“The missionary work of the churches is regulated by the General Synod in a mission order”
—Article 51, D.K.O.
The above article of our Church Order is of recent date. It was written and adopted in 1914 and replaced an article that had become outdated. The original article that had become outdated did not deal with the matter of missions but concerned a situation in the churches of the Netherlands (including both Belgium and Netherlands today) in which two different languages, French and Dutch, were used. The article stipulated that two groups of ecclesiastical gatherings should be maintained. The Dutch-speaking churches held their own consistory meetings, classical gatherings and particular synod. The French-speaking church did the same. This arrangement, however, was no longer necessary in 1914 and consequently this article was eliminated from the Church Order and replaced with the present article dealing with the mission work of the churches.
Monsma and Van Dellen in The Church Order Commentary, page 218, make the assertion that “the term ‘Missionary Work’ in the present article only refers to mission work among pagan peoples, such as the American Indians, the Chinese, etc.” They base this contention upon the claim that the English translation, approved by the Synod of 1920, of the Dutch article adopted in 1914 is not as specific as it should have been. The Dutch translation read: “De arbeid der kerkelijke Zending onder de heidenen en Joden wordt door de Generale Synode in eene Zendings orde geregeld.”
In view of this the same authors hold that, “This article does not refer to all types of mission work undertaken by our churches . . . . Neither does Article 51 refer to Home Missions or Church Extension.” This must be maintained, according to the authors, in order to retain the fundamental principle of Reformed Church Polity that the work of evangelization belongs to the local church and therefore each church must be left full liberty to perform as much of this work as possible in its own area. Still this does not exclude the Synod or the Classes from also regulating a certain amount of home mission work or church extension work. This is not a matter of “either-or.” There is no conflict between the work of the individual church and that of the churches collectively in this field. It can very well be a “both-and” project. But since the work of home missions does not fall under Article 51 as adopted in 1914, the Christian Reformed Synod in 1936 adopted for practical reasons a new Home Mission Order which placed this work under the care and authority of the synod.
A couple years ago the Christian Reformed Church was considering a proposed change in this article. Whether this has been adopted or is still in the process of consideration, we do not know. Under the heading “Evangelism and Missions” the proposed change would appear as Article 70 in the revised Church Order and would read thus:
“Each church is privileged and in duty bound to bring the gospel to those who do not know Christ and salvation in Him. This task shall, wherever possible, be left to the particular churches, who may execute it singly or in cooperation with one or more neighboring churches. Only if the scope of the work puts it beyond the sphere of local supervision, and demands close denominational cooperation, shall it be regulated by a Synodical Mission Order.”
The Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches has also adopted Article 51 as written in 1914 and approved in its English translation in 1920. Although we have not adopted a separate Home Mission Order, our churches have always interpreted Article 51 to include Domestic as well as Foreign Mission work. This is evident from our Church Order book where a footnote appears under this article referring us to the Constitution of the Mission Committee that appears on pages 46-49 of the same book. It is noteworthy that the preamble to this constitution speaks of church extension, church reformation as well as preaching the blessed gospel to the unchurched and heathen. Although these are distinguished, the application of Article 51 of the Church Order is to them all. The preamble reads:
“The Protestant Reformed Churches believe that, in obedience to the command of Christ, the King of the churchy to preach the blessed Gospel to all creatures, baptizing, and teaching them to observe all things which Christ has commanded, it is the explicit duty and sacred privilege of said churches to carry out this calling according to the measure of our God-given ability.
“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. However, we are convinced that our present duty lies primarily in the field of church extension and church reformation.
“With a view to this persuasion the here following constitution has been drawn up, and any enlargement of the scope of labors would imply changes and enlargements of the present draft constitution.”
The Protestant Reformed Churches do not believe that the work of the synod excludes the mission endeavors of the local or individual churches. On the contrary, it is our firm belief that each church is duty-bound and privileged, according to its means and ability, to spread the gospel in its own area and that the churches together, under synodical regulation, are to conduct mission work in the broader sphere. In view of this the alleged charge, fabricated by the enemies of the truth, that the Protestant Reformed Churches do not believe in missions, is a malicious lie designed only to deceive the ignorant.
The scope of Article 51 then does not include the mission work that is performed and regulated by the individual church. This work comes into consideration in connection with the questions of church visitation that are asked each consistory under Article 41 of the Church Order. Our present concern is with the work of missions as done by our churches cooperatively and regulated by a synodical order.
The “Mission Order” by which this work is regulated by the synod of our churches is the “Constitution of the Synodical Mission Committee.” According to the rules and limitations prescribed in this constitution, the committee must carry out the work assigned to it by the synod. We are not going to quote this constitution in this connection nor are we going to discuss the individual articles but we will briefly refer to the pertinent parts and note a few practical matters that are worthy of our attention.
- Did you know that the Mission Board cannot call a missionary? Even though this Board is a synodical committee, i.e., a denominational committee, it has no power to call and send out a missionary. This is the task of the church. Just as it is exclusively the prerogative of the church to ordain office bearers, preach the Word, administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper, so it is her task to call and send out the missionary. It was the church at Antioch that sent out Paul and Barnabas after they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them ( ). Synod, therefore, designates one of the churches as the calling church for this task. When the missionary has been obtained and is ready for the work, the calling church must labor jointly with the committee of synod to determine upon such matters as “field of labor, method of labor and time of labor to be devoted to the field.” In his Principles of Missions, Rev. Hoeksema states: “It is, of course, perfectly all right that the denomination appoints a mission board to aid the local churches in many respects: to coordinate the work. But those boards must be very careful that they do not take the place of the local church, that they must simply serve the purpose of helping the local church in their labors.”
- Did you know what the duties of the missionary are in relation to the committee of synod and the church that calls and sends him into his field of labor? He is required to submit a bi-monthly report to the committee and the calling church containing information concerning the number of calls he makes, the number of speeches he delivers, the number of radio broadcasts, how much literature is distributed either personally or by mail, how many miles he has traveled—how and why—an opinion as to the progress made and the prospects of the particular field in which he is laboring. Further the missionary is required to submit a monthly statement of his expenses to a sub-committee of the Mission Board which must approve the account before it is paid by the synodical treasurer.
3. Did you know that the missionary and his family are required to have their membership papers in the calling church? Did you know that he cannot leave his field of labor immediately if he chooses to accept a call elsewhere but must give at least two months’ notice to the committee? Did you know that he has ex-officio an advisory vote at ail synodical meetings dealing with the missionary work in which he is engaged, or in all matters that may affect him and his work?
- Did you know that our synodical mission work is to be regulated by a Board which is to consist of no less than eight men and is to be chosen from the Eastern branch of our churches? The latter regulation is, of course, not a matter of principle but is so decided for practical reasons since our calling church is now located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Should synod decide to appoint one of the western churches as the calling church, it is reasonable to assume that the constituency of the synodical mission committee would then be chosen from the west.
- Did you know that the synod of 1942 authorized the Mission Board to secure the services of ministers and students to carry on the work of missions in the event we have no missionary in the field? And that the synod of 1946 expressed that church extension work ought to be pushed even more than before and further, that the Home Missionary be assured of assistance in his labors by permitting the Mission Committee, in conjunction with the calling church, to ask the help of a fellow minister? Of course you know that the synod of 1959 decided to embark upon a vast program of foreign radio broadcasting by which the gospel as proclaimed by the Protestant Reformed Churches will be proclaimed to a potential audience of millions!
Still they say: “The Protestant Reformed Churches are not mission-minded.”
To us the work of missions is very important. And the reason for this is not social, economic or utilitarian but rather because we believe that “by His Word and Spirit the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to Himself out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith” (Heid. Cat., L.D. 21).