From the monthly archives:

November 1998

Originally posted by Elder Dan Hall

When I became aware of the opportunity to visit the Philippines for the purpose of visiting among several of the churches that have been established in the Davao City area during the past few years, I set some goals for myself as to what I hoped would be accomplished during this trip.  When I informed the church I pastor of my intentions to make this trip, I wrote the following in a letter to them.

While there I hope to be able to have enough discernment to judge for myself whether or not this is truly the Lord’s work.  If it is, I believe that I will see: a strong emphasis on salvation by God’s sovereign grace; the use of the scriptures as the only authority for the faith and conduct of God’s people; and practice that agrees thereto, a ministry that rightly divides the Word of God and edifies the congregations; a people who love one another and delight in each other’s company in a church capacity and are willing to suffer affliction for the cause of Christ; and, many other things which we understand to be marks of Christ’s church.  What I do not expect to find is perfection or paradise.  These are all new churches, if they are churches at all, and as such can be expected to have much to learn.  Considering the background from which most of them come they have much to un-learn.  What has always been observable in disciples of Christ is the willingness to change our ways to conform to His ways and to endeavor to walk consistently in those ways.

If first impressions are an indicator of the deeper content of people, which remains to be discovered at a later time, then I have reason to be hopeful for the future of the people and churches which I visited.  Having been there only once, mine is only a first impression commentary.  When I go somewhere or meet someone for the first time my main concern is, “Do I want to return and dig deeper into this person or place?”  Sometimes the answer is an emphatic “Yes!”  Sometimes it is more along the line of, “Maybe, if I have time.”  At other times the answer is, “I don’t think so.”  Regarding the churches, brethren and sisters, and preachers that I met, the answer to my question is strongly on the “yes” side of the scale.

Before I left, one person told me to “enjoy my vacation.”  This was not a vacation, although some might think it to be so because the people on this trip did enjoy the time they spent on the trip.  I have been on vacation trips which were far more physically demanding.  I have been on vacation trips among foreign peoples, eaten strange foods, and tried to learn something of the language and culture of the people. I have also been on vacation trips where spiritual discussions occupied a sizeable portion of the conversations.  And I have been on the relaxation type of vacation trips like everyone else.  This was not a vacation trip.  It was pure business.  Whether it was the Lord’s business or my business may be open to question.  I may not have known what the Lord’s business was, but I did know what mine was.  As quoted above, I went in order to evaluate for myself what I believed and hoped was a work of God.  I have no vested interest in the matter and have no need to either “prove” or “disprove” the validity of the work.  I had no intention of dissecting what was there, nor of putting some sort of “seal of approval” on what was happening.  Instead, I hoped that I might discern whether there was a solid foundation of doctrinal understanding, scriptural practice, gospel experience, and Spirit motivated and moderated love, steadfastness, and zeal for the kingdom of heaven.

I am sure that I appeared to be aloof and withdrawn from time to time, but I felt like I had to be as objective as possible and observation sometimes effects one’s participation in what is going on.  After eliminating cultural differences, technological differences, language problems, and other insignificant variables, my humble impression is that the Lord Jesus Christ has indeed established His truth in the Philippines and, as a consequence, local churches are being formed as the pillar and ground of that truth. That opinion and $1.00 may get me a cup of coffee, but that is my judgment and I trust it is a true judgment for the following reasons.  These statements refer to genera observations.  I did not meet every member of every congregation in the Philippines anymore than I have met every Primitive Baptist in America.  My general impression of the Primitive Baptists in America is not dependent on my knowing them all and neither should my general impression of Primitive Baptists in the Philippines depend on my knowing every one of them.

1)      The doctrinal foundation appeared to be solid. The understanding and belief of the doctrines of election, predestination, effectual calling, justification, and glorification was well developed in the ministers and brethren with whom we fellowshipped.

2)      The manner in which the light of the truth came to the Philippines appears to be providential. Discussions with the ministers who were reported to be the first to begin advocating salvation by grace indicated to me that the Lord led them in their studies to the conclusion that salvation was by the sovereign grace of God without the agency, activity, or intervention of man or human means.  These are men who were searching for truth and had it revealed to them before there was any contact with American Primitive Baptists.

3)      When they began to see the truth, they also began to search for the true church. There have been times in history when some one or group, upone discovering some point of truth, would simply declare themselves to be the church.  The Philippine brethren believing that somewhere there were those who believed the truth, sought them out and eventually, and apparently providentially, came into contact with the Primitive Baptists in America.

4)      They are sound on the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Baptism was always understood to be for believers, by immersion at the hands of duly ordained ministers of the gospel.  Submitting to baptism was always presented in their preaching as that which someone should do if they loved the Lord, never as a condition for, or something to be done to assure one’s self of eternal life.  The Lord’s supper was understood to be for baptized believers and that the bread and the wine were representative of the body and blood of Jesus and in no way either were or became literal flesh and blood.

5)      They are sound on the purpose and utility of good works. I did not detect the necessity of the Arminians of the legalistic “duty” of the Calvinists.  Works motivated by love to the glory of the Father was what I heard spoken and taught.

6)      They understood the purpose and utility of the gospel. One of the things that makes Primitive Baptists a separate people (and always has) is that the gospel is not seen as being instrumental in the obtaining or imparting of eternal life.  It is the means by which life and immortality are brought to light.  They understand that faith is the fruit of the Spirit rather than a prerequisite to obtaining eternal life.  They understand that the Holy Spirit, without any agency or help of man, imparts eternal life in regeneration and that once regenerated a person is able to hear and believe and obey the gospel should the Holy Spirit send a preacher to preach the gospel.

7)      Their’s appeared to be a heartfelt religion without being either overtly emotional or dryly intellectual or overly traditionalistic. An experience of grace and coming to love the Lord, His truth and His people were usually expressed to one degree or another by many we met.

8)      There was a zeal not only to hold the truth, but to noise it abroad in direct conversation. This was evidenced by the number of family members who made up the individual churches.  Family was the most immediate audience for most of them and that seemed to be where their testimonies had the greatest impact.  I did not detect proselytizing though.  They are strongly convinced that Primitive Baptist doctrine is God’s truth and they will discuss it and teach it as long as someone will listen to them.

9)      The experience cust across age, income, social, and gender distinctions. Congregations appear to be far better balanced in the make-up of their membership than do most churches in America.  They also understand the need for the local assembly to be independent as well as the need to keep close ties of fellowship with sister churches.

10)  They appear to be living in sincere dependence upon God’s provision of their needs without being fatalistic. They are joyful, willing to share, ready to spend and to be spent, because they are convinced that the Lord loves them for Christ’s sake and will supply their needs.  Many expressed their desire to do “thus and so,” but it was always with the disclaimer: “If the Lord wills.”  However, those desires did not appear to be an excuse for not laboring in the present with what was at hand.

11)   One of the charges leveled against what has transpired in the Philippines has been that men were ordained to the ministry too quickly.  I will leave that question for others to answer.  What I observed was that they did not seem to be in a hurry to ordain anyone. Of the seven preachers I met from the Davao City area, three were ordained, one was going to be ordained, and three were not yet ordained.  I was surprised that all of them were not ordained and that there were only three constituted churches out of the eight assemblies that we visited.  I did not probe anyone on the reasons, but I did come to the conclusion that they expect the Lord to show his calling of a man to the ministry by giving him both understanding of the truth as well as converts to whom he can minister.  In other words, they do expect that full proof will be mad of a man’s call.

12)   These brothers and sisters are hungry for the truth. The Philippine churches do not represent a paradise, or a place for American Primitive Baptists preachers to go to get in a little baptizing and ordaining that may be lacking at home.  To be there will extract more gospel labor from a preacher in two weeks (or how ever long he may be there) than he may find in two years at home.  In spite of all that they lack materially, their interest in the things of God would be hard to understand by many here in America, where it would be considered more important for them to achieve material security, after which it would be appropriate to turn one’s mind to spiritual things.

13)   These brethren were no strangers to problems and conflict, either past of present, neither were they anything but forthright in discussing it. The problems and conflicts, which have been such a source of fuel for those who oppose the work of the last few years, were freely discussed whether brought up by us or by them.  The absence or presence of trouble, in and of itself, is no guarantee that a work is of the Lord.  However, it is cure that Satan will not long leave a new work of God alone, but will, as with Jesus in the wilderness, tempt it and try it.  These brethren are but flesh and show the evidence of that fact just as we do; but, they also manifest the evidence that through God’s grace and steadfast labor, patience and brotherly love, they are endeavoring to keep house for the Lord Jesus Christ.

14)   They were not beggars. We saw so many needs on every hand that we quickly realized that whatever we did would only be a drop in the bucket.  Where we saw or heard of some area where we could provide some immediate help we asked what it would take, and we were provided with the information and did what we could.  However, we were never “hit up” for anything nor made to feel that we owed them anything.  If anything, they shamed us by their spirit of giving.

While others may not be convinced, and indeed may never be convinced, I am convinced that the Lord is in this matter and that these brethren are worthy of our prayers and our encouragement if nothing else.  I would not hesitate to visit there again or to encourage the brethren in whatever way possible.  And, yes, I do consider them to be my brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I admire Barnabas for many reasons, one of which was his habit of encouraging the brethren.  The church at Jerusalem sent him to Antioch to assess the work that was going on there and Luke says that when he had seen the grace of God, (he) was glad, and exhorted them that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord (Acts 11:23).  I am certainly not Barnabas and the church at Jerusalem certainly did not send me anywhere, but I believe I have seen the grace of God working in the Philippines, and I was glad to see it, and in the face of what I saw, the only thing I could do was to encourage them to cleave unto the Lord with purpose of heart.  It is my heartfelt prayer that God will continue the work and bless it to the glory of his Son Jesus Christ the Lord.