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2 — 8 July 2007

Issue No. 24

Biblical GRADUATE school of theology

BGST This Week

On Saturday 30th June we had our 16th Convocation and Thanksgiving Service. Convocation is the most formal and public event in BGST’s calendar, and one around which a number of traditions have gathered in the course of BGST’s history, familiar to those who attend year by year. Some aspects of the 16th Convocation were new. For the first time we held the Convocation at the end of June and not in early January, reflecting the fact that the beginning of BGST’s academic year has now shifted to June/July, to bring us into line with other theological colleges. This year we were at Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church rather than Zion Bible Presbyterian Church (and this is a good opportunity to extend thanks both to TACMC for kindly allowing us to use their premises this year and to Zion BP for similar kindnesses in many previous years.) This was also the first year that graduates of the TENT course received their certificates along with the BGST students.

 

There is always a different speaker: this year Professor Alan Millard, in Singapore as a guest lecturer at BGST, spoke illuminatingly on Joshua 4:21 (‘What do these stones mean?’) and created a precedent by suggesting that Council and Faculty take positions in the pews while he was speaking, so that they could view his slides in comfort (Council and Faculty gratefully acquiesced). In recent years convocations have included an alumnus testimony: this year we were pleased to hear from Mr. Benny Fang, who took us back to the very first lecture of the first course at BGST, which he attended.

 

Most importantly of all, each convocation is new to almost all the graduating students: convocation may be part of a familiar round for those who attend it each year, but for the graduating students it usually represents a significant milestone, perhaps the beginning of a new phase of Christian service. Convocation ‘regulars’ like myself must never lose sight of this.

 

So there it is: the BGST Convocation, an event which is not so old that its roots are lost in the mists of time, but which has certainly been going on long enough to have fallen into an established pattern. Long may it continue! Long may there be graduating students at BGST!

 

As it happened, this year I was due to preach the first in a series of five sermons on Hosea on the day after Convocation. I found it an interesting conjunction of events, and one that moved me to think about the relationship between tradition and ceremony on the one hand, and  thankfulness and faithfulness on the other.

 

The Israelites to whom Hosea prophesied seem to have been a very religious people. They had their traditions, regular forms of worship at which their priests officiated. Each year there were sacrifices and festivals at the main sanctuaries in Israel. The language of piety was not unfamiliar to them. At one point Hosea represents the people as crying out: ‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’ (8:2) – words which many Christians might think of using on particular occasions.

 

But for all this, the people’s heart was far from God. As well as worshipping the LORD, who had delivered them from Egypt, they worshipped Baal, the Canaanite god of rain, fertility and harvests. They had forgotten that they owed an exclusive allegiance to the LORD (11:1–2): ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.’ You could not have a clearer (or sadder) picture of a people turning its back on God, and failing to remember the One to whom they owed their existence. Elsewhere Hosea sums up the people’s state in these terms: ‘There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land’ (4:1). In their hearts and in their lives the people had gone far from God.

 

This is not a picture of themselves that most of Hosea’s first hearers would have recognised. Very likely most of them rejected his words indignantly, pointing to their forms of worship as evidence of their faithfulness. One verse makes it clear what their general response was: ‘the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired man a maniac’ (9:7). And yet Hosea was right: within a few decades the northern kingdom of Israel was overrun by the Assyrians, and the people went into exile. This was God’s judgment on their unfaithfulness.

 

Hosea is a book that probes the dividing line between appearance and reality, between the outward form and the heart of true religion, between worship that brings life and worship that in the end leads to death. Hosea warns us of the dangers of spiritual self-delusion. I believe that at BGST the spiritual state of all, Council, Faculty, staff and students, is better than that of the Israelites in Hosea’s time. I trust we are far from the kind of error that so infected the Israelites’ worship then. But we cannot simply assume that this the case now, even if it has been the case in the past. Traditions are fine, but if Christians depart from the faith that originally gave life to these traditions, then they will soon find that the traditions in themselves have no real value.

 

The thought I took away from last weekend was this: Convocation, as well as being a time of public celebration and thanksgiving, ought to be a time of self-examination. Our structures, our goals, above all our hearts, all these need to brought again and again to Word of God. Are we actively seeking to walk faithfully with God? This is a question which we must never stop asking ourselves, for the simple reason that Christians, and Christian institutions like BGST, never ‘outgrow’ the need for faithfulness, no matter how many years of faithful service in the past we can point to.

 

(Dr Philip Satterthwaite)

Text Box: Not Form but Substance: thoughts on Hosea 1 and Convocation

Congratulations, and every blessing to our new graduates!

MDiv: Chan Shaw Yan  Grad. DipCS:Govindaram s/o S Venkatachalam, Henry Kwok Wye Kok, Daniel Lau Chee Seng, Loy Chin Fen, Ng Boon Thian, Ng Liang Wei, Samuel Soong Heng Kok, Kenny Tan Ban Leong, Tan Siew Goh, Wong Kam Weng

 

 Weekly Highlights

Courses Commencing Next Week:

· Lay Pastoral Counselling (CO355, 3 credits), starting Jul 9, 7.15-10.15pm. Lecturer: Dr David Ravinder

· Integration of Theology & Psychology: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Pastoral Care Today (CO 214, 1.5 credits), starting Jul 10, 7.15-10.15pm. Lecturer: Dr David Ravinder

· New Testament Foundations II (NT102, 3 credits; Video class), starting Jul 9 (Mon, Orientation), 8-10pm. Lecturer: Dr Oh Boon Leong/Facilitator: Mr David Leong

· Country/People Profile Studies (TENT module), Orientation date: Jul 10 (Tue), Presentation date: Nov 2 (Fri), Time: 7.20-10pm.

 

Staff News:

· Dr Augustine Pagolu will be away from 12 – 25 July 2007 for the 19th International Congress for the Study of Old Testament in Slovenia followed by an IFES Board Meeting in Toronto.

· Dr Satterthwaite will be preaching on 'Hosea' at Bt Panjang Gospel Chapel in the month of July.

 

Chapel:

On 27th June Professor Alan Millard, guest lecturer at BGST, spoke on Exodus 32, which he used as the starting-point for a wide-ranging survey of books and gates in the Bible. This in turn led on to a consideration of our liberty and our responsibilities as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God. If you would like to hear the full text of this interesting and challenging address, please enquire of the Library staff

Dr Millard will speak again  at chapel on 4 July.

 

 

Text Box: Remember Saturday, 25th August 2007