Several years ago the Standard Bearer carried a series of articles written by Rev. C. Hanko and the undersigned on the subject of missions. A brief history of missions was given and some principles of missions were enunciated. For some reason this rubric was discontinued. Because our churches are increasingly active in missions it was decided by theStandard Bearer staff to revive this rubric. The undersigned was appointed its editor. The purpose of this rubric shall be twofold. There will be articles on the subject of the Biblical (Reformed) principles of missions. The mission committee will be asked to submit articles from time to time in order to keep our people informed concerning the mission work of the churches. In addition our missionaries will be asked to submit articles informing our people of the work they are doing in the various fields at home and abroad. It is our prayer that all this will serve to make our people the better informed on the subject of missions and on the work of our churches. Thus our people will be the better able to support this work of Jesus Christ with their prayers and offerings.
The science of missions is of comparatively recent origin. In fact, until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there was little scientific investigation of missions. This is true generally among the churches but more especially within the Reformed tradition. Even less is found here. Two names are worthy of mention in this connection. Thomas Aquinas wrote a treatise in which he discussed the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles and how this differed from preaching to the Jews. Voetsius of the Netherlands made a worthy contribution to the subject in a work dealing with the ground, reason, and object of mission endeavor.
What may be the reason or reasons for this? The late Herman Hoeksema in his syllabus on missions suggested that the church from the very beginning of its New Testament history simply spontaneously engaged in missions. The Apostles went out preaching into all the world as sent by Christ Himself (The Great Commission) and under the impetus of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. The church after the times of the Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, simply continued the work assuming correctly that the Great Commission had not been fulfilled by the Apostles. This same point is made by our fathers in the Form Of Ordination Of Missionaries: “That unto the Heathen also these glad tidings must be brought appears plainly from Matt. 28:19: ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.'” It is not at all strange, therefore, that the church felt no particular need to investigate the ground, nature, scope, and object of missionary endeavor.
A second reason lies undoubtedly in the fact that there is no essential difference between preaching the gospel in all the world and preaching it in the established church (congregation). This point too is recognized by the Form of Ordination Of Missionaries: “Although all ministers of the Word have in common, that to them is committed the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the Sacraments, the government of the Church, and the maintenance of Christian discipline, yea, all that, according to the Word of God belongs to the office of pastor and teacher; and although from the difference of 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.” The point is that the Gospel preaching is just that, no matter where it occurs. Therefore apart from dogmatic investigation concerning the meaning and significance of the preaching of the Gospel there was no special investigation done in the science of missions.
Even in more recent times there is very little worthwhile material on the subject. There is a mass of rather useless material coming from Arminian-fundamentalist circles. Roland Allen, writing out of the Anglican tradition, has produced some worthwhile volumes. Apart from the contributions of J. J. VanOosterzee, R. B. Kuiper, J. H. Bavinck, H. R. Boer, R. R. DeRidder and H. Hoeksema there is little in the Reformed tradition. There may very well be an implied criticism of the Reformed churches by virtue of this fact. Perhaps the dearth of material indicates that there was not, among the Reformed churches, the proper emphasis placed on this aspect of the church’s calling and task in the world. Of late this has increased and more of a study is being made of the science of missions. This is to the good and it is well that we investigate the whole field. If for no other reason we ought to do this because the subject of the church’s calling, task, and place in the world is a very live issue in our times and there is a good deal of bad ecclesiology being advocated.
Various names have been suggested for this subject and it is well that we briefly examine them. There is the name, Apostolics. This emphasizes that the missionary is sent out to the task of preaching the gospel to the nations. This has some merit for this emphasizes the official character of the work, something which can stand emphasis in our day. The danger, however, of using this term lies in the fact that it may suggest some kind of apostolic succession idea. Missionaries certainly are not direct successors to the Apostles. Another term, preferred by Dr. A. Kuyper, is prosthetics. This term, derived from the Greek, means to emphasize the fact that the church must grow in the world. By mission work the church is increased in numbers. Missions adds to the church. J. H. Bavinck correctly criticizes this term on the ground that missions and missionaries do not add to the church. Only God adds daily to the church such as should be saved. God does that through the means of the preaching of the gospel by the missionary, but God does it nonetheless. (Cf. Acts 2:41, 47; Acts 11:24) J. J. VanOosterzee uses the term halieutics to refer to, “The theory of the extension of Christianity among the nations of the world not yet Christianized.” (Practical Theology, p. 588) This term is derived from the Greek word which means to fish. It has some merit for it is derived from Scripture. Jesus said to the Apostles, “I will make you fishers of men.” (Luke 5:1-11) Nonetheless the term is too narrow in scope to be used as a designation of the subject.
We prefer the term Missions. This is the word most commonly used throughout the ages. It is the word used by J. H. Bavinck. (Introduction To The Science of Missions) We prefer this term because it expresses all that is necessary to express in regard to this subject. The idea of the church or missionary being sent is contained in this term. And this is an essential part of missions! Our Lord personally called and sent the Apostles, appearing to them after the resurrection. Christ sends the Church today inasmuch as the church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets with Christ as the chief cornerstone. Thus it is through the church that Christ sends the missionary to preach the gospel. Apart from the sending of the Lord through the church the missionary has no right, no authority, and no strength to preach the gospel to the nations. This is precisely too why missions must be conducted by the church and not apart from the church by a mission society. Only the church has been authorized to preach the gospel. Christ did not give apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers to societies for missions. He gave them to the church. The church alone has the authority to preach and that authority is Christ’s. Only by means of a preacher who is sent by Christ will the people of God hear Christ, believe on Him, and call upon Him and be, saved. (Romans 10:14, 15) That is the mission of the church. We prefer this term too because it expresses the idea that the missionary is sent outside of the sphere of the established church, sent out to the nations. This distinguishes missions from the preaching done in the established church. This is literally what Jesus told the apostles and, therefore, the church, to do: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:15, 16) In that great task Christ promises to be with His church to strengthen her and guide her even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:19, 20)
What then is missions? It may be defined as: 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.
In succeeding articles we shall examine the elements of this definition in some detail. But before we do that, we are going to examine the Scriptures to find the Biblical ground for missions. This is crucial, for both the principles and the practice (methods) of missions must be Scriptural. May God bless our humble efforts for the good of the churches.
We wish to close this introduction by observing that Christ is definitely calling our churches to the task of missions. He is opening doors for us both at home and abroad. We ought to be very thankful for that! We ought to be thankful that God is using us for this great work. Great things indeed happen by means of the preaching of the gospel! The elect are brought to faith and salvation. The wisdom of this world is made of no effect. Christ comes. Let us as churches then, to whom so much has been given, get on with the task. Let us be zealous and faithful in the work.