Saturday, May 25, 2024

Silliman Church at 100: why students still go elsewhere

Dumaguete is growing. Along with this, evangelical churches in Dumaguete are increasing; both in how many people keep going to these churches and in how many new churches keep sprouting in the city. In most of these churches, youth numbers typically grow throughout any given school year. Unfortunately, in Silliman Church, this number usually goes in the other direction.

Visiting the Sillimaniana section of the Main Library, you can see in its history that students actually flock and remain in Silliman Church, even after graduation. Today, it has become quite common to see Silliman Church members, leaving for other churches. Even a great number of students who come from local United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) opt to become active church members elsewhere. If students are not required to attend or serve in one of the church services, this number of youth attendees would get even smaller.

There are things that our founders did, that we do not do anymore, but that other churches are now doing zealously. We, in Silliman Church, have forgotten is that it is not the quality of the program, but rather the quality of the preaching. It is not about gimmicks, but about the Gospel. I write this as a former president of the SU Church Christian Youth Fellowship, a former junior elder, and an active volunteer in the youth ministry for the past 12 years.

It is now in other churches where Silliman youths find the Gospel truly believed and taught. Youths are blessed with a sensitivity for ultimate truth, especially when it comes to the condition of their souls. They ache to hear the good news that Christ so loves them – that He gave His life and rose from death to freely save them from sin and the consequences.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). These youths seek Christ –not the “idea” or the mere “religion” of Christ – but Christ the person and the reality. We worship the Lord with excellent music and words, but we have not stopped to ask if the Lord is even listening. Youths can tell, and if they cannot find Him in a church, they have to look for Jesus elsewhere.

It is now in other churches where Silliman youths find shepherds who personally nurture them. When I was a freshman in Silliman, I had befriended someone three years ahead of me, my senior, who offered to go through a Bible course with me from his church. We met twice a week in the library with our Bibles. We would pray for each other, and he was always willing to make time to meet if I was troubled.

In Matthew 9:36, when Jesus once saw a crowd around him, he had compassion for them, because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”Unfortunately, leaders and officials in Silliman Church are typically not elected because they are seen as shepherds capable of answering to God for the souls under their care. But when youths do not find shepherds who can help them grow deeper in God’s Word, they have to look for Jesus elsewhere.

It is now in other churches where Silliman youths hear the Bible preached clearly and consistently. Eisegesis is when preachers use the Bible in order to support their own preconceived opinions and biases. Exegesis, on the other hand, is when preachers seek to simply teach what the Bible says, divested of personal ideas or assumptions.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Other evangelical churches, aware that they are dealing with the words of no less than God Himself, take great pains to be faithful exegetes. Sermons from Silliman Church, however,are often exercised in eisegesis. The Bible is treated like any other religious book – a source of moral and social inspiration, but not of eternal, salvific truth.

If the foundation of God really standeth sure, as it is inscribed beside the church’s door, we are the ones hacking away at that very foundation every time we fail to faithfully preach the Word of God. Apart from a total reformation and revival, it is unlikely that Silliman Church will survive to another centennial, as it is already following the example of dead churches in Europe and in the United States, who, after decades of doubting the authority of the Scriptures, effectively stopped feeding and birthing new sheep. They will run and look for Jesus elsewhere.


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