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The Presbyterian Church in Singapore and Family Building
By Rev Tan Cheng Huat - General Secretary
Jun 2015

From the 2015 Chinese New Year message by our PM, I picked up two points about families. First, the PM's message mentioned that our government is building better homes for all Singaporeans, improving our quality of life, creating new opportunities for employability regardless of life stage or occupation and strengthening community bonds. Let me quote from our PM’s message:

But home is more than just good infrastructure, beautiful surroundings and convenient amenities. Ultimately home is about family and relationships. All of us desire to have loving families with strong bonds and ties. We also want to reach out to others and build strong communities, as one big Singapore family and one united people.

Second, to mark the 50th anniversary of Singapore's independence, our government launched the SG50 Baby Jubilee Gift as a way of celebrating the joy of parenthood with families whose babies will be Singapore’s future. Even the recently-released Budget 2015 indicated enhanced support for affordable, quality childcare and for families with children and elderly parents. Together with the SG50 celebrations, many family related events have been rolled out by both the public and private sectors. Some of these are events like Family Picnic @ The Istana, "BLESS Mobile Family Day" by the South West Community, and the SG50 Concerts in the Park series by the National Parks Board.

The National University of Singapore's Centre for Family and Population Research (CFPR), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, will be organizing a conference to present the findings of research on the significant changes in our social system and institutions, including the family, in the past five decades of economic transformation. Changes in the demographic landscape, socioeconomic structures, technology and globalization have transformed family structure, attitudes about family formation, and relations among family members. These changes in the family systems are manifested in the rise in age at marriage, an increased number of singles, rapid decline in the number of babies born, increase in divorce and cohabitation, more elderly people living alone, and a more diverse population in Singapore today.

Our denomination and also our local Presbyterian Churches are not spared the effects of these demographical changes to our family structures and attitudes. What influence do we have as Christian families on our communities? Having served as a senior pastor in a local pastorate, for me the toughest part of the ministry is in reaching out to couples and families. I experienced several failed attempts to organize "Family Weekends" and "Couples Weekends". It could be that many of us hold strongly to the practice of not washing our dirty linen in public. There seems to be some kind of taboo attached to attendance at any of these seminars or activities as it could be indicative of a marriage on the rock or a troubled family. If I were to start ministry in a pastorate all over, I would wish to have read the writings of Richard Baxter, a 16th Century reformed minister, earlier in my ministry years. Baxter's pastoral approach was that every flock should have its own pastor and the size of a flock should be no bigger than a pastor could care for. He once took a new church and preached there for three years with no results. Finally he cried out: "O God, You must do something with these people or I'll die!" Baxter said: "It was as if God spoke to me audibly, 'Baxter, you are working in the wrong place. You're expecting revival to come through the church. Try the home.'" Richard Baxter went out and called on home after home. He spent entire evenings in homes helping parents set up family worship times with their children. He moved from one home to another. Finally the Spirit of God started to light fires everywhere until they swept through the congregation and made it the great church that it came to be.

Families should be given attention and he urged those who desired the reformation and welfare of those people to do all they could to promote family religion. In particular, Baxter was keen that heads of households did their duty in catechizing their families and leading them in worship. According to Baxter, when a child was baptized, the father was to supervise and to nurture this child in Christian faith; the father was duty-bound to teach his children the Scriptures and to lead them in prayer and praise. Time and eternity was at stake. For the father to abdicate his solemn vocation of ministry in the home was to surrender his family to the whims of the world, the flesh and the devil. An old Hebrew proverb said: "He that does not teach his son a trade, trains him to be a thief." Richard Baxter in the book The Godly Home" wrote: "It is an evident truth that most of the mischief that now infest and seize upon mankind throughout the earth are caused by illgoverned families." A holy and well-governed family tends to propagate the fear of God from generation to generation and is the prerequisite to a holy and well-governed church.

As we celebrate SG50, let us make time for our families. I believe God wants to bless our Presbyterian churches in similar ways as we give back to godly parents the responsibility for the faith-training of their children. Every house is to be a household of faith. Let us reproclaim the affirmation of faith by Joshua in the Old Testament: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).


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