By Joseph Shao, Ph.D.
As the Golden Anniversary celebration of the Biblical Seminary of the Philippines (BSOP) draws near, let us remember our founding motto: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil 1:29). It is the desire of the Seminary that all its faculty and students live in accordance with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We praise the Lord that many of our alumni from these fifty years have been faithfully serving God in their assigned ministries.
Isaiah 26: 15: “You have enlarged the nation, O Lord; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land” talks about God increasing His people and gaining glory, as well as expanding the four corners of the earth. God wants Israel to expand her horizon in Isaiah 54:2, “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” Isaiah used the imagery of a family to point out God expanding Israel’s horizons. The passage truly depicts the tent-moving lifestyle of the Israelite people in the promised land. Whenever they expanded their tent, more people were accommodated inside. Expanding would mean allowing more people to come under the care of the people of God. Our theme for this golden anniversary celebration is “Expanding Horizons.” We believe that God has expanded and will indeed continue to expand BSOP’s horizons.
I. The Past: Foundation of Faith
In reminiscing the past 50 years of God’s special grace upon BSOP, it is appropriate to describe the story of BSOP as “from nothing to something, staying strong in God.” She started from nothing and grew into something although there was no mission organization that founded it, nor any foundation that funded it. God used a handful of devoted believers and God’s servants who saw the need and prayed earnestly until she came to existence in God’s good timing and leading.
At the initial stage of the Seminary, the binding factor was purely to rely on God’s provision. This was where the lesson of faith began. This lesson has continued on. Financially speaking, the early board members were not big businessmen. Yet, these early devotees would gather together every Monday night to pray before God, attesting that every coin comes from him. As the training in the campus started, the board members would each share the financial load, because there was no financial budget. Therefore, if ever a monthly deficit occurred, someone from the board would be in charge to fill-up that hole in the money bag. With regards to the functional tasks of the Seminary, we were blessed to have Rev. Hsueh Yu Kwong to head the Seminary, making us the very first seminary in Asia to have a Chinese or Asian president. At that time, Rev. Hsueh exhorted the board, saying, “you should give to the Lord eagerly and do not be forced to give only when a shortage arises.” From then on, the Seminary rarely incurred any major deficits. And even if there were times when we were found to be in want, God’s gracious hand would guide us through every stormy tide.
Faith moved BSOP steadily into sturdy growth as we sent out many pastors into the ministry fields. Our training has always emphasized three aspects of equipping: knowing the Bible, nurturing spiritual life, and learning pastoral skills. We have had group after group of devoted teachers and staff. After the term of Rev. Hsueh, six gifted ministers of God followed in line. Rev. Franklin Lee, who will be our 50th anniversary speaker, was the second president. He made significant contribution toward the transition of the Bible Institute of the Philippines into the Biblical Seminary of the Philippines, from a non-degree granting institution into a degree granting seminary. Rev. Lee introduced and brought in Dr. Denny Ma, under whose presidency, BSOP began working for respectable registration of our school with the government. Dr. Ma also trained and stationed his diligent and devoted students, most of whom are still teaching at BSOP today. These home-grown faculty members became the pillars of our Seminary when he left. They are one of the prime reasons why BSOP was able to have all her academic degrees recognized by the Commission on Higher Education, the highest educational entity of the Philippine Government.
II. The Present: The Furnace of Faith
When talking about the present, I would have to start with my acceptance of the charge to head the Seminary. In 1989, after finishing my studies in the United States, I returned to serve at BSOP. I first served as the Academic Dean for a year, and was then installed as the president in 1990. The appointment can be classified as a historic event, since I am the first Chinese-Filipino to be appointed as the president of BSOP. Initially, the board assured me, “You need not worry about finance; we will be responsible for the money matters.” Nevertheless, times changed and people came and went. In my second year, I had to gear myself up to face this challenge. Previously, the presidents of BSOP never had to deal with money matters, so I never asked the business office about our financial situation during my first year as president. Later, when I found out the real situation, I became a bit worried because we were literally spending money by faith. Our funds in the bank were limited. We had needs, but we only had 10% of the resources ready in the bank. Nevertheless, those were memorable days for me as I could experience how God cared for and guarded the work of his own hands, meeting each need here at the Seminary.
Simultaneously, we also focused on the mission of BSOP, “Equipping God’s workers with God’s Word for God’s work.” I remember vividly when in 1989 we received a used air-conditioner unit. I quickly had it installed in the library. As much as possible, we wanted, then as well as now, to provide our students with a good environment for study. As students improve their study skills, our church will surely benefit from their time and effort in reflecting on the scriptures. Improving the book collection and facilities of the library, therefore, is also a top priority for us.
Since then the Lord has continued to develop the facilities inside our campus. The rebuilding project has been undertaken and completed to enable our Seminary to work closely with other seminaries in the theological and practical training of God’s servants. Today, over 120 of our students can now rub shoulders with each other in this wonderful environment that helps them learn God’s word. With God’s provision of both hardware (campus development) and software (teaching curriculum), we are able to work closely with nine other seminaries in the Philippines through the Asia Graduate School of Theology, offering such reputable degrees as Master of Theology and Doctor of Philosophy. We thank God for a wonderful, world-class seminary here at BSOP.
III. The Future: The Furtherance of Faith
In the future, we hope to expand God’s work in three aspects. First, we hope to become an influential theological research and pastoral training seminary. It is the vision of the board that in every district where our overseas alumni are found, there will be a training center and a flourishing church. There will be one pastor caring for a church, and one teacher-trainer heading up a training center. Locally, we also pray that among our English-speaking alumni, there will be faithful servants mightily used by God. Looking at our roster of alumni, we have come across many alumni who are serving strategically in theological as well as in pastoral ministries. Indeed God’s grace is abundant!
Second, we hope to become a cross-cultural training center. God’s kingdom needs to be built by more missionaries doing God’s work in different nations. At the moment we have about 20 to 30 alumni doing cross-cultural ministries in different parts of the world. Let us pray that BSOP will become a moving force to encourage more godly people to join together in expanding God’s kingdom in other cultures.
Third, we hope and pray that the Seminary will become a great training and equipping center for lay Christians, so that they too can be strengthened in godliness and in doing good works. May we enlarge the work of God’s kingdom in this aspect of training and in empowering believers to become powerful witnesses for God in their workplaces, schools, families, and communities.
“Expanding horizons” is a great theme to carry on as BSOP faces the challenges of globalization in this third millennium. Still, the significance of individuality should not be neglected because each BSOP member, friend and supporter is indispensable in fulfilling God’s goal. We hope that BSOP will expand in the area of becoming a cross-cultural training center, producing more global ministers in God’s ever-expanding kingdom. BSOP does indeed function like a big family. May each of us, as family members, do his/her share the best that each can, for the glory and honor of our Lord Jesus Christ!