Among other significant parts and stages in mission work, there is this one, which ought not to be overlooked, namely, that of transition.
John the Baptist experienced the reality of it and confessed his response to it in the words of, quoted as the title for this article. The apostles experienced it. Preachers experience it when moving from one congregation to another. Faithful missionaries and their calling churches have experienced it. In fact, in the PRCA foreign mission labors in the Philippines, the missionaries have experienced an example of the same phenomenon very recently. What John the Baptist confessed according to John 3:30 teaches us that transition is something we should expect in foreign missions, view as necessary, and be thankful for when, with His blessing, Christ causes it to happen in our mission labors.
Transition becomes a reality for faithful mission work. By it, for example, the preaching of the Word shifts from missionaries to the local church and her officebearers who have been gathered and established by Christ and His Spirit through the labors of the missionaries. As a result, the keys of the kingdom, along with the administration of the sacraments, are exercised fully by the locally instituted churches in the mission field under the authority of Christ, the Head of the church. These instituted churches, through their officebearers, perform the duties of the support of their pastors, of seminary-student training, of mission work, of contact with other churches, and of other such ecclesiastical labors. Eventually, the preaching, instruction, guidance, and then presence of the missionaries and the calling church is phased out, and the mission churches mature into a sister-church relationship with what were formerly the calling and supporting churches of their missionaries.
This phase in the work of the church was what the apostle Paul experienced in his labors. For example, he labored in Ephesus and was used by the Lord to establish a congregation there. Eventually, because it was time for him to move on, the work of preaching and of administering the sacraments under the oversight of the council in Ephesus was carried on by other preachers, like Timothy. Hence, once the apostle’s role in the mission was completed, he moved on. The work of the means of grace in Ephesus continued, but without Paul and by means of another servant of Christ.
Various degrees of transition in the church still happen today. In the local congregation it happens when one pastor leaves to take up a call in another congregation, and eventually, after a period of vacancy, a new pastor is called and installed into office in the congregation. There is also a kind of transition in the election every year of elders and deacons in our churches.
Transition happens in foreign mission work, such as in the PRCA mission work in the Philippines. For example, this phenomenon happened on Friday, November 2, 2012. On the third floor of a humble building, known locally in Cubao, Metro Manila, as the PCC building, the Reverend Pastor Vernon R. Ibe was ordained and installed as the first pastor of the Berean Protestant Reformed Church, in a worship service that was led by Rev. David Overway, pastor of the Doon PRC and member of the PRCA Foreign Mission Committee. Participating with him in the ordination ceremony of “the laying on of the hands” were also the two foreign missionaries of the PRCA in the Philippines,
Rev. Daniel Kleyn and Rev. Richard Smit, as well as Rev. Ronald Van Overloop, pastor of the Grace PRC. Because of his ordination and installation, the Reverend Pastor Ibe now serves as the first pastor of the Berean PRCP, and the work of Rev. Smit in the Berean PRCP in the role of a pastor for three and half years came to its official end. The work of Christ’s church continues, but there has been a transition in the servants of the Lord who are sent to do the work.
This transition is the proper goal to which missionaries labor in obedience to Christ. Missionaries should work wisely towards the goal of becoming phased out of the work of the local churches that are the fruit of their labors.
This follows the example of the transition with which John the Baptist reckoned in his own brief ministry. He had been preaching and baptizing in Judea, and he had gained many disciples who repented and believed in God. Then, after he had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, he pointed out to the people of God that Jesus is the Lamb of God, he saw Jesus begin His earthly ministry, and he witnessed his disciples and the people in general flock to Jesus. His popularity plummeted, while the popularity of Jesus skyrocketed. It was one thing to be the forerunner of Christ to prepare the people to look for the coming of Jesus and then turn to Him. It was one thing for the forerunner of the Lord to preach that Jesus was incomparably greater than he and that the people should look for the preeminent One very soon. However, it was quite another thing to experience the sudden transition, when, in only a few short months, the forerunner was replaced by Christ as the main attraction for the people because of His preaching and especially His miracles.
This sudden change jolted some of the disciples of John to carnal concerns that this was unfair. In response, John pointed out that being phased out was the goal of his work. John confessed, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” He admitted that his work of preparing the way of the Lord had reached nearly its end. He needed to step aside and be replaced because the work of Christ in the salvation of His church must move forward without his preaching.
Similarly, there comes a time in the work of a missionary when, for the sake of Christ, who governs where and how long His laborers will work in certain locations in His harvest field, the missionary must be ready willingly to step aside so that the local deacons, elders, and pastors carry out the work of the means of grace and of their own church government. In readiness for that phenomenon, the missionary will submit to the transition when it occurs because he remembers that the mission work is the Lord’s. In faithful mission work, Christ increases. In the church, Christ is revealed as the ruler of His church, appointing and sending one laborer and then replacing him with another. Thereby Christ increases in the church institute as the King of the church. In the Lord’s work, that is an amazing phenomenon to witness.
… to be concluded.