In regard to the missionary mandate or calling of the church, there is evidence of an abundance of both, theoretic and practical, error found, not only in circles where one expects to find nothing but error but, sadly enough, even in nominally Reformed circles. Perhaps some of us reading these lines have been unknowingly addicted to these errors and our comments on the subject may stimulate you to recast your thinking and alter your attitude toward this significant matter. It is imperative that we always walk humbly in the truth with respect to our missionary calling. That mission endeavor that is in accord with truth, however small, weak, and insignificant before men it may be, is alone blessed and through it the Son of God builds His church and realizes His good purposes unto the glory of His own Name. This is never the case with that which is in error even though to our deceitful eyes it may sometimes appear that way. Appearances are often deceiving. God is a God of Truth! In the truth He delights, never in error.
Error, we wrote, is in evidence. We would mention some of these without entering into a refutation of the same at this time as our primary purpose is not polemical but rather to set forth the principles of the truth by which we must be guided in our thinking and living. There are those who fail in this respect to make the proper and necessary distinction between “missionary” labor and “personal witnessing.” When this is not done the conclusion is easily warranted that every Christian can and should be a missionary and anyone who receives an emotional urge can ipso fact pose as an official ambassador. Men, women and even children are given the appellation of “missionary.”
Directly opposite from this is the error of those who conclude that the matter of missions does not concern them. It is only a matter for the church and its execution is relegated to the clergy or to a committee appointed for that purpose, and I, as an individual Christian, have nothing to do with the matter except contribute a few dollars annually so that the work may be carried out and perhaps occasional mention be made in our prayers of the missionary and his labors.
But there are still other errors. Some seem to think that the main objective of mission work is to stimulate religious revivals and to gain souls for Christ or to express it in a coined phrase of our day, “to win the world for Jesus.” Reformed people generally know better but even they frequently draw the erroneous conclusion that unless converts are won, churches are established and much visible fruit evidenced, there is no true mission labor being performed.
Then there is the common error that conceives of mission work as something which takes place as far away as possible. Those that hold to this conception can readily agree with the necessity of sending missionaries to far off China and Africa, but look disdainfully upon the proposal to send one among the apostates and heathen of America. And there are those who will even agree to the necessity of the church engaging in limited mission endeavor within her own community provided such labor meets with general reception and approval, but if it turns a few people in the community against their church and causes the reproach of Christ to be acutely felt, they are opposed. This is not desirable. Those kind desire to divide the two-edged sword of the Word and cut with only the one edge which is spiritually a serious error and practically a dire impossibility, of course!
From this stems still another very general error. This is that men seek to change and corrupt the gospel so as to make it palatable to men. The missionary must not preach the gospel that is an “offense and stumbling block” but he must preach only “good-tidings to all” and bring an “offer of salvation” to everyone. Only then, it is claimed, is missionary labor possible.
To these still other errors might be added but this will suffice. Against these, and similar errors, we must safeguard ourselves by considering the truth of the matter which we may gather from the infallible source, the Word of God.
It is, no doubt, common knowledge that the terms “mission” and “missionary” are not Scriptural terms. They are not found in the Bible. We do read of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers,” but not of “missionaries.” This does not mean, however, that the words are unacceptable but rather necessitates that we are cautious in the use of them before we understand just what is meant by them. This is especially important in our day when the terms are used loosely and are made to denote a variety of things, much of which is not worthy to be classified under such headings. In fact, the word is, strictly speaking, not limited to ecclesiastical usage but is employed in other circles as well. This is quite possible because its derivation is from the Latin “missio” and simply means “a sending forth.” Hence, it can refer to various kinds of sendings. Ecclesiastically, however, it denotes “the sending forth of one to authoratively preach the holy gospel.”
Concerning this we do read in Scripture in many passages. Not only are men sent forth but the church is directly commissioned to send them. These passages we will have to consider in later articles as our space is virtually filled for this issue. However, we must note yet that it is in the light of these passages that we must arrive at a true conception of the missionary calling of the church. Scripture informs us not only of who is authorized of God to send forth but also who is to be sent, what the one sent is to preach, and to whom he is to bring his message. When these prescriptions are followed we engage in missionary labor according to the truth. Upon that labor we may expect a blessing. D.V. we will continue with this then the next time.