be faithful to that sort of para-church, because they come up with and accept all kinds of doctrines. The para-church believes all doctrines. So when you are particular with your doctrine, you cannot survive.
You have to come out. So I came out, and at that time, those retired PR ministers supported me financially from their own personal contribution. Eventually they said, “Rev. Singh, join the PRC. Be ordained and become a PR minister”. At that time, I was studying Reformed dogmatics with them. They were also helping me with the confessions (the Three Forms of Unity). So it was a long journey from 2009 to 2016.
SS: Seven years.
Rev. Singh: Yes.
SS: Which year did you hear the Reformed Witness Hour?
Rev. Singh: 2008.
SS: And when did you start going overseas and playing for Operation Mobilization?
Rev. Singh: 2003 onwards.
SS: And you played what instrument?
Rev. Singh: Indian drums. I had done my bachelors degree in Indian classical music. I also taught overseas students music.
(To be continued…)
Interview conducted by Salt Shakers | Issue 42