Churches in Singapore: A City on a Hill in Southeast Asia

Article
12.12.2016

Singapore has been blessed by many gospel-preaching churches. Pray that they would not lose the centrality of the gospel, and would be used to build healthy churches in Asia and beyond.

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The history of Christianity in the Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore is linked to the history of the nation itself. Before the British founded the nation in 1819, the island of Singapore—then “Singapura”—had little contact with Christianity. The British first established a trading post here, strategically located along a major shipping route connecting Europe and Asia.

The arrival of the British also accompanied the island’s first missionaries. Throughout the rest of the nineteenth century and into the opening decades of the twentieth, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Brethren missionaries established churches to reach the growing local population, which had swelled due to migrants from China, India, and other parts of Asia. Christians from India and China also contributed to evangelism and church planting efforts. Many of these early churches still exist today and remain committed to preaching the gospel.

After the World War II, China’s new communist government closed the door to foreign missionaries. As a result, a significant number of these missionaries came to Singapore, as well as many Chinese Christians. This fueled another wave of evangelism and church planting. For instance, the Southern Baptist Convention began to send a steady stream of workers. In 1950, there were two Baptist churches in Singapore, but by 1970, the number had grown to eleven.

Singapore became a sovereign nation in 1965. In the span of a few decades, this initiated an unprecedented period of economic development that transformed Singapore from a third- to a first-world country. This growth paralleled the growth of Christianity. The number of churches increased, as did the parachurch and missions organizations. The proportion of Christians in the population (currently around 5.4 million) increased from around 10 percent to almost 19 percent in 2015. Christians here belong to churches from an array of denominations, including Assemblies of God, Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian. All of these would identify themselves as evangelical, having resisted the tide of theological liberalism that swept through Western Protestantism.

God has been gracious to establish and grow a gospel witness in Singapore. I’m thankful for the number of gospel-preaching churches here. And yet, as I survey the present situation with an eye toward the future, several challenges and opportunities stand out.

THE DANGER OF ASSUMING THE GOSPEL

A key challenge for Singaporean churches is to preserve the centrality of the gospel in all of life and ministry. Because many churches here have existed for some time, it’s not uncommon to come across an over-familiarity with the gospel, such that it gets displaced from its place at the center of the church. The gospel must be clearly proclaimed, and its implications fleshed out. Otherwise, the gospel will be assumed, which can lead to activism or formalism that’s not rooted in God’s salvation of sinners through his Son.

Pray for Singapore’s churches to keep the gospel the main thing in all of life and ministry.

THE DANGER OF ASSUMING THE WORD

Another related need is a strengthened commitment to expository preaching that declares the whole counsel of God and points to Christ. Pastors need continual equipping and encouragement to rightly handle and proclaim God’s Word. A new seminary, the Evangelical Theological College of Asia, will soon provide more training opportunities for pastors and other gospel workers. Pray for pastors to be bold and faithful in preaching Christ from all the Scriptures.

Churches in Singapore desperately need the right preaching of the Word both to build up God’s people and to guard them against error. The prosperity gospel has gained popularity in certain circles, which has led some to have wrong ideas about what it means to follow Jesus. Christians must have a biblical understanding of the gospel, conversion, and even biblical theology in order to discern truth from error.

THE DANGER OF ASSUMING SCRIPTURE’S SILENCE

Singaporean churches also face the challenge of trusting in the authority, sufficiency, and clarity of Scripture as it pertains to ecclesiology. There’s a need for greater clarity on matters such as meaningful membership, church discipline, and the roles of elders and deacons. Without a biblically robust ecclesiology, pragmatism often steps in to fill the gap—and as a result, the gospel witness of churches is undermined. Pray for Singaporean churches to be more shaped by Scripture, so they can display the gospel even more clearly.

THE POTENTIAL OF GOSPEL-CENTERED CHURCHES

One encouraging development is the growing number of Christians who have come to a more biblical and gospel-centered understanding of life and ministry. I know a number of like-minded pastors who desire to lead their churches in biblically faithful ways. This has largely been due to the availability of good Christian resources from ministries like Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, and 9Marks. Pray that such resources will continue to bear fruit among Christians in Singapore.

Healthy churches in Singapore aren’t only good for Singapore because our country is a strategic hub for missions to Asia and beyond. Many churches here already send both short- and long-term missions teams, and a growing number of Singaporeans are moving overseas for studies or work. If Singaporean churches are healthy, then they could help foster the growth of healthy churches in other countries, too.

I’m excited to see what God will do through Singaporean believers as they continue to labor for the sake of the gospel. Already, there’s a fresh impetus to plant more gospel-centered churches. Two such plants, Redemption Hill Church and The Crossing Church, are growing and thriving. Besides starting new work, there’s also the potential to revitalize existing churches. Many churches here are in need of renewal and encouragement from the gospel, but some simply need a faithful pastor.

CONCLUSION

Do pray for the gospel to continue to take root and grow in Singapore. There’s much to be grateful for, but also much that needs to be done in terms of building healthy, gospel-centered churches. There are also sizeable segments of the multi-ethnic population where the gospel has yet to make significant inroads.

May God bring greater fruit and enable the churches in Singapore to more clearly display the gospel for his glory!