It is rather commonly thought among us that believers really have no essential calling as far as mission work is concerned. Other than supporting the mission program of the churches by means of prayer and offerings, believers have no mission calling. At least they are not directly involved in mission work. That task belongs to the missionaries and preachers and to the consistories and Synods and Mission Committees. This notion is all wrong and we ought to rid ourselves completely of it. The believer has not only a significant calling in mission work but an essential one. The New Testament makes very plain that without the believer and his witness there can be no mission work at all.
The believer has a calling first of all in the office of believer. As children of God, the redeemed in Christ, all the believers share in the anointing of Christ. They are prophets, priests, and kings in Christ. The believers speak the praises of God, are consecrated in His service, and rule over the works of God’s hands, all in Christ. The New Testament everywhere testifies to the fact that Christ calls and ordains missionaries and sends them out through the office of believer. This is the way Christ gathers, defends, and preserves His elect out of the nations. Christ never works apart from the church. His work is accomplished always through the church and the office of believer. This means most emphatically that apart from the office of believer there can be no mission work at all. It is the church, believers as members of the Body of Christ as manifest in the institute of the church in the world, which preaches the gospel in all the world. It is not just men, individual missionaries, who preach in Jamaica or Singapore or East Lansing or Birmingham. The Church does that. Thus according to Acts 13:1ff. The Holy Spirit said to the believers, the church in Antioch: “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” After fasting and praying the believers laid their hands on, them and sent them away.
In close connection with this is the fact that through the consistory the believers supervise both the work and the life of the missionary. Apart from this rule of Christ through the church the missionary cannot function. It is clear, therefore, just from this point of view alone, that the believer has a direct and responsible place in the work of missions. In fact, Scripture teaches that the believer in the office of Christ is indispensable to mission work.
In addition, the believers have the calling to support the work of missions. From a material point of view the believer must liberally provide for the earthly needs of the missionaries and the mission. God calls believers to do this. Certainly, without the faithful support of the congregations there can be no mission work. But there is more, much more. Believers must support the missionaries in prayer. In a very touching plea the Apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesians to pray for him: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18-20). The Apostle made the same request of the Thessalonians: “. . . that the Word may have free course, and be glorified . . .” (II Thess. 3:1). And that same request is made of the believers in Colosse (Colossians 4:2). There can be no question of the fact that the Apostle was deeply conscious of his need of the prayers of the believers in all his preaching and teaching of the gospel. It is obvious that, apart from the support, encouragement, and certainly the prayers of the believers, the missionaries cannot labor. This is no little matter. If there be no support and if there be no prayers on the part of the believers the missionary cannot make known the mystery of the gospel. Once more, the plain fact is: believers are indispensable to missions!
As prophets, priests, and kings in Christ believers are also called to witness in the world. The New Testament is full of this. Scripture exhorts us to have our conversation honest among the Gentiles. The purpose is that they may see our good works and glorify God in the day of visitation. That term, “conversation,” means manner of living. This includes all of our speech and all of our actions, our lives in every detail and from every point of view. Our manner of living must be a testimony to the Gentiles, the heathen (Cf. I Peter 2:12). According toI Peter 3:15 we must be ready always to give an answer to every man who asks a reason of the hope that is in us. Again the purpose is that unbelievers who falsely accuse our good conversation in Christ may be ashamed. We must be ready to testify to those who ask concerning the hope that is in us. That implies that we are living in such a way that our hope is obvious to those about us. I Corinthians 10:31-33 teaches that whether we eat or drink or whatever we do we must do all to the glory of God. We must not give offense, either to the Jew or the Gentile or the Church of God. We must follow the Apostle’s example who sought not his own profit but the profit of many that they might be saved. And, to cite no more, Acts 8:4 tells of the Jerusalem Christians who were scattered abroad by the persecution which followed Stephen’s martyrdom. They went everywhere “preaching the Word.” Literally, they were evangelizing the Word, announcing the good news of Christ. The believers themselves did this; they spoke the Word everywhere. They did this not in the sense that they were official preachers. There were preachers among those scattered, Philip for example, who preached in Samaria. But the believers witnessed.
All these passages and more indicate that the church “lives in the public eye.” Believers must, therefore, live in such a manner that no reproach, no shame is brought to the gospel or to the name of God. Positively, believers must shine as lights in the world. They are called to witness, to testify of the wonder of grace performed by God in Jesus Christ for them. They must call people to faith and repentance in Christ. They must not keep still about God and about Christ and about His Word. They must be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks concerning the hope that is in them. That witness must go forth also by the lives which they lead. They must live always and in every sphere in obedience to the will of God. They must do that as husbands and wives, as parents and children, as youth and aged. They must do that in their work as well as in their recreation. In that way the lives of believers will be a witness to the power of God’s grace in Christ in them. No offense will be left. Christ will be seen in them. God’s great glory will shine in them. J.H. Bavinck put it nicely when he wrote: “Thus the church must in her exemplary conduct, in her mutual love, in her mercy toward all, in short in all her conduct, reflect something of the greatness of Christ, to the end that the witness of the missionaries may be supported and the church may grow.” (Introduction To The Science Of Missions, p. 48)
That witness of the believers will bear its fruit. Negatively, it will provoke the hatred and opposition of the ungodly. The wicked cannot stand the light of the gospel and they will inevitably and persistently oppose the witness of the believers. Believers must expect to be persecuted by the world precisely because of their witnessing to the gospel. This ought in no way cause them to fear or to be discouraged. The witness of believers renders the ungodly without excuse and they will be ashamed in the day of judgment. Positively God uses the means of the witness of believers to bring His elect into the church. There they will come under the preaching of the gospel, hear Christ, believe, call upon His name and be saved. The Heidelberg Catechism speaks of this when it speaks of the necessity of good works, in Lord’s Day 32: “Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works? Because Christ having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also that everyone may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation, others may be gained to Christ.” Note that the last reason given why believers must do good works is that by their godly conversation others may be gained to Christ.
The conclusion is apparent. Even though believers are not ordained missionary preachers they have a calling, a very serious and even indispensable calling with respect to mission work. That calling of the Church is rooted in its eternal election of grace in Christ Jesus. The spiritual isolation, the uniqueness of its essence as the elect Body of Jesus Christ, has for its purpose the manifestation of God’s praises. In I Peter 2:9 the Scriptures teach us that believers are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. The purpose is that they should show forth the praises of Him who has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. God has set apart the Church for Himself in the midst of the world. The church is a chosen generation, a priesthood of kings, an holy nation separated from sin and consecrated to God, and thus a peculiar people in the midst of the world. That the church is that, elect in Christ, implies a serious calling. That calling is to manifest God’s praises. The church does this chiefly by means of the preaching of the gospel, but also by means of the godly lives of its members. By that mighty power the elect are gathered out of the nations; the ungodly are condemned and the Kingdom of God comes in Jesus Christ in all of its glory.
Let believers everywhere be faithful in their office as prophets, priests, and kings in order that the mission work of the church of Christ may prosper unto the gathering of the elect and the coming of Christ.