Previous article in this series: May 1, 2015, p. 352.
During the early formative years of the Protestant Reformed Churches, certain methods of domestic mission work became well established. It is important that we take note of these methods and offer an evaluation of them.
We begin, however, not with a method of missions, but with the historically established scope of our domestic mission work. At the very start the three ministers and the elders of the Protesting Christian Reformed Churches did not labor to expand the witness of these churches on the basis of a fixed set of mission principles they had studied and embraced. They merely responded to an immediate need confronting them. A number of invitations had been sent them by concerned men of the Christian Reformed Churches who were sympathetic with the Reformed truth over against the error of common grace. They wanted to learn firsthand about the error of common grace, the present controversy, and what was needed to organize into a congregation in the new denomination. The need to respond to these invitations was self-evident. There were only three congregations. More were needed for continued existence as a denomination. Therefore, the decision of the second meeting of the combined consistories on March 6, 1925 reads:
Article 5. …That this combined consistory meeting sends out Rev. H. Hoeksema to the West, occasioned by the many requests for this, to inform those interested of our action and also to allow them to examine our Act of Agreement, and if it should prove that the interest is of such a nature that those interested should desire to organize, then to serve them with advice, and in one word, authorize Rev. H. Hoeksema to carry out the matters mentioned above.1
With this decision the scope of domestic missions was quite naturally, yet unwittingly, shaped in the Protestant Reformed missions. Our work as churches lay in the area of church reformation in the Christian Reformed Church. That this became a method of home mission work is clearly proved by subsequent history.
In August of 1930 the Mission Committee recommended to Classis,2 “the more we consider our work from every point of view, the more we feel that our mission work carries with it a peculiar character. We should limit ourselves to members of the church from which we departed.”3 The scope was made a bit broader by the Classis of December 2, 1931, “It is decided to express agreement with the limitation of the field of labor, which lies spread out especially over the area of the Protestant Reformed, Christian Reformed, and the Dutch Reformed Churches.”4 Even as late as 1965 the “New Policy” for mission work adopted by that Synod insisted that in the main the labors of the Protestant Reformed Churches must focus on the second and third generations of the Christian Reformed Church.5 Still today some in our churches are convinced that predominantly our labors as a denomination in domestic missions lies solely in the area of church reformation among Dutch Reformed believers.
I am going to save my evaluation of the scope of missions in our churches to a later article. I have written on this subject in the past, but save my remarks this time until we consider the later history of missions in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The first method of missions established in the early history of our churches was laboring with interested groups of people who came to us with a request to labor toward organizing them into a local church. The intention of this decision, I believe, was not to saddle all future mission work in the denomination, but again, arose out of necessity, since this was the direction the Lord was leading us at that particular time. The Christian Reformed Church was in a state of unrest for a number of years after the controversy of 1924. There were groups of people still drawn to the truth of sovereign, particular grace as opposed to common grace. These immediately sent requests to Rev. Hoeksema to come and speak to them about the differences in the hope that enough people could be gathered in one area to establish a church.
The method of missions that developed out of this is what has become known in our churches as the Macedonian call (cf. Acts 16:4). There must be a particular request from a group of people to come over and help them toward organizing them as a church. Although this particular concept of doing home mission work was never sanctioned at any point in our history as the official way to begin a labor, it proved invaluable and necessary in the early growth of our denomination. It was effective then. It was the best workable method. The work in this early period of missions, therefore, cannot be criticized. The churches and men involved did what they had to do. As time went on, however, this method of mission work became so enmeshed in the thinking of those involved in the work of domestic missions that any other way of beginning a labor in a certain place was inconceivable. Even today many consistories and members cannot fathom any other way of beginning a domestic mission labor other than with a “Macedonian call.” In their minds there has to be a group of believers or number of contacts in an area already knowledgable to a degree of the Reformed faith who are interested in our churches laboring with them. And more, these contacts ought to send us a particular request (call) before we would ever consider sending a missionary to labor among them.
I have already critiqued this type of thinking regarding home mission work in other articles,6 but it ought to be emphasized, the Macedonian call is not sanctioned by Scripture as the only method of beginning a work in a mission field. The apostle Paul did not use Macedonian calls in his mission work. The Macedonian call happened only one time during all the mission journeys of Paul. Besides, the call beckoned him to labor in a region and not one particular city. Finally, the man of Macedonia who extended the call to Paul was not an actual man but a man in a vision. This is not to say that the church in her domestic mission work should ignore a “Macedonian call” if she receives one. She should seize on that opportunity. But she also needs to look beyond the notion that this is the only method to be used in beginning a mission work in an area.
A second valuable method of mission work established during these early years (1925-1931) was the use of various means to stimulate interest in an area. Again, with no particular method in mind lectures were immediately used to stimulate interest in gathering and educating a group of saints. The requests from interested groups came with an invitation to teach them regarding the truth of sovereign grace. Lectures and/or instructional classes are still effective means that ought to be utilized in mission work.
But toward the close of these early years, requests by interested groups were not as frequent. The doctrine of common grace was already asserting itself into the doctrines and life of the members of the Christian Reformed Church. There was not as much interest in the debate anymore. In 1930 and 1931 the few men assigned to the Mission Committee began searching out some way to renew interest in the Dutch Reformed churches regarding the error of common grace. After all, if people were not requesting our churches for lectures to stimulate interest, what else could we use to accomplish the same end? The answer was the use of pamphlets—another effective means of gaining exposure to the distinctives of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Ten thousand copies of The Triple Breach were printed and distributed among the Dutch churches in the Netherlands as well as among the members of the Christian Reformed churches. In the next period of missions in the Protestant Reformed Churches we will find a proliferation of pamphlets published for the means of mission work. Pamphlets yet today are an important means to kindle an interest in the gospel and draw out requests for mission work.
With the decision to publish and distribute our first pamphlet, The Triple Breach, we find the emergence of a third important method of mission work used in the Protestant Reformed Churches: the use of Church Extension (Evangelism) Committees established in local churches as a means to spread the gospel in the area of established churches. Although it was not formally adopted, this was indeed the recommendation of the temporary Mission Committee to the August 27, 1930 Classis:
3. That classis advise the committee that in every congregation a committee be appointed, which will give out books, in case classis decides to have books printed, in their areas to that person who shows an interest. The committee is of the opinion that there lies our point of contact.7
It was not as if during this period of time we can find actual evidence of the establishment of Church Extension Committees. Perhaps this evidence can be found in the minutes of some of our congregations. But the principle that led to the existence of such committees was indeed founded by the decision of the December 2, 1931 Classis:
That each consistory take upon itself to labor with this brochure (The Triple Breach) in their own area. The purpose is not lavishly to hand out this brochure, but that ministers, and consistories, and also members of the congregation seek to make personal contact and if there is interest to request them kindly to read this booklet on the three points, and to urge them to test it in the light of Scripture and the confessions.8
This request by Classis required that local churches begin an outreach of their own. With time, this local outreach by ministers, consistories, and members developed into Church Extension Committees.
While mentioning the work of local churches in mission work, it ought to be noted that a practice often used in the spread of the gospel by the Protestant Reformed Churches is the lending of pastors to aid in mission work. Until the Mission Committee became a firm entity in 1931 the work of missions relied totally on local churches and their pastors. In fact, this was actually the case until the calling of our first missionary in 1936. The local congregations allowed their ministers a leave of absence from the labors of their own congregations each year to work in potential mission fields. At the outset, the Combined Consistories even decided not to ordain Candidate Ralph Danhof in order that he might fill pulpits vacated by ministers doing local mission work. Because Rev. Hoeksema was the man in demand, First Protestant Reformed Church released him ten weeks every year to pursue the work of missions.
The work of evangelism committees in our individual congregations is still a worthwhile and productive practice today. After all, it is the local church that is called to do mission work. Each congregation ought to be busy in this task. And that there is a willingness on the part of consistories to allow their ministers time to work in this area is a good thing. We are thankful for the many active and retired pastors (and professors) who have given and give of their time for missions and church contact.
I want to comment in the next article on a recommendation not approved by the September, 1929 Classis of our churches: “that our leaders put forth every effort to instruct our members thoroughly in the basic doctrines and the Confessions, in order that our members who come in contact with brothers and sisters of other churches may try to win them in the spirit of love for the cause of the Lord.” On this we must wait.
1 Article 5 of the minutes of the Combined Consistories. March 6, 1925.
2 Classis was the broadest ecclesiastical assembly in the PRC until 1940.
3 Supplement 4 of the August 27, 1930 meeting of the Classis of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
4 Article 56 of the December 2, 1931 minutes of the meeting of the Classis of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
5 Supplement XIV, 1965 Acts of Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches, 113-115.
6 “Church Extension, Church Reformation, and Domestic Missions (3).” Standard Bearer, vol. 90, 278.
7 Supplement 4 of the August 27, 1930 minutes of the Classis of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
8 Report of the Mission Committee, Supplement 3, December 2, 1931 minutes of the Classis of the Protestant Reformed Churches.