The Domestic Mission Committee (DMC) has been developing and promoting the concept that each local church needs to be involved in mission work in its own area. We envision our churches reaching out into an area with a hundred-mile radius to develop a core group that, under God’s blessing, will result in the establishment of another church. This work could well be the work solely of the local church or it may become the work of the churches in common. This concept is in harmony with Article I of the DMC’s Constitution: “Although mission work is the calling of the local church, by virtue of the voluntary church federation some mission work may also become the work of the churches in common.” The New Fields Subcommittee of the DMC has been promoting this idea with a presentation on the outreach of the local church that it has given to many of our evangelism committees and even church councils.
The DMC plans to present three articles on this topic. In this article we will emphasize the calling of the local church to do mission work. The next article will speak to how this local mission work is best done. And finally, we plan an article introducing a proposal that the DMC has for the 2016 Synod for calling a missionary to create his own field of labor and whose work in part will be to work closely with our individual congregations in their mission endeavors.
But now we consider the topic of the calling of the local church to do mission work.
The calling of the church to do mission work was set forth by Jesus shortly before His ascension into heaven. To the eleven disciples, who represented the New Testament church, Jesus gave the charge, “Go ye therefore, and teach (the word is really “disciple”) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (). In we find a slight variation of this, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Any command that Jesus gives the church is important. But the importance of this command is underscored by the fact that it was given by the risen Lord shortly before His departure into heaven. In fact, He further emphasized this call to the church at the very time of His ascension, when He told the disciples, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” ( )
The commission to disciple the nations by the preaching of the Word is not the only calling of the church. She must also care for and build up her own members. She must be faithful to preach the gospel to them, administer the sacraments to them, and exercise Christian discipline for their good. In that context she must contend for the faith, teach her covenant youth, care for the poor, as well as train ministers of the gospel. Far too many churches have become so caught up in mission work that they neglect these duties to their own demise. But in addition to ministering to her own members is the important work of discipling the nations. Mission work must not be seen as a luxury or something the church should do only when she has extra resources. Mission work is essential to her work as church.
And the work of missions is a great privilege that Christ has given to His church. Mission work belongs to the great work of God to gather His church. Understand well, the gathering of the church is broader than mission work. God gathers His church not only from the ungodly outside the church, but also from the line of the covenant within the church. But the gathering of His church is God’s greatest work in history. All other works of God stand in the service of the gathering of the elect church. And the church already gathered is privileged to be used by God to accomplish this great work of church gathering through the preaching of gospel that He has entrusted to her and through the godly witness of her members. When a church neglects either aspect of her work, whether it is ministering to her own or discipling the nations, she robs herself of a great privilege God has given her. God will gather His church. But the church that fails in either aspect of her work is unfaithful to her calling and robs herself of a great privilege.
Mission work is to be directed to different kinds of individuals. The preamble of the DMC Constitution states, “We believe that this missionary activity includes the work of church extension and church reformation, as well as the task of carrying out the gospel to the unchurched and heathen.” This speaks of three objects of mission work. First, there are believers that have strayed from the truth or who may be sound in faith but find themselves in churches that are no longer faithful to the gospel. This is implied in the statement that “mission activity includes the work of church extension and church reformation.” This kind of work certainly is the calling of every true church. That is evident from Jesus’ response when He saw His own countrymen as sheep having no shepherd. He declared that “the harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest” (). This prompted Jesus to send out the twelve to the lost sheep of the house of Israel to preach the gospel of the kingdom ( ). On another occasion the full harvest prompted Jesus to send out the seventy (Luke 10:2).
In addition, the DMC Constitution speaks of “carrying the gospel to the unchurched and heathen.” The unchurched are those who in their generations belonged to the church but have fallen out of the covenant. The heathen are those who in their generations have stood outside the covenant. The Foreign Mission Committee’s Constitution indicates in Article 1 that foreign mission work is with those that are heathen. Domestic missions, therefore, is concerned with believers in need of church reformation and the unchurched. Having said that, it is interesting to note that with the influx of third-world immigrants into our country there is work among the heathen in our own cities.
Next must be emphasized that this important call to do mission work comes to the local church. It is not the place of synod, nor of classis, nor of a mission board to do mission work. This privilege belongs to the local church. The great commission Jesus gave the church to do missions was to disciple the nations by means of preaching the gospel and baptism. This is the work of the local church. In addition, each believer in the local church holds the office of prophet, so that each is equipped to bring the word to others in the power of the preaching. Christ uses this witness along with the preaching to gain others to Christ and thus gather His church.
Not only does the great commission to disciple the nations come to the local church, it also comes to each local church. Not just to the large churches that have many resources, but also to the smaller congregations that have little strength (). At present we have two of our larger congregations that are developing works in Myanmar and India. Not every church has the resources to do this. But each congregation has the ability to work in its own community. In fact, this is where the mission work of each church must begin and only then extend out as the Lord gives opportunity. To the two travelers to Emmaus the risen Lord said, “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem ( ). And to return to Acts 1:8, we find that at His ascension Jesus instructed the apostles, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Mission work must be the desire and work of the entire congregation rather than just a few. This desire proceeds from the office of believer that makes every believer a prophet. This office of prophet implies not only the ability to speak the word of God but also the desire to do so. Remember, the Old Testament word for “prophet” has the basic idea of bubbling over. A prophet is one so filled with the wonderful knowledge of God that it bubbles over in his life.
A wonderful example we have of believers exercising the office of prophet is the church of Thessalonica. In the opening chapter of his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul recalls how that the gospel came to them not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit (v. 5). Paul adds that the Thessalonian Christians became examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia (v. 7) in that the word of the Lord sounded out from them far and wide (v. 8). The word translated “sounded out” is literally “to echo.” The idea is that the Thessalonian saints eagerly spread the word that they had heard from Paul, so that it was as though the gospel was echoing back and forth in Thessalonica and beyond. And the key was that they had received the word with joy in the Holy Spirit (v. 6).
This zeal found in Thessalonica for the spread of the gospel needs to be cultivated from the pulpit, in the catechism room, in our Bible Study groups, in our homes, in the Standard Bearer and Beacon Lights, and on every level. The church can expect the Lord’s blessing on its mission work only when it lives in the hearts of her members who support it financially, in prayers, and with a godly witness in their own community. By comparison, what blessing do you suppose we could expect on our children and grandchildren were only a few in the church concerned about their salvation? What if only the minister and a few elders along with a committee of the church were really interested in the training of the church’s youth, but the rest of the congregation, including parents and grandparents, had little heart for it? You can be sure that the Lord’s blessings would not be found in that church and that the covenant would soon die out in a few generations. It is no different with the important work of discipling the nations. The church cannot expect the Lord’s blessings on her mission work when only a few are actively involved and there is little heart for the work generally in the membership of the church.
Let us be faithful to our calling as churches to preach the gospel to the nations. Let us begin in our own communities. As the Lord gives us opportunity, let us reach out farther, even to the ends of the earth. When the work becomes more than one church can handle, let it become the work of the churches in common.
But let us be faithful!
And the Lord will bless our work!
He will also bless our churches!