In the previous article we dealt with the question: upon what system of church government ought mission churches to be established? In that connection we rejected the position of John L. Nevius who contented that the mission church ought to have the form of church government which is dictate by her needs and peculiar circumstances. (Cf. Planting and Development of Missionary Churches, pp. 55ff.). We emphasized that the Reformed or Presbyterian form of church government is based on sound, biblical principles which belong to the eternal truth of God’s Word. These principles apply to the church in every nation under heaven in every age. This means that the threefold office of Christ must be there or there can be no church. The office of believer who as partaker of the anointing of Christ is prophet, priest, and king must be expressed in the special offices of elder, deacon, and minister of the Word. At this point there can be no compromise. How can there be the church without Christ? Christ speaks through the preaching of the Word; He rules the flock through the office of elder; and Christ ministers His mercies to the poor through the office of the deacon.
In this same connection we take issue with Dr. Nevius’ position concerning the organization of churches “under the charge of elders . . .without the addition of a paid pastor, such as is found in most of our Western churches” (p. 61). Nevius claims that “the appointing of such a pastor might prove injurious rather than advantageous” (p. 61). Aside from anything else, what is injurious is that which is contrary to Scripture, and what is advantageous for the church is that which Scripture enjoins. The question then becomes, does Scripture allow for the instituting of a congregation with elders and deacons but without a pastor for an indefinite period of time? This is the position of Nevius. In support of that position Nevius quotes part of an article which appeared in the “Catholic Presbyterian,” November issue, 1879. This article was written by a certain Dr. Kellogg, who served as a missionary in India and later as a professor of Theology. The professor wrote: “We fear there is reason to think that our missionaries have often been in too much haste to introduce the one man pastorate of the European and American churches, and that the growth of a church bearing the true individual character of the particular people or race has been seriously retarded. Fixed in the conviction that the primitive form of Church government was Presbyterian, men have apparently jumped to the conclusion that therefore the present form of Presbyterianism is the primitive and Apostolic arrangement,—a point, we may venture to affirm, which has not yet been established, nor is likely soon to be. Under this belief they have not only felt that if they established churches they must give them a Presbyterian form of government—in which they have been right—but that it must be that particular form of development of Presbyterian principles which has obtained among ourselves; wherein, as it seems to us, they have been as clearly wrong. For to take any one of our full-grown ecclesiastical systems and attempt to set it up bodily in our heathen fields, regardless of the widely differing conditions of the case is, we submit, a great mistake. . . . In too many instances, the course pursued has proved a mistake by its practical working. . . .But, it is asked with some confidence, What is the missionary to do? Shall we leave the young church without a pastor? We ask in reply, Where in the New Testament is there any intimation that the Apostles ordained pastors, in the modern sense of that word, over the churches which they formed? We read over and over again of their ordaining ‘elders’ in every church, and that, having done so, they left them and went elsewhere. Where is there the slightest hint that, at this early period, any one from among these elders was singled out and appointed by Paul to a position like that of the modern minister or pastor of a church, or that until such an officer was found they did not dare to leave the church?” (pp. 61, 62)
We certainly would agree that “to take any one of our full-grown ecclesiastical systems and attempt to set it up bodily in our heathen fields, regardless of the widely differing conditions of the case, is…a great mistake.” To impose the entire Church Order of Dordrecht upon one of the Protestant Reformed mission fields would indeed be a “great mistake.” There are many decisions appended to many of the articles of the Church Order, some of which are interpretative of the article and others of which delineate the proper way the article is to be implemented, which apply to our churches specifically and which would not apply in Singapore or Jamaica. Even the articles themselves differ. There are those articles which set forth both principles and practices of church government which are explicitly taught and commanded in Scripture. Other articles contain principles and practices which are clearly implied in Scripture. But there are other articles which set forth rules which are neither taught nor condemned in Scripture, but which are based on the peculiar needs and circumstances of our churches. These regulations were adopted over the years out of sanctified common sense to meet particular needs. Among these are articles which designate how often a classis is to meet, how many delegates are to be sent to Synod, how often the Lord’s Supper is to be administered, etc. Hence to impose the Church Order of Dordt, with all of the decisions of our Synods, upon a mission church in a foreign land would be a mistake not only, but impossible as well. What must be emphasized, however, is that those principles and practices set forth in the Church Order which are either explicitly or implicitly taught by the Word of God must be used by the church wherever it exists in the world. These apply in every circumstance and age. There must be the preaching of the Word or no one is able to call upon the Lord and be saved (Romans 10:14, 15). There must be elders ordained to take the oversight of the flock and to discipline the church (I Peter 5:1-4). There must be deacons ordained to care for the widows and poor (I Timothy 3:8-13). There must be the administration of the sacraments according to the institution of Christ. All this and more must be or the church of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be instituted.
What would constitute a great mistake is to organize mission churches with elders and deacons but without a pastor. It is true that churches are organized before they have a pastor. But after organization the first item of business is to call a pastor. Until a pastor accepts the call the pulpit is supplied by the Seminary and/or visiting pastors of the sister churches. This means that the missionary and sending churches may not organize a church if there is no possibility in the foreseeable future that that church have its own pastor. If the latter is the case the group is not ready to be organized. The missionary must continue his preaching and teaching.
This is the plain teaching of the Bible and was the practice of the Apostles. The great apostle Paul himself, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, taught that the ascended Christ gave the gift of pastors and teachers to the church for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). Both Timothy and Titus were ordained preachers of the gospel. To these faithful men the Apostle wrote letters containing detailed instructions for their work and calling and for the churches they served as pastors. The apostles, especially Paul had many helpers to assist him in the care of the churches. John, the apostle, pastored the church in Ephesus. This is how it must be today as well. Churches organized without pastors will be as sheep having no shepherd.
Those pastors, however, must be native pastors. The black church needs a black pastor, the Indian church an Indian pastor, the Chinese church a Chinese pastor. The missionary must not stay in a field indefinitely, nor must the sending churches send permanent pastors to the mission churches. In addition, those native pastors must be supported by their own churches and not by the sending churches. There ought to be no subsidy coming from the denomination in North America to the foreign mission churches. About this we shall have more to say, D.V., in our next article.