In the past our churches were rather severely criticized because of an alleged lack of emphasis on mission work. In fact, many accused us of not even believing in mission work. To a certain extent these charges are still leveled at our churches. It is said, for example, that because we deny a “well-meant offer” of the gospel we are not able to preach on the mission fields. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Protestant Reformed churches have always believed it their calling to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. The Protestant Reformed Churches have always heartily confessed, without any reservations, “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 of Dordrecht, 1618, 1619; II, Art. 5). Precisely because of our deep commitment to this confession of the Reformed faith we deny that the gospel is a well-meant offer. And, precisely because this is our conviction we have always maintained that the promise of the gospel and the command to repent and believe must be proclaimed to all nations, wherever God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel. For this reason as well the Protestant Reformed Churches have been engaged in mission work from the earliest days of their separate existence as a denomination.
In the earliest years this work was largely done by the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema. Taking time from his large and busy congregation, Rev. Hoeksema went on preaching and lecture tours through Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and California. God gave the increase. In the first ten years of our existence as a denomination our churches grew from the original three to nineteen congregations. During this time (1931) the Domestic Mission Committee was organized. This committee, in cooperation with the Reformed Publishing Association and the Sunday School of First Church in Grand Rapids, published many books and pamphlets which were distributed both in this country and abroad.
In 1936 the Rev. Bernard Kok was called as our first missionary. For some five years Rev. Kok labored in the Midwest and West preaching the gospel of sovereign grace. The fruit of his work was the organization of the Edgerton, Minnesota and Manhatten, Montana congregations. In 1943 our church in Randolph, Wisconsin was organized through the work of Rev. C. Hanko, who was pastor of Oak Lawn at the time. In subsequent years, up to the split of 1953, various of the ministers labored in the West and among the flood of post-war immigrants in Canada. The only congregation to be organized and which is still a part of our churches was in Lynden, Washington. For ten years after the split of 1953 (1954-1964) Rev. George C. Lubbers was our home missionary. That God blessed the faithful preaching and teaching of Rev. Lubbers is abundantly evident in the congregations of Loveland, Colorado and Isabel, South Dakota which he organized. The church at Forbes, North Dakota, also organized as a result of Rev. Lubbers’ work, eventually disbanded when most if its families moved to other of our churches. In the seventies Rev. Robert Harbach and Rev. Dale Kuiper served as home missionaries in Houston, Texas and in Maine, respectively. The Trinity Protestant Reformed Church in Houston was organized as a fruit of these labors.
Accompanying the work of the missionaries and ministers through the years has been the work of local church extension committees, radio programs by some of the ministers, the Reformed Witness Hour, and the printing of thousands of tracts, pamphlets, and booklets, and public lectures.
This was home mission work or church extension work. It has always been the Protestant Reformed position that our first duty and responsibility lies with those who are nearest to us. This is expressed in the Preamble to the Mission Constitution: “The Protestant Reformed Churches believe that, in obedience to the command of Christ, the King of the Church, to preach the blessed Gospel to all creatures, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all things which Christ has commanded, it is the explicit duty and sacred privilege of said churches to carry out this calling according to the measure of our God-given ability.
“We believe that this missionary activity includes the work of church extension, and church reformation, as well as the task of carrying out the Gospel to the unchurched and heathen. However, we are convinced that our present duty lies primarily in the field of church extension and church reformation.” This priority is still maintained by our churches, as is evident from the fact that two of our ministers, the Rev. Steven Houck and the Rev. Ronald Van Overloop, are engaged in home mission work. Rev. Houck preaches in East Lansing, Michigan and Rev. Van Overloop preaches in Birmingham, Alabama. It should be added that several of our ministers, having taken calls to small congregations, concentrated their ministries on church extension. In two instances God blessed this work with abundant growth. When Rev. Bernard Woudenberg arrived in Lynden, Washington in 1965 the congregation had shrunk to five families. When he left for Kalamazoo in 1976 Lynden numbered twenty-four families. Today Lynden has forty-two families. Rev. Woudenberg continues to operate an extensive tape and radio ministry in Kalamazoo. When Rev. John Heys arrived in Holland, Michigan in 1967 the congregation numbered fifteen families. When Pastor Heys became emeritus in 1980, Holland had grown to nearly fifty families. Finally, it should be noted that First, Grand Rapids is currently doing home mission work among a fairly sizable group in Bradenton, Florida. God has blessed our churches with the heritage of the Reformed faith, which maintains and defends the absolute sovereignty of God. A witness has gone forth from our churches to this blessed truth. The calling remains the same for the churches today. May God give us grace as churches in these troubled and wicked times to be faithful to the Reformed faith and to preach it from our pulpits and on the mission fields wherever He opens doors for us.
In the history of Protestant Reformed missions, two dates are of great importance. The first of these is 1962. In this year the scope of our mission vision was significantly broadened by our contacts and work with the people of the hills of Jamaica. Interestingly enough, this contact was initiated by our radio ministry, the Reformed Witness Hour. This broadcast was aired on Transworld Radio, which covered Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania. A pastor from England, hearing the broadcast, began corresponding with Rev. C. Hanko and told him of the mission field in Jamaica. Our churches took over that field and have been busy there ever since. In 1970 Rev. Lubbers again heeded the call of Christ to the mission field and began his labors in Jamaica. In the course of his ministry and in addition to regular Sunday preaching and teaching, Rev. Lubbers trained several young men to become pastors of the indigenous churches of Jamaica. Other of our ministers, notably Revs. Heys and Woudenberg and C. Hanko, have faithfully provided tapes and study materials for the Jamaican pastors and their families. Several of our Elders have gone as emissaries and aided the Jamaican saints in countless ways. Our prayer is that God will continue to bless His church in Jamaica with growth in the knowledge of Him Whom to know is life eternal.
The second date is 1979. During the course of this year the Rev. Arie den Hartog was called by Christ through the Doon, Iowa church to preach the gospel in faraway Singapore. Having accepted the call, Rev. den Hartog became the second missionary from the Protestant Reformed Churches to preach the gospel of sovereign grace on foreign soil. Pastor den Hartog is presently working with a group called the Gospel Literature and Tract Society (G.L.T.S.). Their goal is to be organized into an indigenous Reformed Church in Singapore. One of their number, Mr. Lau Chin Kwee, is currently studying at our Seminary. Another may be coming to the Seminary next year.
In addition to its home mission work the Protestant Reformed Churches are deeply involved in foreign mission work. The churches are committed to this task, as well they should be. Christ has commanded the church to go to the nations, and the Protestant Reformed Churches desire by God’s grace to be faithful to this great work. May God use our churches, also in the days to come, for the gathering of the elect out of all nations, and thus for the coming of His Kingdom. May all of our people support this work with fervent prayer and generous offerings. And above all may the glory belong to God Who works all things after the counsel of His own will.