The Place of the Individual Believer in Mission Work (1)

Thanks must go to Kalamazoo and to their committee for arranging and conducting this mission’s conference. Such a day is vital and good for the church; and all who were present experienced that blessing. Such conferences should be held more often, not only to detail facts of the specific fields, but to talk about methods and about the work God has given to us to do. Also they serve as specific occasions to discuss the blessed gospel which is the inspiration and motivation to preaching in our established congregations as well as on the mission fields. 

This message is divided into three parts: introductory remarks and observations; the primary responsibility of the individual believer; and the secondary responsibilities which flow from the reality of salvation. In this issue we will consider the first two. 

Of the introductory observations there are three. 

The first is that every true believer is concerned with and desirous for the growth of the church of Jesus Christ. Obvious though this might be it is necessary to note. The reason is that the Reformed believer finds himself reacting to the concept of church growth in the church world today. That concept coincides with the ungodly American fascination with size and success, namely, that a successful church is a large one. 

The correctness of this reaction to such a concept of church growth is seen in two biblical ideas. The first is that size is not one of the marks of the true church. “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). “The LORD did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people” (Deut. 7:7). Secondly, Scripture warns against any fascination with large numbers by recording the sad history of David’s numbering the people (cf. II Samuel 24). 

Nevertheless, the Reformed believer does look for, pray for, and delight in the growth of the church of Jesus Christ. The growth of the church is not something carnal, but highly spiritual. My love for the Lord and for the salvation of His people, makes me value highly church growth. Therefore, pray for, delight in, and look forward to healthy growth of the church of Jesus Christ. 

Our second introductory observation is that the activity and role of the individual believer on the mission field is no different from that of the believer in an established congregation. First of all, both experience the same sovereign and complete salvation in Jesus Christ. Secondly, both have the ability and desire to love God and their neighbor. That love of the neighbor is seeking his highest good which is the eternal salvation of his soul. Thirdly, the religion of the believer, whether in the mission field or in the established congregation, is not compartmentalized, affecting only certain days of the week or specific minutes of a day, but it touches and affects the whole of his life: day and night, seven days a week. Finally, and most importantly, every believer knows the same sense of gratitude for his deliverance from the power of sin. If members of an established congregation give as an excuse for less involvement that believers on the mission field have their first love, then repent and seek that first love, for you are in serious danger of loosing your candlestick. Do not make excuses like that! The believers in both cases have been delivered from the same depth of total depravity, have been brought to the same blessed salvation, and therefore should have the same sense of the eternal debt of gratitude. If there is any difference between the believer on the mission field and the believer in the established congregation it might be a heightened consciousness on the part of the believer in the mission field for the need to reach those outside, so that the group might grow, in order that it might be organized into a congregation. Our second introductory remark is that the role of the believer is the same, regardless of his presence in an established congregation or on the mission field. 

This brings us to our third introductory remark. The individual, true believer, along with the faithful preacher is conscious of the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ in the growth of any congregation. According toActs 2:47 it is the Lord Who adds to the church and makes it grow. This Lord is Jesus Christ, according toActs 2:36. People do not add themselves to the church. Nor are people added to the church by any other human being, whether that be an apostle or a high-powered evangelist. All the glory for church growth must go to and belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Lord crucified, risen, exalted and Who pours forth His Spirit on the church, Who adds. The heart of Peter’s message on Pentecost, and of the Reformed churches, is that the Lord adds. 

It is both fitting and necessary that the Lord Jesus Christ does the adding to the church. First, that is because only the Lord knows who “should be saved” and thus added to the church. Not everyone belongs to the church, but only the elect and redeemed, cf. John 17:2. Only Jesus knows who belong; and He adds “such as should be saved.” Secondly, it is fitting and necessary that Jesus adds to the church because He is the Lord of the church and her Head. The church is His property, His wife and His body. As such only the Lord Jesus Christ has the right to add and make the church to grow. Thirdly, Acts 2:47 teaches that this addition to the church takes place in the way of their being saved. Only the Lord has the power to save and thus to add to the church. Only the Lord by the Spirit’s power and sovereign Word enlightens and softens,Ezekiel 36:26, 27

So much for our introductory remarks and observations. We have noted, by way of review, that every true believer is concerned with and desirous for the growth of the church of Jesus Christ. Our second observation is that the activity and role of the individual believers on the mission field is basically no different from that of the believer in an established congregation. The third remark we made by way of introduction is that, no matter our responsibilities to give witness of our faith, we are very conscious that it is by the sovereign power of our Lord Jesus Christ that the church grows, cf. Acts 2:47.

Now we face the question, What is the primary responsibility of the individual believer in mission work? We find the answer to that question by answering another: How does the Lord Jesus Christ cause the church to grow? That is seen from the context of Acts 2:47. Through the wonders which accompanied the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost a crowd of thousands were gathered. This providential gathering together was for the purpose that they might hear the preaching of the apostles, Acts 2:11, 14ff. The Lord adds to the church by saving and the Lord brings men to the consciousness of salvation through the preaching of the Word (Romans 10:13-17). 

In Acts 2 we see that Jesus added to the church in the way of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with the preaching of the gospel. Peter preached concerning Jesus of Nazareth, approved of God, crucified by wicked men, raised from the dead, exalted to God’s right hand, and returning with His Spirit. This preaching of the Gospel “pricked” 3000 hearts, bringing repentance and faith (Acts 2:37, 41). 

That Jesus Himself adds to the church does not make the church inactive or passive. The Lord adds through the life and activity of the members of the church. The church is active in this Word because the Lord has the Gospel preached by and through and in the church. The church has the responsibility of preaching the gospel and praying that the Spirit will bind that preached Word on hearts, beginning with themselves. 

Usually any talk about the believer’s responsibility in mission work deals with going door to door, attending special classes to learn the special methods of witnessing. The distinct impression which this leaves is that witnessing is something special; it is another category or aspect of our lives. Rather we would say that the primary responsibility of the individual believer in the growth of the church is this: out of the experience of the salvation of his soul, he supports and delights in the preaching of Christ crucified. Out of the consciousness of what God has done for you, you pray for the preaching of the gospel that it might fall as seed upon well-prepared souls. This is exactly what the soul of the redeemed saint craves and delights in. His life is centered in the Word of God in which he reads, of which he speaks, and on which he meditates. Thus the individual believer lives within the sphere of the Word preached. Therefore, he supports the pure preaching of the Gospel in every possible way. This is true for every believer, as he hungers and thirsts after righteousness. 

Therefore, because the Lord Jesus Christ adds to the church the ones being saved through the means of the preaching of the Gospel, the primary responsibility of the individual believer towards mission work is to support the preaching. This will be a most natural activity of one who is brought to the consciousness of salvation through that preaching and who maintains that delightful consciousness while sitting under that same preaching. With the preaching at the very center of the life of the church, in the sphere of which the believer thrives, there are other, closely related elements of a healthy, spiritual church-life. Such was the case of the church at Jerusalem to which the Lord added daily the ones being saved. Let us enumerate those elements of a congregation’s life which are so closely related to the preaching of the Word. 

First, the church at Jerusalem to which souls were added was characterized by steadfast continuance in the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). This is most fundamental to the spiritual life of a congregation; they must know and live in the Word of God. The activity of continuing in the apostles’ doctrine must be “steadfast,” i.e., not departing from or allowing it to be corrupted, but holding it in confession, in the preaching, and in the life of the congregation. The whole congregation has a lively interest in the Word of God. They came together eagerly and expectantly. When the believer considers the tremendous work of God in sending His only-begotten and beloved Son for worthless sinners like himself, then he seeks to immerse himself in the whole concept of Jesus approved of God, crucified and risen. He feels that he cannot get enough of that. Throughout the week he reads the Word of God, talks of it, and meditates upon it. He lives in it, as the sphere of his whole life. 

Secondly, the church at Jerusalem was characterized by the fellowship of the members among themselves. This fellowship was expressed by being gathered often in worship, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. Also they expressed their fellowship by helping those members who lacked the necessities of life (Acts 2:42-45).

If there is not steadfast continuance in the Word, then from a human viewpoint you cannot expect an outsider to pay attention to your confession. If they see that your personal and your church’s profession is mere formality and that the Word is not primary, why would they want to join from a human viewpoint? If they see no true fellowship and love, then from a human viewpoint you cannot expect them to join. 

The Lord adds daily to the church where the individual believers strive mightily, out of the consciousness of gratitude to God for what He has done for them, to delight in and to immerse themselves in the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified, the God of their salvation. And the believer cannot get enough of it, so he lives in it every day of the week. That is where the Lord adds daily. Therefore the individual believer’s primary responsibility is to support and delight in the life of the church, in which the preaching of Christ crucified holds a central place. 

(to be continued) 

*(Text of an address by Pastor Van Overloop at Mission Emphasis Day last May in Kalamazoo Protestant Reformed Church)