There are divers manners of circumstances which every man experiences. In the providence of God, some are at ease because they have much, while others struggle to have food on their tables. Some are physically healthy, while others by reason of debilitating illnesses are deprived of so many things. Some were born in the sphere of a covenant family, so that from their early ages they are privileged to experience the blessings of a covenant home; on the other hand, others were raised in a family where God is unknown, being destitute of the gift of assurance of salvation which flows from the gospel of Jesus Christ alone.
I was born in a Roman Catholic setup of ideologies, and our home was bedecked with images, figures of (they assumed to be) the Virgin Mary and Jesus arranged in an ornamented altar, side by side with various superstitious practices and idolatrous venerations. As a young boy, I was taught these things, and I can vividly recall when I was told by my parents, “We were born as Roman Catholic, so we will die as Roman Catholic.” I have no idea if that was a serious confession, or just a mere axiom conveyed without any firm understanding of its sacrilegious system. We were practically devotees to Roman Catholicism: attendance to Sunday mass was encouraged among the family, and other customs of this religion were also observed. However, we scarcely opened the Bible to read it; studying the same seemed hopeless; so no one wanted to do it; and I was somehow content that I was a member of the Roman Catholic Church. That lasted until I turned 18 years old. Then God took me out and led me into a different ecclesiastical terrain.
In the year 2005, I left Roman Catholicism, and I started to be involved in a Pentecostal denomination. As a new convert, it was overwhelming, considering the liturgical practice I was accustomed to before—that is, from a solemn, ceremonially dry, and ritually orchestrated Roman Catholic mass to the loud and emotionally driven worship services of a Pentecostal church. For a time, God ushered me to this path to teach me some important lessons which I did not realize yet and never did while I was under the influence of Roman Catholicism, such as how to read and have an interest in studying the Bible, faithful worship service attendance, involvement in church activities, and affiliation with some of the church ministries. God trained me in those aspects. Arminianism had not yet come to my vocabulary, even though that is the core tenet of the church I was in, and for a time I was vulnerable to theological insensitivity. In spite of rampant ignorance to church dogmas and apparent doctrinal discrepancies, we still blindly believed that we loved God, while church doctrines helplessly succumbed to our highly emotional devotion to this holy God, whom we really did not know. We were zealously active in the ministries of the church. We loved to engage in evangelism works and were sent to schools to herald and witness of our faith to students; we conducted short dramas, seminars, and youth camps. However, upon these exploits, we were inculcated to confess that we are saved because we freely accepted Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior—and that is Arminianism to the core, utterly deadly, hell-bound heresy! Alas! I was a passionate adherent of this doctrine for a long period of time, and only by the grace of God was I led out from thence.
Over the years of my membership in that church, the Lord, in his time, gently called me out from among them. It happened when a friend introduced a discussion about the five points of Calvinism. At first, being adamant, I defended a doctrine (Arminianism) which I didn’t fully understand yet. It led to a debate that ran until midnight. I was zealous to justify salvation by man’s free will, which I thought to be sound and biblical. Nonetheless, God used that occasion to prick me in my reins. He removed from me some unnecessary doctrinal baggage and stirred up my soul with the seed of reformation. Eventually, I turned to scripture to restudy my friend’s arguments over against mine, and I was bewildered because all his points were affirmed and mine were not. I stood corrected by the word of God. Then I realized that it was God’s gracious act. He didn’t leave me in my spiritual obscurity, but he overhauled my understanding; the seed of reformation started to spring forth its branches, and its roots struck deeper into my soul. God realigned my perspective on the very core of Christianity. By his grace, he led me to survey deeper in his word, asking questions like, Did Christ really die only for the elect and not for all? How about John 3:16? Does this text explain the universality of God’s love? Is preaching useless because of election and reprobation? Is the altar call a biblical practice of the church? Why are those entertainments (such as drama and dance) in the church not appropriate in worship services? From that time on, I became dubious about all the activities and practices of the church. Month after month the struggle of reformation within my soul became more intense, to the point that I interrogated the leadership of the church (youth ministry leadership, of which I was also a member), throwing them questions such as why our church practiced the altar call and why there was liberality of special numbers as part of worship services. They responded negatively and insisted that those were a necessary part of church worship. Straightaway, the discussion became that of all against one, and to my surprise, they deliberately quipped against me. From that point on, I ceased from contending.
My love for the service waxed cold, and I felt uncomfortable in the church. Worship services for me became dry. I could not lift my hands anymore, even if the song leader said to lift our hands while singing. What was even worse was that I became so skeptical every time I sat under the preaching of any of the pastors. Most of them were funny, always cracking jokes in their sermons. I experienced spiritual dryness and I thirsted for God’s word, though they always asserted that they were preaching it; but in the final analysis, their sermons were mostly about themselves, about what they did, man-made stories to lure the emotions of their hearers and so on. And the scripture texts they used for preaching were out of context, obviously. I will not forget the statement posited by one of the pastors in his sermon: he said, “It is easy to be saved. In just five minutes of your time, follow this prayer (sinner’s prayer) with all your heart, and you will be saved.” My soul was vexed. I could not continue listening, and I decided to leave the church in the middle of his sermon. It happened for three consecutive Sundays that I left the church in the middle of the preaching, because I could not tolerate those intolerable messages of the preachers, which were a consistent blend of Arminian heresy, prosperity false gospel, and too much emphasis on giving an offering (tithes). By that time, I was contemplating leaving the church to seek for another. I tried watching online sermons from preachers like Paul Washer, John Piper, Leonard Ravenhill, and Al Martin. I immersed myself in reading online books and articles about Calvinism. And I prayed to God to lead me where his word is faithfully proclaimed. In the providence of God, through online searching, I was led to find Berean Protestant Reformed Church that was situated near our home.
December 25, 2011. The first Lord’s Day I attended Berean PRC worship service. I was a bit timid. People were looking at me, and I didn’t know what to do. So I sat at the back, observing. Elders greeted me with a tight handshake, asked some questions, and helped to familiarize me with Reformed worship liturgy. Thereafter, the worship service started, and it felt so strange. They were not using drums and guitars. There was no dancing and no song leader. I was thinking at that moment whether this church was faithful to her calling, or just a Reformed facade where Arminian theology still lurked to deceive its hearers. I waited for the message to be preached so that I might scrutinize its totality. The sermon, read by an elder, was about the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and by the grace of God I was captivated by the message. It was the first time I experienced hearing an expository sermon soberly delivered (because back in the Pentecostal church where I came from, sermons were not expository, but generally moralistic man-made stories, and the preaching always had those portions where the congregation laughs because the preachers are exceptionally witty. As if the word of God purports jokes, so that the prophets, apostles, and even Christ must quip while they herald the glad tidings). Afterwards, they invited me to join their Heidelberg Catechism classes, led by the elders, in between the services. It was a thorough and lively discussion, it enlightened my understanding of some of the important doctrines of the Reformed faith, and it became the turning point of my life. At that moment, I was led to confide in myself, “I need to stay in this church.” All of these are God’s doing. From then, God by his word instructed and guided me. And now I, together with my wife and my son, are continually growing and reforming and being fed nutritious spiritual meals from Lord’s day to Lord’s day at Berean PRC. And we will continue to be members, by his grace, as long as the church remains faithful to her calling, the Lord willing.
How dreadful for those who are drowning in sin (because of spiritual blindness) to die without Christ. Being enemies of the holy God, they deserve nothing but hell, and I myself and my loved ones by nature share that same predicament (Rom. 3:10-20, Eph. 2:3). We can never see the reality of our own lifeless spiritual condition unless God regenerates us. We failed in Adam, we fail daily, our consciences testify against us because of our habitual affront towards God, and we all deserve to fall straightway to eternal condemnation due to our sins. Notwithstanding, God will never leave his scattered sheep to perish, but he will save them in Christ. He will lead them in ways so that they might come to know him, ways such as I have gone through to be taken out from the corrupt theological umbrellas of anthropocentric religions (although my parents remained Roman Catholics; for this reason, it is my earnest prayer, until now, that they too will come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, in God’s time, the Lord willing). Surely, from the day we were formed in our mother’s womb until the final hour that we will draw our last breath, we know that God is the one who sovereignly directs our life’s journey here on earth until we meet him in glory. Ergo, nothing happens by chance. Indeed, what a wonderful comfort for us that we can humbly confess with the psalmist, “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Ps. 73:24).
Originally published in: Vol. 79 No. 5 May 2020