By “our mission work” we naturally mean the mission work our Protestant Reformed Churches are at present engaged in. We might in a sense properly call it church extension since its positive purpose is the establishment of Protestant Reformed Churches wherever there are or come to be, groups of believers that are of one heart and mind with us and wish to confess with us the truth of God’s sovereign grace as we are committed to it.
Although as Churches we look forward to the time when our mission work can be extended to include labor among the “unchurched” and heathen both at home and abroad, we believe that for the present it is our calling to limit ourselves to the work of church extension. We deem it to be our God-given calling to sound forth anew the sound Reformed faith and heritage among the brethren of the Christian Reformed and Reformed Churches, to awaken them from their slumber and to return to them the joy of the Reformed faith. For the Reformed faith is definitely on the way out about us, our glorious heritage is being exchanged for the husk of Arminianism. Therefore we are not ashamed of our work, but believe it to be highly necessary.
However, the right and validity of our present mission work is not the subject of this article. That has been treated before by others in our Standard Bearer. The question before us now is, What is the proper method of approach in our mission work? Just how shall we go about? How must we approach the outsiders? How must the missionary make his contact?
The Method at the Beginning of our Movement
Years ago there was little need of discussing the method of approach. As a matter of fact there was next to no discussion of this subject, nor needed there be. Various individuals and groups of individuals who felt there was something amiss, who were not satisfied with the decisions of the Christian Reformed Synod of ‘24, of their own accord invited our leaders to come and speak in their communities. These people had heard of the “common grace controversy”, read the pro’s and the con’s, and could understand at once if a speaker spoke on the “Three Points” and showed their errors as departures from the Reformed faith. Not infrequently halls were rented in advance, bills paid and all expenses assumed by those that invited the speaker, people gathered in groups at someone’s home to meet our leaders and personally discuss with them. People were ready to come out for lectures evening after evening, and not infrequently were organized and could be organized after a few weeks persistent labor.
At that time there were more opportunities to speak than the speakers could fill. Had we then had as many ministers as we do -now, humanly speaking many more churches could have been organized. Indeed, this was not God’s way, and we know that His way was and always is best. Yet, looking at it from a mere human viewpoint, there was everywhere interest and readiness to listen.
That Method Has Seen Its Day
But that spontaneous method is a thing of the past. It is not 1924 and ‘25 anymore. It is now 1942, some twenty years later. During this time the Christian Reformed Church has deliberately forgotten the “Three Points”. Not that she no longer teaches the errors therein contained, not that she has repented of them and turned a new leaf—not at all. She still defends them if you oppose, although only when she cannot help but openly defend them. For the rest the “Three Points” are forgotten. Hence, when our leaders bring them up people hardly know what they are about. They feel that something is wrong the Church, they may lament that Arminianism is rapidly gaining ground (although it is today hardly a “lamentation” anymore). People simply are not acquainted with these points, nor very much interested in them right or wrong. Groups of individuals or even single individuals rarely of their own accord ask our Mission Committee for the labors of the missionary in their midst. Those that might be inclined to do so are inclined to refrain from it for fear of getting into trouble with their own consistories. Surely, halls are not rented and expenses promised in advance. In many instances a missionary or minister would not even be able to get an audience without first establishing some personal contacts and getting people acquainted somewhat with the claims of our churches.
There are two things that should not be forgotten in this connection. The first is that since 1924 many years have elapsed, years during which people have been fed and nurtured on ideas that depart from the Reformed faith. The drift has gradually been away from Reformed truth toward the Arminianism so rampant in our American ecclesiastical world. People have been going to sleep more and more. The knowledge of Reformed truth, of the Confessions (take for example the Canons of Dordt) is gradually becoming less and less. And, secondly, the older generation acquainted with Reformed truth has largely passed away and a new generation has arisen. This new generation has been brought up in the American atmosphere, is not acquainted with the rich heritage of Reformed (truth in the Dutch works, listens to Arminianism over the radio and magazines, and hears preaching which in most instances is at best a very modified form of Reformed truth. Besides, this generation is not acquainted with the history of our Churches, nor with the “Three Points”, nor in many instances even with the fact that there is a denomination that calls itself Protestant Reformed.
Naturally then, there can be no need felt for our mission work. There are no requests for labor. Neither could it be expected. No fields await us today, we must make them. Consequently the method of approach cannot be the method employed at the beginning of our movement. A new situation has arisen which demands a changed method. If there is to be church extension work today, we can no longer employ the methods of 1924 and ‘25 and the years immediately following than the methods of battle in World War I can be used in the present war.
What Method Now?
What method must we use now?
To my mind we must not at all begin our labors in any place by concentrating attention on the “Three Points”. Not that the truth involved should be neglected. Nor that the doctrine has changed. But people simply do not understand if you begin with this. It seems to us the whole truth of God’s sovereign grace needs to be stressed and emphasized. In my opinion this is best attained by a positive setting forth in lecture and sermon and literature of the Reformed faith all along the line. People are generally simply little acquainted with Reformed truth as a whole, they speak and think Arminianly even when they claim to be Reformed. The Reformed faith is on the defensive rather than on the offensive. The fundamental truths of sin and grace, sovereign predestination must be brought back as a whole. Our labor should therefore be of a generally Reformed character, rather than specifically limited to the question of common grace.
Secondly, we must go out and look for fields. We must create them. Indeed we should look for the fields where there is interest, doctrinally and practically, for the sound Reformed faith. A Reformed sense must at least be present, and then the labors must be, not only of a public character in the form of lectures and sermons, but also of a personal private nature in the form of visits to the homes, etc. That is the method we have been using more or less quite consistently the last years. For the present it is the only possible method. People must be acquainted with the truth. Naturally, this form of labor requires more time than the old method employed at the beginning. I believe it will be impossible any place at all to attain organization in the course of a month or so. There may be exceptions to this general rule, as there are to every rule. Not that I believe that the one that labors in a field must wait till everyone thoroughly understands Reformed truth, or that it is necessary to continue labor for a long period of time, but I do believe that to organize a Protestant Reformed Church today means that one must almost build from the ground up as far as sound Reformed faith is concerned. “You don’t find Protestant Reformed people; you must make them” one of the Mission Committee members once said. This is quite correct.