Last spring, April 22 to be exact, the Protestant Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan sponsored a Mission Emphasis Day. Speakers at the Conference were: Rev. Steven Houck, Rev. Lau Chin Kwee of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore, Rev. John A. Heys, Rev. Ronald Van Overloop, and the undersigned. The day proved extremely profitable for the goodly number able to attend. For this reason we decided to publish the speeches in this column for the benefit of a larger audience. The undersigned gave the introductory speech in the morning on the subject: The Protestant Reformed Churches and Their Mission Calling.
That the Church of Christ has the calling to do mission work is plain from Scripture. The risen Christ said, “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: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:19, 20). Our Lord spoke these words to the apostles just prior to His ascending into glory. Because the apostles together with the prophets and with Christ as the Cornerstone are the foundation of the church this word applies to the church in every age (cf. Ephesians 2:20). This is also evident from the fact that Christ promised to be with the church unto the end of the world. The Book of Acts records the explosion of the church from Jerusalem throughout the Mediterranean world. This calling in missions is also plain from the fact that Jesus told us: “This gospel must be preached to all the world, for a witness to the nations.” When this work is accomplished, “then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14).Revelation 6 gives us the vision of the white horse and rider going through the earth conquering and to conquer.
All of this applies to our churches. We must be busy in this work in obedience to the command of the King of the church. We must and we can, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. By that grace we can preach the gospel boldly, optimistically, joyfully. After all, we never need to be ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). God always causes the faithful preacher and church to triumph in every place.
In the past, the emphasis of Protestant Reformed missions was on Church Reformation and Extension. This is expressed in the Preamble to the Mission Constitution which in part reads: “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.” Obviously our churches believe they have a calling to preach the gospel to all creatures. Belonging to this calling is the work of church reformation. However, our churches believe their present duty lies primarily in church reformation and extension. Operating from that basis the work in the past was directed toward the Reformed community and especially toward the Christian Reformed Church. This was adopted by the Synod of 1940 and remains in force today. Under this preamble our mission work was done for the first forty years or so of our history.
That history is very interesting. In 1924 there were three churches cast out of the Christian Reformed Church. These were the Protesting Christian Reformed Churches of First Kalamazoo; Eastern Avenue, Grand Rapids; and Hope, Riverbend. 1931 marked the appointment of the first Mission Committee. By 1934 there were nineteen congregations, largely the fruit of the work of Revs. G.M. Ophoff and H. Hoeksema. Our first home missionary, Rev. Bernard Kok, labored from 1936 to 1941. Other missionaries were called and labored in the states and after the war in Canada. The work in Canada was among the post-war Dutch immigrants who had their roots in the Liberated Churches. By 1950 there were twenty-five churches with some six thousand members. After the split of 1953 Rev. G. Lubbers became home missionary laboring for ten years in Colorado and the Dakotas and Houston, Texas. The churches of Loveland, Colorado; Forbes, North Dakota; and Isabel, South Dakota were organized under his preaching. Rev. R. Harbach succeeded Rev. Lubbers. Rev. Harbach worked in Houston and in British Columbia. Some families from the latter area joined the Lynden, Washington and Edmonton, Alberta churches as the result of Harbach’s ministry. Houston was also organized under his preaching. Later, through the ministry of Rev. B. Woudenberg (pastor of Lynden at the time) the congregation of Edmonton, .Alberta was organized.
The year 1962 marks a significant date in the history of Protestant Reformed missions. The Lord opened a door for us in Jamaica. A pastor in England heard the Reformed Witness Hour over Transworld Radio. He contacted Rev. C. Hanko and asked that we take over the work among some twenty congregations in Jamaica. This we have done by means of emissaries and correspondence. Rev. Lubbers served as missionary to Jamaica from 1970 to 1975. Why are 1962 and Jamaica so significant? For some forty years we were involved in Church Reformation and extension almost exclusively. Many accused us of “not believing in missions.” When Martin Luther was accused of this he replied that he was too busy reforming the church to do mission work. That is our answer too. The churches needed to be established in. the truth. When the churches had been founded, God gave us work in Jamaica and now in Singapore as well. But there’s more. Jamaica is different, decidedly different. They are not white, but black. They are not Dutch, but Jamaican. They are not middle or upper middle class, but poor, extremely poor, especially by our standards. They are not well versed in the Reformed Creeds. They are babes in the faith. All these and more differences present their own problems. One has but to listen to those who have been there to know that. Prior to 1962 we labored among groups of people very much like us. These were steeped in the Dutch Reformed tradition and theology. Now we labor among peoples very different from us in a different land with a different culture, different customs and mores. But the need is the same: the life-giving gospel of the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ.
What is our present calling? Church Reformation, to be sure! The Protestant Reformed Churches have a tremendous calling and responsibility. God has preserved the Reformed truth in our churches. We have good, solid, expository preaching and catechism instruction. Discipline is exercised and the sacraments are administered. We have covenant, Christian schools and dedicated, capable teachers. Our churches are strong by the grace of God! Thanks be to Him! But it is no time to be at ease in Zion. Ours is a time when the very foundations of Reformed orthodoxy are being shaken and broken down. Let that church which thinks it stands take heed lest it fall! Our calling is to preach and teach and witness to the truth of the blessed gospel of sovereign grace. We must have missionaries. We must make use of the radio and the printed page. We must continue what we are doing as churches individually and as a denomination in Birmingham and elsewhere.
This work is extremely difficult. There is widespread ignorance of the most simple truths and Bible doctrines and facts. This is because of the apostasy in the seminaries and the consequent failure of the pulpit to feed the people of God. Even J.H. Bavinck remarks about this in his book, Introduction To The Science of Missions, published some thirty years ago. Truly the lament of the prophet Hosea applies to our times: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Our home missionaries live with this reality every day. Only a remnant receives the gospel of sovereign grace. The vast majority despise it and oppose it. Church Reformation remains our calling.
But we must go to the nations as well. We must go to Jamaica while the door is still open. There are many needs, many sick, many weaknesses, sins, many poor. These things ought not deter us. They are all the more reason why we must preach the gospel there. The poor we have always with us, Jesus said. He also told us: inasmuch as ye do it unto one of the least of these, My brothers, ye do it unto Me.
We must continue in Singapore. God has opened a large and effectual door for the gospel there. Rev. den Hartog, in a private letter, claims there is enough work for two more missionaries. We must go wherever else God may send us.
In this work we must never be discouraged. It is God’s work! The elect are in the nations, and by the preaching of the Word the Son of God will gather them. The ungodly will be left without excuse. When the gospel shall have been preached to all the world for a witness to the nations, then the end shall come (Matthew 24:14). In no less a work God gives us the privilege to participate. We are more than conquerors. God calls us and He equips us to be His instruments and He gives the fruit. We need never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. With the Apostle Paul we confess: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ”. (II Corinthians 2:14-17).