Some Principles of Missions

Up to this point, we have been busy drawing some broad lines of principles with respect to mission work. It remains, in this concluding article, to bring these principles to bear upon actual mission work as it is conducted in our day and as it ought to be conducted by all who engage in this noble task. It is not amiss to review briefly the points we have made so that our readers may recall to mind what has already been written. The chief point we have been making is that the preaching of the gospel is a fundamental and principal sign of the return of Christ upon the clouds of heaven to usher in the end of this age and the beginning of the everlasting kingdom of heaven. All the other signs clearly are caused by the sign of the preaching of the gospel. 

We have pointed out especially that it is the worldwide preaching of the gospel which is the cause of the division of the world into two camps: the camp of anti- Christianity and the camp of Gog and Magog. We have noted that this division is of fundamental importance that a chasm is created between these two camps which no earthly power can bridge. It is this division which plays such an important role in the events of the end. 

But we must turn to our conclusions. 

First of all, there stands out the all-important principle that, because of the unique relationship in which mission work stands to the end of the world, mission work is the work of God Almighty which He performs through Jesus Christ and by His Holy Spirit. Our beautiful Heidelberg Catechism, in question 54, answers the question, “What believest thou concerning the ‘holy catholic church’ of Christ?” in these unforgettable words: “That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Word and Spirit, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain, a living member thereof.” Thus puts the word of missions where it belongs — in the hand of the Son of God. 

This implies some important truths which we can only briefly mention, but which deserve more detailed treatment. 

In the first place, the power of the gospel is always the power of God Himself through Jesus Christ. God chose a people from all eternity which He has destined to be His. He chose these people in Jesus Christ and sent Christ into the world to die for their sins — and for their sins alone. The salvation which God ordained as the inheritance of His church is purchased in the blood of the cross. It is Christ therefore, Who causes His gospel to be preached — the gospel of His cross. And it is by this gospel that the purpose of God determined in election and realized in the cross is accomplished. The gospel is the power of God whereby His elect, redeemed people are called irresistibly out of darkness into the fellowship of the kingdom of heaven. Always the gospel is God’s power. It accomplishes God’s purpose. It does all that God determines it to do. All the elect are saved by the gospel; none are lost. None of the reprobate are saved; all are lost through the way of their unbelief and rejection of the gospel. It is all as God wants it to be. 

In the second place, this means that salvation is the sovereign work of God’s grace. You can readily perceive what this means for all Arminianism. It is a sad and hopeless travesty of the gospel to make it into an offer or an invitation by which God invites all men to accept salvation with the power of their own free will. It is destructive of the very gospel itself to alter its character so that it is no more God’s power, but a mere presentation of a possibility for man to save himself. God is effectively ruled out of mission work by such a teaching. Yet, much of mission work today is carried on along these lines. But it is hopeless. Through this kind of preaching the church will never be gathered. The work of missions is then not done. Better to stay at home than to go to a foreign or domestic field with such caricatures of the gospel. How much mission work must be condemned on this basis is hard to tell; but it is a great percentage. God will not use the arrogant philosophies of men to accomplish His purpose. 

We must insist that it is only by sovereign grace that the gospel is the power of salvation. And this must also form the content of the gospel which is preached. This message must be proclaimed on the mission field, that God is the sovereign Lord Who does all His good pleasure and saves His elect people through the power of the cross and by an irresistible work of the Spirit. 

In the third place, this work of missions is therefore performed by the church. Much of what is done today is not; and there can be no positive fruit produced by it. It is done by boards, agencies, organizations, individuals, etc., but not by the church as part of her official calling. This means that the work of missions must be done by ordained ministers who are called to proclaim the gospel by the church and therefore by Christ. We must protest against the current idea that anyone who has a mind to preach can simply go forth to perform the work of missions. This is not true. Even Billy Graham stands condemned on this basis alone. Although he is an ordained minister, he is not sent and called to this task which he now performs by the church, but simply operates under the sponsorship of an organization. The work of missions is the work of the church of Christ through her called and ordained ministry. Indeed, while pamphlets, gospel tracts, Bibles, personal witnessing, etc., may all aid the work of missions and be a supplementary means of reaching the lost, it is only the officially proclaimed gospel which finally is God’s power to save the elect and bring them into the fellowship of the body of Christ. To ignore this principle or to cast it aside and abandon it is to cut the heart out of the mission work of the church. 

This is our first conclusion then. Let the church which wants to engage in this mission calling rest in the assurance that it does not take man’s work to do mission labors; the work of God is sufficient and God will use a faithful church to gather those who are His people. Let her not become impatient with the gospel and destroy her very work with human inventions. 

In the second place, all of what we have said means that mission work comes to an end. As one elder once put it quite long ago: “God puts the roof on His house some day.” This may sound axiomatic, and many may protest that, of course, it comes to an end with the end of the world; but this is not what we mean, and the point is of no little importance. It seems as if this simple truth is consistently ignored. 

Let us look at this a bit more closely and see the implications. Positively, this means that there comes a time when the last elect is born, called by the gospel into the consciousness of his salvation in Christ, and that, therefore, mission work has been finished. Jesus says, in Matthew 24, referring, no doubt, to this point: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” The end does not come at an arbitrary time; it comes when the purpose of God is realized. Christ’s coming is not simply an “end”; it is a “telos” — a goal attained, a purpose realized, a counsel accomplished. The end has got to come then; it cannot be delayed another moment. All the church is ready for heaven. 

And this also means that the gospel has accomplished all its purpose in the wicked. The gospel has been God’s sovereign power by which the wicked have grown in sin and filled the cup of iniquity. The world has become ripe for judgment when evil men, under Satan’s leadership, have set up their anti-Christian kingdom and destroyed the church and killed the people of God. But this too is brought about by the gospel. 

Now, what does all this mean? 

It means that one aspect of present mission work at least, is not very important and is often misinterpreted. I refer to mission work that is geared to revival in the church. So-called “crusades” are part of this. It is just possible, of course, that the established church does need revival once in a while. It may grow lethargic and indifferent. Revival may be necessary to wake up the established church from her spiritual sleep. Even the Psalmist prays: “Revive us again.” But to make this part of mission work and give it the interpretation given it today is depressingly hopeless. A church that stands in constant need of revival is in a bad way. And the trouble is that there is no end to this need for revival. It has to be done over and over again. And if one makes revival an integral part of mission work, one never quite reaches the end. One can always return another time to an apostatizing church to try to revive people once more. God can never, apparently, bring this work to a successful conclusion. 

And so there is a deeper principle at stake here — a principle which must not be forgotten. There is no space in this concluding article to develop this; we can only briefly draw the main lines. But the principle is that God always works organically; i.e., in the line of continued generations. This is true as far as election is concerned, first of all. The elect are gathered in the line of generations, from father to son, to son’s son, etc. It is true that new lines are brought into the covenant of God so that the covenant is established in every nation and tribe and tongue, and the church becomes catholic. But the covenant is continued in succeeding generations. God does not gather His people from one generation only in one place, then to abandon succeeding generations to go elsewhere to gather one generation in another place. This is not God’s way of salvation. 

But if election is in the line of generations, so also is reprobation. The sins of the fathers are indeed visited upon the sons unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate God. When those who are in covenant lines apostatize, neglect their covenant obligations, fail to instruct the children of the covenant, walk in ways of error, depart from the path of righteousness, this has the most serious consequences for generations to come. For children walk in the ways of their fathers and depart still more. Wickedness increases as sin develops with each succeeding generation. 

Hence, to return again and again to generations who have departed from the ways of God is hopeless — yes, is flying in the face of what God Himself has revealed as the way He works. As generations depart, nations as a whole, once Christianized, become anti-Christian, of the camp of Satan. They always perhaps retain a remnant of the religion they once professed (even the God-is-dead theologians insist they belong to the established and Christian church); but their religion is apostate Christianity, and they are lost for all time. It is not the calling of the church to go back again and again to these generations to bring about revival. Branches pruned off the olive tree are not grafted back in some later day. 

Does this mean that nothing can and must be done in this area of mission work? Indeed not. But the work that must be done is the work of calling out of apostatizing generations those who are still numbered among God’s elect. They are the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And notice that they belong to Israel’s house. If they remain in their churches which run the road of apostasy, they too shall see their generations lose their place in God’s covenant. If they come out to join with those who stand fast for the truth, the covenant will be continued among them. 

Apparently this is an urgent calling in our present day when so many churches are enthralled with the enticing and beckoning teachings of modernism, and chase the siren call of false doctrine. Let the church then get busy with her task. This will not spell worldwide or even national revival so that a country of the whole world turns to God. This will mean only that the faithful in many places, suffering under a great deal of pressure from evil men, will abandon a hopeless cause and stand with all the faithful everywhere in the cause of the truth of the gospel. They will be few in number, but the church of Christ is only ever a remnant; and — we are not postmillennial. 

This is the teaching of Paul in Romans 11: “For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” 

Finally, it is evident in our time that mission work is indeed reaching its conclusion. The gospel has been brought to every nation. The work goes on in many fields and is being rapidly completed. And indications are that the work is all but over. Many foreign fields are being closed — especially in communistic countries and pagan Africa. This is something to be expected. We wrote before that these are the nations that are never brought under the influence of the gospel as the “Christian” nations are. The elect have been saved there, the church established, but the nations themselves, considered organically, are bitter against “Christianity” and the church. Now, as they rise to nationhood, they turn out the missionaries and close their doors to the preaching of the gospel. 

In other lands the church is being established indigenously and is prepared to stand on its own. The work there, as far as its being foreign is concerned, is about over. 

In Christian lands there remains an urgent calling. It can be called mission work, but in a more restricted sense of the word. It is the calling to call forth from the church which wants the truth no more the sheep of Israel’s house. This calling presses upon us as the false church develops more rapidly into its final goal — the right hand of Antichrist. 

Let the church then get on with her task. Let her be busy in this work. But above all, the hope is that the church which has abandoned the principles of Scripture will return to them; clean out the boards and agencies which have done so much to direct mission work in wrong channels; and be busy with the task of true mission work. There is much that needs doing. And while on the distant horizon of history already grumbles the thunders of Christ’s return, let us be spurred on to our task in the confidence that if we are faithful, God will use us to accomplish His purpose.