Rev. Bruinsma is Eastern Home Missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, stationed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Previous article in this series: January 1, 2008, p. 164.
To perform the work of missions correctly takes knowledge of the Scriptures. There are right ways and wrong ways to conduct mission work. God demands more of His church and people than the attitude that because other churches are doing it we should be doing it too. Sometimes saints in our churches who take an active interest in missions but are unhappy with the slow results of mission work cast longing eyes on the church growth movement or the prosperity religions and ask, “Why are not we doing what they are doing? Look at the masses of people these movements reach. Look at how excited they are.” As a result, these saints want to adopt the methods such movements use, without examining them according to Scripture. This is not to say that our churches cannot learn from others. But neither ought we blindly follow after methods that are contrary to God’s Word. Mission work and methods that carry away God’s approval and blessing must be grounded in the Scriptures.
What we define as missions and the work of missions depends upon, in the main, a proper ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). Although all the truth must bear upon proper mission work, one’s concept of the church and her calling will have a direct influence on it. The Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church makes this a point in its manual on church planting in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
It is vital for the church planter and those who work with him to have a well-thought-out concept of the nature and purpose of the church. The doctrine of the church must be a well-studied subject for those who have responsibility to steer and guide the development of a new church. The Reformed faith presents a deep and robust understanding of the nature, purpose, work, and structure of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. These Biblical concepts impact every aspect of the work and ministry of church planting. So it is important from the beginning of the process to stress what the Bible teaches about the kind of local church Christ intends to build.¹
For this reason, it is foolish to jump into any kind of discussion on missions without having a thorough knowledge of the doctrine of the church.
It is this Reformed ecclesiology that is reflected in our definition of mission work. The 1962 synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches defined missions as “the work of God in Christ through the official ministry of the Word by the church.” My own definition is based on the same understanding: it is “that work of our ascended Lord by which He,through the church, proclaims the gospel.”² The work of missions belongs to the official ministry of the church.
The official work of the church
The chief task of the church institute in this world is the preaching of the gospel. The church is not a social institution; she is not a medical institution; she is not a business. It is not her calling to entertain the masses, shelter the homeless, feed the world (except, of course, with the gospel), or tackle the political issues of the day. The church institute has been given by God the work of preaching the gospel of salvation to sinners. This is the work to which she must devote herself. This is anofficial work, that is, the church carries out this work by means of the offices established in the church. God has ordained in the church pastors and teachers to preach the gospel. God has ordained elders to oversee and govern the preaching and preacher. God has ordained deacons to see to it that the work of the ministry is supported by the members of the church. Preaching belongs to the church institute in her offices.
Especially does this work belong to the office of a preacher. Not just anyone may declare himself a preacher and stand up in the midst of the congregation of the church and begin preaching. God calls and sends men as preachers by means of the church itself. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent” (Rom. 10:13-15)? In keeping with this passage of Scripture, Reformed churches have al ways maintained that to be a pastor and teacher in the church a man must be called by Christ, properly trained, and ordained by the church.
This is also revealed in the Greek term used inRomans 10 (see also I Cor. 1) for “preach.” Literally this word means “herald.” This term reveals the official character of the preaching. A herald was an ambassador appointed by a king to announce his decrees to his subjects. Not just anyone could presume to speak officially on behalf of the king. Others might pass the news along, but it was the herald alone that spoke on behalf of the king himself. The same is true of the preacher and his preaching. He is appointed by the King of the church, Jesus Christ, to declare to all the will of God. He is the ambassador of King Jesus, who is sent out on official business to publish the Word of God. He alone is given this task. It belongs to none other. Others may pass that Word along by way of witness. But the church is called to preach the gospel of salvation through the office of the pastor and teacher. Preaching is the official work of the church.
The same is true on the mission field. The missionary sent out by the church to preach on the mission field holds the same office and authority of Christ as the minister of an established church. The Form of Ordination of Missionaries makes this clear.
Although all ministers of the Word have in common that to them is committed the preaching of the gospel,…and although from the difference of the field of labor no difference is resulting concerning office, authority, or dignity, since all possess the same mission, the same office, and the same authority, yet notwithstanding this, it is necessary that some labor in the congregations already established, while others are called and sent to preach the gospel to those without, in order to bring them to Christ.³
It makes no difference whether the Word of God is proclaimed to those within the church, or outside of the church, the task of preaching belongs to the office of the minister of the gospel who is officially sent out by the church to preach.
This calling of the church through the office of the pastor and teacher is a fundamental principle of Reformed mission work. Many in Reformed circles are familiar with The Church Order Commentary on the Reformed Church Order coauthored by Idzerd Van Dellen and Martin Monsma. Less known is the treatise Martin Monsma later wrote entitled The Fundamental Principles of Reformed Evangelism. By the term “evangelism” Monsma meant the preaching of the gospel to the unchurched and unconverted in Christian lands. His studies in evangelism were included in a book that was a compilation of writings on missions. The book is entitled:Reformed Evangelism. Monsma writes:
However, let us ever remember that the work of evangelism in its more purposeful and organized form is definitely the prerogative, the privilege, and duty of the instituted or organized church. “The manifold wisdom of God,” must “be made known through the church”,
The Church is the pillar and ground of the truth,
Christ commanded his Church through the eleven disciples to preach the Gospel to all men,
And it was through the church at Antioch that the Spirit separated Paul and Barnabas unto the task of preaching the Gospel to those still in darkness and unbelief,
Acts 13:2, 4.Mission work is the preaching of the gospel to those outside of the confines of the church institute, by the church and through those called to preach. That is it. It is that simple. An unauthorized group of people (those not sent by the church institute and/or called by the church to preach), who go some place to help people in their poverty and to witness of Christ, may be performing a kind and benevolent deed, and might even leave a positive witness for Christ. But this is notmission work. There are, of course, many matters of a practical nature that surround the preaching that others may perform on a mission field. But we may not lose our focus. Mission work is the preaching of the gospel by the church. We emphasize this because today all kinds of humane efforts go under the name of mission work. Some view missions as the church attempting to make this world a better place to live. That becomes their focus. The official preaching of salvation to a world lost in sin and under God’s curse is secondary—even a side issue.
In contrast to this earthly focus of many, the mission (commission) of the church is to preach the Word! This is how God is pleased to call people out of darkness into the light of salvation. That, after all, is what is of grave concern to the church, the salvation of the souls of God’s people who are out there in that mass of fallen humanity. Who they are and where they are we do not know. God alone knows. It may be that man or woman we least expect to believe whom God chooses to call unto salvation. But we do know one glorious truth: the preaching is the power of God unto salvation! So the church preaches and is instant in season and out of season, calling men to faith and repentanceï¿½ and God uses that preaching of the Word to save His people. That is mission work.
What makes a person a missionary?
In that connection, we need to distinguish the work of a missionary from others who may help him on a field of labor. It is already clear from what we have written that a missionary is one called and sent by the church to preach the gospel of salvation. But let it be understood, that is exactly what makes a missionary a missionary: he is a preacher. There must be a clear, concise separation between a missionary and those who help him on a field of labor.
I make a particular point of mentioning this matter because, hand in hand with the misunderstanding today of what constitutes mission work, is a blurring of what makes a person a missionary. When I labored on the island of Jamaica as missionary, my family and I had close contact with another family from the States. This family was asked to come to Jamaica and teach the students in a Baptist Bible School how to support themselves using the land surrounding the school. They were in all reality farmers who had sold their farm and come to Jamaica to till the ground around the school there. We really enjoyed the fellowship of this family since the children were about the same age as ours. But I could never quite figure out then why they were called a missionary family. When reflecting on this later I realized that the concept of missions in many churches is that anyone who goes to labor on a mission field is a missionary.
But this cannot be established biblically. Nowhere does the Bible teach us that those who helped Paul in his labors on the mission field were themselves missionaries. I am not arguing that this man and his family did not serve an important function on behalf of missions while laboring in Jamaica. I am not belittling the sacrifice that he made on behalf of the gospel. In fact, I commended him and his wife for it! There is a place for such people on the mission field—especially a foreign field. But they were not missionaries.
I realize that some will say that I am majoring in minors here. But I am not. In much of our present church world the preaching of the gospel is becoming obsolete. For some time now it has been replaced by a social gospel that is at heart humanism—the desire to help humanity out of their poverty and social ills. This type of labor in essence requires no missionary. It requires no preaching of salvation from sin by one sent by the church. Yet, instead of throwing away the term “missionary,” the term is being redefined. Everyone who goes to a mission field, it is said, is a missionary. Many churches that insist that an ordained minister must preach the Word in the established church have no qualms about calling everyone who goes to labor on a mission field a missionary. Churches that will not allow women into the office of pastor and teacher in established congregations have no trouble at all sending them out as missionaries. It is as if a missionary is not of the same status as ordained pastors in established churches. We must be so very careful in our mission work to remain faithful to what God’s Word teaches us regarding the church, her work, and her offices. A missionary is a pastor and teacher officially sent out by the church to preach the gospel to those outside the church.
This being said, I do not believe that all this eliminates the role members of the church have in our mission work. According to God’s word, members of the church must have a part in the mission work of the church. We will deal with this whole subject in a future article. Before considering their role, we want to address the danger of para-church organizations that assume to themselves the work of missions.
1. The Committee of Home Missions and Church Extension of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Planting an Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee on Home Missions and Church Planting of the OPC, 2002), p. 5.
2. Confer our article “Defining Missions” in the November 15, 2007 issue of the Standard Bearer.
3. The Form of Ordination of Missionaries, adopted by the Synod of Dordt in 1618-19 and still used in many Reformed churches today. It is found in the back of the Psalter, the songbook used in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.
4. Grand Rapids Board of Evangelism of the Christian Reformed Churches, Reformed Evangelism (Baker Book House, 1948), p. 18.