If anyone were to ask me what is the biggest need and the biggest problem which our churches face and which our coming synod will face, I would reply without a second’s hesitation: our severe man-power shortage.
Understand, I do not speak of this man-power shortage in the carnal sense. I cannot join in the raucous cry for men that has frequently been raised in the church, as though the cause of God’s church is dependent upon men and upon mere numbers of men, and as though possibly men may go lost through the church’s failure to send forth sufficient laborers into the fields. Nor, in fact, do I wish this editorial to be understood as a mere plea for men. Perhaps it might be better to speak in this connection of the shortage of servant-power. For, certainly, what we need is not mere men, but men of God, dedicated, faithful, hardworking, well-trained, well-equipped servants of the Lord. Nor am I unmindful of the fact that there is but One Who can (and Who will, I am confident) supply our need: on the contrary, this is the basic premise of my essay, and let it not be forgotten that this need will be supplied only in the way of unceasing prayer. At the same time, let it not be forgotten that the Lord our God never treats His people and His church as stocks and blocks. He uses means. The Lord is not going to drop ministers into our midst suspended from parachutes. He will raise them up from among us, call them out of the bosom of the churches, cause our churches and our homes to beget them and bring them up and train them.
For this reason I write these lines, not only to lay these matters before the brethren who will be delegates to our coming synod, but to lay them before the churches and our people.
For I am of the conviction that this is indeed our largest problem, that, in fact, it will loom up to trouble our synod at more than one point in its deliberations. I hesitate to use the word “emergency,” for I am inclined to shy away from emergency-psychology. But let me then use the word “urgent.” For I am convinced that we must take this problem very seriously, probably more seriously than we have taken it heretofore. And we must, by the grace of God and in the confidence of our calling as churches, attempt more concretely to solve it.
For the labors of our churches must go on. They must not only go on, but they must increase. I am as convinced of this as I am convinced that our Protestant Reformed Churches hold the truth of God’s Word, the heritage once delivered unto the saints, purely. I am as certain of this as I am certain that our churches by the grace of God represent the purest manifestation of Christ’s church in the midst of the world. I am as concerned about this as I am aware that on every hand today the church is departing rapidly, almost pell-mell, from the paths of God’s Word, and that therefore we as churches have the calling to “blow the trumpet in Zion and sound an alarm.” And I am in as dead earnest about this as I am impressed by the testimony of the signs of the times that the time is short, and that we must labor while it is day, before the night comes in which no man can work. There is much to be done. There may well be less time to labor than many of us imagine. And the laborers are but few.
Permit me to point up the problem.
First of all, there is Jamaica.
The situation, I think, is obvious. Anyone in our Mission Board and anyone who has followed the periodic reports of our Jamaica work must be painfully aware of it. Several years ago already the Lord began to open a door for us on that island of the sea. Our churches responded, not only officially but organically. I think it cannot be gainsaid that our people have “had a heart” for the work in Jamaica, and rightly so. To the best of our limited ability our churches have labored there. From time to time men have .been sent there for brief periods and have labored intensively while there. Moreover, even when it was impossible to have laborers on the island, the work has been continued through correspondence and through literature and through tapes, and especially during the last two years through the correspondence courses prepared by Revs. Heys and C. Hanko. And also with respect to the work of benevolence and the problem of the Jamaicans’ places of worship, I our churches have made valiant attempts to be of assistance. But what is sorely needed is men who can labor at length and on the spot, men who for an extended period can devote all their time and labors to the work there. There is great need of preaching and instruction among the people at large. There is an extremely pressing need for instruction of the Jamaican ministers, something which cannot properly be accomplished only by correspondence courses. There is obvious need of consolidation and organization. There is need for guidance and assistance, not only money-wise but in the actual work of planning and construction, with respect to their building needs. There is need for systematization and guidance with respect to the work of benevolence among our Jamaican brethren and sisters.
All of this points to one thing: we need men on the island of Jamaica, men from our churches, and soon.
Certainly, our aim is that the churches in Jamaica shall be independent. They shall lead their own ecclesiastical life and govern their own ecclesiastical affairs. They shall be the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica. And this means ultimately, of course, that they shall, so to speak, be self-sustaining as far as their ministry is concerned. Their ministers must come from their own midst. But this isultimate. I am speaking of the immediate need. Then I say that we have the aim that these churches shall be Protestant Reformed. This we must take seriously, and certainly not in the sense that we have this Jamaica-project and support it out of a certain vain-glory, so that we can boast perhaps that we have an exotic mission program. And from all that I have heard and read of the Jamaica work there is from that point of view a sore need, a crying need, for good, sound, thorough, patient instruction in the truth, the same truth that is so dear to us, before the Jamaican churches will be ready to exist indigenously. This is the most important and immediate need. And this says nothing yet about the guidance that is necessary with respect to the material needs of the people there, a guidance which can hardly be efficiently accomplished from Grand Rapids.
This phase of the problem I would sum up by suggesting that we need a minimum of two, perhaps three, men who can take up residence in Jamaica for a long time. We need at least one missionary-minister who will preach to and instruct the people, but who will concentrate especially on instructing the Jamaican ministers. We need either another missionary-minister who will co-labor with him; or as a temporary measure we need an elder who will assist the missionary; Possibly the latter could also labor with respect to the material needs and problems of the churches there. But perhaps it would be better if we could send a lay volunteer for a comparatively long period,—a man knowledgeable in building and construction and a man capable in business affairs.
Secondly, there is our mission program,—no, let me say: our mission calling,—here at home. It is well-known that for some years now we have been without a home missionary. But for one thing, the statement still stands in the Preamble of the Constitution of The Mission Committee, “However, we are convinced that our present duty lies primarily in the field of church extension and church reformation” This is the position of our churches. And I believe that this position is correct. Sometimes it is suggested that the prospects for this home mission work are poor, that the fruits are meager, that the labor is well-nigh hopeless, and that therefore it is both impossible and rather useless to call a home missionary. I disagree. First of all, I would emphasize that we must not take a utilitarian approach to the work. Our calling is like that of the prophets of old: to proclaim God’s Word “whether they hear or whether they forbear.” In the second place, I point to the fact that in recent years we have not put forth a consistent and prolonged effort in this direction, for the simple reason that we have had no home missionary. Our labors have been rather sporadic. This lack of a missionary has also been a deterrent in carrying out to any large degree the plans which were prepared and adopted by our synod a few years ago. In the third place, I may point to the fact that there have been in recent years in connection with the labors that have been put forth, both officially and unofficially, increasing signs of interest in some areas and increasing signs that there are those who look toward our churches to carry the banner of the Reformed faith in this day of apostasy. Frankly, I do not look for any large and far-reaching reformation in our times; I am inclined to think that the times are too late for that. Nor do I labor under the illusion that we can go out and perform home mission work as in former years and perhaps organize churches rapidly. The situation is different; the labor must needs be different. It will probably have to be slow, very patient, plodding labor; and frequently it will be discouraging because of apparent meager fruits. In the fourth place, as to a field, I would remark that possibly the field is there but we do not have our eyes open to it, at least not sufficiently. No, I may not be able to point to specific fields of labor, although the call from specific areas may yet come before we even have a missionary in the field. But is it not possible that the Lord is pointing us to an open door exactly in the reality of the widespread and appalling apostasy of our day, an apostasy that is more and more leaving our little denomination as lonely witnesses of the truth of God’s Word? When you take stock of that apostasy, and when you take stock of the fact that such apostasy is increasingly smiting as a dread blight churches close to our own as well as those more distant, and when you consider the fact that there must be in many places a remnant, be it a small remnant, who love the Reformed faith and who are grieved and pine away in their souls because of the rapid and wanton departure from the faith, do you not earnestly long that our churches would have the men and the means to go with a zeal to let our witness to the Reformed faith of our fathers, the precious God-given heritage that is ours, be spread far and wide, yea, be shouted from the housetops? Do you not feel Zion’s urgent calling to “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins?” Will you not say with the prophet of old, “For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest” The time is fast coming when the remnant of the faithful people of God must huddle together, not in any spirit of broad ecumenism, but as those of like precious faith, as those who love and hold fast to the faith of the gospel, in the face of a common and powerful enemy, the antichristian church! And I am of the conviction that we as churches must sound the alarm and call them out and help them to find safe ecclesiastical shelter. It may be discouraging and difficult labor indeed. But since when has the Lord promised His faithful church an easy way in the world? Rise up, and let us labor!
And what shall we say as to the need in this regard? Officially and by ecclesiastical decision, we needone, just one, home missionary. Time was when our churches felt that we should send missionaries two and two. This is surely the Scriptural ideal. Personally, I have no doubt that right now two men could be kept more than busy in the home mission labors of our churches. But let us leave it at the minimum for the present: just one!
In the third place, there is the situation in the home churches. There are, first of all, our several vacant churches. Not only are those churches aware of the need most directly; but also both classes can only be painfully aware of this problem, for time and again they must wrestle with the problems of a classical appointment schedule for vacant flocks that are in some cases far distant from neighboring churches. Then there is the very real fact—and the brethren know that I do not write this to shelve them before their time—the very real fact that we have at present five ministers who are in or near their sixties, men, too, who have been through the sturm und drang of our previous ecclesiastical history. They have only a few more years to labor, at best; and that is saying nothing about that always real possibility that one of them or one of any of our ministers may suddenly be removed from his labors through sickness or accident. Besides this, there is the fact that our present available man-power must needs be spread very thinly in the manifold labors, both official and unofficial, of our churches. Committee members for standing committees, writers for our Beacon Lightsand Standard Bearer, speakers for our Reformed Witness Hour, speakers for myriad other occasions, writers of Reformed literature,—all these must be always be recruited from thin ranks, which means that their available energies must in turn be distributed among many necessary labors.
All this I write not to complain; for there is no reason to complain. Nor do I write it in a spirit of pessimism. For such pessimism, I believe, is wrong. I write it so that we may all consider the problem, and so that our churches may see the very urgent need that will face our synod at many a turn in its deliberations. They will think and probably say more than once: “If only we had more men. . .”
For the situation is this, that right now, only in order to meet our immediate needs, we could use a half dozen faithful laborers. And in the very near future, even before a new recruit could complete 4 years of college and 3 years of seminary, we could well need a dozen men only to meet current needs, let alone new ones.
(to be continued)