…While I highly respect Rev. Richard Smit and wholeheartedly endorse what he says about “The Role of Reformed Literature on the Mission Field,” he wrote recently (SB, Nov. 15), ”the work of missions is not advanced by [among other things]…medical missions. All these things are the outwardly attractive ways of modern missions, and are simply erroneous.”
I cannot agree for several reasons:
1) The Lord’s and His apostles’ ministry was not only preaching the word but also healing the sick, albeit to authenticate their credentials; but those good works complemented and facilitated the preaching and showed they cared for the whole man.
2) Medical missions and the care of widows and orphans have for centuries been at the forefront of and a useful adjunct to the preaching. As James says, it is true religion. The Reformed schools educating the young was basic to literacy and the ability to read the Scriptures, that Reformers like John Knox and John Calvin made an integral part of their labors.
I have a missionary friend in Thailand who is a surgeon, and both he and all the Christian staff at his hospital, alongside drafted in local preachers, have great opportunity to witness to and preach the gospel to those who attend either as outpatients or inpatients. Indeed, by this means many have been added to the church!
“Let us do good unto all men” (). Practical ministry complements and facilitates gospel preaching, indeed it is the only way certain antagonistic nations will allow the entry of mission workers, i.e., “tent making missionaries” as Paul was! While recognizing and rejoicing in the Lord’s use of both Rev. Smit and Rev. Kleyn in the Philippines, I would hope Rev. Smit would amend his pronouncements on this issue, where I believe he has lumped together certain social works that profit little with true biblical-based complementary ministry.
Dr. Julian Kennedy
Dr. Kennedy asserts that “medical missions” is a legitimate and subordinate means to the preaching of the Word by which the Lord does add to His church in mission work in developing countries. However, this idea is not correct, and the original criticism against it needs to be received.
First, missions is the official proclamation of the Gospel by Christ’s church through her ordained and sent preachers in His service for the gathering of His eternally chosen church by His Word and Spirit (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 21, Q&A 54). While “medical missions” may be commonplace terminology in the church world, it is a misnomer.
Secondly, it is historically true that for centuries many foreign missionary endeavours took a three-pronged approach: educational, medical, and ecclesiastical. Nevertheless, is that in harmony with what the Lord pronounced in, , and ? The Lord’s official mandate for the church is the preaching of His Word. In spite of modern trends in missions in developing countries, “medical missions” is not missions according to the Lord’s mandate. The Great Physician is pleased to gather His people unto repentance and faith by the spiritual knife of the Holy Spirit, the preaching of His Word.
Thirdly, it would be a mistake to conclude that since Christ’s preaching, miracles, and salvation affected not only men’s souls but also their bodies, churches today should establish and operate hospitals, maternity clinics, orphanages, dental clinics, elementary schools, colleges, technical schools, and other similar institutions when needed in poor countries. Certainly, the Reformers were—and we today remain—deeply concerned and burdened for the health and welfare of the poor whom we know in the Lord and among whom we labor (). Yet, such legitimate concern does not give Reformed congregations and their synods an official mandate from the Lord to establish and to operate medical, educational, and farming facilities in her mission work in developing countries. Our Reformed Church Order, on the basis of Scripture, does not permit parochial schools, parochial orphanages, and parochial hospitals for good reasons.
Fourthly, the passing reference to the apostle Paul’s brief secular job as support for “medical and educational missions” is a misapplication. The apostle made tents because he did not exercise his ministerial right for financial support from the Corinthian congregation (I Cor. 9:15). His sewing job was a means for his own daily bread, but not for access to unreached peoples.
Fifthly, there may be physicians, surgeons, nurses, medical students, dentists, professors, linguists, teachers, farmers, and fire fighters who want and can afford the related expenses, for their training, professional development, or volunteering, to work in developing countries where there may be Reformed missions. They may get involved personally in clinics or educational works at their own expense, but let them in their participation not compromise the Reformed faith and practice, especially the truth that Christ’s kingdom is not of this earth. Moreover, while away from their church home, they must remain faithful in their Lord’s Day attendance of the means of grace under pure, confessionally Reformed, and expository preaching of the Word. They may not presume that they are missionaries with an official ministry from Christ either to preach or to be an officially subordinate adjunct to the preaching and its fruit. They should also remember that what they witness in their daily life overseas for a brief time is what they already are called to witness as believers in their everyday life back home, in which they are actually far better qualified and much more effective.
Finally, a criticism of “medical missions” does not imply the church does not care about the poor in the sphere of her foreign missions. Proper is a ministry of mercy to the poor by the Lord’s deacons under the oversight of the Lord’s elders through an ordained missionary. The genuine benevolence needs of those whom the mission work brings upon our pathway should be met, not by the establishment of parochial medical and educational facilities, but by the orderly and wise collection and distribution of the means for the daily bread of the poor. This follows the apostolic example regarding the benevolence collections from the Asian and European churches for the Jerusalem deacons and their distribution to their poor (; ; ). According to my experience, this is the example that the Protestant Reformed Churches have desired to follow in its foreign missions.
—Rev. Richard Smit