In the previous articles we have studied the Scriptures to determine what the Word of God teaches concerning the mission work of the Church in the world. At this point we are prepared to draw some conclusions concerning the principles of missions. Taking into consideration all of the passages we have studied we arrive at the following definition of missions: Missions is that work of God in Christ by which through the official ministry of the Word by the Church He gathers His elect in the New Dispensation out of all nations of the world, both Jew and Gentile, with a view to the realization of the manifestation of His glory in the New Heavens and Earth. There are several elements included in this definition which deserve our attention. First, missions is emphatically and exclusively the work of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit of Christ. Second, missions is accomplished by means of the official preaching of the gospel by the institute of the Church of Jesus Christ. Third, missions has as its immediate goal the gathering of the Church (elect, Body of Christ) both Jew and Gentile out of the nations. Fourth, missions has as its ultimate goal (telos, purposeful end) the full manifestation of God’s glory in the redeemed, glorified church in the new creation. However one may speak of missions he must speak in terms of these fundamental principles, for they underlie all mission work in the true sense of the word. These principles are crucially important and indispensable. The church must know them, for they determine the only proper method of doing mission work.
Missions is emphatically and exclusively the work of God in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the universal testimony of the Scriptures. God must open the door for the preaching of the gospel or the gospel will not be preached. (Cf., I Cor. 16:9; II Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3) The preachers are God’s ambassadors, His official representatives who come with God’s Word (II Cor. 5:18-21). The preachers are sent by Christ and, therefore, Christ is heard through their preaching (Romans 10:13-15). God must give those preachers “boldness to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:18-20). The Reformed Confessions teach this same beautiful truth. In answer to the question: “What believest thou concerning the ‘holy catholic church’ of Christ?” the Heidelberg Catechism states: “That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and for ever shall remain, a living member thereof” (Lord’s Day XXI). Note that the work of the gathering and defending and preserving of the church belongs to the Son of God. That church which is gathered by the Son of God is chosen by God to everlasting life. The work of gathering the church is accomplished by the Spirit and word of Christ. The work of gathering the church, therefore, which is what mission work is all about, is God’s work from beginning to end. God in Christ through the Holy Spirit gathers the church. The same truth is delineated most clearly in the Canons of Dordt. In the first head of doctrine the Canons show from the Word of God that God elects sovereignly His church in Christ. God sends Christ to make atonement for the elect (Canons II). God out of His good pleasure brings the elect to conversion (Canons III, IV) and God preserves the elect unto everlasting life (Canons V). Still more, the Canons state: “Moreover the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel” (Canons II, Article 5). The point here is that it is God Who out of His good pleasure sends the gospel. Implied is this truth in those articles of the Belgic or Netherlands Confession of Faith which deal with the doctrine of the Church. (Cf. Articles XXVII – XXIX)
It is God in Christ, therefore, according to Scripture and the Reformed Confessions, Who accomplishes the work of missions. Even though God gathers His Church by the Spirit and Word of Jesus Christ, and even though that Word through which God gathers His Church must be preached, and even though that preaching must be done by men, it is God Himself Who gathers His Church.
That missions is the work of God is obvious also from the fact that it is God Who saves His Church, not man. God sovereignly loved Jacob and hated Esau. Before those children were even born God said to their mother: “The elder shall serve the younger.” This was so that the “purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.” God elected Israel to be His peculiar people and raised up Pharaoh according to His decree of reprobation to show His power and declare His name throughout the earth. The fact is, God “. . . has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:11-33). That beautiful epistle which has as its theme the glory of the elect Church in Christ begins with a doxology of praise to the predestinating God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,. To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:3-6). God elects His Church in Jesus Christ.
It is God Who in the fullness of time sends His only begotten Son into the world to make atonement for the sins of the elect. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
God regenerates His elect so that they become receptive spiritually to the gospel. Those who receive Christ and are given power to become the sons of God are those who are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). God implants the seed of the new life in the hearts of His elect. God gives them the hearing ear, the seeing eye, and the heart that understands and believes. This work of regeneration is absolutely indispensable to salvation, for apart from being born again a man cannot even see the Kingdom of God. This is precisely what Jesus told Nicodemus when he came to Jesus at night to discuss the things of the Kingdom of God: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). God calls His saints out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9); God converts and gives them faith (Ephesians 2:8); God justifies His elect in Christ (Romans 5:1); and God sanctifies, preserves, and glorifies the saints (I Peter 5:10). God is absolutely sovereign in the work of salvation. God accomplishes that whole work of salvation according to His eternal counsel: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). This is why all things work together for good to them that love God who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). This is why all things are for the Church and why nothing can be against it. This is why nothing can separate the elect from the love of God which is in Christ. (Cf. Romans 8:31ff.) This is the great comfort for God’s Church in the world.
That the work of missions is God’s in Christ is also clearly evident from the fact that God directs the course of missions throughout the world. The Word of God is not sent everywhere. Neither is it sent at random, here and there without purpose. The preaching of the gospel takes the course which God determines. Acts 16 speaks of Paul’s second missionary journey and tells us in verses 6-10: “Now when they were gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia. After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him saying, Come over unto Macedonia and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.” Obviously God directed them every step of the way. The preaching of the gospel went where God wanted it to go and nowhere else! The Canons of Dordt sum this truth nicely when they say that the promise of the gospel together with the command to repent and believe must be published promiscuously, “. . . wheresoever God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel” (Canons II, 5).
The conclusion from all this is evident. Not man in any sense of the word, except as a God ordained human instrument, is the author of mission work. The work does not depend upon man for its success, nor can man frustrate the work of missions. Can man frustrate God?! Mission work is God’s work in Christ exclusively. This is the first principle of missions and certainly determinative of mission methods. This fundamental principle undergirds all proper mission work. From a practical point of view this principle is the encouragement and incentive for the Church and its missionaries. The work is always extremely difficult, sometimes frustrating. It is often done with tears. And it is always carried on overagainst the unrelenting hatred and opposition of the world of unbelief. Merely because the work is God’s the Church may rest assured that it shall be accomplished. The Church will be gathered out of the nations, and the Kingdom will come. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against God’s Church.