This article was first published in Salt Shakers, a bi-monthly magazine published by the youth of the Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church, Singapore. It is reproduced here with permission. The author of this article, Lisa Ong, is a member of that church.
This year from 26th July to 2nd August, I was given the privilege to attend the British Reformed Fellowship Conference. The theme was “Be Ye Holy (1 Peter 1:16): The Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification” and the main speakers were Prof. Herman Hanko and Prof. David Engelsma.
Held every two years, the BRF Conference is a spiritual treat for people in the British Isles (England, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales), America (USA and Canada), and more recently, continental Europe (Hungary) and Asia (Singapore!). All in all, there were eight countries were represented by 126 attendees at Gartmore House, Scotland. No hostile negotiations took place, only sweet fellowship and the partaking of God’s Word.
It was my first time going halfway around the world alone. I waved goodbye to friends and family who saw me off, and catching the last glimpse, I felt ambivalently adventurous and apprehensive. Thankfully, I reached the Conference site without any hiccups. Yet, being in a new setting, there were some things I had to adjust to over the eight days at the conference.
1. The chilly (about 10-15°C) and occasionally damp weather, even though it was summer! Although it rains quite frequently in Singapore, the environmental temperature seldom goes below 23°C. Nevertheless, the fellowship was very warm in contrast to the weather. I fondly recall the moments when I had hour-long conversations with other ladies on the bus to/from day trips; there were just so many things to talk about – the different cultures, raising children, struggles in the Christian life and so on.
2. The time difference between Singapore and Scotland, together with the 17-hour daylight (4:30AM to 9:30PM). It was all the better; there were longer waking hours to enjoy the communion of the saints. At 10:00PM every night, except on Saturday, the night was young for the young at heart as they sang Psalters in parts and participated in social games – Murderer and Psychiatrist (you have to attend to find out what this is!).
3. Being away from family and church in Singapore. But there was no other better place than to be with Christ’s family gathered from different nations. I had a blessed time with Prof. Hanko and Aunty Wilma, and Prof. Engelsma and Aunty Ruth, the spiritual grandparents to many young people. Also, I bunked with two sisters in Christ—Stephanie Adams (USA) and Christina Perkins (England)—we were a multi-continental sisterhood.
4. Getting to know the hundred odd persons I was meeting for the first time. (Thanks to the organisers for nametags, they were really helpful for the first few days!) It was remarked that the BRF Conference is a foretaste of the fellowship in Heaven, where people of different lands gather to worship and praise God. Although I was meeting almost everyone for the first time, yet due to our common love for God, we were no strangers. It was a special experience.
5. Drinking in the beautiful sights and sounds of Scotland, which are so different from the city concrete-jungle of Singapore. Big thanks again to the organisers for the five day-trips to Loch Katrine, Edinburgh, Stirling, St Andrews and Loch Lohmond. I was constantly mesmerised by God’s creation and got to appreciate the sites of Reformation History. This appreciation was reinforced by the speeches Pastor Stewart gave on John Knox and James Fraser.
6. Playing badminton almost everyday and participating in the European league futsal (Northern Ireland vs. the Rest). I gladly adapted to this as I enjoy sports and not to mention, my futsal team won! Plus, sports were a great way for me to break the ice as I was a newcomer.
7. Scottish food is obviously different from the Singaporean diet. Although I missed my Singaporean food very much, I was content with fresher milk that Scotland offered. This is not surprising, given that cows are next-door neighbours to many Scots. By any means, the sincere milk of the Word was even more desirable. Through the speeches, I learnt what it means to be sanctified—to be consecrated to God by the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1). One must not confuse sanctification with justification, whereby God declares that we have no sin, for instance when God said “(I have) not beheld iniquity in Jacob” in Numbers 23:21. Sanctification comes after justification as we are able to do good and live lives consecrated to God only if we have been declared righteous by God.
There is a danger in confusing the order of sanctification and justification. One example is the Roman Catholic belief that sanctification is prior to justification; thus man is able to do good and earn his justification. To understand the relationship between sanctification and justification rightly, we must acknowledge that the sin of Adam, Man’s federal head, was passed down to all men and killed them all spiritually. But when Christ, the federal head of His people, died to redeem them from their sins, He made them legally righteous before God and sends the Holy Spirit to sanctify them (Romans 5: 12-19).
Yet, sanctification is a work-in-progress in this life due to our fleshly nature (Galatians 5:17) and our battle against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12). This causes our sanctification to be a painful process. However, this will make us grow more sincere in prayer for thee forgiveness of sins and all the more yearn for Heaven. Furthermore, Romans 8 encourages us to endure in fighting against sin as the enemy will be overcome. This victory is certain because it is not dependent on us, but Christ has won the battle over death and sin for us. We can experience blessed communion with God forever. What a comfort!
Looking forward, the next conference will be held at Castlewellan Castle, Northern Ireland, from 16th to 23rd July 2016. The theme is “Behold, I Come Quickly”: The Reformed, Biblical Truth of the End, and the main speakers are Prof. Engelsma and our very own beloved Pastor Lanning.
I have told some of the BRF Conference attendees (all non-Asians), to come to the churches in Singapore and the Philippines in one trip to South-East Asia, and if possible to attend CERC’s church camp. Likewise, I hope that we Singaporeans can do the same: attend the Conference and travel the Irish Isles, and worship and fellowship with the saints in Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland, and the Limerick Reformed Fellowship in Ireland. This way, we can have more opportunities to enjoy the wonderful catholicity of the church of God.
So come 2016, I strongly urge members of CERC to consider seriously their attendance at the BRF Conference—keep the dates free, start saving money, and express interest promptly when registrations open. Let us desire to learn about the end times and fellowship with the saints from this part of the world.