Anyone who has had the opportunity to read through the Agenda for our next synod will realize that mission work will take up a lion’s share of the discussions. It so happens that this year we have no examination of candidates, nor any (other matters that will demand a lot of synod’s time and effort. This may be advantageous. As one of the ministers expressed it, this will give our synod ample opportunity to make a thorough study of all the problems involved in our present mission program.
The matter of domestic missions appears on the Agenda.
By this time it is known throughout our churches that Rev. Woudenberg has declined the call that was extended to him to become our home missionary. To many of us this came as quite a disappointment, because the need for a home missionary is quite obvious and the brother does have ability for this work. But we are confident that the Lord knows our needs also in regard to our mission calling and that He will give us the man of His choice in His own time.
In the meantime, the Houston field will have to be considered. The Mission Committee requests permission to seek release of our various ministers to labor in Houston as long as we do not have a missionary in the field. Houston will have to be supplied for the present just as our vacant churches, even though the western churches already are severely taxed with long absences of their ministers.
Maybe, the synod could also consider other areas of mission endeavor during the period that we are without a missionary. I am thinking now particularly of a decision that was made in 1959, when the Mission Committee was urged to discontinue some of their local broadcasts. At that time synod decided,
“1. That the purpose of radio broadcasting by the Mission Board is church extension and not extension of already existing churches. Grounds: Question 15 asked by the Church Visitors. This implies that church extension work is the task of the local church in its own area.
“2. That in cases where a local church furnishes good reasons for broadcasting in .its local area with a view to church extension, and where a local church needs help in broadcasting, it is permissible for the Mission Board to give financial assistance . . . .
“3. A definite effort should be made to elicit response with a view to developing a follow-up program.” (Acts 1959, p. 124.) It would appear that this is a very proper time to consider this form of mission endeavor. It certainly has much in its favor. First, many of our smaller churches need some program to make their presence known in the area. They can do this by various methods. Many of our ministers have prepared pamphlets on various timely subjects. These have been distributed in their own area, but could also be given a much wider distribution if a local church would take it upon itself to mail out these pamphlets in its own community. Moreover, the Radio Committee of First Church (Grand Rapids) has given considerable thought to a fifteen minute program to be broadcast from some local station for a period of thirteen weeks. If such a program were widely advertised, it might bring considerable response. If so, the response to the pamphlets and to the radio program could prepare the way for more personal contacts, so that others become acquainted with our churches and also much misunderstanding, be removed.
Second, this form of mission endeavor could well serve to show the effectiveness of a pamphlet and radio program. If this should prove effective in a local area, where the minister and elders can do the follow up work, we may also be able to use this method effectively in areas where no Protestant Reformed Church is located.
Third, under the blessing of God this may even serve td open the eyes of some who are now in error on the fundamental truths of God’s sovereign grace, so that our smaller churches may be strengthened by such a program.
Obviously, the initiative must come from the local church, even as some of our churches have already initiated lecture programs and pamphlet distributions. But if this is to be bolstered by some sort of radio broadcast, financial aid may be needed. Therefore synod could encourage our churches to put forth such an effort and establish a certain amount of financial backing which will be made available for this purpose. The Mission Committee would decide whether or not these funds can be used to help a local church in her endeavors.
The Jamaican field will also be considered at this synod.
It may interest our delegates and others to know that there is a constant flow of correspondence from the island, particularly from Rev. Frame and Rev. Elliott. Both of these ministers report that progress is being made in establishing their churches on a sound basis both doctrinally and church politically. Just recently tapes are coming back to us with recordings of their singing as well as messages from their ministers. The churches are making use of the two recorders that were sent to them, so that there is a constant demand for new sermons. Rev. Elliott in particular informs us that he takes this recorder with him on his monthly tours through his churches and that the sermons are greatly appreciated.
The offering that was taken last fall during the tour of Mr. and Mrs. Meulenberg and Rev. and Mrs. Hanko through our churches has been sent and gratefully received. Rev. Frame has informed us that the two hundred dollars that were sent to him came at a very opportune time, since he was in the process of improving his tabernacle in Lucea. A part of the money was used for a new floor and for walls and windows in. his tabernacle, while the remainder was distributed as equally as possible among the other churches. Rev. Elliott also informed us that the two hundred dollars he received was equally distributed among his eight or ten churches. Both of these ministers realize that an improvement of their tabernacles is necessary in order to obtain government recognition as ministers of the Gospel from the civil authorities. This contribution may help them toward that goal.
The Mission Committee is proposing to our next synod respecting Jamaica,
“1. To authorize the committee to continue sending theStandard Bearer, Beacon Lights, and the Acts of Synod to the various churches on the island, and catechism books to the children.
“2. That the committee be instructed to continue contact with the churches of Jamaica in order to instruct them more fully in our doctrine, such as sending tapes, et cetera.”
Concerning our Foreign, Mission endeavor already much has been written during the past few months. But there is one report that will appear at synod which has not been discussed in this department. I am referring to the report of the Foreign Mission Study Committee. This committee consists of ministers and elders from the Midwest who were mandated to study our entire foreign mission program.
In this report the committee, first of all, quotes the decision of the Synod of 1962 in regard to the distinction made in various gelds of mission work. The Study Committee of 1962 spoke of a fourfold distinction, namely, as mission work among the Jews, as, mission work among the “unchurched,” or those who in their generations had fallen away from the church, as mission work among the “churched,” or those who belong to churches that are erring in ‘doctrine, and as mission work among the heathen. This Study Committee of 1962 also advised synod to include all these fields’ under domestic missions except the mission work among the heathen. To quote one statement from this report, “A new standing committee should be appointed who shall devote their attention exclusively to mission work among the heathen.” And by ‘heathen” is meant, “those who in their generations never belonged to the sphere of the covenant.” (Acts of Synod, pp. 75, 76.)
The Foreign Mission Study Committee criticizes this. distinction particularly for two reasons. First, this is contrary to the terminology of “foreign” and “domestic” that has a long history in the Reformed Church world, and cannot be easily abandoned. Second, this distinction is too difficult to maintain in actual practice.
Concerning this second objection, it must be admitted that the synodical treasurer has had some difficulty in maintaining this distinction in his funds. The collections that were taken during the past year hardly were intended for Foreign Missions as they are defined in the report of 1962. Besides, the field of labor for a Foreign Mission. Committee will not be very large if it is limited only to “those who in their generations never belonged to the sphere of the covenant.” Besides, with our limited means it may take years before we can reach out so far that we can be actively engaged in such a mission endeavor. As it appears now, the Foreign Mission Committee will not be overburdened with work for some time.
This Foreign Mission Committee comes with the following proposal:
“We therefore suggest that Synod alter this 6nal paragraph of the study committee’s report. The alteration that we suggest is to elide the entire point “D,” and that de following be adopted by Synod:
“1. Domestic Missionary work is that work of Christian missions by the church which is conducted in lands nominally Christian. These lands are, broadly speaking, Europe and America.
“2. Foreign Missionary work is that work of Christian missions by the church which is conducted in lands nominally heathen. These lands are primarily Asia, Africa, and South America.”
The Study Committee sees some problems in connection with this new distinction, but adds that it also has some very definite advantages, namely:
“1. It is a more workable distinction.
“2. It comes as closely as possible to the fourfold distinction made by the Study Committee under TTT B.
“3. It will give a future Foreign Mission Committee something to do. If the term ‘foreign’ is made synonymous with ‘heathen,’ there is little point in our Churches expending the time and energy in pursuing Foreign Mission work. All work now and in the foreseeable future would then fall under the jurisdiction of the Domestic Mission Committee.
“4. In case of a disagreement concerning whether any one country, such as Australia e.g., would be under the jurisdiction of a Foreign or Domestic Mission Committee, this disagreement can be settled by a decision of Synod.”
Personally, I wonder whether for all practical purposes it would not be far simpler, for the present at least, to classify all mission work within the continent of North America as Domestic Mission work and all mission work beyond the continent of North America as Foreign. The Domestic Committee has always had an abundance of work because the labors of the Home Missionary as well as radio broadcasting at home and abroad have been under the supervision of this Committee.
Upon the basis of the revision suggested by the Study Committee, they propose a revised program of labor, particularly involving areas of investigation. Quoting from the report:
“a. Investigate the possibility of sending an ordained minister into the foreign, field. This should be the ultimate objective of all our foreign mission work. There may be other methods of seeking contact, but these should not be ends in themselves, but should be means to search out a possible field of work for the personal contact of a missionary in the future.
“b. The investigation of radio broadcasts in the foreign field, whether that be in the English language or a foreign language.
“c. The investigation of the distribution of our literature in the foreign field.”
Thereupon the committee advises that we “attempt to find a particular country in which we could do one or all of the above three.” Since the field of foreign missions covers many counties, and since all counties will not be equally suitable for our purpose, “It may be possible to do mission work in some countries, in the English language and not in others. There may be some countries that have Reformed people among its citizens and these could serve as a point of contact.” To gain this information, they suggest that contact be sought with present mission boards and mission schools “concerning the status of mission work in any particular country and information as to procedure.” Moreover, they recommend that “contact should be maintained with the present Domestic Mission Board whose broadcasts reach into some countries included in foreign missions. If any correspondence is received pertinent to foreign missions this should be forwarded to the Foreign Mission Board.”
If the Study Committee has in mind correspondence received from such areas as Australia, the synod could advise follow up on this correspondence at once. Repeatedly during the past few years some very interesting correspondence has been received from Tasmania, Australia, which could well be followed up with distribution of pamphlets and letters. Or if the field of the Foreign Mission Committee be broadened to everything beyond the continent of North America, this new committee could immediately proceed to carry on the correspondence that has already been established by some of our ministers with Hungary. And there is still a steady flow of response to our radio broadcasts from England and other countries.
When we look at all this material before the next synod, we may well pray our God to bestow a rich measure of His grace and Spirit upon the delegates, in order that Christ Himself may guide them in performing the work He has entrusted to them unto the coming of His Kingdom.”