I thank God for the opportunity to preach the gospel in Betania School in Medan, Indonesia. The Rev Dr Haposan Siregar, who is Pastor of the Bible-Presbyterian Church (BPC) there (GAPPI—Geraja Alkitab Presbyterian Protestan Indonesia) is also Principal of the School.
I knew Haposan since 1985. We were students at Far Eastern Bible College (FEBC). He was a senior at that time, eventually graduating with his BTh in 1987. He went on to earn his DMin from Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia (ETSI) in 1996. In 2008, he invited our founding pastor—the Rev Dr Timothy Tow—to open the new church building of Betania GAPPI, but since Rev Tow was not able to make it due to his age and health, I went instead as his representative.
Last December 2019, Haposan invited me to preach at the Christmas service of Betania School. I was pleased to go and preached on “God’s Perfect Gift” (John 3:16) to about 700 primary and secondary school students and their parents who came for the event on December 19 and 20. Christmas is a most opportune time to evangelise.
It is good to know a little about how the BPC in Indonesia came into existence. It all began in 1972 when the Rev Dr Timothy Tow visited Medan to fulfil a duty for the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC). According to Rev Tow, this visit led him “in a mysterious way” to the Siregar family. Wesly Siregar was an elder of a Batak church (HKBP). He had three sons—Dohar, Haposan and Agus. Dohar, the eldest, came to study at FEBC first, and later the other two. They were convicted by FEBC’s Reformed and Calvinistic doctrine. After they graduated, the Lord used them to start GAPPI with help from Singapore.
It is by divine providence that GAPPI eventually got registered and fully recognised by the Indonesian government and free to plant churches in all Indonesia. There are now BPCs in North Sumatra, Batam, and West Kalimantan. Haposan is the chairman of the GAPPI synod. His son Martin wants to be like him and is now studying at FEBC.
Since we were in North Sumatra, Jemima and I took the opportunity to see Lake Toba which is the heart of Batak land. We visited the village of Sialagan on Samosir Island to learn about Batak history and culture. We could not ask for a better guide than the village head himself—Niek—who gave us a guided tour for a fee. He shared that his ancestors were originally animists and a very fierce and superstitious people who practised black magic and ate human flesh.
Haposan, himself Batak, told me that 200 years ago, Samuel Munson and Henry Lyman, entered their land, but ended up being speared and eaten by them. When Lyman’s mother heard that her son had been killed, she wept and said: “I am so far from sorry that I parted with Henry as a missionary to the heathen, that I never felt so strong a desire that some of my other children should engage in the same cause. O, how much do those poor creatures who murdered my son, need the gospel.” What a woman of faith! The American missions board felt likewise and without delay dispatched others to preach the gospel to the Bataks despite the dangers.
Dutch and German missionaries later followed suit. Ludwig Nommensen, a Lutheran missionary, translated the Bible into Batak language. By and by, more and more Bataks became Christians. Munson and Lyman did not die in vain. Niek himself our village guide told us he is Christian.
Today, 65% of the Bataks profess Christianity. However, Haposan says that today many are only Christians in name. Although they say they are Christians and attend church, they also consult the bomohs or shamans. There is a need to evangelise and catechise those who profess faith to make sure they truly know and believe in Jesus Christ, and possess pure, unadulterated faith. JK
STUDY HISTORICAL THEOLOGY
It has been 2000 years already since the Lord Jesus Christ came and gave us the Biblical Canon of the Christian Faith. How has the Church developed and matured in the Christian Faith in terms of understanding its Truths and fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19–20), especially the part on indoctrination, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20)? In order to know this, one has to study Historical Theology.
In Bible colleges and seminaries, Christian Theology (eg Buswell’s Systematic Theology) is usually taught in four main parts: (1) Theism, (2) Anthropology, (3) Soteriology, and (4) Eschatology. At the Far Eastern Bible College (FEBC), this is offered perennially in the night classes open to the public. Every Christian should know theology.
Doctrines defined and defended in history and passed down in creeds and confessions have an important role in protecting and preserving the Christian Faith. That was why the Apostle Paul warned against departing from biblical tradition: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” (2 Thess 3:6).
FEBC’s course on “Heresies and Orthodoxy” this semester will study into how God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures and how His people, the Church learned, taught and defended the Truth throughout the ages. It is a synthesis of Systematic Theology and Church History. It is vital that as Christians, we should know our faith and our roots.
Historical theologian Roger Olson rightly observed: “Our [Christian] situation is like a people who do not know their ancestry—where their family came from or who they were. Only the situation is more serious than that. It is more like the situation of people who wish to be a good citizen of a nation but know little or nothing of its history, including its founding, its wars, its heroes, its principles and its leaders. Living as fulfilled and functioning followers of Jesus Christ is similar to being good citizens of a nation. It requires knowing the stories of people who have sought to follow Christ and be his disciples through many different cultures and epochs of history.”
Make it a point to study historical theology. First lecture was delivered last Thursday. It is not too late to join. Sign up on the spot this Thursday at 7.30pm. Lectures are conducted at Life BPC Sanctuary, 9 Gilstead Road. Lecture notes are provided. More information in the Basic Theology for Everyone (BTFE) brochure available at the book table, or from FEBC’s website (www.febc.edu.sg). JK
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