Rev. Miersma is western home missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In every aspect of our life and calling, both as believers and as churches, we labor under the sovereignty of God, and we ought, moreover, to labor in the consciousness of it. Just as this consciousness in our daily life includes both God’s counsel and God’s moral will, so it is in our mission work, in our evangelism, and in the labor of the ministry. Christ, in His work as our Mediator and Savior, sets a certain pattern before us. He constantly speaks of His Father’s will respecting His calling, of God’s purpose in His work, and of His sovereign determination among those with whom He labored. He also speaks of His own obedience to the will of the Father. Standing in Christ, we would follow after Him as His people, also in this aspect of our spiritual life. This is a vital principle of our spiritual life, and it is that also of missions and our mission work.
The church and churches in common have the calling of God given us by Christ to labor in the gospel and missions. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” (Matt. 28:19). This great commission is the will of God for the church of Christ. We are to “…preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This calling, given by Christ to the apostles and in them to the church, is the sovereign will of God. Preaching in the churches and in missions is set before us as the fundamental calling of the church. It is in the consciousness of that calling that we seek as churches to carry out the calling to do mission work. This is why we engage in missions as churches and in local evangelism as congregations, preaching the Word, not only within the body but to others who stand outside. This commission to preach and do the work of missions precedes any Macedonian call that comes to the church engaged in missions on the mission field. It is integral to the life of the church.
Two things we should note about that commission or calling: first, that it is the calling to preach and teach and, second, that this calling is given to the church. It is in the church as the body of Christ that God has set this labor of the gospel, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers…” (I Cor. 12:28). Just as it is the church, through the offices, that preaches the gospel in the congregation, so it is the church on the mission field that does mission work according to the will of God.
The commission is not given to private individuals or parachurch organizations but to the church. Even the believer’s personal witness to his neighbor is not an independent activity in isolation; he bears witness as a member of a specific body of Christ. Likewise missionaries labor only according to a calling of God under Christ, and that calling is through the church who calls and sends, in God’s name, men to labor in missions.
To the church, therefore, belongs the calling and sending of missionaries. The Lord of the harvest sends forth laborers into His field to labor in the gathering of His elect and in the building of His church. Jesus trained His apostles for that work and sent them out. An aspect of the training for the ministry is training for the work of missions. Paul and Barnabas were called by the Spirit to do mission work, through the church in Antioch (Acts 13:2). This included their being set apart and sent to that work by the laying on of hands (Acts 13:3), though both men were already ministers of the Word and Paul an apostle. This laying on of hands was a token not only of their calling and sending but of the qualifying work of the Spirit to equip them for their specific calling as missionaries.
Training is necessary for the work of the ministry and for mission work as an aspect of the ministry, but the qualifying work of the Holy Spirit, the gifts for the work that only God can give, are indispensable. Assurance of this work of God’s grace is embraced in our form for ordination of missionaries. The first question to the missionary to be ordained or installed asks, “whether thou feelest in thy heart that thou art lawfully called of God’s church and therefore of God Himself, to this holy ministry?” The form also includes in the benediction pronounced upon the one called and sent these words: “God our heavenly Father, who hath called thee to His holy ministry, enlighten thee with His Holy Spirit, strengthen thee with His hand, and so govern thee in thy ministry that thou mayest decently and fruitfully walk therein, to the glory of His name and the propagation of the kingdom of His Son Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Knowing that God sends and gives the gifts for the work in His sovereign wisdom is vital for the laborer on the mission field, for he knows that he is an earthen vessel in himself. The apostle Paul repeatedly speaks of this confidence. He says, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (II Cor. 4:5-7).
This is called the lawful call and applies to that aspect of the ministry that is mission work, just as it does to the regular labors of minister, elder, and deacon (Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 31). Without that call one does not preach or do mission work. In an era of a multiplying of self-appointed, so-called evangelists and preachers, it is well that we remember that this is a matter of the will of God, of His sovereignty over the church instituted of God in Christ, our Head. It must also shape our thinking as we contemplate the mission work of the churches.
For the missionary this is especially important. Not only that by that calling and sending he may have proof of his calling but also that he walk in the consciousness of it as one called and sent. Our confidence is not in ourselves but in Him who, calling and sending, gives also the gifts for the work and puts His word in our mouth. Our Savior Himself, as our mediator, constantly speaks of the fact that He was sent of the Father, that He was anointed with the Spirit, that He must work the will of Him that sent Him. The apostles also, in their epistles, speak of the fact that they were called and sent by the will of God. It is mentioned, for example, in almost every opening verse of Paul’s epistles.
This consciousness of one’s calling applies to all the offices in the church, the ministers of the Word especially, and to missionaries laboring in this specific aspect of the ministry. It means that one holds, first of all, the commission and authority to stand as a herald in Christ’s name, as an ambassador of the King eternal. The very word for preaching in the Greek means to function as such a herald of the king. As such a commission from the Lord, it embraces the contents of the message, which must be the King’s Word. That calling and sending gives also to the laborer the authority to proclaim the Word on the mission field. He stands not only as a representative of Christ, but also of the churches by whom Christ sent him. Thus it isour work as churches, not simply his work in which he is engaged.
The commission embraces also the promise that, as faith comes by the hearing of the Word preached (Rom. 10:13-17), so the labor shall be fruitful, in God’s sovereign grace, to accomplish its purpose. It contains the assurance that God’s Word does not return to Him void. God’s Word declares that “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). This word of Christ that immediately follows the commission to preach to every creature is a word of promise. It is also a sobering word concerning the authority of the preaching and its twofold fruit. For mission’s preaching both saves and hardens. In that work we have the assurance that, as Christ prayed to the Father for the disciples and their labors, so also He is interceding for us in all the labor of the gospel and for the sheep with whom we labor. “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world…. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:18, 20). Christ saves His church and will build it through missions.
The consciousness of God’s calling and sending in His sovereign wisdom is also spiritually necessary for the laborer in God’s field. The sower goes forth to sow the seed of the gospel, often with tears and in the midst of trials. Many pass by heedless of the gospel, some hostilely oppose themselves to it, when we would desire to see positive fruit. While this is true in the labor of all the offices, and the ministry in particular, the missionarylabors often very alone, far from extended family, friends, and the life of the churches. A clear spiritual perception of his calling of the Lord and the promises accompanying it are necessary. He must labor not in his own strength but in the power of the Lord and His Spirit. He must labor in the consciousness that it is the Lord who directs the work, that it is the Lord who gathers whom He will, that the goal of that labor is God’s own glory.
This makes mission work, both for the missionary and the churches, a matter of walking by faith in the Word and prayer. For the calling church also this is an important matter. We consider the missionaries often times, yet perhaps forget what it is to be a calling church. It is a privilege in God’s sovereign wisdom to serve the Lord as a calling church, but, along with the missionaries, it carries also a heavy responsibility. The same is true for the committees of the churches that oversee the work. The calling churches, and particularly the officebearers, have many responsibilities in their own congregations and yet are, together with the missionaries, concerned with the spiritual welfare of the fields, the families on the field and the laborer. The elders in our calling churches have an added measure of spiritual responsibility. They are called, for example, to do family visitation at home and on the mission fields. They have a level of demands and cares that other elders do not have. The calling churches and their families likewise, especially those of the officebearers, make sacrifices for the work. They are to be included in our prayers for the work of missions.
To be sure, there is also a great joy in such labor on the part of the missionary, calling church, and the consistories who labor in the work, but it comes in the way of humbly walking with the Lord in His sovereign wisdom in the way He leads the work. It is a privilege to see the hand of the Lord as He gathers His church on the mission field, to see the joy of those who have been brought into the riches that are in Christ and are growing under the Word. But there are also a multitude of trials and sorrows that accompany that work, of those who do not believe, of those who walk for a season in the gospel and depart, and of disappointments when much labor is bestowed and there is limited fruit. This too is under the sovereign hand of God and a matter of saying, “Thy will be done.”
It is important therefore that we labor also as before God’s face, not seeking the praise of men but seeking to serve the sovereign God who alone calls and sends laborers into His field. It is vital that we walk in the consciousness of His sovereignty in missions, for His ways are higher than our ways. It is ultimately His work of grace that we serve.