Previous article in this series: April 15, 2006, p. 316.
The mission labors of the Protestant Reformed Churches are worthy of heartiest support and earnest prayers. I showed this last time by emphasizing that missions stand at the heart of the church’s work. Thus, Jesus Christ is displeased with the church that is not busy in preaching the gospel outside of her own boundaries.
But I pointed out that the support given to missions must be intelligent support—that is, support should not be blind funding of and prayers for missions.
Without ignoring the possibility that improvements could be made in PRC missions, we may be very thankful for what the Lord has given us in the labors of our missionaries. Men lay down their lives for the cause of Christ in the USA and abroad, preaching the gospel. In obedience to Christ, they seek to gather God’s elect and make them members of Christ’s body, of a local congregation.
This work deserves our heartiest support and fervent prayer.
All the more, PRC missions are worthy of support because of what they are not, but might otherwise be. If our missions were what many missions are today, they would not be worthy of support. But the PRC missionaries are not clamoring to be what modern missions are, with all their novelties. Although I believe the PRC may do more to prepare her missionaries for the unique work of a missionary, much of what missions training is available outside our seminary would be a molding of the prospective missionary into a social reformer, community developer, a master at improving civil society. Let me explain.
Modern missions are radically different from what missions were a century ago in Reformed churches. True, modern missions do not fail to organize or plant churches. But the churches that are formed are no longer the final goal of the missionary. Instead, the new group gathered and formed has a more ambitious goal—to renew the community in which the group lives. In this way, they believe, they will be truly establishing and promoting Christ’s kingdom.
One of the conservative Reformed church magazines has devoted the rubric on missions in the last months to a reprinting of a book whose title expresses hope for peoples of the southern hemisphere. Notice, the book is being printed serially under the rubric missions. What the book describes and promotes is the call to reform nations and influence governments. For the author, influencing governments is important, but the prospering of the nation by the changed government is the goal. The book includes instruction to improve education, both Christian and public; to better the health care of the nation; to promote vocational training and “work associations.” Sometimes the church as an institution may speak to social issues, in some cases addressing the government, because “the church as an institution is an important part of society.” The hope for the southern hemisphere apparently does not center in the church.
The book is representative of much mission theology in Reformed churches today.
These actions are justified in especially three ways. First, modern mission theology claims that Jesus taught Christians to influence society for good. Jesus taught this, allegedly, in Matthew 5:13-16(where the disciples are called salt and light) and Matthew 13:33 (where the kingdom of heaven is likened unto leaven). Without explaining these passages, the book mentioned above claims that they “clearly” call Christians to work to improve the societies of which they are a part.
Second, modern churches justify their attempts to reform society because they claim that the kingdom of God is in society. The kingdom is far broader than the church. To them, the church is a sign of the kingdom or an instrument topromote the kingdom. According to this view, God’s (great) kingdom is not the (little) church, even though the church is part of God’s kingdom. What, then, is the kingdom? For them, God’s kingdom is creation restored, restored as closely as possible to its original condition. Restoration of this earthly creation in all its spheres—society and government, etc.—becomes the church’s work. Those who have attended Christian colleges in the last 30 years will recognize this teaching. This is the teaching of Abraham Kuyper, a teaching alive and well in Reformed circles.
Third, this view of missions and the church’s calling in the world is based on a particular and new interpretation of Jeremiah 29:4-7:
Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace (the Hebrew is shalom) thereof shall ye have peace.
In this passage, God’s captives in Babylon are called to seek, that is, pray for, the peace of the city in which they find themselves in Babylon. Because Babylon stands for the world we live in, seeking the city’s shalom is seeking the shalomof the world we live in. There are two unique aspects to the new interpretation of this passage. First, the welfare of Babylon becomes as important as and more important than the welfare of the church. Second, Babylon’s peace actually becomes the goal of missions. Not only are individual believers called to live in the world as good citizens, promoting the peace and welfare of their community and country (something we promote and call every believer to do) but the new view has believers devoting their lives to this, and it has this as the work of the church in missions. Put in the context of Judah in Babylon, the good of Babylon would have been the main focus for them in captivity. In the minds of some today, the shalom of the USA or Canada appears to be the main focus for the church in the world.
These must not be the views of the Protestant Reformed missionary.
First, Scripture calls the missionary to see the church not as salt that preserves the world from full corruption so that there is good in it (Abraham Kuyper’s common grace explanation), but as a savor (see Matthew 5‘s own explanation of the function of salt). He sees the church not as a light that Christianizes business and entertainment and government, but as light that witnesses against the sinful world, and becomes God’s instrument to bring unto Christ (the Light!) His elect children who are in the dark world. And he interprets the parable of the leaven, not that God’s church/kingdom influences the structures of society for good (although they might); but that God’s church/kingdom so spreads over the world that people in every nation and every place are brought to Christ and into His body, the church. The church spreads so extensively.
Second, with regard to the kingdom, the churchis the kingdom. The Protestant Reformed missionary sees the church and kingdom as coextensive. The church is not a sign of the kingdom or an instrument to promote the kingdom. She is the kingdom. The Standard Bearer has written enough about that. Here it is necessary only to state the position. The Old Testament nation of Israel, as a great kingdom, is fulfilled in the New Testament church. It is not fulfilled in a Christianized earthly government, United States or any other.
Third, with regard to Jeremiah 29, to hang on such a text a mission-theology that calls for Christianizing urban areas is to prostitute the text. God’s purpose and goal was not Babylon when Judah lay pining in this Antichrist’s lair. God was not going to save Babylon. Babylon would soon come under God’s judgment (read the prophets). God is concerned about Hischurch.
The explanation of the text runs this way: God said, I have caused you to be carried away as captives. Now, you must pray to me for this land, because “in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” You see, false prophets had made their appearance in Babylon, too (vv. 8, 9). They had given the captives the vain hope of a quick return to the promised land. Instead, God has Jeremiah instruct the people to settle down, give their children in marriage, build houses, and plant gardens. They would be there for seventy years. Because of this, they were not to pray for the ruin of Babylon, or that Babylon would be overrun by an enemy nation. They were to pray for Babylon’s peace. God’s church would be living in Babylon, and must survive there for a couple of generations. In Babylon’s shalomwould be the church’s shalom. The church is the focus.
So Israel must seek Babylon’s peace, first, because to seek her ruin and destruction would be to rebel against God. The remnant’s temptation was to call God to destroy Babylon for Babylon’s destruction of Judah. But God’s will for Judah was that they be chastened in Babylon, and by Babylon. So seeking Babylon’s peace was to submit to God’s chastisement. Second, the church’s peace must be maintained. She must prosper there, even flourish. She would, only if Babylon did. To base a massive New Testament campaign and program of reforming society on such a text, therefore, is to abuse the text.
The Protestant Reformed missionary is interested in establishing churches. He is interested in the welfare of God’s church in the world. He will do all in his power to teach the converts so to live and think—with regard to the church, God’s precious church in the world.
He will teach them that they are the light of the world, and must shine so, as a witness against ungodliness and as a means to gather God’s elect, who will then “glorify our Father in heaven” with other believers. He will teach them to live godly lives in every sphere—in business, industry, law, medicine, and government—and participate in all those areas if they have the gifts and opportunity. But he will instruct them to pin their hopes not on a redeemed society, but on the second coming of Christ and the new heavens and new earth.
In this connection, a positive explanation ofJeremiah 29 is helpful. The church must pray that the nation she lives in may be maintained in peace and quietness, so that the church herself may survive and even flourish in her midst. New believers are not taught to pray for another terrorist attack to humble this wicked nation. The church must be busy bringing forth spiritual sons and daughters who are given in marriage. She will build spiritual houses (homes, schools, churches) in which the children may live, and plant spiritual gardens from which the church’s children can eat and prosper. What the church and her children await in this anti-Christian world is not the reformation of the nation, but the return of Jesus Christ to destroy the world and bring the church home to the land of promise.
While the church awaits the “return,” she will concentrate on training men to be elders, deacons, and pastors for the church. The missionary will teach the people to focus on godly homes, where the children learn from word and example to hope in the Lord; and on good Christian schools according to covenant demand, where young men and women learn to think, work, cooperate, and do good to others. The young men will be taught to be good men for family, church, and society, well able to provide for the ministry, the schools, the poor.
The missionary will be eager to teach the new converts about denominational life: the seminary that trains her future pastors, the mission work done in cooperation with the other churches, the support of the needy churches and retired pastors, and the contact that the denomination has with other denominations. For the sake of the unity of Christ’s church in the world the new members will be taught to have a strong denominational consciousness.
The hope of missionary and church family is to be busy with life and witness in the community, seeking to shine as lights to others and be attractive as church.
Then, there is a warning about Babylon (the nations), too. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities” (Rev. 18:4, 5). You are not a friend of Babylon. Your witness to Babylon is this witness: All who remain spiritually a part of her will be destroyed with her when the vials of God’s wrath are poured out. Your hope (in whichever hemisphere you live) is to become part of the kingdom of priests, that holy nation of peculiar people who are called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light (I Pet. 2:9; see also Ex. 19:5, Deut. 26:18).
That is the message of the Protestant Reformed missionary. That is the life of the Protestant Reformed congregation established by the missionary.
The missionaries and their families are worthy of our prayers and hearty support.
When did you or your family last write to tell them so?