So much has been written and said on this subject in the past twenty years of our history that it is not likely that anything new will be found in this discussion. Nor is that, perhaps, the most important at present but rather to re-emphasize what has already been said and written, and that is important. In reviewing our missionary activity of the past twenty years one finds cycles or periods of enthusiasm and labor and lethargy and non-activity. At present, apparently, we are approaching the bottom of the latter cycle, which finds our missionary activity in a state of almost complete rest and inertia. For that reason an awakening certainly is necessary.
A brief review of that history is interesting and informative. In the early years of ’24, ‘25 and ‘26 there was, naturally, a great deal of activity. This took the form of much writing, speaking and organization. Characteristic of this period was the spontaneity with which the work went forward. At this time there was more work and demand for labor than our limited means could provide or accomplish.
During the years from ‘26 to ‘30 there was a gradual decline in activity. It is true that some Churches were organized during this period but only after considerable labor, usually, and with greater effort. The enthusiasm and spontaneity of the first period were lacking.
From the years ‘30 to ‘35 a marked rise in activity is noticed. Several new Churches were organized. At this time the first definite Mission activity was organized, both by the Churches together and in an individual Church. It was in these years that the Mission Publishing Society of the Sunday School of our First Church was formed. The purpose of this organization was to spread the Truth as we have it. Every three months a pamphlet was published and sent out to a large mailing list. Among these was the very beautifully written pamphlet, by the Rev. H. Hoeksema: “Jesus Savior and the Evil of Hawking Him”, which has a very definite Mission approach. Also during this period a Mission Committee was appointed in the united Churches of our denomination. This committee was formulated with a definite missionary purpose and mandate.
During the years ‘35 to ‘37 we entered another cycle or period of decline. There were no Churches organized during this period in our denomination. We understand that the organization of new Churches in our midst is not necessarily the indication of missionary activity. It may very well be that such activity is being carried on, and properly without producing this positive fruit. However, it is also true, that it is unlikely that new congregations will be organized without mission activity. Further, we merely use this rule as a guide for comparison of the various periods.
The period, from ’37 to ’42, was one of renewed activity and zeal. It was here, that for the first time in our history, we had a missionary in the field. These were the years of the Rev. B. Kok’s labors, as home missionary. Through his efforts the Gospel was proclaimed outside the immediate vicinity of our Churches and two healthy congregations were organized. The period from ’42 to the present is again marked by a decline of activity.
At present we have no official missionary activity. It is true that we still have a calling Church and Mission Committee but very little is heard from either and no apparent progress is made. We also still have our Standard Bearer and two radio programs but neither of these can be classified as official Mission activity. The Standard Bearer is not the official voice of the Churches but rather of the R.F.P.A. and its circulation is practically limited among our own constituents. Although the Radio broadcasts produce some results in the way of Mission activity, they are not, strictly speaking, to be classified as such. Both are sponsored by the Young People of the Churches and again, are not officially the voice of the Denomination. It is evident, therefore, that a “renaissance”, a rebirth, an awakening is in order and necessary. The dying flame must be aroused to burn again.
All mission activity must, of course, be based upon the Word of God and follow the directives that Scripture points out to us. Scripture teaches us especially three things with reference to this great task. These are the principles from which our missionary activity must proceed. In the first place, Scripture teaches, that from the beginning of the world unto the end of the same, Christ calls unto Himself His elect, given Him by the Father from all eternity. These individuals Christ gathers to Himself as a Church; calling them in time from every nation, tribe, and tongue. The One and only true missionary is, therefore, Christ Himself, Who gathers His own through His Word and Spirit. These He gathers as a Church which He also continues to teach and uphold; to the end that it may love and serve Him and glorify God, the Father.
In the second place, this gathering together of the elect, is accomplished by Christ through His Church on earth, of which He always remains the Head. The Church partakes of this calling through the confession of the individual members, through the preaching of the Word, and through manifesting and directing itself as an organization in the midst of the world. It is Christ, too, that calls and qualifies His servants to proclaim His Word both within and without the sphere of the organized Church. He also prepares the field for Church extension and sends His servants, through the Church, to the field thus prepared.
Finally, it is the task of the Church, through its ministers and missionaries to be witness of Christ—His death and resurrection and to proclaim the demands of faith and repentance. The Church must proclaim Christ and Him crucified. To do so means a great deal. It demands the preaching of sin, righteousness, judgment, natural depravity, total inability, of death and corruption. Positively, to proclaim the atonement of Christ, of forgiveness of sins in Him, of life and forgiving grace in Christ’s perfect sacrifice. In other words, the calling is to proclaim the full and complete council of God as it is revealed in Christ. Certainly not merely—or at all—an invitation or offer of salvation, but the command, to repentance and turning.
This must be our directive, for the purpose of mission activity is not to “win souls”. Christ gathers His Church, always, we do not “save souls”, that is alone accomplished by God. The purpose of all mission activity must be to glorify God in Christ through the revelation of sovereign forgiving grace in the midst of sin and death. It is through that preaching that God is glorified and exalted and through which, at the same time, He calls His own to repentance, judges the world and makes the wicked ripe for condemnation.
That Christ has given this task to His Church is evident from all of Scripture. It is particularly clear in those passages from the New Testament in which Christ directly commissions His apostles, to that task, and the Church through them. There are especially three passages which we should note here. They are: “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: and, Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”: “And he said unto them, 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.” : “Then he opened their understanding that they might understand the scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” .
From these passages we note especially the following elements. (We merely mention them here. For an enlarged discussion see article written by the Rev. P. De Boer, S. B., volume 10, number 15, pages 344-345, from which this is taken.) In the first place, these passages contain a mandate for the Church. She here receives a command from her Head. An obligation is laid upon her; this is a must for the Church. This mandate is a command to preach. This preaching must be the proclamation of the Gospel—the “good news”, and that in all its fullness. This mandate to preach the Gospel is to extend “to all creatures”. This in the organic sense, and not head for head, as is evident from the qualifying phrase: “beginning at Jerusalem” but extending to the ends of the earth. Further, it is evident, that this is a continuous task of the Church. She must always be busy with this work, hath in her own midst and ever anew outside her ranks. To this we would like to add an element not found in the article quoted; taking up this task the Church has the promise from Christ that He will bless these labors and will gather His Church through them.
This in general, is the missionary calling of the Church. Next time, the Lord willing, we hope to point out our specific calling and present a positive program whereby we can fulfill our calling and obligation in this work.
(to be continued)