Missionary Methods (25)

In the previous three articles of this series we have examined some of the views of Rufus Anderson. Because it has been some time since this column has appeared we shall give a brief review of what we have discovered thus far in our study of Anderson. Anderson, like Henry Venn and John Nevius, was firmly convinced that the mission church should become self supporting, self governing, and self propagating as soon as possible. In this connection Anderson stressed that the sole aim of missions must be evangelization and not civilization. By the latter he meant the church must not expect the heathen among whom it works on the foreign field to conform to the culture and life style of the country and peoples of the sending church. The missionary must not work for this either. By evangelization Anderson emphasized that the sole task of the missionary is to preach and teach the blessed Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On a more practical note Anderson strongly asserted that it is not only possible but desirable that the missionary be married and have children with him on the foreign field. The missionary needs the support a godly wife can give. In his marriage and family life the missionary provides an example to those with whom he works of what the Christian marriage and family ought to be.

In spite of the hardships, difficulties, and problems which the missionary and his family must needs face we certainly agree with these conclusions of Anderson. We also believe that the God Who calls His servants to this great work will provide for the needs of those servants and their families. Scripture everywhere emphasizes that the work of the missionary preacher is difficult, even burdensome. But Scripture also assures God’s servants that Christ will never leave nor forsake them. Christ will be with His servants to provide for their need, to comfort, strengthen, and encourage them in their trials and persecutions.

Another point which Anderson goes to great lengths to establish is that missionaries are to be evangelists and not settled pastors. The work of missionaries and pastors of established congregations is essentially the same from the point of view of the fact that both are chiefly engaged in the preaching of the gospel. Nevertheless their work is to be distinguished. Basing his point on the record of the work of the Apostles, especially Paul, found in the Book of Acts, Anderson had this to say: “Their (the Apostles’) commission embraced only the proclamation of the gospel and planting its institutions. As soon as the gospel by their means had gained a footing in any one district or country, they left the work in charge to others, called elders and also bishops or overseers of the flock and church of God, whom they ordained for this purpose. Sometimes they did not remain even long enough to provide spiritual guides for the churches they had planted. ‘For this cause,’ says Paul to Titus, ‘left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.’ The elders were the pastors of the new churches . . . . It enters into the nature of the pastor’s relation, that he remain or be intended to remain long the spiritual instructor of one people. It is indeed as really his business to call sinners to repentance, as it is that of the missionary; but, owing to his more permanent relations, and to the fact that he is constituted the religious guide and instructor of his converts during the whole period of their earthly pilgrimage, his range of duty in respect to them is more comprehensive than that of the missionary in respect to his converts. The pastor is charged, in common with the missionary, with reconciling men to God; and he has also an additional charge, arising from the peculiar circumstances of his relation, with respect to their growth in grace and sanctification. But the missionary’s great business in his personal labors, is with the unconverted. His embassy is to the rebellious, to beseech them, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God. His vocation, as a soldier of the cross, is to make conquests, and to go on, in the name of his divine Master, “conquering and to conquer,” committing the security and permanency of his conquests to another class of men created expressly for the purpose. The idea of continued conquest is fundamental in missions to the heathen, and is vital to their spiritual life and efficiency. It will doubtless be found on inquiry, that missions among the heathen have always ceased to be healthful and efficient, have ceased to evince the true missionary spirit in its strength, whenever they have ceased to be actively aggressive upon the kingdom of darkness.

“In a word, the missionary prepares new fields for pastors; and when they are thus prepared, and competent pastors are upon the ground, he ought himself to move onward,—the pioneer in effect of a Christian civilization – but in office, work and spirit, an ambassador for Christ, to preach the gospel where it has not been preached.” (To Advance The Gospel, Rufus Anderson, R. Pierce Beaver, editor. Eerdman’s, pp. 75, 76.)

While one may not agree with everything stated in the above quotation from Anderson, one must agree with his main contention, viz., that the work of a missionary differs from that of a pastor. The pastor shepherds a specific “flock of God” for a relatively long period of time. He cares for an established congregation. But the missionary preaches to the unconverted. His task it is to preach the Word with a view to the instituting of a congregation. When a congregation has been established under the care of a qualified pastor and qualified elders and deacons the missionary must move on to another field. His work in that place is finished. He must not at this point assume the place of a pastor of that congregation. Thus we find in Anderson’s writings the same emphasis as in Henry Venn’s “Euthanasia of the Mission.”

This, however, leaves us with a difficult question: just when or at what point ought the missionary leave a given field of labor for a new one. The answer depends in large measure on the circumstances in a given field. But whatever a missionary does he ought not stay too long after the church has been instituted and is under the care of its own native pastors, elders, and deacons. Addressing himself to this question Anderson said, “It is an unsettled problem how the work of missions may be so finished, that the missionary can safely withdraw, leaving the new Christian community to take care of itself. There are spiritual, intellectual, and social difficulties to be first overcome; and these are often much aggravated by adverse influences from abroad. Out of what depths of moral and social degradation is every heathen convert raised before he is fitted for membership in the Church of Christ! ‘And such were some of you,’—’fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners.’ (I Cor. 6:10, 11) But though ‘justified in the name of the Lord Jesus,’ they are sanctified only in part, ‘babes in Christ,’ continually needing to be taught ‘which be the first principles of the oracles of God.’ Who can realize what it is, and what it must be, for an entire community of Christians to have had their home, for a long course of years before conversion, where truth had fallen in the street, and equity could not enter, without rule or protection of law, with no standard of morality, no domestic virtue, no culture of the affections, no correct public sentiment, and almost no conscience? And, who, that has closely observed the weaknesses and imperfections of human nature in its most favored conditions, is not prepared for occasional and violent outbreaks of ingratitude, passion, waywardness, and wickedness, in churches gathered from the lower, and sometimes the lowest, depths of humanity? That such churches should live, thrive, and ever reach the self-sustaining point, is a miracle of grace” (Anderson, p. 93). After pointing out that many of these weaknesses and sins, both in doctrine and in practice, were manifest in the churches established by the Apostle Paul in Asia Minor, Anderson concludes: “The work of the missionary has been performed mainly at central points; and when this work shall have been completed at all these points, and there is no more need of new stations,—when it is possible for gospel institutions to exist, through divine grace, without the longer presence of the missionary,—then the work of the mission in that community is obviously completed. The missionary, having ‘no more place in those parts,’ should go and preach the gospel elsewhere. It is a great point to know when to do this. After a native church is formed, it should have, as soon as possible, a native pastor and the needed church officers; and the native pastor should have ample scope for preaching, and for all his ministerial and pastoral abilities and duties. The local church is the divinely appointed illuminating power for its district. It is the great power in missions . . . . With a somewhat reserved and discreet superintendence on the part of the nearest missionary, it will thrive best, after a proper organization, by being left to itself. Thus station after station may be finished, and new conquests be continually made, with almost no enlargement in the number of the foreign force, and also without any material increase of expenditure; provided the native pastors have not been rendered too expensive by an injudicious education, doing less to fit them for their work than to make them dissatisfied in it, and provided the duty of self-support has been properly urged upon the native churches” (Anderson, p. 96). We do well to bear this in mind in our own mission labors. There comes a time when the missionary must leave the field. The mission station must not become a permanent institution alongside native churches. Missions has as its aim the gathering of the elect out of the nations. When that is the fruit of the missionary’s preaching and the church is established he must seek new fields of labor.

In this same connection Anderson emphasizes that all this is accomplished only by means of the preaching of the Word. This is the sole task of the missionary. He must preach and only preach! This is what he said over one hundred years ago: “The weapons of our warfare must be spiritual. The enemy will laugh at the shaking of a spear, at diplomatic skill, at commerce, learning, philanthropy, and every scheme of social order and refinement. He stands in fear of nothing but the cross of Christ, and therefore we must rely on nothing else. With that we may boldly pass all his outworks and entrenchments, and assail his very citadel” (Anderson, pp. 84, 85).

… to be continued