(An abridgement of a similarly titled article by Rev. Timothy Tow)

From the parable of the mustard seed (not mushroom) which grew into a tree with outstretching branches, so that it gave shelter to the birds, we could visualise the many roots that succoured the tree. Hence, the title, “The B-P Singapore Tree Has Seven Roots.” For, without the roots, there would be no tree. And by corollary, the stronger and deeper the roots the sturdier and greener the tree and its branches.

The First Root
The Bible-Presbyterian Church of Singapore is first of all a Protestant Church. That brings us back immediately to the 16th Century Reformation when our spiritual forefathers broke the shackles of Rome to return to the apostolic faith; to the faith of an open Bible, liberated from the erroneous and tyrannical traditions of a man-made system. In so far as the Bible-Presbyterian Church is concerned, we trace our roots to the branch of Protestantism known as the Reformed faith on the European continent, and as Presbyterianism in the British Isles.

John Calvin (1509-1564), a French theologian and pastor, was the leader of the Reformed Faith. So we have first of all a French Root! The beauty and perfection of Reformed theology is seen in Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. In codified form under English dress, there is the Westminster Confession of Faith with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms (1634-46) which are the standards of the B-P Church. Nevertheless, it is the Bible, the infallible and inerrant Word of God, that is our supreme rule of faith and practice. Hence, the name Bible-Presbyterian.

The Second Root
Our second root must necessarily be an English Root, since we have derived our Reformed Faith from the English Presbyterian Mission which sent her missionaries to our ancestors in South China. Since our English forebears believed that the Church should be governed by elders or presbyters according to the Scriptures, and that the Episcopal system (rule by bishop) is a later development in Church history, they were not unwilling to pay the price of being expelled by the Act of Uniformity of 1662, whereby 2000 English ministers lost their position and pension in the State Church for their Presbyterian Faith.

The Third Root
In the course of years, however, the English Presbyterians became scattered and isolated, but a revival came in the early 1840s. In 1847, the English Presbyterians had found a first missionary to send to China. Nevertheless, he was not an Englishman but a Scotsman – Rev William Chalmers Burns (1815-1868), a revivalist likened to George Whitfield, who is now named as the five foremost pioneers of modern missions. So out third root is Scottish!

William Chalmers Burns is also called the “Grandfather of Bible-Presbyterians”, for it was William Chalmers Burns who in 1856 visited our Teochew ancestors with Hudson Taylor. While Taylor left for other fields, Burns stuck on in Swatow to form a Swatow Presbyterian Church.

The first convert in the Swatow field by the hand of George Smith, successor to William Burns, was in 1859. He was my maternal great-grandfather, Tan Khai Lin, a Manchu officer. He was the first to be or-dained a minister of the Gospel in 1882.

Some of our Teochew and Hokkien ancestors, converted to Christianity through the Reformed Faith, began to migrate to Singapore and the Malay States in the 1860s and 70s. In order to consolidate the faith of these emigrants to Singapore and Malaya, the English Presbyterian Mission sent John A B Cook to Singapore in 1881 after a year’s language study in Swatow. Rev Cook organised them into four churches, one of which was Life Church, Prinsep Street (1883). It is primarily from this Teochew-speaking Church that our whole B-P movement is sprung.

The Fourth Root
Though the English Presbyterians were the first to establish a long-lasting work in the Swatow and Amoy regions, there was one fishing village called Iam Tsau, 25 miles from Swatow, that was evangelised earlier by Dr Rudolph Lechler of the Basel Missionary Society, Switzerland (founded 1815). Dr Lechler, a German, persisted in planting a church at Iam Tsau (1848-1852), although he was banished from his Iam Tsau station at the behest of changing Prefects. Nevertheless, he was able to baptise 13 believers from whom a church was established. The Tow clan de-scended directly from this remote Teochew village church so that, as a matter of fact, our B-P Church has also a little German Root!

The Fifth Root
In 1935 Singapore was visited (August-September) and revisited (October) with a Pentecost whereby 2,000 nominal Christians were soundly converted through the ministry of Dr John Sung, a mighty re-vivalist God had raised for China and Southeast Asia. Under his ministry the founding fathers of the B-P Church of Singapore were not only saved but also called to fulltime service. From Dr John Sung our founding fa-thers were first introduced to the doctrine of the Premillennial Return of Christ, and alerted against the social gospel of the liberals and modernists, the evangelist himself having tasted the poisonous leaven thereof at Union Seminary, New York City, and delivered from its deadly brew. From Dr John Sung the founding fathers of our B-P Church are fired with a zeal for evangelism, and have set the pace for the extension of God’s Kingdom through the B-P Church movement to this day. In Dr John Sung we have a Chinese Root.

The Sixth Root
After a year of theological studies in China, Timothy Tow Sian Hui, the founding pastor of the B-P church, was introduced to Faith Theological Seminary, USA. Being an independent Seminary, nevertheless established by leaders of the Bible Presbyterian Church, USA (Reformed and Premillennial) in the old Princeton tradition, its other more outstanding distinctive was its separatist position vis-a-vis the rising Ecumenical Movement under liberal and modernist leadership.

Dr Carl McIntire, president of the Seminary Board and a founding father of the Bible Presbyterian Church, USA, was particularly articulate in speaking against Protestantism’s sliding back to Rome. So, he sounded a clarion call for a 20th Century Reformation, which became organised as the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC) in Amsterdam 1948. The same year the Ecumenical Movement was established in the same City as the World Council of Churches. (Note that the WCC is not Christian!) Today the WCC has not only moved closer to Rome but also to the main human religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. When the WCC met at their Third Assembly in South America, February 1995, they voted to dialogue with the non-Christian religions in the Latin Lands (McIntire).

When the challenge to join the 20th Century Reformation was given by Dr McIntire to Faith Seminary students, the founding pastor of the B-P Church, Singapore, Timothy Tow, then a junior, felt God’s call to join the movement. Fired with a crusading zeal to defend the Faith, he wrote to Elder Quek Kiok Chiang, then of the Teochew-speaking mother church (Say Mia Tng) at Prinsep Street to join the ICCC. Like David and Jonathan, the two leaders of this B-P Church in embryo began to impart the spirit of the 20th Century Reformation to the congregation that gathered after them. Thus, in our Stand for the Faith, we can trace to Dr Carl McIntire, leader of the Bible Presbyterians and president of the ICCC, who must be acknowledged as our American Root.

The Seventh Root
With Timothy Tow’s graduation from Faith Seminary in May 1950, he was requested by the mother Life Church to inaugurate an English Service. This was October 20, 1950. As our little Church grew with the blessings of God, there are now (1995) well over fifty congregations in Singapore and double the number spread out in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, China, Saipan, Australia, Burma, India, Pakistan, Kenya, Ivory Coast, USA, England, Canada, etc. We have other founding members rising to bear the torch of the separatist stand and of the 20th Century Reformation movement.

Though our founding fathers belong to the migrant generation, having come to make their home in Singapore in the 1920s and 30s, they are nevertheless citizens of a new Singapore, like sons of the soil, having been domiciled here almost all their life. They may be called a “bridge” generation, with cultural roots plucked up from the Chinese mainland, but are now firmly transplanted here. They are loyal and patriotic citizens of the new Singapore (independent from British rule since 1965), but even more fervent in the service of God’s Kingdom worldwide. These are our Singapore Roots.

By way of recapitulation, the Bible-Presbyterian Church of Singapore has seven roots. They are French, English, Scottish, German, Chinese, American and Singaporean. Of these seven roots, it is the American root that we must study in detail, for this is the root that produces the Bible-Presbyterian in us. We were descendants of the English Presbyterian Mission, and we were Singapore-Chinese Presbyterians. How we became Bible-Presbyterians is a glowing yet sombre story that must be told.

As we approach Reformation Sunday, it is good for us to recall the roots of our Bible-Presbyterian faith. Thus, I have included in this weekly an abridgement of Rev. Timothy Tow’s article “The B-P Singapore Tree Has Seven Roots”.

It is important that we do not forget the lessons of history. By knowing B-P history, we see the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) that had gone before us and how they stood for the faith. Any man who does not stand for God’s Word for fear of being misunderstood, ridiculed or persecuted is worthless in the work of Christ. “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38) Thank God for these fearless men who showed us what it means to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3). It is because of their stand with the Lord that we have such a rich biblical and spiritual heritage in the Bible-Presbyterian Church. Will we then continue in the same vein?

On the other hand, the history of B-Pism is also riddled with many controversies that arose due to compromise, pride and unbelief. We must not follow in the same footsteps as these ungodly men. We have only our-selves to blame if we fail to learn from the mistakes made in history. Dr. Carl McIntire wisely said, “Controversy is nothing to be ashamed of when it is in the holy cause of righteousness and of faith.” On the other hand, “The evangelicals who work and hold fellowship with modern unbelievers are more abusive and do more harm to the cause of the Gospel and the purity of the church than the liberals themselves.”

May God grant us spiritual understanding and a holy courage. This is very much needed in these perilous times.

Yours affectionately,
Pastor C. Chew