The Objects of Missions

In the previous article we took issue with Dr. J.H. Bavinck’s opinion that there is no special urgency to do mission work among the Jews. The fact is thatRomans 11 in its context (cf. especially chapters 9 and 10) teaches that the natural branches (the Jews) once cut off may be graffed in again into the olive tree (the Church). This is the unique position and special privilege of the Jews. The wild branches (Gentiles) once cut off remain cut off. There is no possibility of their ever being graffed in again. From this point of view the Jews do enjoy a certain priority. They are proper objects of mission work and, in fact, mission work among the Jews ought not be ignored by the church.

The proper objects of mission work (those to whom the church must direct its mission preaching) are the Jews, the apostates or covenant wanderers, and the heathen. The necessary distinctions among these must be made. Mission work among the Jews is just that, and it is called by that name universally within the church world. Mission work among the heathen is work that is done among those who in their generations have stood outside of the sphere of the covenant of God. This is called “mission work among the heathen” or probably more commonly, “Foreign Missions.” TheForm for the Ordination of Missionaries used by the Protestant Reformed Churches refers to this work by the former name. Mission work among the wandering covenant members is work carried on among those who either themselves or in their past generations once belonged to the church but have wandered into the ways of sin and disobedience. The Protestant Reformed Churches, for the most part, call this “Church Extension” or “Church Reformation” work. Dr. Bavinck and a host of others designate this work, “Evangelism.” This latter is the preferable term. It is that mainly because it is literally taken from the Bible. Not only so but one does not really extend the Church. Scripture teaches us that the Son of God from the beginning to the end of time gathers His Church out of the entire human race. The chosen church is gathered but not extended (cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21). 

As far as mission work among the heathen is concerned there ought to be no difference of opinion. In fact, there really can be no difference of opinion at this point. No one, as far as I know, questions the legitimacy of the church engaging in this work. The church has always, even from its earliest New Testament history, conceived of this as part of its mission task. The Book of Acts reveals how the church began the realization of the “Great Commission” at Jerusalem, then to Samaria, and from there to the uttermost parts of the world. Our Protestant Reformed Churches, although for nearly fifty years involved almost exclusively in Church Extension work, have always regarded mission work among the heathen as part of the church’s task. The Form Of The Ordination Of Missionaries in its “. . .short declaration touching the office of missionary ministers of the Word” reflects this same position:

Since our God, according to His infinite mercy, has chosen a Church unto everlasting life, and gathers it by His blessed gospel, out of every nation, and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, unto the fellowship of His Son, in unity of the true faith, therefore our risen Savior has ordained an office and has called men, to carry the message of salvation to all peoples, commanding His apostles, and in them all lawful ministers of the Word: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Mark 16:15

For He that ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fulfill all things, gave some to be apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ. And the Apostles, responding to this, went forth into the world declaring the whole counsel of God, particularly repentance, and remission of sins, through faith in Jesus Christ, testifying: “for God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

“But all things are of God Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation: to-wit, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not reckoning unto them their trespasses; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. We are ambassadors, therefore, on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God.”

II Cor. 5

Without this word of reconciliation, faith in Christ and consequently salvation, is and remains forever impossible, for Holy Scripture says,

Acts 4:12:

“And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved”; and elsewhere:

Rom. 10:14, 15, 17:

“How shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent? So then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” 

Although all ministers of the Word have in common, that to them is committed the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the Sacraments, the government of the Church, and the maintenance of Christian discipline, yea, all that, according to the Word of God belongs to the office of pastor and teacher: and although from the difference of field of labor no difference is resulting, concerning office, authority, dignity, since all possess the same mission, the same office and the same authority, yet, not withstanding this, it is necessary that some labor in the congregations already established, while others are called and sent to preach the Gospel to those without, in order to bring them to Christ. And let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called by the Church of God and consequently by God Himself and whereunto each has received gifts, until it pleases the Lord to lead him along a lawful way to a different field of labor. 


That unto the heathen also these glad tidings must be brought appears plainly from

Matt. 28:19,

“Go ye therefore, and teach 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.” 

That same was revealed to Peter by showing him as it were a great sheet let down by four corners upon the earth, wherein were all manner of beasts, and thereupon commanding him to go down to the Gentile Cornelius, saying: “Arise, and get thee down, and go with them, nothing doubting; for I have sent them,”

Acts 10:20

Likewise he spoke to Paul in a vision in the temple: “Depart: for I will send thee forth far hence unto the Gentiles.”

Acts 22:21

This divine charge was also carried out by the church of Antioch, when they, after fasting and prayer, laid their hands upon Barnabas and Saul and sent them away to preach the gospel also unto the Gentiles,

Acts 13.

And when they on their first missionary journey had arrived at Antioch in Pisidia they testified to the contradicting Jews: “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying: I have set thee for a light of the Gentiles; that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the uttermost part of the earth.” 

And besides all this it is evident that the work of missions is the task of the Church since the Lord Jesus Himself calls His Church the salt of the earth, and says: “Ye are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under a bushel, but on the stand.”

Matthew 5.

It is perfectly obvious from the above Form that our Reformed fathers certainly understood that Scripture calls for mission work among the heathen. The heathen are those who in their generations stand outside of the church, the line of the covenant. These are the “all nations” in distinction from Israel in the Old Dispensation and in distinction from the true Israel of God in all ages. 

These must be the object of the missionary preaching of the church because, according to the Form, Christ commanded it. Christ said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations. . .” (Matt. 28:19). Christ commanded that to the Apostles who stood as the representatives of the entire New Testament Church. The Church, also today, has the mandate of Christ to teach and baptize all nations. The Church has the assurance that Christ will be with her even unto the end to enable her to perform that great task, to encourage her, to protect and preserve her. Not only that but Christ will also make that teaching and baptizing effective unto the salvation of the elect and the condemnation of the reprobate. Christ, “adds daily to the church, such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). 

The Form also cites as proof for this the vision God gave to Peter of the clean and unclean animals and God’s command, “rise, Peter, kill and eat;” With this vision the Lord made plain to Peter that he must go to Cornelius, the Gentile. As a result, Cornelius and his house believed, were baptized and added to the Church (Acts 10). When the church saw this she confessed, “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). Finally the Form cites the incident of the Church at Antioch ordaining Paul and Barnabas to go to the nations preaching the gospel (Acts 13:1ff.). 

The fact is, therefore, the people of God (the elect) are scattered in every nation under heaven. These must be gathered into the sheepfold of Christ. These are the “other sheep” which Christ must bring (John 17). These will be gathered only by the preaching of the gospel by the institute of the Church. This must be done simply because Jesus told the Church to do so. When the task is complete the end of the world will come. Then the Church of all ages, from Adam to the very last elect, will be perfected in union with the exalted Christ. God’s glory will be reflected in His Church everlastingly. 

That is the glorious goal of the mission work of the church. May God’s Church be faithful in that holy task until we see Jesus on the clouds of glory.