Rev. denHartog is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
Are we as faithful and zealous as we ought to be in the work of evangelism? It is always good to ask ourselves that question. We have sometimes been criticized for lack of interest in missions. Over the years we have become very sensitive to this criticism. Some of that criticism could easily be proven false. But at the same time even such criticism ought to cause us to examine ourselves. It is after all a very serious matter to be faithful to this great calling of the Lord. We can be thankful to the Lord that in recent years our churches have been very much engaged in the work of evangelism and we have seen that work greatly blessed of the Lord. May we by Gods grace continue our involvement in this work even in the face of a serious shortage of ministers in our churches.
We have also been criticized for our commitment to the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God. Some of our critics have accused us of going to unbiblical extremes in our adherence to this truth. We have been judged and maligned by many, especially because of our condemnation of the unbiblical and unreformed notion of the well-meant offer of the gospel. Our critics maintain that unless one can offer the gospel freely to all and sundry it is impossible to do evangelism, or at least our work of evangelism will be greatly hindered. The error of this position is demonstrated elsewhere in this issue of the Standard Bearer as well as in many other writings that have come from our churches.
Positively we give thanks to God that He has given us the heritage of the truth of His Word. We believe that the doctrine of the Reformed Faith which exalts the grace of God is the gospel in its purest form. We hold this truth and all that it implies unashamedly and without compromise. For this we have only God to thank.
We believe that the Reformed Faith gives us the greatest reason and incentive to be zealous in the work of missions. Rather than hinder the work of missions it is the only gospel that can offer hope to the totally depraved sinner who is by nature dead in trespasses and sins. It is possible to adhere wholeheartedly to the doctrine of the Reformed Faith and to be zealous for evangelism. The absolute reason for this is of course that we know and believe the Reformed Faith to be the truth of the Word of God. Those who have rashly criticized the Reformed Faith for lagging behind historically in missionary zeal have obviously forgotten the great Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was after all the greatest missionary endeavor ever undertaken by the church since the time of the apostles. It was manifestly the wonderful work of God. That work was accomplished, by great leaders raised up by God who were wholly committed to the truth that later came to be known as the Reformed Faith. Furthermore, the history of the church testifies to the fact that many of the greatest missionaries of all time were those who loved and preached the doctrines of the Reformed Faith without compromise. So zealous for the work of missions were many of these that they suffered great persecution and joined the ranks of the glorious martyrs. We must carry on that tradition by the grace of God. Though certainly this is not the main reason for doing missions, it is well for us as Reformed Churches to prove before the world and for the glory of God that wholehearted commitment to the Reformed Faith makes us zealous and active in the work of missions.
But, of course, orthodoxy alone does not insure a zeal for mission work. It must be said that there have been times when the Reformed churches have been too concerned with themselves and not sufficiently concerned for the salvation of those outside the church. Whether we have been more guilty than others is debatable. It is nevertheless an ugly thing if a church that has such a glorious heritage as we have refuses to proclaim the truth of God outside of her own membership or is too lethargic or complacent to do this. In fact, one of the great reasons God has entrusted His wonderful Word of truth to us is so that we might publish it to others. We must steadfastly guard against the great evil of lack of zeal in missions, for that would be as serious as holding to false doctrines.
Evangelism is one of the great God-given tasks of the church. The Reformed church knows that it is not the only task of the church. The church of Jesus Christ has the calling to maintain sound doctrine and defend that doctrine against all the attacks of heretics inspired by the evil one seeking to overthrow the foundation of the church. The church must be the pillar and ground of the truth. Many are the exhortations in scripture to the church that she maintain sound doctrine. The Reformed church also understands her calling to preach faithfully the Word every Lord’s day for the edification of her members so that those members might always be brought to maturity and unity of the faith and not be tossed to and fro by the winds of false doctrine (see Ephesians 4). The Reformed church understands the great and urgent obligation she has to nurture the youth of the covenant in her midst. She spends much time and energy on this because she believes that the Lord is pleased to gather His church in the line of continued generations. It would be foolish and unbiblical to say that any of these great tasks of the church are more important than another, or that any of these may be neglected at the expense of another.
Along with all the other tasks of the church we must promote zealously the work of missions. The church has much work to do in the world, enough to keep the faithful church very busy at all times. Throughout history, in the Lord’s providence, it has been necessary for the church sometimes to concentrate her labors more on one area of her task than another. So for example during times of the greatest attacks of false doctrine and apostasy in the church much of the energy and time of the church has to be spent on defending the faith lest the devil overthrow the church. A church that does this ought not to be criticized, for surely this is necessary and pleasing to the Lord. But even during such times the church may not neglect her calling to do mission work. In fact, properly during the times of the church’s fiercest conflicts against the lie and false doctrine she is often the most zealous in mission work. We must be faithful as the Lord gives us the opportunity.
The greatest reason why we must be faithful and zealous in the work of missions is of course obedience to our Lords great commission recorded inMatthew 28:20. Though Jesus gave this commission first of all to His eleven disciples, it is also the great commission to the church of the whole New Testament time until the day of the return of our Lord. This commission was given by the Lord to the church after He had fully accomplished her salvation on the cross and triumphed for her over death and hell in His resurrection. This Lord is now the exalted one to whom God has given all power and authority in heaven and earth. The work of evangelism is the work of the exalted Lord to gather His church which He has chosen from before the foundations of the world out of all nations and peoples of the earth. The purpose of evangelism is the unspeakably glorious one of gathering the church of Jesus Christ which will be with the Lord forever in the new heavens and earth. Christ has empowered His church according to His promise with the gift of the Holy Spirit to fulfill His great commission (Acts 1:8). Christ is pleased to perform the work of evangelism through His church and by means of the preaching of the gospel.
The sovereign Lord is in need of no particular church for the accomplishment of His great purpose. If one is unfaithful He will raise up another in its place. It is sure that none of His elect will ever be lost. As Reformed Christians we must never imagine however that salvation by sovereign grace alone excludes the need of the preaching of the Word. It belongs to the Reformed Faith always to emphasize the great urgency of the preaching of the Word. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” Christ gathers His church through the preaching. The church must therefore be zealous and faithful to call and support and send the preacher of the gospel.
The work of evangelism includes both the gathering of those who have gone astray and the calling of the heathen into the sphere of the church. There are those who deny that the work of missions includes gathering the remnant of Gods saints out of the apostatizing church. But these forget that this has always been part of the Lords commission. With great compassion the Lord sent out His disciples first of all to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to gather and comfort those who were in great distress because of their being as sheep without a true shepherd. All through the history of the church this has been part of the great task of evangelism. We must continue to do this type of evangelism. It is genuine evangelism pleasing to the Lord and for the welfare of the Lord’s own. Especially when we see today that even the historically sound Reformed and Presbyterian churches are fast becoming apostate this form of evangelism becomes increasingly urgent and necessary. But also evangelism involves preaching the gospel to the unsaved in our own land and even in all the nations of the world. The task of evangelism is a momentous and great one which no church may ever neglect.
The work of evangelism is a great and difficult work. Salvation is not accomplished by the great efforts of man or by great strategies for world evangelism devised by men. It is accomplished through the faithful preaching of the gospel by the faithful church of Jesus Christ. The work of evangelism requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice on the part of the church and those who are called to be missionaries. We have only to remember the history of missions to be impressed by this. Remember the great hardships and persecutions of the apostle Paul and all those who followed after him. Remember how many have given their very lives to accomplish this great work. What a terrible shame if we in the age of ease and luxury would refuse to make even by comparison small sacrifices and endure small hardships. The work of evangelism requires great boldness of faith and courage. The work of evangelism requires on the part of the church a willingness to become all things to all men so that we might by all means save some. All of these things are worthy of much greater consideration.
The whole church must be involved in the great work of evangelism if we are to be a church faithful to our Lord’s commission. Preachers and missionaries must themselves be examples of zeal and devotion to this work. Not all are called to be preachers and missionaries. As Reformed churches we maintain the requirement of an official and well-trained ministry for the work of evangelism. But all the members of the church must also be zealously and actively involved in the work of missions. The preaching must constantly exhort and admonish the members of the church in this regard. All the members of the church must be involved in this work through supporting the official ministry of the church with constant and earnest prayers and through sacrificial giving. Besides this, the members of the church must do all in their power to promote the work of missions in the church and see to it that there is a proper environment of love and concern in the church for the thriving of missionary zeal. The members of the church must promote the work of missions by themselves living holy lives worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ strikingly different from the world. The members of the church must always be ready to give to every man the reason of their hope with meekness and fear. The members of the church must promote the work of missions by good works in the neighborhood and by always looking for opportunities to reveal the mercy of Christ outside of the church. The members of the church must support this work through gracious hospitality to those who visit the church. Mission work is not only engaged in at the time of special meetings for this purpose in our church. It must be constantly part of our life as Christians. Each member of the church must be zealous to testify of the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ whenever he has opportunity. All of this is necessary to have a truly mission-minded church.
As Reformed Christians we believe wholeheartedly in the truth that God saves His people by sovereign grace alone. This is our only hope in the work of missions. We must constantly pray for this grace of God. We must rely upon this grace alone. This grace must give us great boldness and zeal. This truth is the only and absolute assurance that the work of missions will be truly successful. The final and ultimate purpose of all evangelism is the glory of the name of God through the proclamation of His truth unto all the world and the salvation .of His people. A greater reason for us to be zealous and faithful in this work is inconceivable for the Reformed church.