The Mission Order (continued), Art. 51, D.K.O.

During the early years of the present century, the struggle continued unabated over the question, “Who has jurisdiction in the calling and sending of the missionary?” The debate revolved about the theory of“centralization” (synod and classes may exercise this right) versus the theory of “decentralization” (this right belongs only to consistories): Our readers will recall that the Mission Orders adopted in 1898 and 1902 both stood definitely on the basis of centralization but that against that position various protests were registered so that the matter was constantly brought to the attention of the synod. 

We now come to 1910. In that year the synod adopted the third Mission Order which was short lived for although the order itself stood on the principle of centralization, the same synod that adopted it repudiated that principle in action taken at a .later session. From Rev. De Korne’s writing we quote the following features of this Mission Order. 

Article II states: The execution of the mission program of the church is in the hands of five delegates who, with their alternates, are appointed by synod. 

Article IV provides that the Board receives its orders from synod, but in matters for which the synod has not made any provision, the Board is authorized to act according to its best judgment. 

Article V provides that synod determines where the ministers of the Word are to labor and how. Synod also is to determine the question of extension or retrenchment of our mission work, and determine the number of workers.” 

This Mission Order contained a total of twenty-five articles. In only two of these articles was there any reference to the local church. Article IV made provisions for offerings for missions to be taken in the churches and Article XI insisted that ordained missionaries must be called, ordained, and sent out by the local church. 

De Korne writes again, “In the Acts of 1910 the article which recorded the adoption of the new Mission Order was numbered 43. Article 44, thus the one immediately following, records a conviction of the same synod showing dissatisfaction with the Mission Order just adopted. In spite of the plain provision of Article XI, attention was called to an overture of Classis Grand Rapids East asking the synod to decide to have missionaries called by a local church. Synod decided to do this and adopted as its policy, a fairly long document Which pointed out the necessity of a complete new Mission Order built up entirely on the basis of the principle just adopted, namely; missionaries to be called by a local church.”

“This document stated that synod wanted the call to be issued by the local church not merely in name, so as to make the calling church a sort of instrument of the missionary committee in guaranteeing the ministerial status of the missionary, but actually so that the calling church can maintain living contact with its mission field.

“It was decided that the Mission Order adopted by the Synod of 1910 should be effective for only two years and these two years were to be a period of transition to a new regime. 

“Again a committee was appointed to draw up a new Mission Order for consideration at the next Synod.” 

From all this it is evident that the matter was far from being settled. The differences of opinion concerning this matter could not be dissolved by synodical legislation. The pendulum kept swinging back and forth with both sides vigorously attempting to sustain their position. 

During the next two years there was considerable stir in the churches about this matter. Five classes (out of a total of twelve) overtured the synod to return to the principle of 1908, namely, centralization. One classis overtured synod to abide by the second decision of 1910, namely, decentralization. Two classes submitted questions, one challenging the 1908 position and one challenging the position of 1910. Before the Synod of 1912 treated any mission reports, it adopted, upon the advice of various committees on missions, the following resolution or principle: 

“The calling and sending out of missionary ministers shall be done by a local congregation, but in case circumstances require it, the calling and sending out may be done by the churches combined in a manner to be determined by these churches themselves and conformity with synodical and classical stipulations.” 

It appears that on the basis of this compromise the Synod of 1912 drew up a Mission Order that recognized both the principle of centralization and decentralization. Concerning the first it declared that each congregation is obliged to obey the missionary commission of our Lord by sending out one or more ordained missionaries to the heathen; and that missionary calls shall proceed from the local congregation or from a group of local congregations. It further provided that not only the appointment of a missionary, but also the regulation of his work and responsibility for all the details of the post are to proceed from the calling church or churches in consultation with the mission delegates appointed by the classes. It even provided that the educational, medical and industrial features of the work can be managed by a local church or group of churches if this church or group of churches takes responsibility for the entire post. 

On the other side the same Order provided .that since educational, medical, and industrial missions, because of their general significance for the entire missionary enterprise, can more properly be administered by the churches working together, they shall be supported from the general mission fund and administered by the mission delegates appointed by synod. 

This Mission Order remained, in force for twenty-seven years. Although some of its provisions were challenged and minor changes were made, there was no major revision until 1939 when the present Order for Missions was drawn up. 

It is of interest to note that even though the Mission Order of 1912 contained principles of decentralization, these were not followed during the ensuing years. The practices of centralization continued even though a change had been enacted in policy. This brought forth complaints in 1922 that the Mission Order was not being applied since, with the exception of the calling and sending of the missionaries and their helpers, all the work was being done by the Board, Synod took this matter under advisement and two years later expressed that it was simply impossible to comply with the letter of the Mission Order. Its answer to the Board of Missions was that they should take account of the principle expressed in the Mission Order as far as circumstances permit. 

We regret that we do not have a copy of the 1939 Mission Order. It appears that the Synod finally reverted to the original position of 1898, namely, that of centralization and thus brought the Mission Order into conformity with the practice of the church and there the matter rested. 

In our churches, the local churches are responsible for mission activity insofar as each congregation is able to engage in this work. In this respect we stand on the principle of decentralization or the Order of 1912. Our denominational mission work is regulated by a synodical Mission Board in conjunction with the calling church. Article 7 of the Mission Board’s Constitution specifies the relation between this Board and the calling church. It states: 

“All matters of finances connected with the missionary and his work, belong solely under the jurisdiction of the mission committee. However, the matter of field of labor and the method of labor, insofar as not determined by the synod, shall be under the jurisdiction of the mission committees and the calling church jointly. 

“The field of labor and the time of labor to be devoted to the field, m well as the method to be employed shall be determined by the calling church in conjunction with, and upon the advice of the mission committee. However, in no case shall a field of labor or a method be determined without the majority approval of the committee. 

“The missionary shall send a copy of his bi-monthly report to the calling church. 

“A missionary receiving and accepting a call to another field of labor than the one he occupies as missionary, shall under all circumstances give both the calling church, and the mission committee two months’ notice before he leaves his field of labor. 

“The place of residence of the missionary shall be determined by the mission committee in conjunction with the calling church, and upon advice of the mission committee only.” 

Language in Ecclesiastical Assemblies 

Article 52, D.K.O. 

“Inasmuch as different languages are spoken in the churches, the necessary translations shall be made in the ecclesiastical assemblies, and in the publication of recommendations, instruction and decisions.”

This article did not appear in the original Church Order of Dordt. It originated in 1914 in the Christian Reformed Church because of the bi-lingual situation that existed at that time. Today the provisions of this article have virtually become obsolete. They are no longer needed since the language of our forefathers is no longer used. Our churches have become a one-language-speaking church. Very seldom is it necessary to translate a report, instruction or decision into English. Where, however, this is necessary, it should also be done. This is what the Church Order requires and it certainly is a demand within reason. 

—G.V.d.B.