Rev. Bruinsma is Eastern Home MIssionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, stationed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Previous article in this series: December 15, 2008, p. 135.
The church is a witnessing church. It is not just theduty of the church to witness. It is not just hercalling. The true church always leaves a witness. She does so in her preaching, but she also does this in the lives of her members. True believers will always be a godly witness in their confession and in their walk. This forms the foundation of the involvement of laity in mission work. Because the church is a witnessing church, members of the church ought to be actively involved in missions.
There are good and proper ways they can serve in missions.
The first way members of the church institute must be active in missions is by a godly witness in their everyday lives at home. A denomination of churches whose members have become complacent in their faith and have lost their first love of the truth do not make for a very attractive denomination. That same denomination is even less attractive when its members walk in ungodliness and worldliness in their lives. This is why we say that the foremost way members can be active in mission work is by leading a godly life right at home in their families, churches, and communities.
This is not, however, what many want to hear as an answer to the question: how can members of the church become more involved in missions? To be busy at home in the place God has given each of us in life does not fit the trend of modern missions. For some time now, the mission work of most churches has become a social work. By social work we mean seeking to improve the earthly conditions and social status of certain members of society. Emphasis is placed on going to needy countries, or to poor communities in one’s own country, specifically for the purpose of helping these people out of their poverty, or to overcome their social problems. In other words, the emphasis of modern missions is not to proclaim sin and salvation in Christ alone. It is not to proclaim the kingdom of heaven. The emphasis of modern missions is to preach that Christ has come into this world to make it a better place in which to live.
Modern mission work reflects this kind of social gospel. The church involves herself in all kinds of projects to help improve humanity, all in the name of Christ. The only difference between the mission work of many churches and the work of such organizations as the Red Cross or the United Way is that the church’s mission work is “Christian.” The emphasis of the church’s mission, it is said, is toshow the love of Christ—by humanitarian deeds—in the hopes that this will pique someone’s interest in the gospel.
To accomplish this type of “mission work,” the skilled lay member is really more important than the minister of the gospel. So the call is issued by the church to her members that they must spend some time on the mission field. The preaching in the established churches begins to revolve around this theme, as if this is the sole purpose of the preaching: to incite the membership to the work of helping others in this world. Sermons are specifically prepared (one wonders how exegetical these are) to lay upon the hearts of Christians the need to join a mission group that will perform short-term projects on the mission field. As a result, the members of the church begin to see this as their Christian obligation. In fact, so much stress is placed on this obligation that those who are not able to go on such a trip begin to view themselves as second-rate Christians. They begin to feel that they are not mission-minded, that they do not care about the needs of others, that they have no desire to share their faith.
So much is this the push of modern missions that the church or denomination that does not become involved in such social service in her missions is quickly labeled. Such a church, it is said, has no desire to do mission work. The members of that church do not have a genuine concern for the world. They are not interested in making this world a better place for Christ. They are not interested in witnessing to others of God’s love for this world.
As a result of this pressure in those churches that do not give in to this modern trend, there are members who begin to think their own churches are indeed backward. Where are the evangelistic services that promote mission work? Where is the preaching that helps train the members to go on mission trips or to perform community service? Such members begin to think that their churches are holding them back. They blame their churches for not doing mission work.
Over against this trend of modern missions stands the clear testimony of the Word of God: preach the gospel to all nations. Make disciples of all nations. Call sinners to repentance and to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Proclaim the good tidings of salvation to a world that is lost in sin and unbelief. Herald the coming of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of heaven. That is the task of the church in her mission work. How is this done? By means of the preaching of the gospel through the mouth of one called and sent to preach. This has been the emphasis of all our articles. Mission work is the official work of the church through her offices. It is not a work that belongs first and foremost to the laity.
All this being said, this does not mean that the church only preaches the gospel—without helping people in their earthly, material needs. Of course the church must aid and assist those to whom they preach the gospel when these people are needy. The church may not withhold her compassion and mercy toward those who struggle with their earthly survival. But helping people in their earthly needs is a secondary and subordinate labor to the preaching of the gospel. For that reason it is not wrong for the established church to send out individual members or mission groups to help out on a field of labor. In future articles we will address this as a legitimate labor of the laity. Yet, members ought not believe that it is the obligation of every member, or even of most members, to become involved in this way in mission work. The church may not put this kind of pressure on her members, as if they are not fulfilling their obligation to Christ if they do not go out to work once or twice on a mission field.
This is not to say, either, that ministers in the church institute ought never to preach a sermon on our need for zeal and labor in missions. There are appropriate times when a minister may and should preach such a sermon. The membership of the church should be reminded that mission work is not a secondary labor of the church, but is as integral a part of the calling of the church as are the labors in the established churches. But it is wrong when ministers use the pulpit as a soapbox for missions.
In contrast to this modern trend of missions, the church ought to make her members understand that mission work begins in their own lives exactly in the place God has ordained them to be! Do you want to assist the mission work of your churches? This is where it starts: every Christian must live a life of godliness in the home, in the school, in the workplace, in the neighborhood where God has placed him. Being unable to go on a mission trip does not reveal a lack of interest in mission work. What truly reveals a lack of interest in mission work is when members of the church have lost their love and zeal for the truth! When the laity (and clergy, for that matter) no longer view the gospel as the most precious of all possessions, when they become spiritually lazy, when they live for the pleasures of this world—then, truly, they are not interested in mission work. This is the attitude against which the church must battle.