In Matthew 16:18 the evangelist records for us one of the most encouraging promises our Lord has ever given to His people. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Encouraging indeed! For by that short statement our Beloved Saviour tells us that the church is His church, and therefore that we who belong to that church belong to Him. Is not that the very word of comfort which we confess with our fathers, “that I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ”? Certainly that is our only comfort; for that means that we belong to the One Who redeems us from sin and death and Who holds us so securely in His hands that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As He Himself said, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The Church is His and it is most certainly saved with His precious blood and given eternal life in Him for the glory of God.
And yet, in these words of Jesus, there is something else which is especially encouraging to a missionary. And that is the expression, “I will build.” Our Lord tells us that He is the One Who builds His Church. It is not the work of man. It is not a missionary or any other man who saves souls. It is not even a joint effort of God and man together. No, it is God’s work exclusively. He alone can and does build His church. That does not mean that He doesn’t use means; for He certainly does. The Church may not neglect her calling to “go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Nor must a missionary ever think that he does not have to work and work hard to fulfill his calling. But it does mean that both the missionary and the church can have the confidence that whatever the outcome of our labors, God’s purpose in Christ Jesus for His church is always accomplished. God, in Christ Jesus, through the Spirit of Christ is the One Who does the work of missions.
It is that fundamental principle of missions which encourages us as we endeavor by God’s grace “to preach the gospel to every creature,” both from the pulpit on Sundays and from door to door as we make contact with the people of the community. Much of the time it is very difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly what fruit our labors yield. And when we do see fruit it is, many times, negative rather than positive. There is much rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Reformed Faith, though it is very precious to us, is despised by the world. And those who call themselves Christians are often times the most vicious enemies of what we preach. To them the things we teach are “hard sayings.” The bondage of the will, particular redemption, election and reprobation, the particular love of God, the Sovereignty of God, these are all truths that the natural man rejects and refuses to believe. And yet, all these belong to the gospel of God’s sovereign grace which we preach. It should not be difficult to understand, therefore, why we make such slow progress toward the establishment of a church in the Lansing area. Unless God Almighty works in the hearts of men, to turn them unto Himself and to an acceptance of the Reformed Faith, we can do absolutely nothing to change their beliefs. As Jesus said, “without Me ye can do nothing.”
This is not to say, however, that God is not working here in a positive way, for we have very definitely experienced His presence among us. For one thing, we have seen among those who regularly attend our services and Bible studies definite growth. Although we do not agree on all points of doctrine, yet for over a year we have been studying God’s Word together; and that has been very beneficial in many ways. It has given us the opportunity to study the particulars of the Reformed faith and especially the distinctive teachings of our Protestant Reformed Churches. And that is essential to the work of missions. One can not embrace the truths which our churches hold dear if he does not know what they are. That is why we have geared both the preaching and the Bible Studies in such a way that we focus our attention on that truth. In our preaching on Sunday mornings we follow the line of instruction given in the Heidelberg Catechism. In our Wednesday evening Bible study we consider together the teachings of the Canons of Dort. It is especially this study that has given those who worship with us an opportunity to consider what we believe in the light of the Scriptures. It also has given them the opportunity to ask questions on a variety of issues.
Besides this work among the adults, we have been very active in teaching the children. We now teach a total of five catechism classes. After the morning service on Sundays, we teach a class on Essentials as well as a class on the Heidelberg Catechism to the older children of the group. On Monday evenings we teach two Bible history classes to the younger children. On Tuesday evenings we go to the MSU campus and have a Catechism class with our P.R. students there. In all of this instruction we have been blessed by the way God works with our children. It is very encouraging to see especially the younger children so eagerly absorb the truth of the gospel. We as churches ought to thank God for the tradition of good catechetical instruction among us. We as parents must take great care to be faithful to teach our children the truth. As missionary, I see in a very dramatic way, the difference between the reaction of adults to the Word of God and the reaction of children to it. While many adults whom I contact outside of our group have great difficulty with the truth, our children receive it without question. It reminds me of the words of Jesus; “Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (Mark 10:15).
We have been very pleased with the way God has given us opportunity to preach the gospel to many people of the community. Although we can do nothing to save men, our calling is to be an “ambassador on behalf of Christ.” We must “publish the (particular) promise of the gospel together with the command to repent and believe to all persons promiscuously and without distinction to whom God, out of His good pleasure, sends the gospel” (Canons II, 5). This, by God’s grace, we are doing. We can definitely state that much of the community is aware of our presence here, and many have heard the call of the gospel to repent and believe. In the first place there is the preaching on Sunday. Over the course of our time here we have seen many visitors attend our services. The fact that our meeting place (University S.D.A. Church) is so close to the MSU campus and therefore very accessible to visitors has been a great asset to our labors. Although visitors do not come with any regularity (sometimes we have many in a short time; other times we have none for a long period of time), they do come and they do hear the preaching. Yes, many seem to be hostile to the Word and others seem to be indifferent to it; but they hear the call and with that call God works in their hearts according to His purpose.
Besides the preaching on Sunday we have been able to make many personal contacts with the people of the community, especially some of the students at MSU. We regularly advertise some of our RFPA literature in several local newspapers. We distribute this free of charge to anyone who asks. At times the response to these ads has been very good. We keep a record of all requests and then follow them up with personal contact. In all of this the Word of God is getting out into the community.
More recently we have begun two new programs designed to reach out into the community. For the first time it is now possible to hear the Reformed Witness Hour in the Lansing area. A radio station in Charlotte (WGWY – AM 1390) airs our programs every Sunday at 1:30 P.M. Not only is this a blessing to those who are a regular part of our group, but it is a witness of the gospel in the whole community. We have not seen a very great response to these programs as of yet, but it is too early to evaluate their effectiveness. Besides, we have the promise that God’s Word never returns unto Him void.
Our newest venture is a public Bible study held on the MSU campus. Every Tuesday evening we meet for an hour with our P.R. students, Tom Yeutter from our group, and any visitors that may have come. We are studying Luke’s account of the gospel. We want to present the simple facts of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as they are revealed in His birth, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection. We hope that our humble beginning of this endeavor will blossom into bigger and better things. It would be nice if eventually there would be a large group of students meeting together with us. But, for that, we will have to wait and see what is the will of our Heavenly Father.
And that brings me to a very important point which I would like to make. We have several mission fields in which we are presently laboring. Some of these fields are more fruitful than others. With respect to the less fruitful fields, it is very easy for us as churches as well as for us as missionaries to become impatient and to give up almost before we have become settled in our labors. In our fast moving world it seems that we want everything to happen right away and everything to happen big. Our idea of success so often is no different, in practice at least, from that of the Arminian. We want to see numbers; we want to see great “revivals”; we want to see some kind of a massive public movement to the Reformed faith. But our own experience with mission work in the U.S.A. ought to teach us that, at least at the present, that is not the way God is working. Do we not believe that “God sends the gospel” to whom He desires “out of his good pleasure” (Canons II, 5)? Do we not believe that those who hear that gospel and believe that gospel and are thus “delivered and saved from sin and destruction,” are “indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God”? In short, do we not believe that this work is God’s work? Then we must learn to recognize the present condition of our mission work as God’s good pleasure, and patiently, in faith, wait upon Him in all our endeavors. Let us not become impatient with what God is doing or not doing; that is sin. But let us be faithful in the work to which He has called us. It takes time, sometimes a very long time; to establish a new church. Things do not happen overnight. Let us therefore persevere in our labors. Let us work even harder. Pray for our missionaries and for those with whom they work. Take an interest in what is happening on the mission field. Get involved in whatever way you can, as churches and as individuals. But above all, wait patiently upon our Sovereign God to do all His good pleasure. Jesus said, “I will build my church.” Do you believe that? I do, and that is my comfort and encouragement as your missionary laboring in Lansing.