The best thing to have happened to Christianity in Malaysia in recent years is the emergence of Reformed churches and, in particular, the emergence of the Reformed Baptist movement. This began in about 1983. I speak as one who did not come from a ‘Reformed tradition’. I was converted in 1972 through a church started by the Navigators, and I trained for the ministry in a general evangelical seminary in 1982. After graduating there, I went back to serve in my home church, but left after two years to join another church.
From that new fellowship I was given a free hand to establish an entirely new church. This was in 1988, in Johor Bahru. In the course of this pioneering work a book by Dr John MacArthur affected me very much. In this book I was confronted with biblical teaching about the church. I became concerned about the kind of church I should be planting. My dissatisfaction with the state of the churches around served to increase that concern. Churches then, as now, seemed to be interested only in ‘success’. This was clearly shown by their uncritical readiness to swing to charismatic teaching or anything else that proved ‘successful’.
Then, in 1990, I was invited to a Reformed Ministers’ Conference, in Malaysia, at which Pastor Stuart Olyott was preaching. He spoke on Calvinism and its implications. What a significant providence this proved to be in my experience! How a correct understanding of God’s sovereignty answers all humanistic thinking about the church! How I began to see that the church is created by God’s work rather than by man’s effort! I made an intensive effort to study, and to find out more through associating with other Reformed men in the country. At the same time, I was preparing our new church to be constituted. In 1991 the ‘JB First Community Church’ came into being, with the 1689 Baptist Confession as her doctrinal basis.
Though we have considerable freedom to do Christian work in our country, there are some obvious hindrances to mission. For example, the city I am serving in has about half a million people, but according to Malaysia’s laws, not much more than 200,000 of these may be evangelised. Also, I used to work with a group of students in a nearby university, but the university now prohibits pastors from entering the campus. Sadly too, present trends in the ‘Christian churches’ do not help. The dilution of the gospel, resulting from the efforts of some to make Christianity more respectable and the church more acceptable, as well as the introduction of ‘entertainment’ into worship, appear to have dulled the people’s interest in true biblical preaching and worship.
We quite often have visitors joining us for our services. They usually sense the difference between our church and many others. They either respond by dismissing us as a cult and never returning, or they look upon us as being narrow and bigoted, and not, as they see it, accommodating to the viewpoint of others. Their attitude is, ‘Why should we remain here with these, when there are other churches who are more “loving” and less “critical”? Besides, the others seem to have “God’s blessing”, with their huge crowds’.
There are, nevertheless, a very few who do appreciate the teaching of the Word of God — and they remain with us. Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 sum up the struggle we are facing: ‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables’.
So in a very real sense, the diluted, distorted ‘gospel’ that presents itself as an ‘alternative gospel’ poses one of the greatest challenges to the true work of the church in Malaysia. The answer to this challenge is not to pander to the wishes of sinners, but to ‘preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season’ (2 Timothy 4:2). We must be faithful in doing this, even though it means being considered by many as ‘weak and foolish’.