Origin and History of the BTRC
Someone said that religion was invented by the wise to be disputed by the ignorant. This is nothing less than a despondent reaction by those who in unbelief scorn at the Christian church’s ceaseless “wars” and doctrinal controversies. Schisms take place and sects branch off interminably being the painful result. The Bastion of Truth Reformed Churches in the Philippines themselves have their origin as a denomination in the controversies within the Pentecostal Movement (known also as the Charismatic, “Full-Gospel” or “Born-Again” Movement) over the doctrine of salvation and the Biblical practice of Redemptive or “Christ-centered” preaching. Reformed churches are usually misconstrued as “another new religion” (especially in the Philippines) because of men’s ignorance and disregard of Church history. But the truth remains that the reason why doctrinal controversies occur is that the true Church of Jesus Christ struggles to uphold the one true Gospel as heresies emerge throughout history to destroy her from without and from within the sheepfold. This should not surprise the people of God for the apostle himself thus warned the Ephesian church, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30). It is not unusual that a section of the established church breaks away, with no original intention of establishing a separate denomination alongside the establishment. Their original intention is to prevail as the one true Church of Christ built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was not a newly-founded movement rivaling the imposing structure of the Roman Catholic Church. It was an obedience to the call to the church for purity and a return to the apostolic faith. But the Roman church refused to heed and adversely reacted by excommunicating and persecuting the Reformation’s leaders and adherents. Church history writer B. K. Kuiper wrote, “If as a result of [Luther's, Calvin's and Zwingli’s] reform the Church organization was irreparably split, that was not their intention; they sought purification and return to apostolic teaching, not revolution and dissension. And certainly it is far more important that the Church of God be Scriptural than that it be united under one organization."
The One Real Issue
The one real issue in the history of Christ’s church in her battles against false doctrine is the truth of “salvation by God’s sovereign particular grace.” As early as the apostolic times Paul vigoriously fought the Judaizers in Rome and Galatia who taught “salvation by works.” At Nicea in A.D. 325 when the deity of Christ was affirmed and formulated in a creed, young faithful Athanasius clashed against the brilliant and senior Arius arguing that if Christ be not God we cannot be saved for salvation is of God alone. In the fifth century sovereign grace was the question as Augustine clashed against the heresies of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism (official Roman Catholic teaching) which insisted on the merit of human works as the ground of salvation. He valiantly upheld sovereign grace as founded upon sovereign predestination (election and reprobation) alone and not on human works. In the Middle Ages the virtually lone Gotteschalk testified to God’s sovereign grace by explicitly rejecting election based on foreknowledge (conditional election) as taught by Pope Gregory the Great and maintained double predestination, i.e. the sound Augustinian view of election and reprobation. He was condemned for his stance and cost him his freedom for the rest of his life. As the Roman Catholic church of the 16th century plunged herself deeper into the mire of her immorality and doctrinal errors which are rooted in her doctrine of the merit of good works, God restored His truth to His Church through the labors of Martin Luther, John Calvin and others as they maintained that “salvation is by grace alone, through Christ alone, by faith alone without works.” The church of the post–Reformation period carried on the Reformation issue of “salvation by God’s sovereign particular grace” as Reformed ministers and theologians convened in the Synod of Dordt (the Netherlands) in 1618-1619 to condemn that more refined yet still more detestable heresy of Arminianism that insisted on man's "free-will" as the condition to his salvation. And certainly, God’s sovereign grace in salvation is the issue in the history of the Bastion of Truth Reformed Churches in the Philippines in the present.
Subtle, Fatal Error
In the eighteenth century the subtle heresy of Arminianism gave birth to Wesleyan Methodism which in turn gave birth to the Holiness Movement in disproportionate protest against Modernism; crying for zeal for holiness and vibrancy of religious experience at the expense of doctrinal soundness. The Foursquare Pentecostal Church emerged from this movement as controversial woman evangelist Aimee Semple MacPherson captivated crowds that led to the founding of a separate Pentecostal denomination in the United States. American Foursquare missionaries came to the Philippines since the late 40’s and Foursquare churches rapidly multiplied as Filipinos were captivated by the supposed “supernatural” phenomena (speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, etc.) accompanying the preaching of the “Foursquare” gospel. The growth and multiplication of churches demanded trained workers that brought about the establishment of Bible Colleges throughout the Philippines. Significant among these institutions is Foursquare Bible College (FBC) in Quezon City where certain circumstances would trigger a humble work of Reformation. It is the Foursquare church's attempt to establish an academic reputation that caused the stirring of the thoughts and convictions of a few men and women within its denominational walls. The Bible Colleges teach Theology, Church History, Pastoral Ministry and basics in the Bible languages. Students and graduates recall their subject on Soteriology by that “unsettled” debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. The Foursquare denomination thoroughly stands by the Arminian view of salvation. Quite a minority of students hold to Calvinism in its basic tenets using Calvin Seminary professor Louis Berkhof’s "Systematic Theology" (out of ignorance mistaken to be a "Baptist") as their starting reference. Whether this quite small minority of students were then truly convinced of Calvinism or just saw it fashionable to be "Calvinists," the fact remains that their doctrinal preference which was still tolerable then, remained a glowing ember that challenged Foursquare's doctrine on salvation.
Rumblings of Reformation
Pastor Ronald R. Santos, Associate Pastor, Director and teacher at Foursqaure Bible College who once espoused Charles G. Finney’s Pelagian-Arminian theology was initially acquaintanced with Reformed theology through the American revivalist’s Presbyterian critics. Reformed oppositions on Finney’s revival principles and measures tempered his zeal for the evangelist's theology. Reformed literature slowly made their way into the college and led a few students into an increasing interest in Reformed theology along with a growing awareness of Church history focusing on that dramatic period of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Acquaintance and increasing interest with these literature encouraged them to attend conference lectures upon invitations by a so-called “Reformed Baptist” church in Quezon City who claimed to represent the Reformation's cause in the Philippines.
A series of commentaries on the epistle to the Romans aided Ptr. Santos to appreciate the profundity of the book and stirred within him a desire for more extensive study. His exciting discoveries prompted him to preach the book of Romans to his students. The endeavor proved to be revolutionary. Aspects of the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace were expounded if not barely introduced: Predestination, Total Depravity, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints. It was then that he was firmly convinced that salvation is "ALL-of-God and NONE-of-Man."
An Inevitable Consequence
Ptr. Santos was also a struggling preacher. His burden as a preacher was compounded by the lofty standard set by his senior pastor, an excellent public speaker. Consequently, he devoured books on preaching. One that was most significant to him was a book on “Christ-centered Preaching.” The book introduced the principle of Redemptive preaching to him—a principle that faithfully acknowledges the plight of the sinful human condition and its desperate need of Christ alone for deliverance—a principle that is consistent with Reformed theology. This principle inevitably clashed against the typically allegorical, moralistic and legalistic preaching of those who preached Christ and other Bible characters as mere inspirations for good deeds and examples to imitate (e.g. "Be like David, etc."). This common appeal in preaching—according to Ptr. Santos' newly found conviction—is dangerously man-centered, not God-centered and neither is Christ-centered.
Accordingly, Ptr. Santos discovered “Redemptive Hermeneutics.” He discovered that Bible passages in this model must be interpreted in the light of God’s redemptive plan running the course of Biblical history reaching its fulfillment in the incarnation and atoning sacrifice of Christ. It denounces the notorious practice of a man-centered, allegorical and "spiritualizing" interpretation of the Bible. This principle called “Christ-centered preaching” became standard for most of the students in the college back then when Ptr. Santos still taught the subject on Expository Preaching.
The subtle inroads of the pernicious “Holy Laughter Revival” also known as the “Toronto Blessing” and the introduction of the “Power Encounter Deliverance Retreat” combined with the pragmatic "G-12" discipleship scheme into the Foursquare ministry intensified the variance between Foursquare and the flourishing Reformed views of Ptr. Santos and his associates. Those who had become increasingly convinced by the Reformed perspective on salvation and preaching found many Foursquare doctrines and practices to be unbiblical. They exerted more effort to preach God’s sovereignty and Christ’s sufficiency in the deliverance of the sinner from sin. They refused to respond to the man-centered "altar call" and resolved to stop employing it themselves. Doctrinal controversies constantly stirred class discussions and permeated casual conversations.
Eminent Foursquare leaders refused to tolerate the situation further as events became increasingly cause for alarm. Ptr. Santos who was justly resistant to the Power Encounter Retreat was reprimanded and was interrogated for his views on the security of the believer in salvation and his campaign on Christ-centered preaching. These two issues are fundamentals of God’s sovereign grace in salvation and therefore cannot be ignored and compromised. The possibility for a believer to lose his salvation entails that there is a defect in God’s power to save—therefore a flaw in His “sovereignty.” Salvation, if that is the case, will be dependent ultimately upon man’s merit by his choosing and resolving to persevere unto the end—and therefore a flaw in God’s “grace.” Such view is unworthy of God. Foursquare authorities affirmed that the Foursquare standards maintain that a believer can finally lose his salvation. But Ptr. Santos believed that the Bible teaches otherwise. They also reproved him for teaching Christ-centered preaching and reasserted the prominence of the Holy Spirit (typical of Pentecostalism) in preaching. The ramification would be that denial and rejection of Christ-centered preaching is denial of the sufficiency of Christ in the forgiveness of all the sins of the sinner. It is the boastful assertion and exaltation of man’s ability to remedy his own misery. This, too, is a non-negotiable issue. Ptr. Santos was blamed for producing peculiar FBC graduates. He with his students and associates were wrongly branded as Baptists, “extremes” in their views and "hyper-Calvinists."
"Come Out of Her!"
While heresy hunting broke out among students and pastors Foursquare authorities required Ptr. Santos to retract his views and subscribe anew and wholly to Foursquare doctrine, otherwise, he must resign his office. By this time firm and established in his convictions and seeing that it was futile to persuade his detractors, he tendered to resign his office. Pastors who shared his convictions particularly in Antipolo and Batasan Hills were also confronted and soon after disaffiliated from the Foursquare denomination. These events transpired in October of 2002. A year later the pastor and majority of the membership of the Foursquare Church of Lipa City disaffiliated from the Foursquare denomination.
A Second Exodus
Pastors and students who withdrew from the Foursquare denomination sought for a while guidance from a "Reformed Baptist" Church in their so-called “journey to the Reformed faith.” They were admitted as students in its Ministerial Academy and studied for a few months until doctrinal controversy surfaced anew! By this time Ptr. Santos was called to lead a Bible study group in Lucban, Quezon Province who separated from a Baptist church due to problems connected with unbiblical Church leadership and of course rooted in false doctrine. The Academy was unfriendly to "supralapsarianism." It subscribed to the heresy of common grace; upheld and defended the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel; sided with the Marrow Men in the controversy within the Presbyterian Church of Scotland; friends with Mr. John Wesley, that enemy of God’s Gospel of Grace; denied Election as an essential element of the Gospel; and regarded Arminians and other heretics as saved in spite of their fatal belief in false gospels. These began to be a crucial issue when the former Foursquare men, along with their continuing research on the Reformed faith happened to read portions of a lone volume of Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s "Behold He Cometh" and another unpopular volume, “Reformed Dogmatics,” in the Academy’s library. From there they were led via the world-wide-web to the Protestant Reformed Churches of America who rejected the doctrines espoused by the Academy, especially “common grace” and the “Well-Meant Offer”—two errors which when criticized and rejected provokes these "Reformed Baptists" to label anyone a "hyper-Calvinist." Through the internet the issue of Tolerant Calvinism was also brought to their awareness. This was again a critical issue of the sovereign grace of God in salvation since many churches and individuals who call themselves “Reformed” or Calvinists or sovereign gracers have betrayed their confessions by speaking peace to Arminians who are notorious perverters of God’s sovereign grace. These students in the Academy who were former Foursquare men who refused to subscribe to the Reformed Baptist Church's and its Academy’s teachings gave up their formal studies and expressed termination of relationships. In consequence they were charged this time with hyper-Calvinism of a new strain: “Rigid Calvinism”—which is nothing less than the conviction that the whole system of the “Five Points of Calvinism” IS the Gospel itself and therefore must be preached not only to believers (young or mature in faith) but even to unbelievers! These events took place in December of 2003.
A New Day
The stalwart stance of the Protestant Reformed Churches concerning God’s sovereign grace made remarkable impressions upon those who came out of the Reformed Baptist academy. Up until this time these churches after recently disaffiliating from Foursquare stood independently. They then began considering organizing themselves as a separate denomination and sought to determine their historical identity as churches. Copies of the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt) of the historic Reformed Churches printed and published by the P.R.C.A. proved useful in arriving at doctrinal standards. They readily agreed with the Confessions except for an initial reluctance to adopt infant baptism. A careful examination and understanding of the Biblical doctrine of the "Covenant" made possible by some literature provided by P.R.C.A. missions settled the uncertainty. The churches in prospect of organization adopted the Reformed creeds but only as interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches who stood by the truth of God’s sovereign grace in their rejection of common grace, the Well-Meant-Offer of the Gospel and their unconditional view of the Covenant, eternal justification and their view of supralapsarianism.
In April 26, 2004 the former Foursquare churches of Batasan Hills, Antipolo City, Lipa City and the Bible study group in Lucban, Quezon, coming from a Baptist background, which had grown then into a larger fellowship, pledged to federate together in an "Act of Agreement" as a separate Reformed denomination agreeing that the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt of the historic Reformed churches are fully in accord with the Gospel and the teachings of the rest of Holy Scripture, hence, shall these be their standard of doctrine and conduct. They approved to call themselves the Bastion of Truth Reformed Churches in the Philippines reflecting their stance over that one real issue in the history of the church and her battles against false doctrine—the blessed truth of salvation by God’s sovereign particular grace alone.