There is one major reason for the writing of this article. The return of Christ and the end of this age depend on the fulfilment of the great commission. Christ stated in Matthew 24:14 that before his public return on the clouds, the gospel must be preached to all nations. We know from Matthew 28:18–20 that the church is commanded to make disciples of all nations, and that means well-taught followers of Christ from every ethnic group. All the elect for whom he died MUST be gathered. The great commission must be central in the work of every Reformed denomination, church, and individual believer. It is the central purpose of earth’s history. The Reformed world view must include God’s purposes in the world to call out a glorious catholic church from every people. Paul’s ambition, as recorded in Romans 15:20, was to preach the gospel where Christ had not been named. That should be the collective aim of Reformed churches.
The Biblical basis for missions would take at least one full article, so it will suffice to say that even Abraham was told that through him and his seed all nations would be blessed. For his own reasons God limited his old covenant church almost exclusively the Jews, but that changed at Pentecost. To the detractors who say the Reformation and Reformed churches have no missionary zeal, we quote this:
Despite the claims of some, Calvin insisted that the church has an abiding call to bring the gospel to the nations. In his extant congregational prayers, one can hear Calvin praying for the gospel to go out to those who are lost. One of the key things to recognize about Calvin’s theology of mission is that he sees the objects of mission in broader terms than many would today. This was true of all sixteenth and seventeenth century Reformed believers. For Calvin, Europe under the sway of Roman Catholicism was essentially pagan, or at least sub-Christian. From his standpoint, the lost were certainly in far-off lands overseas. However, they were also close to home, wherever people still consistently held to Roman Catholic beliefs and practices. This led Fred Klooster to comment some years ago that the Reformation “deserves to be called one of the greatest home missionary projects in all history.” The comment is anachronistic insofar as the Reformers themselves made no distinction between local evangelism and foreign mission. Calvin and other Reformers saw all gospel outreach as mission, whether local or otherwise, whether within a culture or cross-cultural.
It is true to say that orthodox Reformed convictions are not merely compatible with missionary zeal; in fact, such convictions inevitably must result in such zeal. In fact, the evidence demonstrates that William Carey and others caught the age-old biblical vision from their Reformed forebears and heard the call to mission and the rest, as they say, is history. Those gripped by the doctrines of grace and the beauty of the gospel as best expressed in Reformed theology, cannot but be passionate about bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to those yet in darkness.
The Reformed faith should emphasise knowledge of the Word and knowledge of the world! By ‘world’ I mean the world of mankind in all its diversity of ethnic groups, lost and totally depraved.
All men are descended from Adam and Noah, of every color and language since Babel spread them over the earth. It is reckoned by ethnologists that there are about 10,000 people groups in the world today, who like the Kurds may cross political boundaries, but are a homogenous group. It is important to emphasize that nation in Greek is ta ethne, from which we get the word ethnic; it does not mean a political nation but a people group. These groups would be people of the same tribe, having similar customs, language, and dress. The actual people may live in one political nation or be spread over several, and with today’s global transportation may have moved many thousands of miles away from their homeland. For example, one of the largest peoples without political nationhood are the Kurds who live in Eastern Turkey, Northern Iran and Iraq; they are actually descended from the ancient Medes, of whom one was Darius, who overran Babylon in the days of Belteshazzar. There are Kurds now in Western Europe and the USA.
How many of these peoples have few if any believers among them? Approximately 4,000. They all have less than 2% professing Christians, but many as few as .01%, i.e., 1 in 10,000, and some even none at all.
One basic essential to effective church planting is an accurate translation of the Scriptures in the language of the people being reached, but with many of these groups there may not even be a written language, or if there is, few can read it. Pioneers are needed to produce the Scriptures first in audio and then in written form. Of the world’s more than 6,000 languages only 700 have a Bible, 1,400 a New Testament, and 2,000 portions. It is estimated that another 2,000 languages may need Bible translation.
We believe that missionaries are trained, ordained men who are called and sent. We also believe there is a place for lay people to move to the field to support these pastor-teachers. We must also agree that there is a place for “tentmakers”—called, trained men like Paul who must work to support themselves until a church or churches can support them. In many countries having a job or practical missionary skill is a prerequisite for entry to the country. There are many “missionaries” and laymen today who are wrongly doing the work of teaching and who often are teaching a false gospel. There are many women doing the work that is biblically only for men. The numbers of western missionaries is static at about 40,000 today, but many more are being sent out by third world countries where the church is also now established and appears to be growing fastest, e.g., South Korea, China, Brazil, and the Philippines. Most of these minister in places where there are already established churches; very few are church planting in totally heathen lands. This was actually Paul’s ambition in Romans 15:20. Our Lord clearly stated that the harvest was plentiful but the labourers were few.
Missions depend on financial support of the missionary and his family. Of the finances given for mission work, less than 1% is spent on reaching totally unreached people groups.
Where are these groups? In the “10-40 window,” an elongated rectangle that encompasses lands between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator stretching from West Africa to Indonesia. It includes India with 1.2 billion folk, which has the most—perhaps 1400 unreached peoples. Many live in remote areas, are nomadic, illiterate, and poor; huge barriers will have to be surmounted to reach them. I know of a friend in Southwest China who is seeking, along with local Chinese believers, to reach various totally heathen, Buddhist Tibetan groups who have never seen a white man, far less a missionary in their whole history.
There are other barriers to reach these peoples. Some live in lands where the people are almost 100% Muslim, e.g., Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, or are under political powers such as communist North Korea, where Christianity is outlawed on pain of death.
What should be the response of Reformed churches worldwide to these statistics? First, we must pray. All can do this. Pray for ordained laborers and supporting lay people to be trained to go to the unreached in their own countries and overseas across cultures. Pray for the peoples themselves using tools like the “Joshua Project” online or the book Operation World that God will prepare hearts and open them to the saving message. We need to pray for increased literacy among many groups and for the translation of the Scriptures into many more languages (see Wycliffe Bible Translators). Mission concern should be an integral part of every church’s life and its prayers, and notice boards should reflect this. Someone stated that he could not understand why the gospel should be heard repeatedly in certain places while others had never heard it once. This make sense: we live in post-Christian nations where anyone can access the gospel online or find a true church somewhere, whereas folk in Afghanistan or Tibet cannot. It is a sad but startling fact that over 80% of the people in the Indian subcontinent will not know a true believer.
It falls to the church in the nations involved to reach their peoples; it is the responsibility of the Indian church to reach the unreached of India, but the church worldwide can play its part. Georgetown PRC has input into the life and ministry of Rev. Paulraj in Vellore and support for his church and orphanage. Hope PRC supports work in Myanmar with Rev.Titus.
Some time ago in a review of John Piper’s book Let the Nations Be Glad, I wrote that to play our part in fulfilling the great commission there were several practical applications:
- Study theology. The better we know God, the more likely we are to fulfil his purposes.
2. As individuals and churches, support in prayer and financially the missionaries we have sent out from our established churches and denomination, and others God has bonded us with.
3. As individuals, in house groups and churches, assemble information and pray for unreached peoples of the world.
4. Be prepared to go, if qualified and called.
5. Pastors and elders should teach the centrality of world mission from the pulpit and in visitation.
6. Teach world missions, missiology, culture, and linguistics in our seminary.
Churches like ours can “adopt a people” and spread information about them to the congregations, who can in turn pray for and perhaps even visit them and if the Lord will, send missionaries.
Sometimes God brings the unreached to us. They come as students from Saudi Arabia or Somalia or emigrate and may be glad of the freedoms we have; and when exposed, they may be responsive to the gospel.
What part would God have you play in bringing to pass that prayer,”Thy kingdom come?”
 From Reformed Mission History,a series of books on mission history by Dr. Wesley Bredenhof, Dr. Stephen Westcott, & Rev. Geoffrey Donnan.