In the previous article we discussed the first principle of missions, viz., that missions is emphatically and exclusively the work of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit of Christ. This is plainly taught in Scripture and by our Reformed Confessions. The Heidelberg Catechism perhaps sums it best when it says: “The Son of God gathers, defends, and preserves unto himself a church chosen to everlasting life . . .” (L.D. XXI, q. 54). That missions is the work of God is also obvious from the fact that it is God Who saves and not man. Scripture teaches that it is God in Christ Who directs the course of the gospel throughout the world. It is also clear from Scripture that Christ calls (summons and qualifies) the preachers of the gospel. Finally, preaching, apart from the operation of the Holy Spirit, cannot be effective. Hence, even though He gathers His Church through His Spirit and Word, and even though that Word through which He gathers His Church must be preached, and even though that preaching is done by men, it is God Himself Who gathers His Church. Missions is the work of God. This fundamental principle undergirds all mission work. From a practical point of view this principle is the encouragement for the church and its missionaries in the often very difficult work.
This leads directly to the second principle of missions. What God does He does through the use of means, and the means by which God gathers His elect out of the nations is the preaching of the Word by the institute of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world. It is sad that so much of the church has lost sight of this. In the hundreds of books, articles, pamphlets, and tracts on the subject one finds all kinds of methods advocated. Little or nothing is said about preaching. Sometimes these authors are even critical of preaching. The fact is, however, that if one wishes to speak of proper mission methods he is going to have to do so in terms of the preaching of the Word by the Church. Ernest C. Reisinger, in his address entitled, “The Doctrines of Grace and Missionary Methods,” given at the ministers’ conference in Atlanta last fall, sponsored by the Banner of Truth Trust, summed the teaching of Scripture on Missionary Methods in these words: “Prayer, Preaching and no gimmicks!” He is so right. The matter is really very simple. God never told the church to do anything else in its mission work than preach the Word!
This principle of Missions follows from the first, that missions is the work of God in Christ. While this can never be stressed too much, especially in our day, we must not either lose sight of the necessity of preaching. It is indeed true that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself; and we cannot add to nor detract from this great work of reconciliation. Nevertheless God has entrusted to the church the ministry (diaconia) of this reconciliation. So important is this principle that to neglect it means we will lose all sense of responsibility and will fail to realize that what God will do He will do through His church. In that event the mission work of the church will stagnate. The point is, and this must never be forgotten, God accomplishes the gathering of His people out of the nations through the instrumentality of His Church. God does that no other way.
This means negatively that the work of missions is not the work of individuals within the church. These have a calling, to be sure. We have seen that believers have a crucial and indispensable calling with respect to missions. Believers must pray for the missionaries and their work. They must support and assist the church and its missionaries in the carrying out of the task. This calling is certainly important and very significant. But the work itself is not done except through the preaching of the Gospel by the Church.
Neither is the work of missions the task of “mission societies” or “evangelistic associations.” These arose out of two historical situations: Pietism and later Fundamentalism; and they arose out of lands with state-controlled churches. J.H. Bavinck points out that this was true especially in Lutheran lands. (Cf.Introduction To The Science Of Missions) Because the Church itself was indifferent to the mission task, groups within the church attempted to carry out the mission mandate. This latter was an attempt to escape the political (colonial) influences of the state churches and an attempt to remain faithful to the commission of Christ to preach the Gospel in all the world.
Therefore, no institution other than the Church of Jesus Christ may assume the responsibility to preach the Gospel. The Church ordains those called by Christ to preach the Gospel. These are the ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ through Whom the word of reconciliation goes out (II Cor. 5:20). Their task is to preach (keerussein) and to witness (marturein) to the ends of the earth, as Jesus said just moments before His ascension (Acts 1:6-8). Christ personally called His Apostles to preach. Through those Apostles, inasmuch as they make up part of the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2:20), Christ calls His Church to this great enterprise.
This means that missions belongs to the very essence of the task of the Church. One cannot conceive of the Church apart from missions. A Church that does not engage in missions fails in its Christ-assigned task, and is, therefore, disobedient to its Lord and is not worthy of the name Church. Christ commissioned the Church to go into all the world preaching the Gospel for “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Cor. 1:21).
Missions has as its immediate goal the gathering of the Church (elect in Christ), both Jew and Gentile out of the nations. This principle is easily understood. God has His elect in every nation, and these must be gathered into the Church. These elect can be gathered into the Church only by the means of the preaching of the Gospel. Missions is that task. In its mission the Church is thrust out into the world to gather the lost sheep. Thus Christ commissioned the Church through the Apostles: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16). This is both the inspiration and the motivation for the church in its mission task. God has His people in every nation. God promises to gather them into the Church by the preaching of the Gospel. The Church may send out its missionary preachers in the confidence that there will be positive fruit upon their labors. The fruit does not depend upon men but only upon the grace of the Almighty God.
Missions has as its ultimate goal (telos, purposeful end) the full manifestation of God’s glory in Jesus Christ at His appearance at the end of the ages. The preaching of the Gospel to the ends of the earth does two things, or has a twofold effect: it saves them that believe and it destroys the wisdom and power of this world (Cf. I Cor. 1:18-31). Wherever the Word is preached faithfully according to the Scriptures it has that double effect. By means of the preaching of the Gospel the Son of God gathers the elect and hardens the reprobate. The preaching of the Word changes stony hearts into hearts of flesh and effects repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus while it exposes the unrepentant in all of their sin and rebellion. The preaching of the Word never fails to accomplish that purpose. This is precisely why preaching always involves a crisis! Preaching is judgmental. No one who comes under the preaching of the Word by the Church of Jesus Christ remains unaffected by it. He either believes and is saved or he rejects the Gospel and is damned. Once more, neither the Church nor the missionaries who are sent by the Church need be concerned about the fruit. All the Church must do is preach, and God will give the increase.
By that preaching of the Word to the nations, the end or goal of all things according to God’s sovereign counsel in Christ Jesus is brought about. When the first seal of the scroll of God’s decree concerning “the things which must shortly come to pass” is opened by the Lamb (Christ) John sees a white horse and rider going forth “conquering and to conquer” (Rev. 6:2). That white horse with its rider represents the victorious progress of the Gospel in the New Dispensation. Jesus told us that “this gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). The end of all things comes through the preaching of the Gospel.
In no less a work is the Church involved when it preaches the Gospel. This is what happens every time the Word is preached from the pulpits of the churches at home or from the pulpits of the missionary churches abroad. What an incentive for the Church to preach and to send out missionaries! Why should the Church fear or doubt? Why should the Church ever be discouraged in its mission work? God Himself in Jesus Christ accomplishes the great purpose of all that He has decreed in Christ before the foundations of the world through the “foolishness of preaching.”
In that awareness let the Church be busy diligently and faithfully with the task of missions in order that God’s glory in Christ may be revealed in the Church.