Previous article in this series: September 1, 2016, p. 473.
As promised in our last article, we now print in full the study committee’s report on defining the task of the Classical Home Mission Committee, presented to and adopted by the June 1, 1932 meeting of Classis (slightly edited).
“Beloved Brethren in the Lord,
Your committee had the mandate to present a definite delineation of the actual task of the Classical Home Mission Committee and to advise classis in regard to this matter. More than once complaints were raised about the labors of the existing committee. Yet the reason this committee failed to carry out much work, lay not in the committee itself, but rather in the fact that its task could not be said to be well-defined, that it had a definite man date, and that therefore the committee could not know what actually was required of it. In appointing this committee the classis obviously proceeded from the assumption that it would be obvious what was expected of the committee without further delineation. However, this proved not to be the case. Therefore, the previous classis appointed your committee to shed light on this matter.
The remark may well be made, first of all, that the entire matter of home missions and the actual task of the committee has need of a closer delineation and definition. Not only is it by no means clear to each of us what the distinctive task of the Home Mission Committee is, but also the task of home missions is not clearly defined.
Where is the field for this labor? What is its purpose? How must the work be carried out and by which means? There is no decisive answer to all these questions. Yet it will be necessary, in order to define the task of the committee, first of all, to give account of the actual task of home missions. Therefore, your committee placed itself immediately before the question, What is meant by home missions? We want to answer that question, as to the task of home missions, and only then to answer the question as to the task of the classical committee that will carry out this work.
By missions we understand in this connection that official work of the church whereby it bears forth and proclaims the witness of the truth to those who never had heard the truth, such as the heathen, and also to the dispersed and who wandered away. The first, namely the mission among the heathen lies outside of our scope. Thus we are considering the labor among the dispersed, who for some reason or another have been separated from the instituted church and among those who wandered away from the church.
The purpose of this mission work must always be, first of all, the honor of our God and King through propagating of the truth and the proclamation of His name. In the second place, the purpose is to bring to manifestation the body of Christ by bringing into existence the instituted church. And finally, the purpose is to the dispersed and those who have gone astray. In our report we are dealing with home missions in distinction from heathen missions. The sphere is therefore limited by the term “home.” Unavoidably, the question arises as to what sphere is meant by this term. How wide is this area? All kinds of answers can be given to this question. In the narrowest sense of the word this term refers to the sphere of the Protestant Reformers. According to this sense of the word our task is to labor among the dispersed and those gone astray in our own circles, among those who, especially in this present time of financial stress, or even for some other reason have moved away and cannot keep contact with a Protestant Reformed Church.
However, we do not need to limit ourselves to this sense of the word. Proceeding from the conviction that we are privileged of the Lord to maintain the pure Reformed truth in this time of spiritual laxity and apostasy, our field of labor must be sought among all Reformed people. This in the second place. They stand the closest to us as far as the formal confession is concerned. And if we also take into consideration the history, we can add to this, that outside of the narrowest circle of our own people, the Christian Reformed Church is designated to us as our mission field, and after that the Dutch Reformed Church [RCA]. The former have officially departed from the truth of Scripture and the Confessions in 1924, and may therefore rightfully be regarded as those who have gone astray; the latter are officially the Dutch Reformed Church of 1628 and form a denomination that is characterized by all sorts of departures and slackening in doctrine and in life. In the broadest sense of the word, we can understand under home missions the official labor of the church in propagating and proclaiming the truth in the entire sphere of Christianity, among the dispersed and those who have gone astray. From a practical point of view it is preferable, however, that we as Protestant Reformed Churches limit our labors to our own circle and the sphere of our erring brethren in the Christian Reformed and the Dutch Reformed Churches. To reach them by visiting them personally, by preaching and lectures, by means of books and pamphlets, to proclaim to them the truth, and thus, if they may be brought to conviction by the grace of God, to bring them, as much as possible, to the purest manifestation of the church, that is, as Protestant Reformed Churches—there lies the labor and purpose of the home missions.
This task must be carried out by the church, proceeding from her, through her offices that Christ has instituted in His church. It is true that every believer is an officebearer, according to the office of all believers, since he is partaker of the anointing of Christ. Therefore, it cannot be denied, that every believer is called to witness of the truth. He performs this calling by his personal confession in the church and outside, in his walk and in his conversation in the midst of the world, with whomever he may come in contact. But when we are speaking of missions, we are dealing with the official labor and the official calling of the church. Christ is the Servant of the Lord; He alone is Missionary. He performs that labor by Word and Spirit. He also gathers His church, protects and preserves her in the midst of the world, and rules her even unto the end of the ages. But He brings His Word through the means of His church. By His grace she becomes co-worker of God in Christ. It has been the will of the Lord, that the church should come to manifestation, not only as organism, but also as institute, by the instituted offices, in order that His church might prosper and as church through the means of her office, might give witness to the truth. Thus it follows, that the work of missions must be regarded as official ministry, and this must be performed by the church.
When we speak of the church we refer to the local church. Another church besides the local church does not exist. Each congregation is an autonomous manifestation of the body of Christ. No other offices than those of the local church can be recognized. This principle must be maintained with might and main, in order that we do not once more fall into hierarchy. This principle must also be maintained in regard to the work of missions. Therefore, we must establish the principle that home mission work must proceed from the local church. Is it then, according to this principle, absolutely impossible to speak of a Classical Home Mission? We think not. Just as it is possible for autonomous churches, which stand on the same basis of faith and confession, to unite themselves on that basis in one denomination, so also it is possible that these churches work together in the work of missions. Yet this cooperation must always be carried out in such a way that the autonomous character of the local church is maintained. Working together on the basis of this principle there is system and order in the labor, the field can better be worked in its entirety, since there is more potentiality and there are also more means to carry out the work, instead of when these united efforts are broken down into individual striving. Therefore, it is not only possible, but also desirable to speak of a Classical Home Mission.
The question arises, how and by what means should this Classical Home Mission work be carried out, and what is its peculiar task? We answer this, in the first place, by saying that it is very desirable that one or more Classical Home missionaries would be called, and that as soon as possible. These missionaries can work the field, look up the dispersed in person, bring back those who have gone astray, and by God’s grace serve to the manifestation of the body of Christ in its purest form. Our churches have a need for this. The Committee advises that preliminary work be started toward calling one or more missionaries. That missionary would be called the Classical Home Missionary, not because he is called and ordained into office by the classis, but because the sphere of his labor is the field of the Classical Home Mission. He is called and ordained by the local church, whose missionary he is and remains. But his labor is defined and his field determined by the classis, or in deliberation with the classis, while he and his work are financially supported by the classis.
In the second place, there is naturally the means of the printed page. Books and pamphlets can be printed and distributed free of charge in all the areas of a designated field. This should be done both in the Dutch and English languages.
In the third place, there is the work of correspondence with those who are dispersed. Those who cannot readily be reached could be pointed to their calling through the means of correspondence.
In the fourth place, there is the task of instituting and organizing churches, of caring for them, as long as they are not able to help themselves, and thus to give support both morally and financially as may prove necessary.
From this follows quite naturally, that funds must be created, from which can be drawn to support all these undertakings. The classis is responsible for these funds, also over the possessions, buildings, tents or tabernacles, that may be needed to carry out this work.
Thus we gradually arrive at a definite task for the Classical Mission Committee. If the classis should decide to call a missionary-pastor, it will be the task of the Classical Mission Committee, in conjunction with the minister and consistory of the calling church, to study the field, supervise the labor, to supply the missionary and his family with whatever they may need, to furnish him with the necessary means to carry out his work, and to give a report of his work and of the work of the committee to classis.
Moreover, the task of the Home Mission Committee shall be to assist, with the advice of classis, in organizing congregations, helping those congregations, not only with moral and financial support, but in every way to cause them to become a self-supporting church. The committee investigates, whether that be in consultation with the missionary-pastor, or without him, the needs of the churches, advises classis as to those needs, and reports in regard to their financial support.
This implies, in the third place, that our needy churches shall apply to the Home Mission Committee for financial aid, and from now on the classis will be advised by the committee in regard to the necessary financial support. In this connection, your committee suggests that the classis take into consideration, whether it would not be just if each congregation that receives aid from the Home Mission Fund would give up its pastor for this communal work, not more than two and not less than one Sunday (the week included), for every hundred dollars support received.
In the fourth place, this committee should try to obtain the desired pamphlets and other printed material and to distribute these in consultation with the missionary pastor, or without him, as the case may be.
In the fifth place, the committee has charge of the funds which will be necessary to cover the expenses for this work, and give report to the classis once a year, including the assessment for the churches.
In the sixth place, the committee shall have authority over all the possessions, and the right to procure whatever is necessary within the bounds of the amount set by the classis. We feel that in this way we can come to a well-defined task for the Classical Home Mission Committee, even though your committee is of the opinion that this task will have to be more closely defined as this work is brought into practice.
Respectfully submitted, Your Committee,
w.s. H. Hoeksema