Mr. Doezema is a member of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church and secretary of the Domestic Mission Committee.
Though the organization of a church is not the be-all and end-all of the work of missions, there’s no denying that the reaching of that goal brings intense satisfaction to the parties involved—the members of the mission who ask for it, the calling church and the mission committee that evaluate the request, and the synod that finally approves it. With respect to synod, that “intense satisfaction” was clear from the opening lines of its letter to the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland (CPRC), read at the occasion of their organization on August 2 of 2006. “It was with great joy and thankfulness to God,” the letter began, “that we, the Synod of the PRC in session June 16, 2006, were privileged to approve your request to be reorganized as the Covenant PRC in Northern Ireland.”
Synod did well to give expression to those sentiments. And we all do well to make them our own. Perhaps to read a little more of that letter will help us do that.
“We recognize,” Synod 2006 continued, “that this is the answer of the Great King of the church to your prayers offered during the past four years—prayers offered in hope and supplication when the possibility of reorganization seemed remote indeed. But in His faithfulness the King of the church has rewarded your persistent prayers and perseverance in truth, and blessed abundantly the faithful, energetic labors of your missionary- pastor Rev. Angus Stewart, in a way surpassing human expectations. And so you stand this day ready to be organized once again as a congregation manifesting the body of Christ and representing the Reformed faith in your fair land. We rejoice with you in gratitude for what God, in His great mercy and goodness, has done for you.”
And then, this prayer: “. . . may the Word go forth from you to bring many throughout the United Kingdom to stand with you in the cause of the blessed truth of the gospel.”
And this expectation: “We look forward to a rich relationship of fellowship and of mutual encouragement as we together await the return of our Lord and Savior.”
The prospect of “a rich relationship of fellowship” became, of course, the immediate concern not of the Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) but of the Contact Committee. God willing, the fruit of their efforts will be the establishing, soon, of a sister-church relationship.
The prospect of continued work for the PRC in missions in the British Isles, however, remains our (i.e., the DMC’s) concern. And hardly would we think of activity in the British Isles apart from the CPRC. We were in fact instructed by Synod 2006 to investigate the possibility of such activity—in consultation with Hudsonville (the calling church for our former missionaries in Northern Ireland) and the newly organized CPRC NI. Earlier this year, therefore, Rev. Eriks (Hudsonville) and Rev. VanOverloop (DMC) went to Northern Ireland and discussed the matter with the CPRC consistory.
It came as no surprise to the emissaries from North America that the CPRC did not need to be urged to be engaged in missions. She was engaged—not only within Northern Ireland but also across the southern border in the Republic of Ireland and across the water in Wales. And the development of their contacts at this stage, they believed, lay within their own ability to undertake. Neither the work in Limerick nor the work in Porthcawl had developed to the point where additional manpower from the PRCA would serve a useful purpose.
For the time being, therefore, Hudsonville and the DMC plan to serve the CPRC only in an advisory role with respect to the work of missions in the British Isles. Truth is, we will be more than happy to render other assistance if the need arises. But we must say that we are pleased with the current state of affairs and acknowledge with a deep sense of gratitude the fruit that the Lord has given to our work in this place. In mission work in other countries, after all, we strive to establish truly indigenous churches, which are, among other things, self-propagating. Under the blessing of God, this has happened before our eyes in Ballymena. We are thankful.
And then there’s Pittsburgh. Nigh unto ten years we’ve had a presence here. And what do we have to show for it?
Looks, does it not, as if we go, in our reporting, from a success story across the sea, to something quite other on the home front.
But would you believe that the DMC’s report to Synod 2007 regarding its work in Pittsburgh is . . . upbeat? Yes, the word means “cheerfully optimistic.” And that’s exactly what we are. We are as thankful to God for the opportunities He has been pleased to give us in Pittsburgh and eastern home missions during the past year as we are for the organization of a church in Ballymena and the potential for labor in the British Isles.
Forgive us for recalling a little history here. ‘Ancient’ history, even—Synod 1942. That was a different day, of course, but there was, that year, some advice for home missions on synod’s table that is as instructive today as it was 65 years ago.
The Mission Committee recommended that synod “instruct Fuller Ave. [First Church] to call a missionary.” It happened that among those assigned to the advisory committee on mission matters at that synod was the pastor of “Fuller Ave.” (Rev. Herman Hoeksema). If he was not the author of the advice with which synod was served, Hoeksema no doubt played a prominent role in its formulation. It read like this:
We may state that the opinion has been expressed by some that the present war situation makes the calling of a missionary at this time inadvisable. However, we feel that it is exactly these conditions that forcibly demonstrate the total inadequacy of any gospel that does not stand foursquare on the basis of the absolute sovereignty of God. It is the opinion of your committee, not only that the work of the kingdom may not come to a standstill whatever the world situation be, but also that these very serious times represent a challenge for us to declare the sure sovereignty of God whose blessing is upon His people, and whose curse is upon the wicked. We ought to be steadfast and unmovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing—and keeping ourselves assured of this—that our labor is not in vain in the Lord. Brethren, in these times that try men’s hearts, we must not be found retrenching and withdrawing, but moving forward. The word of the Lord to Moses challenges us: “Say unto the children of Israel that they go forward.” We must testify of sin and grace, and hold forth the Word of God to the utmost of our ability also outside of our own denomination, whether men hear or whether they forbear.
In view of this we heartily urge Synod to instruct Fuller Ave. to proceed to the calling of a missionary at once.
Note especially two things. First, “whatever the world situation…not be found retrenching…but moving forward.” Is it a time of war? Makes no difference. Or is it, perhaps, this: that we live in the end times, and in a country of people about whom it can be said with a great deal of truth that they once were “enlightened,” have once “tasted the good word of God,”…and have fallen away (Heb. 6:4-6). Makes no difference. Do not retrench. Move forward.
And then this: “. . . whether men hear or whether they forbear.” The command of Christ is, “Go.” We are privileged, as churches, to hold a rich heritage of the truth. And the church’s King says, “Go. Proclaim it. To the utmost of your ability. Also outside your own denomination. Whether men hear …or whether they forbear. Leave the results to Me. I will build My church.”
When we do that, in our own land, “to the utmost of our ability,” will there be many who will “hear”? Likely not. Rev. Bruinsma, in his annual report to synod this year, draws attention to the implications of Hebrews 6:4-6for the work of home missions. “In general,” he says, “the people among whom I labor in our own country are nominally ‘Christian’ people. [They are] unbelievers who no longer attend any church . . . . God has cut them off in their generation . . . . That makes home missions hard.” Hoeksema said the same in a little syllabus that he wrote on the principles of missions. “So my conclusion is that although the church can and does witness, even to dead branches, the work of evangelism, as a work of mission, is without much fruit, because God does not return to the branches that are once cut off.”
To Hoeksema, however, that was no deterrent to missions. He could heartily urge Synod 1942 “to instruct Fuller Ave. to proceed to the calling of a missionary at once.” Does apostasy abound? Yes. Are there dead branches lying all over the place? Yes. “Brethren, in these times that try men’s hearts, we must not be found retrenching and withdrawing, but moving forward…. We must testify of sin and grace, and hold forth the Word of God to the utmost of our ability also outside of our own denomination,whether men hear or whether they forbear.”
And our home missionaries today are doing exactly that. Rev. Bruinsma, in one of his bimonthly reports to his calling church and to the mission committee, testified that he is finding that his work “is so much more than trying to get people to join a mission.” “My task,” he writes, “is to sow the seed of God’s Word in Pittsburgh. I have to search out ways and means to preach the gospel [including, he explained, all forms of teaching] in as many places as I can within and around Pittsburgh.”
“. . . in as many places as I can.” It was almost with a sense of wonder that Rev. Bruinsma could report that, with respect to opportunities to bring the Word, “this past year God has been good to us in this way in Pittsburgh. I have been given opportunity to address a group of men who are unhappy with the trend they see in their Presbyterian churches. They have invited me to meet with them every month to continue to discuss issues with them. I have been able to preach for a couple of Presbyterian churches, one on a regular basis. I also teach a class in one of them every other week. The subjects of each class are of interest too: particular grace versus common grace, the Reformed view of the calling versus the well-meant offer of the gospel, unconditional versus conditional covenant, and more. God has opened doors for me in this past year to teach these beautiful doctrines of grace that He has entrusted into our care as churches.”
And that isn’t all. There was a lecture in the spacious Heinz Chapel on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, an address (on the sovereignty of God) at a businessmen’s luncheon, radio work, video-conferencing, writing of pamphlets, and preparing of correspondence courses for more distant contacts in the eastern states. In all of these Rev. Bruinsma was busy. And all of these, he says, “must go into our evaluation of the ‘success’ of the work on a mission field.” And, too, “all this makes the work of missions an exciting one worthy of our enthusiastic support.”
It has Southwest’s support. And the DMC’s. And, we trust, also yours. For this is the work of missions. This is obedience to the command to go, to proclaim, and to leave the fruit to Him who sends. Whether men hear, or whether they forbear. “I will build My church.”
Opportunities vary from community to community of course. Rev. Miersma does not find the same in Spokane that Rev. Bruinsma does in Pittsburgh. But he takes advantage of what opportunities there are—in writing, in developing a provocative and informative web page, in following up aggressively on all responses, and in giving thorough instruction to all who join the Fellowship. Visiting delegations from Loveland (the calling church) and the DMC were able to testify that there is evidence of “sustained interest in the Spokane community in the labors of the mission.” And Loveland can report to synod that they were “deeply impressed with the maturing in faith of the members of the group.” Having come, themselves, to know and to love the Reformed faith, as it has been taught to them by their missionary pastor, the members of the Covenant of Grace Protestant Reformed Fellowship in Spokane are actively, personally, reaching out to others. And out of concern for their children, and in good hope for the future, the core group is working, even, to form a school society. This is encouraging.
Fayetteville, NC is another area that is given some regular attention in our home missions. Rev. Bruinsma, as eastern home missionary, travels there once a month. A member of the DMC visits the Protestant Reformed Fellowship of Fayetteville on a bimonthly basis. And recently we held a series of lectures in the area.
Fayetteville deserves, we think, more attention. Prominent among the reasons for not calling a man several years ago to labor in the south was . . . manpower—vacant pulpits in the PRC. The Lord willing, that may soon change. Given the vacancies, and the number of potential graduates from our seminary, we will soon have more men for the work than there are pulpits to be filled. And that can mean only one thing—that we will have the manpower, as we have also the financial resources, to be far more active in the great work of missions. That’s humbling. Who, after all, are we, the PRC, to deserve so grand a privilege? And it’s exciting. What, after all, could be more exciting than the prospect of that kind of service to the Lord of the harvest?
It’s that prospect that makes us glad also for work in Sioux Falls, SD. As most of our readers are aware, this activity is of recent origin. Its beginning was unique in the history of this committee. Often in the past our ‘investigation’ of an area was in response to a request for help from individuals who had discovered the Protestant Reformed Churches and found themselves attracted to their doctrines. If such a request can be viewed as a “Macedonian call,” the “Come over and help us” would certainly be understood to mean “Come over and make us, and this community, the objects of a Protestant Reformed mission endeavor.” From Sioux Falls we received a “Come over and help us” of a different sort. The request came from a small Bible Study group, the members of which were already Protestant Reformed. They needed not therefore to be instructed in the faith and practice of the PRC. Protestant Reformed distinctives were already part of who they were. Their “Come over and help us,” therefore, was a request for a denominational presence in their community, a work in which they were ready and willing to be active. A ready-made core group, if you will.
Though the request came as something of a surprise to the DMC, it did not arise out of the blue. The Bible Study that sent us the request was sponsored by the Reformed Witness Committee of the three area Protestant Reformed Churches—Doon, Edgerton, and Hull. The biweekly meetings of the Bible Study were led by Rev. Steven Key, pastor in Hull PRC. Those who attended were members primarily of Doon and Hull PRCs who live in Sioux Falls. The aim of the Reformed Witness Committee (RWC) was to try to draw others from the community to their fellowship. The RWC became convinced, at length, that potential in the Sioux Falls area was such that the increased activity that it warranted should “become the work of the churches in common” (cf. DMC constitution). Accordingly, the RWC addressed to the councils of the three sponsoring churches a request that the Bible Study group be “given permission to contact the DMC directly with a request for a laborer and support for this work.”
Thus it was that we received the request, and, after sending a delegation from the DMC to visit the Bible Study, we decided to grant it. We found Candidate Clay Spronk willing to be the “laborer,” and we found the Edgerton Council willing to oversee his preaching. The Spronks moved to Sioux Falls at the end of January and settled quickly into the work with what is now called the Heritage Protestant Reformed Fellowship. A steering committee was appointed promptly—with various sub-committees that went directly to work. Newspaper advertising, developing of a web page, securing a supply of pamphlets, placing of signs for the location of worship services, following up with contacts, exploring possible use of radio and the Yellow Pages—if ever the expression “hit the ground running” applied to the work of a beginning mission, it fits here.
The DMC did and does indeed like what it sees there. Those in regular attendance at the worship services in the Ambassador Room of the Holiday Inn in downtown Sioux Falls number about thirty. Small—but a solid base for establishing a PR presence in a new community. A different beginning, surely. But is there a better way?
Included in the DMC’s report to Synod 2007 is a recommendation that synod “approve the calling of a third domestic missionary, whose initial labors will center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.” Another recommendation is for the budgeting of funds for investigation of other new fields. We grounded that request, and conclude this SB article, with the following observation: “Serious search for possible ‘new fields’ must of course always be a priority for the church of Christ. But a sense of urgency is added to this responsibility when we consider that, given the number of potential graduates from our seminary in the near future, the Lord is evidently giving us men to expand our witness. This is a gift. Our local evangelism committees and our denominational mission committees are obliged, before the face of God, to be more vigorous than ever in their reaching out to others, so that we can continue to pray, in earnest, that the Lord of the harvest give us laborers to be sent forth into His vineyard (Luke 10:2). May there be many more Sioux Fallses.”