Rev. Spriensma is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, currently serving in the Philippines.
“O sing unto the LORD a new song; sing unto the LORD all the earth. Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.”
This is the great calling of Christ’s church, to declare, to make known amongst the peoples, the glory of our God and the glory of all His works. That’s the work of missions!
But, as John Piper writes in his book Let the Nations Be Glad:
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
The Purpose of Missions
Worship is the goal in missions! We desire to bring the knowledge of God and His glory to the nations. For He is worthy to be made known. “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised!” (Psalter #261, 259, 258). “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q/A 1). Our desire is to make known to the nations “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!” The work of missions is not to make man’s life here on earth better. It is to make God known among the nations. We desire to magnify God!
Worship is also the fuel and power of missions. Zeal for God in worship comes before the work of missions. One cannot commend what he does not cherish. Churches and her missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” if they cannot say from the heart, “I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD” (Ps. 104:34). John Piper writes, “When the flame of worship burns with the heat of God’s true worth, the light of missions will shine to the most remote peoples on earth.”
Yes, where zeal for God is weak, zeal for missions will also be weak. Churches that are not focused on the exaltation of the majesty and beauty of God will scarcely kindle a fervent desire to “declare his glory among the nations.” When people are not stunned by the greatness of God, how can they be sent with the ringing message, “For the LORD is great, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods”? The psalmist writes:
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?”
“Honor and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering and come into his courts.”
This vision of God, this devotion to God, must come first. Savoring it in our worship precedes our spreading it in missions. This is true for the Protestant Reformed Churches in America and their outreach. This is true for the Berean Church of God Reformed in the Philippines and their outreach. Zealous worship of God is the fuel of missions. We do missions not first of all because we love people, desiring their salvation, but because we love God. He is great and glorious! He is worthy to be made known to the nations.
We declare and make known the glory of God in Christ Jesus in the preaching of the Word. This is what the apostle Paul did in Corinth. We read in I Corinthians 15, “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.” The message saves because it proclaims the name that saves—the name of Jesus. Peter declared that God visited the Gentiles “to take out of them a people for his name” (Acts 15:14). The proclamation by which God takes a people for His name is a message that hinges on the name of His Son Jesus. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Christ calls and commands: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The calling of the church and the calling of missions is to bring that authoritative Word of God to the nations in the preaching of the Word. I emphasize this because today many churches consider to be missions any kind of good deeds done to help other ethnic groups. This might be teaching them how to farm, setting up health clinics, drilling water wells, setting up schools, or fixing up, building, or painting their houses. All of these are noble tasks that individual believers may certainly engage in, but let us be clear that it is not missions. It is not the calling of the church of Jesus Christ. The task of missions is the preaching of the Word. The Word preached is the power of salvation to such as believe. Preaching Christ, and Him crucified, was the mission of the apostle Paul, and it is the mission of all his heirs. “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Cor. 1:21). The purpose of missions is to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our Vision in the Philippines
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” (Matt. 28:19). Why? According to the text, because “all power is given unto (Christ) in heaven and in earth.” Christ wills, commands, and enables His church to reach out to all the peoples of the earth. “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice” (John 10:16). And, too, the Lord said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Missions is supremely the work of the risen Lord Jesus. In the preaching of the Word, His people in every nation hear His voice.
What did Jesus mean when He commanded the church to go and teach “all nations”? In almost every instance that the phrase “all the nations” is used in the Bible, the reference is not to individuals, nor to geographical and political boundaries, but to ethnic people groups. The Hebrew phrase in the Old Testament, used some 100 times, has the sense of people groups outside of Israel. The Old Testament is filled with promises and expectations that God will someday be worshiped by people from all the nations of the world. In His promise to Abraham, God said, “and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). And: “…Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him…” (Gen. 18:18). As we sing in Psalter #49 (versification of Psalm 22:27, 28):
The ends of all the earth shall hear
And turn unto the Lord in fear;
All kindreds of the earth shall own
And worship Him as God alone.
All earth to Him her homage brings,
The Lord of lords, the King of kings.
Especially in the Psalms and in the prophecy of Isaiah there is repeated reference to the nations and to all people. Where the KJV, in such texts, translates “people,” the meaning is “peoples.” Over and over the Book of Revelation speaks of nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues. The Bible pictures not merely a people but peoples that are saved. Why is this important? For an answer to that question we need only to look at God’s command to Adam and to Noah. God commanded that they multiply and replenish and fill the earth. There is inherent in the one human race a vast variety of physical and mental characteristics, of powers and talents. One nation differs from another nation, and one tribe is distinct from another. The race reveals itself in a rich diversity. Paul said to the Athenians, “(God) hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). The diversity of the nations is, thus, not in spite of, but because of God’s will and plan. He made the nations. This diversity is God’s idea. Out of these diverse peoples God is pleased to choose and call forth His elect people in Christ Jesus. And the diversity of these peoples adds to the richness and beauty of Christ’s church.
Beautiful: One rainbow with its various bright colors; one diamond with its various gleaming hues; one edifice made up of stones of various colors and size; one choir blending in various parts; one church made up of various tribes, nations, peoples, and languages. Can you see it: A big tall Engelsma or Slopsema next to a small Filipino? The red, curly hair of a Scotsman next to the dark black and straight hair of an Asian? The burly figure of a farmer or fisherman next to the slight form of a writer or teacher? An African standing next to an Indian or pale-faced Dutchman? We love and appreciate this grand diversity, united together in one faith: faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
A diversity it is, I believe, that is not a temporary one, intended only for the life here and now, but rather one that will be preserved in the life to come. In the new heavens and new earth, those ransomed by the blood of Christ will be from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. As Pentecost did not do away with the cultural ethnic diversity of the peoples, neither will the resurrection. How the Book of Revelation celebrates again and again the great multitude “of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues (that) stood before the throne, and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). The beauty and the power of praise that will come to the Lord from such diversity are greater than the beauty and power that would come to Him if the chorus of the redeemed were culturally uniform. God reveals His glory to His redeemed from every tribe, nation, people, and tongue. The nations are glad and sing for joy. “Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad and sing for joy…” (Ps. 67:3, 4). Our vision in the Philippines, therefore, is not to make the people there clones of the Dutch-American churches in the States. Rather, we look for the beauty of Philippine people to be added to the rainbow of God’s church.
What an incentive for the little Protestant Reformed Churches to do mission work among the peoples. It is our delight and our privilege to bring the precious Word of God, revealing the glory of God to the various peoples of the world, whether that work be in Jamaica or Ghana, in Northern Ireland, Singapore, or the Philippines—or with various ethnic peoples in our own cities and country. Each of our various churches can carry out this work right in their own backyards. And as a denomination we do this work together, going wherever the LORD calls us, domestically or on foreign fields.
The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, having received a request to “come over and help us,” called and sent a missionary in 2001 to labor with the peoples in the Philippines, a land with many different ethnic groups. Work began in Manila, Daet, and Bacolod, with the central labor to be with a group in Manila. The goal was to form indigenous churches, that is, churches that would be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. With a view to this, the missionary would conduct worship services and preach to various groups. The missionary would also be involved in giving instruction to men to prepare and equip them to be pastors, elders, and deacons.
It is now almost five years since I accepted that call. And it is with thanksgiving to God that I can report that there has been the fruit of faith. One of those groups is coming this year to our synod asking that we assist them in organizing an instituted church, the Berean Protestant Reformed Church in the Philippines. The men here have received instruction on Reformed church government and are not only able but also desire to serve the Lord in this way. Believing families desire to confess their faith and to have their children baptized. Young men continue to receive instruction to equip them to serve better as pastors. God is faithful. He has indeed blessed and is blessing the work.
The vision for our work in the Philippines has been the building and organizing of strong, indigenous, Reformed churches. Our hope and vision is that these various churches can then work together as a federation of churches, growing spiritually themselves and also reaching out to teach other peoples. This vision is being blessed as pamphlets and other literature are being translated into Tagalog, and songs from the Psalter are being translated and sung in the native languages. Bible studies are taking place in various places in Manila and in the provinces. By God’s grace the Reformed faith is taking hold here, to the glory of God. “Let the nations be glad!”
History of the Berean Church of God Reformed
This group of believers has been on a long pilgrimage—through the wilderness of the apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church and then through the desert of the heretical teachings of the Worldwide Church of God, a cult led by Herbert Armstrong. Under the new leadership of Joseph Tkach, many of the original teachings of the Worldwide Church of God were thrown out, revised, or made non-mandatory. The cult became loosely Arminian. Many adherents became disillusioned and began to question everything that had before been forced upon them. One particular group of them decided to meet together weekly to examine doctrines taught by churches of various Reformed persuasions. They met every Thursday evening, discussing a broad range of doctrinal topics and issues, examining and searching the Scriptures in a way and fashion that was characteristic of the early New Testament Bereans. Hence the word “Berean” in the name they chose for themselves when they, on December 8, 1998, formed the Quezon City Berean Fellowship. For two years the Fellowship met, building up their library of photocopied Reformed material, and coming to a greater awareness of the Reformed faith. As a result of this the “Bereans,” after a series of meetings and dialogues with the Worldwide Church of God leadership, and seeing the irreconcilability of differences between them, tendered their official resignation on October 31, 2000. November 4, 2000 was the opening worship service of the Berean Church of God Reformed as an official, government-registered religious organization.
It was during this time that one of the members of the group found and was reading the web page of the PRCA on the Internet. When he saw that delegations from our churches would be in the Philippines, he requested, and was granted, a meeting with the two PR ministers who were to come in October 1998. Representatives of the group also met with subsequent delegations, in 1999 and then again in 2000. Finally, in February 2001, a PR delegation was able to hold a two-day conference with the Berean Fellowship. In March of 2001 the BCGR sent a letter to the FMC requesting a missionary, a request that was granted by our synod in June. I accepted the call from Doon PRCA to serve as the missionary and arrived in the Philippines in July of 2002.
The Berean Church has grown from eight to thirteen families (not including the missionary’s) in regular attendance, with an additional four families who attend on a less regular basis. They hold two worship services each Sunday, with one worship service centering in the truths taught in the Heidelberg Catechism. Between the two worship services, there is time for a small lunch and for catechism classes for the children. Hymns from the Worldwide Church of God have been replaced with songs from the Psalter. Two offerings are received each Sunday: one for benevolence and the other for the operating expenses. It is heartwarming to see God’s children here giving freely out of their meager budgets for the cause of Christ’s kingdom.
In November of 2005 the Board of Trustees of the BCGR sent a request for organization as a church to Doon PRC and the FMC, with the matter to be dealt with by our synod this summer! The BCGR hopes to organize under the name of Berean Protestant Reformed Church in the Philippines. The reason for the name change is to identify themselves better in the church world. “Church of God” had indeed been a scriptural designation (Acts 20:28; I Cor. 1:2, 10:32, 11:16, 22, 15:9; II Cor. 1:1), but today that name is identified with Universalist theology and cults. The BCGR desire to identify themselves clearly with the historic Reformed faith, and with God’s blessings in developing and preserving that faith as it spreads to all the nations of the earth. She desires to be a vibrant Reformed church that loves to worship, and is thus prepared to bring the message of salvation to the peoples of the Philippines. “Let the nations be glad!”
The missionary visits and gives instruction also to young men from the Bastion of Truth Churches and to a pastor from the Inayuaun Reformed Free Church. It is my desire that, through conferences and visits, these churches might someday unite together to form a federation of Reformed churches that can labor together in the work and hold each other accountable in their faith and life.
The little children have a song that speaks of God’s love for His chosen people, the redeemed out of all the nations:
Jesus loves His little children,
All His children of the world:
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves His little children of the world!
Do you see those different children in your cities in the States? Arabs, Indians, Mexican, Jew, German, Canadian, Chinese, African, and the list goes on. Do you have a vision of those children in far-off lands? May God give us delight in making known His glory and salvation in Jesus Christ to all the peoples! And they shall be glad and sing for joy.
“Let the people(s) praise thee, O God; let all the people(s) praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps. 67:3, 4).