Missions is receiving more emphasis than ever before. In cities where there are already many established churches representatives from various church groups canvass the neighborhood distributing literature and urging people to attend church. Mission stations are established, summer schools are initiated, and by every possible contrivance people are urged to go to church. Often they are encouraged to go to the church of their choice, as if any church will do, but by all means they must “Go to church.” Radio broadcasts and television programs are adapted to draw converts and to bring the unchurched into some church home. Missionaries are sent out to every part of the world to preach and to teach, to set up mission schools and hospitals, and to establish churches wherever possible. And along with all this there are the Billy Graham campaigns which are geared as a powerful machinery by an ever expanding organization to make its voice heard through personal contact and through radio and television programs all over the earth. This is, indeed, the age of mission endeavor.
All these efforts are supposedly based on the Great Commission of Christ, “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” (Mark 16:15, 16). Viewed in that light one cannot avoid questioning some of the methods that are employed and criticizing the manner in which all this mission work is carried on. But that is not the purpose of this article.
It is far more important right now that we ask ourselves, What is the import of Christ’s mandate to preach the Gospel to all creatures? What is the proper evangelical approach in missions?
Is it the purpose of the preaching of the Gospel to save the whole human race? Is it the goal of missions to win the whole world, if possible, for Christ? When God sends out missionaries into the world is He motivated by a love for all mankind, desiring to save as many as possible and whosoever may be willing to be saved? Must that be the evangelical approach of the church today?
This seems to be the purpose of missions that is most generally advocated even in Reformed circles. For many years already the Protestant Reformed Churches have been accused of a lack of proper mission zeal. It has been said that we have no message for the unsaved because of our emphasis on God’s sovereign grace, unconditional election, and inviolable covenant. According to the theory of common grace, preaching the Gospel does not include emphasis on total depravity, for by the restraint of sin in the heart the unregenerate can still perform that which is good. And more recently the contention is made that the evangelical, approach in missions requires that we maintain a universal atonement. To insist on an atonement restricted only to the elect makes all mission endeavor impossible. The evangelical approach in missions requires that we maintain that God loves all men without exception, that Christ died for all men, and that God desires to save all.
Thus Prof. Dekker wrote some time ago in theReformed Journal, “The most basic and comprehensive of all missionary principles is the love of God. In divine love missions finds both its conception and its initiation. ‘God so loved . . . that he gave . . . . From God’s love missions draws its motivation and its methodology. As Paul put it, ‘The love of Christ constraineth us.’ Moreover, the message of missions is a message of the love of God. It proclaims that God is love, that He has acted in love for man’s salvation and that this love demands decisive response.” This love, he goes on to explain, is universal; God loves all men. Therefore it is perfectly proper and Scriptural to approach anyone with the assurance, “God loves you,” “Christ died for you.” (See Reformed Journal, December 1962.)
Thus one by one the five points of Calvinism are deemed unfit for mission work. For some time already these points of doctrine have been ignored and denied in the mission field. They were replaced by a general, well-meant offer of salvation. Only after the converts were drawn into the church were they informed that the Confessions teach the five points of Calvinism; and the fact that these were obviously in conflict with all the preaching these new converts had heard in the past was explained as a mystery, or even a “balance” which was peculiar to Calvinism.
But now it becomes obvious that consistency demands that the five points of Calvinism either be maintained as the truth of Scripture or be rejected as heresy.
If they are the truth according to the Scriptures they must be maintained and preached at all times as the infallible Word of God. They must be regarded as the truth of Scripture which is the power of God unto salvation. They alone can serve the purpose of God, for God will work only through His own appointed means. It is, after all, the truth that makes men free. And nothing but the truth can do that.
If, on the other hand, they are not the truth of Scripture, they must be openly refuted and rejected. Then it follows that they never can serve as the contents of the pure preaching of the Word. Then they certainly have no place in the evangelical approach in missions, but they also have no place in the Confessions upon which the church is founded. Then the Three Forms of Unity, and particularly the Canons of Dordt, which have served so long as the Scriptural basis for the Reformed Churches, must be declared outmoded, no more acceptable as the Confessions of the church.
But what does Scripture say about all this? What is the Gospel according to the Scriptures? What is the content of the Gospel according to the Scriptures? And to whom is that Gospel directed according to the Scriptures?
What is the Gospel?
The word “Gospel” means “good news” or “glad tidings.” The Word of God often speaks of this Gospel. Sometimes it is referred to as “the Gospel of God,” sometimes as “the Gospel of His Son,” sometimes as “the Gospel of Christ,” or as “the Gospel of the kingdom.” And this Gospel has always been, is, and must always be preached.
Paul writes to Timothy concerning “the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (I Tim. 1:11). God is the Author of the Gospel. He has willed to reveal Himself that the creature may glorify and praise Him. And God reveals Himself through the Scriptures. Even the revelation of God in nature can be understood only in the light of the Scriptures.
Those Scriptures are God’s infallible Word. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21). Or, as Paul expresses it in II Tim. 3:16, “All I Scripture is given by the inspiration (in-breathing of the Holy Spirit) of God.”
This Word is true, since it is the revelation of Gods own dear Son Jesus Christ, Who is the Word, the Truth. God reveals Himself to us in His Son, Who is the brightness of His glory, the express image of His person (Heb. 1:3). God Himself speaks to us from all the pages of Holy Writ concerning Himself as the God of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
And that Word must be preached. God Himself proclaims His own Word through the official ministry of the church, that is, through those who are called by Christ through His church to preach His Gospel. No one else can assume the right and authority to proclaim that Gospel. This is entirely according to the Scriptures, as is evident from Rom. 10:14, 15, “How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom (or better, whom) they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” Notice that! But notice also what follows, “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?”
That Word is a power. It is the power of God, for God has instituted the preaching of the Word as the chief means of grace. The Holy Spirit binds Himself to that means and refuses to work apart from it. As God feeds us with daily bread to sustain our bodies, He employs the Bread of Life in the Gospel to quicken and strengthen the faith of those who are saved. Through the Word and by the operation of the Spirit in the heart Christ makes His people partakers of Him and of all His benefits. But just because that Word is a power of God, it never is without effect, but always serves the purpose for which God has appointed it. God reveals Himself antithetically, so that this Word is “Foolishness to those perishing, but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.” Therefore Paul can add in II Cor. 2:15, 16, “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?”
The Contents of the Gospel
As has already been said, the contents of the Gospel is God. God reveals Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ, as the God of salvation to all those who are in Christ Jesus. Therefore God speaks throughout all of Scripture concerning His covenant. There is probably no single truth that is more consistently stressed throughout the Bible than the truth of God’s covenant. And therefore Scripture also speaks repeatedly of, the promise of the covenant. It cannot escape us how often the promise appears in Scripture. Sometimes the emphasis is upon the rich variety of benefits that are included in the promise, so that God speaks of “exceeding great and precious promises,” using the plural. But always we are told that the promise is God’s promise, the promise of the Father, the promise of Jehovah, the Almighty. The promise tells of the coming of Christ, the great good that is in store for His people, or the kingdom that is eternal in the heavens. God sums up that promise by assuring the partakers of the promise, “I will be thy God, and ye shall be My people forever.” Gen. 17:7, II Cor. 6:16, 18, etc.
The Recipients of the Gospel
The recipients of the Gospel are, therefore, always the elect, the true believers.
The promise is very specifically for those who are designated in Scripture as “the children of the promise,” or as “the heirs of the promise.” The Word of God is directed to the “weary and heavy laden” in distinction from those who are “rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” For it is eternally true that faith is God’s gift, wrought by the Holy Spirit in the heart of those who are given to Christ by the Father. “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
That does not mean that the Gospel is not preached to the ends of the earth. God certainly causes many others to hear the Word besides the elect, in order to bring separation between the chaff and the wheat, between the sheep and the goats. But the glad tidings are specifically directed to the elect. In the old dispensation Israel had the promises and the covenant in distinction from all the other nations of the earth. Even when Christ was on earth He limited His ministry to the small area in and around Palestine. And the apostles specifically address their epistles to “the beloved of God, called to be saints,” Rom. 1:7, “to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus,” I Cor. 1:2, “to the saints and faithful brethren “in Christ,” Col. 1:2, or to the “elect strangers,” I Pet. 1:2.
This is quite different from addressing every individual with the assurance “God loves you,” “Christ died for you.”
As I hope to point out in the future, the evangelical approach in missions must be on the basis of the five points of Calvinism. There is no other evangel, no other Gospel. And it is the truth of the Gospel alone that can make men free.