The Goal of Foreign Missions
Please grant me the opportunity to respond to the letter of Mr. Paul Goh, entitled “Indigenous Churches,” which was included in the October 1, 2000 edition of the Standard Bearer. In his letter, the brother criticized the mission work of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA), particularly our foreign mission work. This requires a constructive response.
In the first place, the PRCA are committed to establishing churches on our mission fields which are self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. By perusing the Foreign Mission Committee reports in the Acts of Synod and the special Standard Bearer articles by the FMC of the past five or six years, one will conclude that this is the stated goal of the PRCA in her foreign mission work. This does not mean we claim to be the experts at fulfilling that goal. We feel inadequate at times, and we realize that we are prone to make mistakes when dealing with the difficult issues common to foreign mission work in developing countries. Nevertheless, we agree wholeheartedly with our brother and appreciate his timely reminder that the goal of our foreign mission work must be autonomous, indigenous, local churches.
In the second place, our goal is to establish churches which maintain ecclesiastical ties with the PRCA. This is in accordance with the command of Christ that we must seek the unity of the body of Christ even ecclesiastically. The PRCA maintain such ecclesiastical ties with the ERC in Singapore and Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland as sister churches, who are by the Lord’s blessing alone the fruit of our mission work. Simply to set up churches and to neglect any enduring and mutually profitable ecclesiastical ties is not scriptural, nor spiritually healthy, especially for the fledgling churches. For that reason, we do not agree with the principle behind the brother’s opinion that our current missionaries abroad and minister-on-loan in the ERCS “should work themselves out of the job” as soon as possible. Similarly, we do not share in the brother’s implicit disapproval of the financial assistance which the PRCA gives to our brethren in Singapore and Northern Ireland. Such assistance must always be given wisely, especially so in developing countries, but it has profitably assisted our brethren abroad in their work in their locales and even in the training of their ministers in our Protestant Reformed Seminary.
In the third place, it is the goal of the PRCA in her foreign mission work to establish churches which are confessionally Reformed. We must seek to establish churches which confess with the church of Jesus Christ of all ages that catholic, undoubted, Christian, Reformed faith. This is necessary for the local churches on the foreign field in order to stand firmly in the battles against the enemies of the Reformed faith, and it is necessary for establishing sister-church relationships with us. Hence, our goal is to establish congregations which are Reformed in confession, life, preaching, and also public worship.
We take to heart our brother’s implied caution against the temptation to establish “carbon-copies” of the PRCA in every respect on foreign mission fields. Nevertheless, we unashamedly desire to establish churches which are soundly Reformed. It must be understood that this goal is not the same as the undesirable goal of making a “carbon-copy” of the PRCA in every respect on a foreign field. Therefore, when we witness a mission group begin to grow in the Reformed distinctives and traditions under the blessing of the Lord through the exhausting labors of our missionaries, we must rejoice and give the Lord humble thanks. This is inevitably the catalyst to good enthusiasm.
Lastly, we appreciate the reminder of our brother that “the heart language of the people is in their own local dialect.” He speaks from experience. Like our brother, our contacts in the Philippines and our Ghanaian missionary in Accra, Rev. R. Moore, have reiterated that need to preach and teach in the local languages. Often overlooked, but no less important, is also the need for faithful translations of the Bible in the local dialects. The motivation, the reason, and the urgency for Bibles and for preaching in “the heart language of the people” lie squarely in the basic Reformed principle of mission work: Christ by His Word and Spirit gathers His eternally chosen church out of every nation, tribe, and tongue.
May the Lord of the harvest grant us His grace to be faithful to that doctrine of the Reformed faith.
(Rev.) Richard J. Smit,
Secretary of the FMC of the PRCA