Rev. Bruinsma is Eastern Home Missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, stationed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Previous article in this series: February 15, 2009, p. 229.
Missions and the organic life of the church
What does a godly witness in our lives at home have to do with work on a mission field? A godly witness at home is just that, a work at home. The mission work is many miles away from my witness at home. What does one have to do with the other? The answer is found in the organic relationship between the established church and the mission work of that church. No doubt this is more true in the work of home missions than foreign missions, but foreign missions may not be altogether excluded from this.
The church institute is organically one with its mission work doctrinally, first of all. The doctrines of Scripture that are taught in the church institute are also taught on the mission field. The members of the mission are therefore one in faith with believers in the established church.
But not only doctrines are taught on the mission field. A world-and-life-view, the way the churches view how we ought to live in this world, is also taught. As a result, the members of a mission work also begin to understand what God calls them to do as His children in this world. Through the labors of the missionary, these new saints begin to understand that they have been transformed from this world of sin and therefore must discard many practices of their former lives and relationships. The saints on the mission field are instructed in what Paul writes to the Ephesian believers in Ephesians 5:8-11:
For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of the light: …proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
This instruction can be difficult to put into practice for new converts, since they have families and old friends who are yet lost in sin. Believers on the mission field, therefore, naturally seek out new friendships within the body of believers of which they are a part. They become involved in the organic life of the church itself. When this happens, the lives of God’s saints in the established church must serve to reinforce what is being taught to God’s saints on the mission field.
This is why faithfulness in our lives at home is the most important way that lay people can become involved in mission work. The members of Christ’s church cannot separate the way they live at home from the labor that is being performed in missions. The life of the members of the church will have a direct bearing on missions—especially home missions.
For example, parents who recently have come to faith and repentance have a deep concern for their children, especially for the youth of their families. They want their teenage son or daughter to seek out and find godly friends and eventually spouses. So they send them to a young people’s convention. If these sons of tender faith become involved in a basketball game with young men of the church who use foul language and boldly take the name of God in vain, then this leaves a horrible impression on these young men who are new to the church. If these young people of the mission field are exposed to youth of the church who brag about their drunkenness and sexual exploits, these recent converts begin to wonder if a godly life is a requirement of Scripture as the missionary told them it is.
When families from a mission field visit families of the churches because they desire the fellowship of like-minded saints, but the evening is spent talking about movies they have attended, how does this reinforce the preaching of the missionary? If the members of the church invite a group of friends to their house to visit with these new converts, but spend the night in drinking alcohol and in empty chatter and laughter, what witness have they left to the gospel that is being preached on the mission field? If members of the established church go to a restaurant for a Sunday night snack after church, if we spend our Sunday skipping church in order to travel (activities the members of the mission always seem to hear about), how are the saints on the mission field going to learn to keep the Lord’s Day holy?
The first thing that we can do for our mission work as the laity of the established church is to be faithful at home! We must lead a life of godliness at home! If we fail personally to live a life that is consistent with what we teach in our churches, we ought never complain that our mission work is unsuccessful! How can we expect God’s blessing on our mission labors if our own lives are not a godly witness to the gospel?
What was it that made the early church grow so rapidly even in the midst of persecution? J. Herbert Kane observes:
Immorality was rampant in all parts of the empire, especially in the urban centers where most of the Christians lived. Such cities as Ephesus, Corinth and Rome were cesspools of iniquity, in which, according to Tacitus, “vice had charms for all orders of men.” In contrast to all this was the wholesome life of the Christians whose business practices, domestic arrangements, civic responsibilities and social relationships reflected the new life in Christ….
Once baptized, the Christian was expected to avoid all sinful practices. If he sinned, he was required to confess. If the sin were grave, he was expected to demonstrate his sorrow by becoming a public penitent. Those who persisted in sin were excommunicated.
Nowhere was the principle of separation from the world more scrupulously carried out than in the matter of entertainment. The arena, the circus, and the theater were scrupulously avoided….
The church frowned on the theater because of the immorality of the gods and men portrayed there….
Marriage was regarded as an honorable estate, but celibacy was recommended as ideal. Christians were permitted to marry only within their own circle. Divorce, so common in Roman society, was permitted only if the unbelieving partner demanded it. . . . .1
The life of Christians was different from that of the wicked world about them. Their lives were orderly and secure, as opposed to the dysfunctional and insecure life of unbelievers. The people of the world about them witnessed the conviction and the love of God that was so much a part of the Christian life. Christians were called by their very churches to live what they believed. If they did not, discipline was administered. In many cases God used such a witness to gain converts to Christ. The godly lives of God’s saints in the church served the purpose of church growth.
What was true of Christians so long ago must be true of us as God’s people today. We ask the question: how can the lay person become involved in mission work? The answer, first of all, is: live godly in Christ Jesus. This witness will make its mark in mission work.
1. J. Hebert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), pp. 27, 28