It ought to be quite obvious that the mission work of the Church of Jesus Christ must be grounded in Scripture. It is only from the Word of God that tie are able to learn the principles which govern missions. From the Word of God either directly or by implication we are also able to learn the proper methods or practice of missions. Whatever we say concerning missions both from a principle and a practical point of view, we must say what Scripture says.
There are certain questions concerning the mission task of the Church which must be answered in the light of God’s Word. The first is basic: does the Church in fact have the call to do missions? The answer to this question probably appears self-evident. We would be inclined to say that this is not even a question. Of course the Church has the calling to do mission work. In the minds of most, this is not a question. But there are some, a few to be sure, who argue that the gospel has already been preached among all the nations of the earth. Therefore, they say, the Church no longer has the task of doing missions. What does the Bible have to say about all this? Assuming that the Church does have the call, exactly in what does this call consist? Just exactly what must the Church be doing in missions?
In this connection we must face and answer the question: what is the scope of missions? Some interpret the scope of missions very broadly. These assert that missions includes many activities, such as, preaching and teaching, civilizing, healing, educating, etc. Others interpret the scope quite narrowly and insist that missions is limited to preaching and teaching only. What does the Bible have to say to this point?
A third question is: to whom must mission work be directed? To the Jew? To the Gentile? Both? Is there a priority here? Does the Biblical formula, “to the Jew first and also the Gentile,” still hold? This, after all, was the method followed by the Apostles, notably the Apostle Paul. Even Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles, went to the Jew first. In this connection, what does the Form For The Ordination Of Missionaries mean by, “Unto The Heathen” and “Unto The Dispersed”? Who are these? Is the object of missions properly the heathen? Must the object be sought among those within the immediate vicinity of the established congregation? Does mission work also include “Evangelism” among apostates or “covenant wanderers” as J. H. Bavinck calls them?
A crucial question, especially in our day, involves the proper subject of mission work. Is the subject of missions the Church through the threefold office of minister, elder, and deacon? Is it the local Church, the individual congregation? May mission work be done by the broader gatherings of the Church: Classis and Synod? Does the Bible permit “mission societies” or “evangelistic associations” to do mission work? May these latter work in conjunction with the Church? The Protestant Reformed Churches have always insisted that mission work may be done only and exclusively by the Church. Mission work belongs to the official ministry of the Word which is the sole task of the Church. Is this position that of Scripture?
Another important question which needs answering is: what is the proper motive for missions? Is it compassion for the heathen? Is it the salvation of the heathen? Ought we to be motivated by a passion to win souls for Christ? Is the extension of God’s Church the proper motive? Is it the realization of God’s counsel and thus the manifestation of God’s glory? Is it either of these exclusively or is the motive a combination of the above? If it be the latter, what is the relationship between the above?
Closely related to the preceding is the oft-debated question: does the pagan world itself seek the gospel? J. H. Bavinck raises this point: Are we sent into the pagan world solely by God Himself or does the world itself also long for our coming? Is there, to put the question another way, a “point of contact” in the heathen to which the missionary may address the gospel? At this point we are involved in the whole question of General Revelation.
Again, closely related to this point is the question concerning the proper approach in missions. May the missionary or ought he to adapt himself and the message of the gospel to the foreign culture, the heathen concepts and practices? Or must the missionary radically deny the heathen culture and concepts and work to eradicate heathen customs and practices? Ought the Protestant Reformed Churches, for example, advise the Jamaican Christians to put away their choruses, tambourines, and drums? Is there, perhaps, some middle ground at this point?
Finally, we must deal with the whole problem of the content of the preaching and teaching. Does the Church preach a sort of “simple gospel”? Is this what is implied when Scripture speaks of the “milk” of the Word in distinction from the “meat”? Must the whole counsel of God be preached, or something a bit less than that? Should truths such as election and reprobation and the eternal counsel of God be preached? There are many who argue that the message on the mission field must be kept as simple as possible. What does Scripture have to say to this point? What may we learn from the example of the Apostles and the early Church in this regard?
All these questions and more perhaps must be carefully answered in the light of the Word of God.
Missions in Old Testament Perspective
One probably does not expect to discover much in the Old Testament relating to the missionary task of the Church. The Old Dispensation was a period ofpreparation for the gospel. It was a period of the “not yet,” a period of anticipation. What our fathers were fond of calling “the mother promise,” Genesis 3:15, was, as far as its realization is concerned, futuristic. God promises that the seed of the woman shallbruise the head of the seed of the serpent. Christ had not yet come in the Old Dispensation, and the Kingdom of Heaven had not yet come. There was a type of the Kingdom in the Theocracy of Israel in Canaan but the realization of that type had to wait until the cross and resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit by the Ascended Lord. This was the age of the promise. Everything was future.
For this reason salvation was entirely particularistic. This was true not only as far as the elect were concerned—although it was that, too, obviously. From that point of view salvation is always particular. But salvation was particularistic also as far as generations and tribes and nations were concerned. In a word, in the Old Dispensation salvation was limited to the nation of Israel.
In this light one might not expect to discover mission principles in the Old Testament Scriptures. At that time the gospel could not yet be preached to the nations, for the Holy Spirit had not yet been poured out upon all flesh. The “Day of the Lord” (cf.Joel 2) had not yet dawned.
The Old Testament does, however, have a good deal to say concerning the principles of missions. The Old Testament clearly suggests that all the nations, that is, the elect from all the nations, will ultimately enter the Kingdom of God. This is undoubtedly why there is the table of nations given in Genesis ten already. In the light of the whole of Scripture this table of nations indicates, to be sure, that these nations are arranged as to their time and place with a view to Israel. They are there in order that Israel, the people of God, His elect and precious, may stand in the midst of them for all the world to behold as the WONDER of God. Not only that, but these nations are arranged with a view to Israel so that they may serve Israel. The nations are there for the sake of God’s people and for the sake of the Kingdom of God represented by God’s people.
Nevertheless, the fact that these nations are enumerated indicates that it is not the purpose of God to abandon these nations. God will preserve them for the sake of His people and for the future of His Kingdom. The day is coming when God will call His elect out of all the nations of the earth. For this reason all of the families of Shem, Ham, and Japheth are enumerated in detail. The Scriptures even tell us the place of their habitation, their place in the earth. Thus the last verse of Genesis ten reads: “These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.” The point of all this is that ultimately God will call His people out of all the nations of the earth. And this is the task of missions.