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A Review of Daniel Chua’s Redefinition of Biblical Separation in the Bible-Presbyterian Constitution
Heritage & Legacy of the Bible-Presbyterian Church in Singapore published by Finishing Well Ministries in 2018 and edited by Surgeon Dr Chua Choon Lan (General Editor) together with the Rev Dr Quek Swee Hwa, the Rev Dr David Wong, and the Rev Dr Daniel Chua is said to be a “bold attempt to explain and analyse the different voices, splits and controversies surrounding the BP Church in Singapore.” It claims to be “objective”. It is not. The writers come from a certain camp in the Bible-Presbyterian (BP) Church whose views differ from the founding fathers of the BP faith and movement, especially the Church’s founding pastor and first theologian—the Rev Dr Timothy Tow (d 2009).
The book speaks about “Starting Again”. The editors want to form a new presbytery (a mini-synod) consisting of likeminded BP churches (only seven out of 43 have joined). To “start again”, they say they had to “think aloud” the doctrines and practices of the BP Church. Their thinking out loud, now voiced in a compendium, reveals why they are of a different BP faith and spirit, and why the BP Synod was dissolved in 1988. There is nothing new. There is only more. They reveal more of their mind and motivations now fleshed out in their book for all to examine and evaluate.
This critical paper will just deal with an article written by Daniel Chua entitled “Redux: What the Original Constitution Says About Biblical Separation”. Chua is “Pastor-at-Large” of Mt Carmel BP Church. Although Chua rightly acknowledges that it is “beyond doubt” that the BP Church was founded on biblical separation, it must be said that his article is really an attempt to redefine biblical separation and the original BP position on separation.
How does he do it? Chua argues that the “Original Constitution” of the BP Church dating back to 1959 and 1971 says “nothing specific” about biblical separation. Well, Chua’s thinking is simplistic. Although there is no statement like Article 6 “Principle and Practice of Biblical Separation” as found in our present constitution, there are specific statements that speak of or allude to separation as defined by our confession, our history, our ethos. Note the following:
(1) Chapter III Article 4 on Doctrine: “The doctrine of the Church shall be in accordance with that system commonly called ‘the Reformed Faith’ as expressed in the Confession of Faith as set forth by the historic Westminster Assembly together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.” From the outset, the BP Church has declared itself a Confessional Church by its subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is a Reformed Confession. It stems from the separatist movement in the 16th century Protestant Reformation.
(2) Article 4k: “We believe in the real, spiritual unity in Christ of all redeemed by His precious blood and the necessity of maintaining the purity of the Church in doctrine and life according to the Word of God.” Unity is based on purity in doctrine as defined by God’s Word. This is a positive statement for separation. Separation is surely a foundational doctrine and practice for “real, spiritual unity.” “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Pet 2:9). The light is the light of God’s truth (Ps 43:3). And concerning truth and unity, Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth … That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:16, 17, 21). Unity must never be had at the expense of truth. Rather it must always be founded on God’s forever infallible and inerrant Word which is truth itself.
(3) Principles of Government, Article 4a: “‘God alone is the Lord of the conscience’ and ‘hath left it (the conscience) free from the doctrine and commandments of men, which are in any thing contrary to His Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship.’” Evidently, the statement to free a God-governing conscience from man-made doctrines and any doctrine that be against God’s Word is a call for separation. We are to expose and oppose anything that is contrary to the Holy Scriptures. The Apostle Paul commanded, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Tim 4:2–4). Our conscience is bound by God and His Word, and anything contrary to Him and His Word must be soundly refuted and rejected.
(3) Article 4c: “Our blessed Saviour, for the edification of the visible Church, which is His body, appointed officers, not only to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments but also to exercise discipline for the preservation both of truth and duty: it is incumbent upon these officers and upon the whole Church, in whose name they act, to censure or cast out the erroneous and scandalous, observing in all cases the rules contained in the Word of God.” The clause “to exercise discipline for the preservation of both truth and duty” and “to censure or cast out the erroneous and scandalous, observing in all cases the rules contained in the Word of God” requires separation as a disciplinary measure against the disorderly and disobedient in the Church according to the doctrinal and ethical standards of God’s Word. Romans 16:17 says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” 1 Corinthians 5:11, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
(4) Article 4d: “Truth leads to goodness, the great touchstone of truth is its tendency to promote holiness; according to our Saviour’s rule, ‘by their fruits ye shall know them’. No opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty; otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.” Truth is always good and promotes holiness. Thus any attempt to compromise or mix truth with error is deceptive and destructive. The very basis of separation is the holiness of God. Leviticus 20:26 says, “And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.”
(5) Article 4e: “Under the conviction of the above principle, we think it necessary to make effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith. We also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good character and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.” This statement reiterates the importance of sound doctrine and realises the danger of isolationism or extremism. We believe that there are Bible-believing and Bible-defending Christians in churches other than the BP. We have had fellowship with good and godly men from other denominations who uphold the fundamentals of the Christian Faith and take a separatist stand against any unbelief and compromise.
In light of the above, Chua’s view that separation is “a call to separate from liberal Christianity and the ecumenical movement, from attempts to foster unity and relationship among Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholics and Protestants of all shades and persuasions” is a caricature of the original BP position on separation. Nowhere does the original constitution state that we are to separate from “Protestants of all shades and persuasions”. He makes the original BPs look like isolationists and extremists when we are biblical and true to the doctrine and practice of separation. Further, the 1986 constitution of the BP Church calls for separation “from all unbelief and corruption … to oppose all forms of modernism, cultism, Romanism and false religions. … We are opposed to all efforts to obscure or wipe out the clear line of separation between these absolutes: truth and error, light and darkness.” This is surely in keeping with the doctrine and practice of the 1956 and 1971 constitutions which Chua cites as the “Original Constitution.” It is clear that the BP constitution does not advocate separation from all believers of whatever stripe or shade but from all who depart from “absolutes” ie the truths of the Holy Scriptures.
Chua opines that they the “moderates” have gotten it right, and that those under Timothy Tow and Dr S H Tow (or “Tow brothers” as he calls them) have gone overboard. He says that the doctrine of separation has become “our Achilles’ heel when certain strong-minded personalities in the US, International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC) and here in Singapore extend the separation stand to a wider and wider range of issues and causes.” Chua wants a weak and regressive separation. He thinks separation should stand still in time and make no headway as though there are no new heresies and falsehoods (or “fake news”) to contend with. Chua is either naïve or does not get what biblical separation is all about. His is not separation redux but separation reduced. JK
…to be continued
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