Rev. Bruinsma is Eastern Home Missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, stationed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Goal of our work
When Southwest Protestant Reformed Church called and sent me to labor in Pittsburgh it was with a specific goal in mind. I was sent to preach the gospel for the purpose of establishing a Protestant Reformed Church here. Calling sinners to repentance and faith is intrinsic to this labor, of course, just as it is in the established church. It is important in my labors, therefore, to call people out of the darkness of unbelief and into the light of salvation.
But what happens after this takes place? Quite obviously those who are brought to salvation are not now left to fend for themselves. They must be nurtured in their faith and brought to a knowledge of the truths of Scripture. That also is my work as a missionary. Neither is this nurturing of new believers to be done apart from the goal of establishing a Protestant Reformed Church. After all, it is also the calling of all those who believe to join themselves with the church institute in this world. Together with my calling church and the Domestic Mission Committee, we labor diligently therefore to establish a Protestant Reformed Church here in Pittsburgh.
When the church engages itself in foreign missions, there are three important goals toward which the missionary and the church labor before a mission church is organized into an instituted church. The mission church must be self-propagating, self-governing, and self-supporting. When these goals are reached, the mission church is ready to strike out on its own.
Though the labors on a domestic mission field are different in many ways from that on a foreign field of labor, nevertheless I am convinced that the three “selfs” of foreign missions must also be applied in a particular way to the labors that I conduct here in Pittsburgh.
The Lord has truly blessed the diligent labors of our churches in Pittsburgh over the past ten years. Presently, we have six families (excluding the missionary family) and five individuals. We have two more families in regular attendance, and by the time this article is published, another individual will have moved to Pittsburgh to join himself with our group. The pressing question at this point in our labors is: Are we ready for organization? The answer to this question varies with every field of labor, and is not always that clear-cut. Let me give you a run-down of the labors we are performing here according to the standard of the three “selfs” of mission work.
Labor within the mission fellowship
Before I would recommend organizing, I would in good conscience have to answer the question: Is the group here in Pittsburgh self-propagating? This goal is more comprehensive than merely having young families who are bearing children, though that is important too. This goal involves also the promise of the covenant. God promises His church that He will establish His covenant with believers and their children in their generations. A church cannot be considered to be self-propagating until such time as there is evidence that this promise is being carried out in the mission fellowship. Are children being born and baptized there? Are young people interested in making confession of faith and coming to the table of the Lord? Are godly marriages being established and new families being added, not only from without but from within? Is there a healthy organic life evolving within the Fellowship as a whole. Do the families function together as a whole, as a body of believers? These questions need answering in the affirmative if a mission is ready to be organized into an instituted church. At this stage in our development there truly are evidences of these blessings, but they are only beginning to reveal themselves. We hope to see more of them in the near future.
In connection with this there is the whole matter of instruction in proper family life. What is the calling of husbands and wives toward each other? What is the calling of parents and children within the family structure? Some families in the mission are new to all of this. They have not received in the past a godly example or instruction in these all-important areas of family life in the church. More time is needed to accomplish this.
The second matter in this connection is the need for the mission group to be self-governing. In order for this to take place, the men of the mission must be instructed in Protestant Reformed church government. For that reason, we have formed a Steering Committee of men who are capable of making decisions for the mission. Also, we hold a class for instruction in the Church Order prior to every Steering Committee meeting. After all, if the mission fellowship is going to be a congregation in the Protestant Reformed Churches, the men in the church will have to be able to function properly with the rest of our churches. We continue to labor in this whole area.
The third matter is a delicate one to determine: the mission must be self-supporting. I say this is delicate because we have congregations in our denomination that are about the size of twenty families and are on subsidy. If this is the case, how large ought a mission fellowship be before organizing? Do we wait until there are thirty families in the mission before organizing? Obviously not! Is this really a consideration, then, that ought to enter into organization? I believe that it is. If a mission fellowship is too small to be able to contribute heavily toward its own financial support, organizing too early can be a threat to its own existence. When on subsidy, a small congregation feels the need to ask for as little financial support as possible from the denomination lest it become a burden. In the past, in these newly-formed congregations, the first part of their budget to be cut is that of evangelism work. Yet, this is exactly the part of their budget they need to maintain! Certainly numbers does enter into the question of organizing, if only from the point of view of finances.
Our mission here in Pittsburgh is involved in lectures, seminars, and workshops on various subjects. We advertise heavily on the radio, since this is an effective tool in Pittsburgh. We are involved in publishing brochures, easy-to-read pamphlets, and doctrinal studies that are being used in the area. We advertise in local papers and community magazines. Much of this work is supported by our churches through our mission fund. We are so thankful for this financial support! All of these projects, so vital for our witness in this large city and for growth from without, cost money! At this point, given the size of our Fellowship, we understand that we could not do all of this if we were “on our own.”
Labor outside of the Fellowship
But there is even a larger picture that must be drawn of our mission work in Pittsburgh. As a missionary I have been involved in labors in and around the Pittsburgh area too. These labors do not affect the mission fellowship here in eastern Pittsburgh directly. But there is an integral relationship between these labors outside of the Fellowship and those within. First, the Pittsburgh Fellowship is involved in these labors. They are a part of them. We know that we are one lone work here in relative isolation from the nucleus of our churches. How wonderful it would be if another work or two could be found in the area in and around Pittsburgh that could perhaps end in the organization of another congregation nearby! The saints here are deeply aware of this need too.
In the next couple of months I will be visiting individual contacts within an hour or two of Pittsburgh. Most of these contacts are found in eastern Ohio. I have been asked to speak for two conferences: one in Bedford, PA (two hours east of Pittsburgh), and one in Millersburg, OH (two hours west of Pittsburgh). Once a month I preach for a small church in Franklin, PA (an hour and a half north of Pittsburgh). It is a blessing in itself to be a part of the labors in these places. But these labors also require for me the support and care of our churches in general. It is our fervent prayer that God will use these contacts and opportunities as a means to open up new areas of labor around our grand city, and to put us in contact with other Reformed churches and saints! These are the many concerns we have in all our labors.
Ah, yes, that nagging question—Are you ready to organize? Perhaps in the near future, if the Lord of the church continues to bless us as He is now, we will organize. But I hesitate! In my mind, success of a mission work is not that it reaches the stage of organization. Mission work is a success only if that newly-organized congregation continues to grow and thrive in the years following its organization. It is in that hope I continue to labor in the gospel here in Pittsburgh.
God bless us in our all of our evangelism efforts.