Missions Defended

I want to express my appreciation for all the notes and comments of praise I received on my “controversial” article on mission mindedness, but I equally would express appreciation to Rev. H. C. Hoeksema for his cunning but careless criticism since he possibly will serve to bring this all-important calling of the church more prominently before the minds of our youth.

Before I pen my defense, please allow me to publicly protest against his repeated use of the term “schismatic” when he refers to the people who left us in the split of 1953. This to my mind has excited unnecessary antagonism in others. I have long since failed to see the Christian spirit expressed in name-calling such as this. And I fall short in finding any good that can come out of it. I claim it has been a major reason for the failure of our mission efforts in the Reformed community; a sphere of mission labor which of late has shown little success and proven almost impenetrable. I can certainly testify that such name-calling has greatly hindered me in my “private mission enterprises” here in Kalamazoo.

Generally speaking, the “reflections” of Rev. Hoeksema are simply gross exaggerations of my statements. At one time he hastily casts me, by suggestion then, into the camp of those who would support a haughty, irresponsible and fanatic mission program. Then again, through his article he definitely shows an aversion to any criticism in the least of a project (in this case our missions) so carefully “watched” by synod, and which in his opinion is quite adequate, as the entire tenor of his article implies. This is true even though he claims to allow for some room for improvement. I resent and regret all this, convinced that this is contrary to Christian ethics. I will prove these points.

Specifically I will reply to his “reflections” paragraph for paragraph, point for point.

1. To be mission minded is to be greatly interested and enthusiastic about the spread of the gospel through the proper channels, the church. Such a person will show a more vivid acquaintance with our labors on the mission field, and will undertake in many ways to make this labor more prosperous. That, as a denomination, we are lax in our interest and enthusiasm I surely claimed and proved. And I want to prove it again! We have no mission rallies for our people to whet their interest and vent their enthusiasm; not even a spare in our church magazines which could serve to guide our maturing young people into proper paths of mission conception. The very thought of missions is not even impressed on their minds! Where, I ask, is that “instruction” my critic claims is so necessary for our young people if they are to be mission minded in a healthy Reformed sense? Surely the lack of past instruction and the lack of impressing this on the minds of our children has led to pathetic lethargy – I repeat my claim.

I am not sorry that I quoted the mission mandate in my editorial. Simply because other churches cite this text, doesn’t make it wrong. But if it offended Rev. Hoeksema then allow me to quote another beautiful bit of holy Writ, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men. . .” I sincerely hope Rev. Hoeksema does not consider the mission mandate of Christ to be “somewhat” out of date! Does he imply perhaps that the mission mandate chiefly means that where the people of God are, there they must be busy preaching and teaching? Does he mean to say that those blessed words of Christ are faithfully kept when we simply let the light shine within and around about our local churches? I wonder if this is, “going into all the world and teaching”! Possibly such a view of things is a contributing factor to such tiny efforts in the past.

His comment, even though he assures us he is only asking questions, re my perhaps wanting an over-balanced mission program as the former DeWolf group launched on Guam is a perfect insinuation and an evil suggestion. It is an attack on my orthodoxy. The DeWolf group somehow or other supported a missionary on Guam who was not a member of their churches, as I understood it. Now, I never even suggested a forsaking of mission principles or even of our mission practices in my article; I never advocated a new-styled mission program nor did I suggest a fanatical change. I plainly pleaded for greater interest and more action in and behind our program. This is still my cry!

Of course I have no dispute with the fact that God gathers his covenant people in the line of covenant generations, but I must never and do not overlook the fact that God also begins gathering his people in new lines. Think of the Philippian Jailor and even our own “Dutch: fathers.

2. As to the relationship between the “home front” and the “mission front,” I think I answered this partly in my editorial. However, allow me to emphasize again that we must assuredly have proper balance in every way: funds, manpower, etc. I fail to see this “balanced” program in our churches, especially in the past. I realize that just at present vacancies have become a serious matter. Rev. Hoeksema emphasizes the very present, but in my article I emphasized both. I still claim the past has not recorded us faithful, still claim candidates waited for calls, still claim the vacancies we have had were always comparatively few and I still claim a crisis shouldn’t smother our interest and enthusiasm even though it may objectively affect our “mission front” somewhat. Besides, I will again label the fact that we had to begin from “scratch” in 1954 as only an excuse for our buried zeal and interest. At the same time I would inform Rev. Hoeksema that I never advocated in my editorial of September that suddenly we should call two or three or four more missionaries to the field. What a gross exaggeration of my views! Of course in the light of the present circumstances – being critical – it would be unjust to call five additional missionaries. I never asked for this.

Probably we should all be reminded that we could be making too much of those six vacancies. Other churches do mission work with a substantial number of vacancies! Besides, only two of our vacant churches have extended “calls” to ministers during the past whole year. One of these vacant churches has not called in years! I have every sympathy for our vacant churches but they know right well that when they do not call, it is a bad sign. But my point is: maybe we are making too much of that vacancy matter.

I especially want to inform him that I deeply deplore hearing that the zeal of 1952 was largely due to the DeWolf people – in fact their “pet project.’ I am sure many of our people have been proud of that proposed program, and have occasionally used it as proof of our mission mindedness when we had means and men. Now I am told we were not even back of it. This makes the future of missions to appear very gloomy for us.

3. All the questions raised in this paragraph are very big. About them volumes could be written. I want to say only this: if the author of “reflections” suggests that the greatest share of our mission labors must be directed to the Reformed community, I openly disagree with him. Evidences will show that there is an almost impenetrable iron curtain between them and us. Except in some communities we bear virtually no influence. I think this is more true today than 10 years ago! Our magazines find little entrance into other homes and other Reformed people cannot find our church parlors. As a pastor I have personally tried to resurrect this most coveted thing: an influence on the Reformed community. It has not been a total failure here. But I can certainly appreciate every attempt made by our local churches through church extension work to get the glorious message of the gospel into the hands of others near to them.

Here are two more very general quotations.

If Rev. Hoeksema places mission work among the chief tasks of the church, then these questions would never have been raised.

He cites several objective standards which must be considered as the way pointed out by God. I agree with this. I only wonder why these are not used in our other kingdom enterprises, i.e., our court actions and school movements. In these latter we seem to go forward unconcerned. We erect schools when we cannot possibly see a plentiful supply of teachers, we erect schools when we do not even have church buildings in some cases! Often I wonder! But how about these things? Let’s measure all kingdom endeavors with the same ruler! If so I think our mission front will blossom.

Did the early church “cream” when the seventy were sent out? Did they cry, “running ahead of God,” when Paul and Barnabas and Silas were sent out? Well, just something to think about! I am sure these men could have been used on the “home front.”

4. I have not accused our people of stinginess in general, nor in particular. In fact I graciously ascribe liberality to them by stating, “to other causes we give our dollars while the mission offering gets our pennies.” Therefore Rev. Hoeksema should never have written 5 b, “generally speaking, the contributions per family of our people to causes of the church rank high,” as if I claim they do not! And, he should never have written 5c, “our people have always been ready to meet financial needs of the church, missions included, when such need has been presented and when they have been instructed therein prudently,” as if I ever criticized our people for an unwillingness to meet financial needs when they were presented!

He lists several financial figures and one percentage figure. These are supposed to refute my contention that missions gets our dimes but other causes our dollars. But allow me to place his figures and percentage into the true light. In the first place, my article clearly expresses praise for our radio work, which could never exist but for generous support. I recognize this! In the second place, my article clearly calls for a more generous support of our real mission labors: that for missionaries and the mission field. Now then, we put a total of only $10,000 into this worthy cause, an amount which also includes $3,000 for more radio broadcasting and several hundreds of dollars for other miscellaneous items. Is less then $7,000 anything to boast loudly about? And then please notice that the offerings taken in all of our churches throughout the year 1960 for that worthy cause of Foreign Missions (which offering again is spent only for Radio work) amounted to only a small twelve hundred dollars. This I emphatically claim is dimes to dollars! Percentages usually look impressive but when figures are used and compared, then new light shows the truth of the matter.

In conclusion, of course my statements were exaggerated and ridiculously inflated and my position on missions was suggested to be of a heady sort; not the product of a foot firmly planted on the ground nor the product of a level-head. But I am afraid Rev. Hoeksema has blown a false bugle, warned a false alarm and sounded an unwarranted blast of the trumpet. I consider his “reflections” not of the healthy kind. Unless he abandon the way of insinuations and exaggerations a wholesome atmosphere and mission zeal cannot survive. And I judge his article the product of being super-sensitive and hyper-critical. Such false trumpet blasting could only serve to render our people insensitive and relaxed with respect to our mission duties; and furthermore, such trumpet blasting might very well excite our people to uneasiness and irritation. Unwarranted blasts of the trumpet can even result in scattering them.

Hence I kindly ask him to bury his undue alarm and join with us in keeping before the minds of our young people a beautiful calling. Let our feet be on the ground indeed, ere they pass on and be no more: feet under the ground. Work for the night is coming. Thirty-seven years is rather late to cry, “I would suggest that we . . . in the meantime, engage in positive and constructive discussion of our mission calling . . ..” but it is not too late to culture and nurture some genuine effort and interest in missions.