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The Protestant Reformed Churches have a denominational budget for 1989 of more than $200,000 for domestic missions. This represents roughly one third of the total budget. Each family is paying $110 in 1989 for domestic missions in the synodical assessment. In addition, every church takes special collections for home missions; money is budgeted synodically for foreign missions; and some congregations fund their own local evangelism work. The PRC are deeply involved in missions. Members of these churches (and all our readers), we trust, will be interested in the examination of PRC missions to which this issue of The Standard Bearer is devoted, including mission theory; the workings of the denominational committees; reflections on missions by an 80-year old veteran of the work; and much more. We think that you will enjoy, and benefit from, this “mission-issue.”

—DJE Missions is the church’s work of preaching the gospel to those outside the congregation in order to bring the elect to Christ. The word itself, deriving from the Latin, means “sending,” with reference to Christ’s sending of His church into all the world, to preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). Thus, He accomplishes His purpose of making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).

Men have charged against the Protestant Reformed Churches that they either do not believe missions to be the calling of the church or that they are unable to perform the labor of missions. This canard dies hard. Not long ago, the minister of a Reformed church in the south suburbs of Chicago devoted the Sunday evening sermon to an expose of the PRC. Predictably, the conclusion that would render these churches forever odious to Reformed folk was, “They do not believe in missions.”

The charge is patently false. However one may judge the practice of the PRC, it is incontrovertible that these churches both believe missions to be the duty of the church and consider themselves called by Christ to engage in missions. Nor would one have to strain himself to do the research necessary to discover this fact. For this is the public, official confession of the PRC. The preamble of the “Constitution of the Mission Committee” declares that the PRC “believe that, in obedience to the command of Christ . . . to preach the blessed Gospel to all creatures . . . it is the explicit duty and sacred privilege of said churches to carry out this calling . . . .” Their “Form of Ordination of Missionaries” states that the churches believe that Christ “has ordained an office and has called men, to carry the message of salvation to all peoples . . . .” It becomes plain from this constitution and this form that the PRC regard themselves as the object of the mandate of Christ inMatthew 28:18ff., the “great commission,” for both the constitution and the .form make this missionary mandate the basis of the mission activity engaged in by the churches. Every missionary installed in office in the PRC is charged, explicitly, with the command ofMatthew 28: “Go then, beloved brother, and teach all nations . . . .”

The charge that the PRC are hostile to missions is simply a variation of the hoary charge that has always been lodged against the Reformed faith, namely, that it has no place or use for urgent, promiscuous preaching on account of its doctrine of double predestination. In the 16th century, members of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands who had come to believe that God loves and desires the salvation of all men without exception made the very same charge against the Reformed faith. The Reformed churches carefully refuted the charge. The Canons of Dordt open with the confession of the necessity of unrestricted preaching—the necessity ofmissions!:

And that men may be brought to believe, God mercifully sends the messengers of these most joyful tidings, to whom he will and what time he pleaseth; by whose ministry men are called to repentance and faith in Christ. . . . (I/3).

The perfect and lucid harmony between the doctrine of predestination and an aggressive exercise of missions is indicated by Missionary Paul in II Timothy 1:10: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” It is sketched at the beginning of the Reformed “Form of Ordination of Missionaries.” God has elected a church out of all nations. This church must be gathered by the Son of God. He gathers it by means of the blessed gospel proclaimed by His church. Without this gospel, there is no gathering, no faith, and no salvation. Therefore: missions.

In the doctrine of predestination, the Reformed churches are not saddled with a hindrance to missions, but rather possess the basis for missions.

What becomes more and more evident today is that only a sound Reformed church is able to carry on genuine missions—missions defined by the Bible and commanded by Christ. The question that any survey of current mission theory and practice compels one to raise is not, “Can a Reformed church do missions?” but, “Can un-Reformed churches do missions?” This is true in several respects, among them the presuppositions of missions; the message of missions; the agent of missions; and the end, or goal, of missions. A word about each of these is in order.

First, it is the presupposition of the Reformed church that the truth of missions is determined by Scripture. What this work is and how it is to be done is not for the church to decide, much less some expert, but is revealed for all times in the Bible. How much of present-day mission theory and practice would be rejected out of hand, if it had to justify itself on the basis of Scripture! Then it is the mission thinking of the Reformed church, drawn from Scripture, that God’s purpose with missions is the salvation of some (the elect), not all. This enables the church to resist the temptation to adapt the message so that it wins the approval of all, or even of many. This accommodation of the gospel to modern man or to specific cultures is widely practiced by those who suppose that God desires to save all without exception, or who suppose that the purpose of missions is church growth. It is also the church’s understanding of missions, that by this work Christ delivers sinners from the spiritual misery of the guilt and power of sin, with the fear of death that goes with sin. It is not the nature of missions that it delivers the materially deprived from their physical oppression, as is the widespread notion of liberation theology and of the social gospel in its modern dress. This makes all the difference in the world as to what message the church brings, or even whether it brings a message at all. A great deal of what passes for missions today consists of nothing else than material relief. Once and for all, in John 6, Jesus declined the invitation to be the social savior of humanity.

The message that the Reformed church brings on the mission field is the good tidings of gracious salvation from sin, and thus from death, in the cross and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It includes the call to repent and believe. It promises eternal life to every one who believes, threatening damnation to every unbeliever. This is the message that King Jesus gives to His ambassadors; and this is the message that He uses to dethrone Satan and to enthrone Himself in the hearts of men and women. The mission-message is not advice, how to be happy and successful; is not some strategy for setting this age right politically and socially; is not the call of the oppressed of this world to arms and revolution; is not a siren song wooing people to the mysterious experiences of “Holy Spirit baptism.”

Neither is the message a demand upon the sinner to perform some work by which he must earn, or accomplish, his own salvation, whether that be the meritorious works of paganism and Roman Catholicism or the decision of the supposed free will of much of Protestant evangelicalism and fundamentalism. All those in the bondage of self-salvation are themselves proper objects of (Reformed) missions, no matter how energetic they are in proselytizing others. “Turn from these idols of man’s worth and powers to the living God!”

This is the message that Christ Himself proclaims by the agency of His church. The Reformed church shows herself faithful to Biblical missions in the matter of the agent of missions. The agent is the church, the instituted church. The agent is not evangelistic societies or paraecclesiastical mission-organizations. They have neither the authority nor the power to do missions. Christ gave the mandate to the instituted church when He commissioned the apostles in Matthew 28:18ff. and in Mark 16:15ff. The church at Antioch sent out the missionaries, Barnabas and Saul (Paul), according to Acts 13:1ff. The striking feature is that the Holy Spirit, the great Agent and Power of missions on behalf of Christ, chooses to work through the church institute. He will not inaugurate and conduct New Testament missions as a “spiritual” enterprise apart from the institution of the church. He will not move the missionaries to engage in their work as “free lancers,” independent from the church (except when it comes to financial support). But the Holy Spirit says to the church, with her officebearers, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (v. 2). The church is the sole agent of missions because to the church, and to the church only, is given the office of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, particularly the preaching of the gospel, by which heaven is opened to believers and closed against unbelievers (cf. Heid. Cat., Q. 84). Knowing herself to be Christ’s agent, every congregation, like Paul, ought to be able to say, “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly (calling)” (Acts 26:19).

The Reformed church does missions by the preaching of the gospel. The agency is preaching. “Preach the gospel to every creature,” Jesus commands in Mark 16:15. “How shall they hear (Jesus Christ) without a preacher?” the apostle asks in Romans 10:14, with reference to the saving of sinners in the great work of missions. The agency is not “praxis,” i.e., deeds of help to the poor. The agency is not mere silent solidarity with the suffering of the oppressed. The agency is not fascinating tricks, and more often, the empty promise of tricks, whether healing, or exorcism, or some other pretended miracle, by self-styled power evangelists and charismatics. The agency is not engaging speeches of psychological wisdom that enable guilty sinners who feel bad about themselves to become guilty sinners who feel good about themselves. God’s agency of salvation in the world, in the twentieth century as in the first, is neither signs nor wisdom, but the folly and weakness of the preaching of Christ crucified (cf. Cor. 1:17ff.).

Preaching requires ordained preachers, men set apart by the church as “missionary ministers of the Word,” as the “Form of Ordination of Missionaries” puts it. Not every Christian is a missionary. Not every Tom, Dick, and Harry (and now, every Jane, Sue, and Sally) who fancies himself (or herself) a missionary in fact proclaims the Word so that the living voice of Christ itself is heard by sinners, who then call upon the Lord for salvation. The missionary must be sent by Christ through the church. “How shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Rom. 10:15) Gifted men with a zeal for God’s glory and for the gathering of Christ’s church ought to consider whether God calls them specifically to missions. In her seminary, the church ought to make definite provision for training these men specifically for missions.

The end, or goal, of missions, by which the Reformed church proves herself obedient to the will of her Lord, is the (spiritual) separation of the converts from the world in a disciplined and holy life. An essential aspect of this life is lively membership in a true church. It is an integral part of the missionary-mandate that the church teach the disciples to observe all things that Jesus has commanded, such things are pure worship; prayer; giving to the poor; fleeing fornication; honoring marriage; godly rearing of children; honest business practices; and all that belongs to the way of righteousness. Reformed missions does not count as converts, nor allow men to count themselves as converts, whose lives are not made holy, but who go on in their old ways of conformity to this world. The evidence of repentance is works worthy of repentance. Only those who continue in Christ’s words are His disciples. The ultimate goal of missions is the glory of God; and God is glorified, not by multitudes of carnal, nominal church members, but by men and women who sorrow over sin and who delight in living according, to His will in all good works.

Can a Reformed church do missions? Indeed!

Can any body else?

—DJE