The point made in our last article is that the work of the missionary is to be distinguished from that of a pastor of an established congregation. The latter cares for a specific, settled congregation. He does so chiefly by the preaching of the Word. The missionary also preaches. This is his calling. But the missionary preaches to the unconverted. By this means Christ gathers His elect out of the nations. The aim or purpose of the missionary is that a congregation with its own officebearers, including a native pastor, may be established. This congregation, according to Rufus Anderson, must be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. When this is accomplished in a given field the missionary must move on to a new field of labor.
Throughout his writings Anderson emphasizes that whatever the missionary does he must preach the Word. Preaching is his chief task. The missionary must do this from the very beginning of his labors in a given field. At the very beginning he ought to begin formal worship services on the Lord’s Day. In addition there ought to be less formal services of preaching and teaching during the week. This is what Anderson had to say in a lecture given in 1861: “The native Christians have also needed regular, well-studied exhibitions of the plan of salvation, and of their duty as Christians. They could not be adequately informed and elevated to the self-governing, self-sustaining basis by means of mere conversational (informal, Bible study groups) preaching. They required the benefit, indeed, of every one of the auxiliary means of grace, but could never reach their full stature as Christians without the regular, stated, formal preaching of the Word. The heathen then saw the missionary in his true place and dignity. If they did not often go to hear him, they knew there was a day which he regarded as specially set apart by the God of heaven for declaring and for hearing the truths of the Christian religion; and also a time when the missionary assumed authority to speak, and when it was the sole business of all others to hear.” (Rufus Anderson, To Advance The Gospel, R. Pierce Beaver, ed., p. 90.)
With this we are in hearty agreement. All the work of a missionary, whether foreign or domestic, ought to center in the formal preaching of the Word of God. As the mission grows and bears fruit in the establishment of a congregation or congregations, other needs will become manifest. In foreign lands the Scriptures will have to be translated into the native tongue so that the people may have Bibles to read and study. God’s people must be instructed in their calling to provide covenant, Christian education for their children. Native pastors and elders and deacons must be instructed in their duties and respective callings. Native pastors, or those men who aspire to the ministry of the Word in the mission church, must be educated. They must learn how to preach, how to expound Holy Scripture, how to shepherd the flock of God. They must learn the principles of Reformed, Biblical Church Polity. Initially this may be done on a rather small scale. The missionary or missionaries may instruct one or two young men. If the churches on the field grow they would in time establish their own theological school. It is also possible, and this is being done with the young men from Singapore, that young men from the foreign field receive their theological education at the Seminary of the sending church.
All of this, however, must be in strict subordination to the preaching of the gospel. The church’s task through its missionary is not to build schools, administer hospitals, or provide a variety of social or other services. The church’s task is to preach the gospel by which means alone the Son of God gathers out of the whole human race those chosen to everlasting life (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. XXI). These other institutions must come as a fruit of the preaching of the Word in the hearts of the converts.
The purpose of the missionary must be the establishing or instituting of local manifestations of the church of Jesus Christ. Wrote Anderson, “Prominent, then, among the visible agencies in foreign missions, if we follow the great apostle (Paul, R.D.D.), are LOCAL CHURCHES. I call them by no denominational name. They may be churches governed by popular vote, or by elders they have themselves chosen for the purpose. They are local bodies of associated Christians. The first duty of a missionary is to gather such a church. That will serve as a nucleus—and it is the only possible nucleus, a school not being one—of a permanent congregation. A missionary, by means of properly located, well organized, well trained churches, may extend his influence over a large territory. In such a country as India, or China, his direct influence may reach even scores of thousands” (Anderson, pp. 97, 98). With the essence of this we agree. Those churches, however, must be Confessionally Reformed churches under the rule and care of the King of the church through the officebearers, a polity required by Scripture itself.
In response to the question, what should be the nature of the mission church? Anderson said, “It should be composed only of hopeful converts; and should have, as soon as possible, a native pastor, and of the same race, who has been trained cheerfully to take the oversight of what will generally be a small, poor, ignorant people, and mingle with them familiarly and sympathetically. And by a native pastor, I mean one recognized as having the pastoral care of a local church, with the right to administer the ordinances of baptism and the Lords Supper” (Anderson, p. 98).
In addition to this, Anderson emphasizes, “As soon as the mission church has a native pastor, the responsibilities of self-government should be devolved upon it. Mistakes, perplexities, and sometimes scandals, there will be; but it is often thus that useful experience is gained, even in churches here at home. The salary of the native pastor should be based on the Christianized ideas of living acquired by his people; and the church should become self-supporting at the earliest possible day. It should also be self-propagating (he means it should engage in mission work, R.D.D.) from the very first. Such churches, and only such, are the life, strength, and glory of missions” (Anderson, pp. 98, 99). This is good, Biblical methodology in missions. Laboring this way is certainly following the pattern of the Apostles, especially Paul.
Anderson goes on to stress again: “A foreign missionary should not be the pastor of a native church. His business is to plant churches, in well-chosen parts of his field, committing them as soon as possible to the care of native pastors; himself sustaining a common relation to all, as their ecclesiastical father and adviser; having, in some sense, like the apostle, the daily care of the churches. He might stand thus related to a score of churches and even more, however they were related to each other; and when he is old, might be able to say, through the abounding grace of God, ‘Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you all through the gospel.’ I Cor. 4:15 ” (Anderson, p. 99).
This certainly is the great aim in missions. In sum, what Anderson said is this: 1) The aim of missions is the gathering of the elect out of the nations. These converts must be organized into local manifestations of the institute of the church of Jesus Christ. 2) The means by which this is to be accomplished is the preaching of the Word. By this means God is pleased to “save them that believe.” We ought to add to this that the preaching of the Word has another effect, viz., it hardens the reprobate in their unbelief and sin and, thus, renders them without excuse before God. And, let us not forget the words of Jesus: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto the nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14).
Anderson concluded his lecture with these remarks concerning those to whom the missionary preaches and the Gospel which he preaches to them: “The gospel is applicable equally to all false religions. Generically considered, there can be but two religions: the one looking for salvation by grace; and the other, by works (emphasis, Anderson’s). The principle of evil in all unbelieving men, is the same. The refuge of lies in Popery, in Judaism, in Mohammedanism, in Brahminism, Buddhism, and every form of paganism, are wonderfully alike. There is one disease, and one remedy. Before the gospel, the unbelieving world stands an undistinguished mass of rebellious sinners; unwilling that (God should reign over them, unwilling to be saved except by their own works, and averse to all real holiness of heart and life. There is power in the doctrine of the cross, through grace, to overcome this. The doctrine of the cross—as will more clearly appear when we come to the evidences of success in missions—is the grand instrument of conquest. Not one of the great superstitions of the world could hold a governing place in the human soul, after the conviction has once been thoroughly produced, that there is salvation only in Christ. Be it what it may, the man, thus convinced, would flee from it, as he would from a falling building in the rocking of an earthquake” (Anderson, p. 102).
How true! Man by nature, no matter to what “ism” he may be committed, is dead in trespasses and sins. He is spiritually dead! This means he cannot, though he always foolishly persists in trying, save himself. Only God’s grace, by the working of the Holy Spirit of Christ, can make a dead sinner alive. That God surely does in the hearts of His elect, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Let us never forget this! Let us use the only means God has given, the preaching of the Word, in the confidence that God will work His work of grace in the hearts of His chosen ones and His work of wrath and condemnation in the hearts of the reprobate. Let us be on with the task as faithful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this way God is pleased to cause His glory to shine in His church.
(to be continued)