This is the edited text of the speech Rev. Smit gave at the annual meeting of the RFPA on September 24, 2015.
I had the privilege to experience firsthand the topic of tonight’s lecture. I was not involved with Reformed literature on the mission field in the Philippines to the extent that Rev. and Mrs. Daniel Kleyn have been. They established and organized the “Reformed Bookshelf ” in order to fulfill a goal of our mission work in the Philippines, which is to promote the spread of Protestant Reformed literature in the Philippines in a financially accessible way. They continue to manage very well the inventory, sales, and distribution of the RFPA literature in the Philippines, and annually report to the churches about that work.
Although I was involved in the distribution of the literature to a lesser extent to various contacts, I did experience all aspects of the role of our Protestant Reformed literature in our foreign missions. Moreover, I was given the opportunity to write a book that the RFPA published and that was for a few reasons beneficial for our mission work in the Philippines. From firsthand experience then, I would like to explore the topic of the role of Reformed literature in our foreign mission work.
We believe that missions is the preaching of the Word. That sword the church must thrust into the world for the gathering of the elect remnant and for the destruction of the kingdom of darkness. In fact, that preaching, by the grace of God, remains the strength of foreign missions. In order to serve the advance of missions throughout the world along its appointed course in history, Reformed books have their rightful place. Although this role is rather obvious to us by reason of the very existence of the RFPA, so that this fact almost precludes a speech on this role, yet it may be worthwhile for us to be reminded of this role and so to be encouraged in perseverance in our honorable work.
We will notice, first, that Reformed literature has a role in missions that is biblical. Second, it serves a supportive, instructional role for foreign missions. Third, it promotes and prepares the expansion of mission work. Finally, it shares in the fruits and effects of the gathering of the Lord’s other sheep from the vain religions of this world.
A Scriptural Role
When Paul was imprisoned in Rome for the second time, he said to Timothy, “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, especially the parchments” (II Tim. 4:13). In other words, he said to Timothy, “Bring the books!” Although he may have had some books with him for his study, he needed more. What the scrolls and parchments that the apostle had in mind were, we are not specifically told, but the apostle viewed them as vital to his work from prison in the service of the Lord.
II Timothy 4:13 applied to our missionaries implies that the missionary needs to bring books that will assist him in his work. In fact, that place of literature in missions is set forth, either explicitly or by implication, in our denominational liturgy and Church Order.
For example, the “Form for the Ordination of Missionaries” outlines the duties of the missionaries: “In the first place, thou art to bring to their attention by all fit and lawful means the glad tidings that Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners.” Those “fit and lawful means” include pamphlets, magazine articles, newspaper articles, sermon outlines, catechism outlines, lecture notes, and books.
Similarly, the “Constitution of the Domestic Mission Committee” requires the missionary to report “… the number of pieces of literature mailed and personally distributed” (PRC Church Order, 51).
Finally, even the “Formula of Subscription” assumes that a missionary will be writing, or be using literature that has been written, and so requires him to “teach and faithfully defend the aforesaid doctrine, without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same, by our public preaching or writing.”
For his own sermon preparation and for his instruction of the people among whom he labors, the missionary needs books and literature that stand in harmony with Scripture and the Reformed confessions. These will serve the development of his own sermons, instruction, and writings according to the spiritual environment of the place where he is sent by Christ to labor. He needs the assistance of Reformed literature in the exposition of the truth over against the errors that he faces, because he does not always have the time to “re-invent the wheel” in the treatment and explanation of Reformed doctrine. Because of his limitations, he will need published literature, authored by his colleagues in the ministry, in order to assist him in his work with mission contacts and groups.
Such Reformed books that complement, not compromise, the proclamation of the Reformed faith need to be sent and brought to the mission work. This is necessary because we believe that the Reformed faith is our catholic, undoubted Christian faith.
In some Reformed circles, the usefulness of the “Three Forms of Unity,” and books that expound this doctrine, in foreign missions has been questioned and rejected. While they maintain that the church is catholic, they are unwilling to maintain that the faith into which the Holy Spirit has led the church after the Reformation is catholic. It cannot bring sufficient, effective, and reliable comfort in life and death to those of non-Dutch or European descent. Apparently, it is their understanding that the Reformed faith is culturally conditioned and does not transcend human culture.
We reject that on the basis of the Heidelberg Catechism’s statement in Lord’s Day 7 about what the Christian must believe. We must believe the “catholic undoubted Christian faith.” That faith is what the “Three Forms of Unity” teach, including the Protestant Reformed explanation of the “Three Forms of Unity” in regard to the doctrines of election, particular grace, the unconditional covenant, faith, and baptism, according to the “Declaration of Principles” of 1951.
Thus, the literature that promotes, defends, expounds, and encourages that true, catholic faith over against idolatrous and apostate religions has a role in foreign missions. Our missionaries say to the RFPA and its board, “Bring the books! and, more like them! And, if necessary, translate them!” Our missionaries say to the staff of the SB, “Bring the books!”
An Instructional Role
Missions is the work of the authoritative proclamation of God’s truth by means of instruction. The work of missions and its truth is not advanced by social programs, extensive sports ministries, movies, pizza parties at the malls, music concerts, fun runs and walk-a-thons, rallies, medical missions, and such like. All these things are the outwardly attractive ways of modern missions, and are simply erroneous.
Not that, but rather instruction. That is what Paul did in his mission labors.
Inwe read that “…Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.”
Then later, after being told by Christ to continue at Corinth to speak in the name of Christ the gospel truth, Paul “…continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” ().
Paul preached unto the Gentiles by means of instruction that was didactic, logical, probing-question and detailed- answer form. He delivered to them propositional truth. He expounded with great detail the truth over against the lie. He grounded his instruction in the Scriptures, both in the Old Testament and what was available to him of the New Testament at that time. By the reliable question-and-answer method in the service of the truth, he opened, alleged, reasoned, and came to logical conclusions concerning Christ, Jehovah, and salvation by grace alone.
In order to complement that work of painstaking instruction, the publication of similar Reformed literature is necessary.
In the first place, this helps the missionary with a more detailed exposition of what has been taught. One of the most difficult limitations a missionary faces is the lack of time to instruct. He experiences that, once the catechism class or Bible study gets started, after several blinks and a few verses of discussion later, the missionary and the group are surprised that the allotted hours for the evening are already gone. Alas, there are more questions that need to be answered than the time allotted, and more things that could be said in the answers already given! Often, the missionary finds relief in the resources that he can suggest for further reading and study in the days before the next meeting. For the missionary, the opportunity to recommend a book whose author and content further develop the doctrine discussed at the meeting, and whose author and content are known to be faithful to the standards of the Reformed confessions, is most helpful and reassuring.
In the second place, our Reformed books may cover doctrines that might not be the current topic of a catechism lesson or Bible study that someone wishes to study. It happens that the topic at hand in a lecture is one thing, but those attending have earnest questions about another topic. Do we just ask them to wait until the question is treated three months or a year later, in an upcoming lesson or in a later verse in the Bible book being studied? If we had no Reformed literature at our fingertips, that might need to be the answer. Thankfully, in most cases, our missionaries have the opportunity to recommend and give our contacts an article or a book for their further instruction. Later on, follow-up with them will reveal what they have learned.
In the third place, our Reformed literature provides another faithful witness to the instruction of our missionaries, a witness that is particularly important where there may be only one full-time missionary. The need for two or more missionaries in a specific field of labor is not only warranted by a workload that one man alone cannot handle, but also by the need for verification. It is often the case that new contacts and converts will ask one missionary a question, and then ask another missionary or visiting pastor the very same question. Then, the answers are compared. When the testimony of one missionary is confirmed by the testimony of his colleague, that instruction is then often verified and settled in the minds and hearts of the contacts or new converts. Our RFPA books and SB have served the role of that second or third witness, so that every Word of God that is taught by our missionaries may be established by the work of the Holy Spirit in the understandings of the new believers as well as of the more mature believers.
A Promotional Role
Reformed literature serves a promotional role in missions.
It serves to increase awareness of the Reformed faith. It does that to those who will remain avowed enemies to the Reformed faith. The leaders of cults and of false churches are beginning to know through the RFPA’s literature who the Protestant Reformed Churches are. Such literature exposes the lie of the vain religions and false gospels, and leaves them without excuse in their enmity against the truth. It also clarifies PRC teachings among those who have simply assumed that the common caricatures and straw men about the PRC are true.
Reformed literature serves to answer the curious about the PRC. When asked, “What do you believe?,” the brief verbal answer is often complemented with several books. When asked, “Why do you believe this or that?,” the thorough answer might be packaged and sent in the mail the next day. When charged that our faith makes us careless and profane, an apology (defense) is given and then confirmed in several books that show how the Reformed faith promotes true godliness. Reformed literature equips new converts and longstanding members of the established churches on the mission fields for their own witness to family and acquaintances. They need those materials for their daily devotions that many often use in that way. They need the literature for the refreshing of their memories about what they were taught in regard to a particular doctrine of the Reformed faith in a sermon or Bible Study. They need the literature for their apologetics for the faith with their relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, and co-workers. They need the literature for Reformed instruction of their children at home.
Reformed literature has served the role of preparing groups for the resources of a full-time missionary from the PRC, which in comparison to most denominations have limited resources. The Foreign Mission Committee of the PRC has used literature since the late 1990s as a tool in preparation for full-time missionaries in the Philippines. While we never know where the books and pamphlets end up, the Lord directs it and uses it to draw others to the truth and to the faithful preaching of the Word. Reformed literature, as a tool of preparation for a mission field, assists in the early stages of the sifting process between those being called out of unbelief and darkness and those who might remain in darkness—even before the missionary may set foot in his particular field of labor. It has served as a means to test the genuineness of those among whom the missionary would labor for Reformed preaching and instruction.
In addition, Reformed literature helps in a very practical way in regard to limited-access regions and countries. There are some countries into which full-time missionaries cannot be sent, such as Myanmar. There are areas in the Philippines where it is simply not safe for Caucasians to go. Yet, Reformed books in the hands of the local contacts can freely enter and prepare an area for the presence of full-time mission work, if and when the Lord might open such a door.
A Blessed Role
The blessedness that the authors and publishers of Reformed literature have in this role of Reformed literature in missions is related to the fruits of mission work. In the first place, there have been negative responses to Protestant Reformed literature, even in areas where PRC missionaries have labored in the Philippines. One RFPA book was gradually removed from a seminary library when it influenced some students to embrace the truth of unconditional salvation. Some contacts refuse to read the RFPA books that their spouses bring home and read from cover to cover. Avowed Arminians have shunned some of our contacts for having the books and spreading their contents with their Bible study group. Some Arminian pastors, opposed to the Reformed faith, demanded that their members never read Protestant Reformed literature. Books have been charged as hyper-Calvinist, ana-Baptist, anti-missions, heretical, narrow-minded, and more.
Nevertheless, in the second place, we are also thankful for the positive responses to our literature. Someone we know worked each week, and set aside from his weekly wage support for the church, then support for his family, and then money to buy RFPA books in order to satisfy his appetite for Reformed instruction. One man thought that he would just stop by the Reformed Bookshelf to buy one or two books he saw on the book list advertisement. He went home after several hours with an armload of books, expounding the pearl of great price. Others expressed deep appreciation for the books, with specific details about what they learned from the books and in what chapter they were reading. Parents were thankful for the Bible story book for their children’s instruction as well as for their own, not having had that instruction in their youth. Some, having read a book, bring their questions or comments to the missionaries the next time that they are available. Some expressed their joy at reading books that expounded the Reformed faith, giving them perspectives on the Reformed faith never seen before.
The blessedness that the authors and publishers of our Reformed literature have in the complementary role in missions is spiritual happiness. That promise of blessedness in that role in our day and age does not guarantee continued financial success for the RFPA. Book distribution may reach a saturation point in a particular region, since the mission work and interest for the literature have been halted due to persecution or rejection of the truth. In fact, it is not hard at all to imagine how in the future Protestant Reformed literature might be seized and those responsible for it, the authors and the publisher, charged with hate crimes against humanity for exposure of and sharp instruction against prevailing heresy, false doctrine, and widespread immorality. The days may be coming in which RFPA books will be banned and burned. In the face of the increasingly active opposition from the kingdom of darkness against the Reformed faith, such is the spiritual risk that you share in a supportive and complementary role to Reformed missions.
What should our response be to opposition to the doctrinally sound content of our literature? Withdraw from the battle? Compromise the truth? Dull the sharpness?
No, as the apostles did when persecuted and suffering for the sake of Christ, so we must rejoice and count it a privilege to suffer for righteousness’ sake.
While it is yet possible at this time in history to publish and serve foreign missions, bring the books! Publish the sound, edifying Reformed books! Advertise the books! Send the books!
And, pray that the Lord of the harvest may use this material as a means to destroy the kingdom of darkness and to lead His people out of the vain and cursed religions of this world into the blessed truth of that catholic, undoubted Christian faith once delivered unto the saints.
May the chief Shepherd of the sheep continue to establish the work of your hands ()—for the sake of His sheep gathered and those yet to be gathered, as God has ordained.