In the last article on the above subject, a brief history of Synodical decisions (1946-1953) was presented. It was discovered that although one Synod decided it was Biblically correct to have two missionaries laboring together in the same field, a later Synod determined that this was not a principle and did not set forth an inflexible rule for mission work throughout the present dispensation. In this article several passages from the Book of the Acts will be examined and some practical remarks will be offered. It is hoped that these observations may be useful as our churches busy themselves with the preaching of the Gospel to all creatures.
The Synod of 1953 is correct when it decided that the Word of God does not set before us the principle that missionary work must always be conducted by the labors of two men working together. This conclusion is based on the following considerations:
1) It is simply a fact that in the early church men called of God worked among the Gentiles singly. Philip preached in Samaria and after having preached to the Ethiopian eunuch, returned to Samaria, preaching in all the cities until he came to Caesarea. Peter ministered to various quarters of the land. Barnabas was sent out by the churches as far as Antioch. Care must be taken in determining what is a principle: the above mentioned labors took place after the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit and were true missionary labors.
2) The Book of the Acts certainly gives us principles which determine church organization, life, and work. There must be ministers, elders, and deacons. And the Church of Christ must engage in the proclamation of the Gospel to others. The oft-quoted passage, Acts 13:2: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them,” makes it clear that the Spirit of the ascended Christ is active in missions. The Holy Spirit is active in these ways: He determines who shall serve on the mission field, He provides the Church which He indwells with open doors or opportunities, He makes the preached Word a power unto life and unto condemnation, and thus He works to bring forth the two-fold fruit of faith and unbelief. But to draw from this text a principle that He wills to use two men for this work is not valid. One could as well conclude from Acts 6:3-5 that there must always be seven deacons, and unless there are seven there can be no congregation.
Nevertheless, there are several practical reasons which make the presence of more than one missionary almost mandatory. It is, perhaps, the pressing nature of these practical reasons that have led some to argue along the line of principle. Undoubtedly these are the reasons for which the majority of early missionary work was accomplished through the labors of several. We do well, as churches, to consider them seriously today.
1) That the truth is established in the mouth of two or three witnesses is taught in Scripture as an enduring fact. Jesus Christ is the faithful Witness (Rev. 1:7), the Holy Spirit witnesses (Acts 20:23), and therefore the “gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all the nations . . .” (Matt. 24:14). On the mission field the truth must be established. This can be viewed from two points of view. The more important aspect is that the truth as it is in Christ, the Gospel of salvation in His blood and all related doctrines, must be established; this is saying more than that it must be preached. When the doctrines of the Gospel are preached, taught, discussed, they are seldom readily received: questions are asked, objections are raised, one meets with a great deal of skepticism as well as unbelief. The word of a man is not readily accepted. True, with some, the word of Moses and the prophets wouldn’t change that. We don’t have in mind that unbelief. We have in mind the situation where a person does not believe that such and such is the teaching of the Word. And even the situation (which I met on the field last summer) where a person does not believe that what a man says is actually the teaching of the church he represents. In both such cases the truth is established in the mouth of two or three witnesses. When confronted by the combined testimony of two missionaries, testimony which not only agrees formally but which also enlightens and enriches, both saved and unsaved gainsayer are silenced.
There is also the aspect of establishing the truth concerning the field itself. What is the true picture, an accurate evaluation, of the area in which the work is being carried out? Is this type of thing not subject to various interpretation? Ought a mission committee make far-reaching decisions on the basis of one man’s report? Would one man actually want to bear this great burden? Clearly a report back to the churches that is based on the experience and observation of two or three, that reflects their discussion and agreement, is a safer instrument on which to base decisions of continuation, expansion, or closing. This is not meant as criticism of any past actions: but all can recognize the necessity for the avoiding of error in judgement and the ascertaining of truth.
2) In close connection with this, there is the practical matter of the living and working context of the missionary himself. From the Jamaica experience to date, the extreme loneliness of the missionary there stands out. How far he was from the churches and its life, how difficult and discouraging were the labors, how he was mistrusted, misrepresented, and misused. And how often did the former missionary to Jamaica plead for a fellow-laborer! It must be remembered that the situation on the field is often such that there is no one with whom to share burdens and have fellowship. Yes, the missionary lives with Christ and prays. But that which is in Christ also becomes ours through fellow-laborers. Do we in the states not long for the meetings of Classis in order to see and speak with one another? A lone missionary is burdened with a wide range of labors, the necessity to make many important decisions, and much discouragement. It is well that these things be shared! It is even possible that with such an outlook, when there is a determination to place laborers in the field, the office of missionary will more readily be filled. Does not the character of the call change somewhat if the one considering it knows that he will be joined by a colleague, the Lord willing?
3) Finally, there are many cases in which the work itself demands more than one man. Perhaps two missionaries are not needed to work in the villages which dot the plains of the Dakotas. But what about the opportunities we have to work among the millions in Philadelphia and Houston? It was my experience that there was so much to do in Houston that the days were not long enough. Of course, this subject involves us with our conception of what the work is! It is troubling to hear that the audiences at our worship services in Houston are about half of what they numbered last fall. It is troubling to discover that no new families are being added there. What is our conception of the work? Is it merely to go into an area and preach to those who have called for help, and perhaps visit a few relatives of them? How do we know that there are not many more in that vast city who are not destined to become Reformed believers with us? And the basic question, of course is: how do we know that there are not many there who must be saved from damnation through the Gospel? There is such a thing as setting our sights too low, of saying to ourselves that the church is always small, the truth is never popular, and we must not expect to be overly successful! And then with that negative attitude we go into an area, we labor, and sure enough . . . it happens that way ! We have got to pound the sidewalks with our wonderful Protestant Reformed truth of the Scriptures. We have got to knock on apartment doors, which house forty per cent of the populace of Houston, with our literature and with a sincere invitation to come worship with us! God will do the winnowing so that those who ought to be saved are added to the church, and those for whom the Gospel is not will not come or will not remain. Jesus tells His disciples, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.” It is with the above in mind that we believe the work needs two men.
This doesn’t mean that they can never work apart, or that every visit must be made by both, as some seem to have thought. It does mean that they make big plans, divide the work, and set about doing it. And then they will have each other for advice and encouragement! Let the designated Consistory continue to call men to be home missionary until the Lord separates one unto the work. And when that favorable response is received, let this Consistory (with mandate) continue to call until that lone man has a fellow-laborer. And the churches? Let them continue to pray the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into His harvest.
The past five Synods have made commendable progress in the area of seminary instruction. We have a third professor of theology, the preseminary department has been instituted and is being expanded, and this work prospers in new facilities! Praise the Lord! Perhaps the next number of years can be emphatic of mission work. Let there be at Synod free, far-ranging discussion on every possible aspect of this work. Let us bend a bit to include those things not touched upon by agenda reports. And let us place ourselves, our churches, our wealth, at the disposal of the Lord Christ, willingly.