31 March 2016 was a special day for Grace Ministerial Academy (GMA), as nine men completed four years of study in the academy.
They came from various locations in the Philippines, and most will be returning to the churches they are from, although some will take up pioneering work in different situations.
GMA is a ministry of Cubao Reformed Baptist Church, which is located in Quezon City, a very busy and bustling part of Metro-Manila. The academy has been training men for the ministry for at least 20 years.
We are greatly blessed to have Pastor Noel Espinosa as our principal and main lecturer. He has been gifted by God with a brilliant mind and ability to communicate well the truth of God’s Word. He is an excellent theologian. This is one of the main reasons that men come to GMA and not one of the larger theological schools located in Metro-Manila.
We do not issue degrees, but just a simple diploma to say the student has completed the course at GMA. Yet the men still come, and there are often 25-35 men enrolled in the academy.
GMA’s course is for only three days a week. The men usually return to their home churches on Fridays and come back to GMA on Mondays. The course may be simple, but it involves study and reading, as well as work in the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew.
Our principal takes the lion’s share of the lecturing for the three days, but is aided by Recman Denus, the librarian, who teaches biblical languages, along with Brian Ellis who teaches history and Gilbert McAdam who has been teaching the New Testament (back row of picture shows, from left to right: Gilbert McAdam, Brian Ellis, Noel Espinsoa, Recman Denus, Mon Macapagal, Ismael Montejo). The faculty is complemented by Dr Ian Densham, who comes from the UK twice a year to take modular courses, usually on the Old Testament and biblical theology.
Why do they come to a school which has no frills or degrees, and only a simple certificate of completion? Well, many of the men first came to the pastors’ conference of Cubao Reformed Baptist Church. This is an annual event during the first week of February. This year’s was the 26th conference.
Usually, up to 300 men crowd into the auditorium of the church to hear men from the Philippines and abroad. The speakers expound the Word of God, teach on pastoral matters, and lecture on church history or on the lives of great men of God from the past. At the conference, attendees usually receive up to nine God-honouring books — three per day to take away — with the condition that they read them.
Through the conference, many men have moved in their theological understanding to embrace the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace. This is an answer to our prayers and desire to see a work of reformation here in the Philippines.
Many years ago, back in the 1970s, one of the leading men in a well known, large missionary society said to me that the Philippines needs to hear the Reformed faith, as there is so much Arminianism there.
That was very true. Easy-believism is still rife in many quarters. Man-centred religion abounds and the Scriptures are little known by supposedly Protestant believers. One example can be taken from an interview of a lady who applied for a position in our Christian Compassion Ministries Foundation.
She said she was a believer and gave her testimony. I quoted a verse to her from 1 Peter from my English Bible. She understood English, but I suggested she looked it up in a Tagalog Bible, which I handed to her.
She was unable to find 1 Peter. It could have been partly nervousness, but in the end I had to find it for her so she could read the verse in Tagalog. That is not uncommon. We have all kinds of churches in the Philippines. Many are generally sound, but others can almost be considered cults. There has been hardly any teaching of the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace.
Yet that is gradually changing, and Reformed churches are coming into being. There are some Presbyterian churches, which are committed to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Then there are a growing number of churches, which would hold to the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. These may well number nearly 100 by now, as many small Baptist churches would claim to be Reformed.
Please pray for the work of GMA and our students, as they take up the work in different provinces of the Philippines.
Two men from our own church, Cubao Reformed Baptist, were among those who have just graduated. One is expected to take up the pastorate in Tondo (old Manila), where there is a small, struggling Reformed Baptist church. They have not had a pastor for many years and our church has been regularly giving oversight and supplying the pulpit.
Now Levi Ilhig (third from right in picture) has agreed to go there full time, and we are looking forward to seeing him installed as pastor in the near future. The other is Larry Malabayabas (fourth from left), who is married, with 12 children. Some of those children are now grown up and married. Larry comes from the island of Marinduque in central Philippines. He desires to see a Sovereign Grace Baptist church planted there. That is a good desire.
As a church, we are seeking to raise funds for these two men, to support them in their new steps in the ministry of God’s Word. May the Lord be pleased to guide and use all the graduates of GMA in the work of the gospel and the establishment of God-honouring churches.
Brian Ellis has been a missionary to Cubao, Manila, for many years, working in partnership with Grace Baptist Mission.