Missions ... by all means! We have no choice!
Reformed Missions ... naturally! People with Reformed convictions would want to propagate the gospel message of grace they love, and that in a way which is in line with that message!
Distinctly Reformed Missions ... now I have a problem! Isn't "Reformed" already distinct?
Do we perhaps want to say distinctly distinct? Or do we want to say Reformed Missions that stand out?
"What is different about distinctly Reformed Missions?"
I had to ask myself, what is the purpose of this exercise?
Is it to discover,
How Reformed people should engage in missions? or
How Reformed people should view non-Reformed mission endeavours? or
Whether and how Reformed people can in good conscience share in the mission endeavours of others? or
How Reformed people are to become more urgent in their missionary task?
As regards (b) I would consider myself incompetent to judge "non-Reformed" missionary endeavours favourably or unfavourably in comparison. I would leave that judgement to the Master whom they serve (Romans 14:4). As regards (c), this is a very wide and debatable question, worth further careful study, in which each case would need to be looked at from its own angle, rather than being "summarily dismissed". (Notice, e.g. the careful distinction Jesus makes in Mark 9:38-41 as compared with the statement made in Matthew 12:30) The intent of this article is certainly not to build negative principles for missions, although the negative is never totally absent.
In his paper on "The Principles of Reformed Missions" delivered at the ICRC meeting in Seoul (Oct '97), Mark Bube addressed one point that struck me: Missions begins with God, and Missions ends with God. I wish to go still further and quote Romans 11:36, "For from Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things, to whom be glory forever."
The word "mission" is derived from the verb "to send". And it is the Lord Jesus who makes this foundational statement on missions, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." (John 20:21). God sends Christ into the world to restore all things. His work is redemptive. Mission-work is God's ongoing redemptive programme through Christ (note Acts 1:1ff and the emphasis on the Kingdom of God, and Christ's ongoing involvement in the coming of the Kingdom, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
Church and Kingdom
In His preaching Jesus introduced the concept of the Kingdom of God. He came to restore the rule of God. It did not mean that God had lost control of this world, but rather that He came to undo the powers of darkness that had undermined the rule of God.
In teaching His disciples to pray the Lord stresses the importance of the Kingdom and our prayerful and active involvement relating to the second petition "Thy Kingdom come". The Heidelberg Catechism (Q123) underlines that involvement of the church:
Thy Kingdom come means, Rule us by Your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to You. Keep Your church strong, and add to it. Destroy the devil's work; destroy every force which revolts against You, and every conspiracy against Your Word. Do this until Your Kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it You are all in all.
It is note-worthy that the Larger Catechism (Westminster) adds the phrase "and the Jews called".
Church and Kingdom are not identical, but are intimately related as also the Heidelberger's confession of the church shows (Q54). The Son of Man is said to "gather, defend and preserve the church".
Church maintenance and church extension should never be separated. Jesus also stressed that in the Mission Mandate in Matthew 28:18-20: "....make disciples of all nations, baptising them... teaching them..." Missions is church planting with a view to further church planting, by the church.
This is one of the great principles of missions.
The Church as Taskforce
The church, then, is the taskforce of the Kingdom! It is to live out the rule of Christ in every sphere of life. It is God's chosen instrument for the spreading of the gospel.
Consider the church in Antioch! What a model for both home missions and overseas missions, for both Word and deed ministry! (Cf. Acts 11:19-30; 13:14) On the local level there was a spontaneous outreach and in the area of overseas missions there was the more formal setting apart and sending.
In both cases it was the same Spirit who directed the witness of God's people (Acts 1:8).
In Missions therefore it is the Church that takes responsibility for extending the church. On the local scene God's people are "sent" out to be salt and light. The gathered church opens its arms to seekers and new believers drawn in by spontaneous outreach of its members.
On the overseas front the church does the same via its sent-out representatives or the young church on the field. Mission-workers are not sent just to "make converts" but to "plant churches".
Although the church is essentially the same throughout the world, it is nevertheless culturally coloured in its own local situation. Contextualisation is nothing new. The apostle Paul already spoke of being as a Jew unto the Jews, and as a gentile unto the gentiles (1 Corinthians 9:20f).
Great care is warranted as heathen practices have been incorporated in the life of the church over the centuries. Yet at the same time the church should have a national character rather than a foreign one.
The principle of diligence with discernment is to be applied here.
The Whole Counsel of God
The message which we bring must first of all be a message which we believe and practise. The doctrines of grace are not only great teachings that stress the glory of God in salvation, but also the glory of God in the lives of the saved! The impact of that message is powerful as we see in the case of the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1).
In a world which is becoming more and more antagonistic to Christianity, we must not only believe in God's sovereignty but actually stake our cause on it. While most major religions are becoming more aggressive and defensive, we also know that the power of God in bringing His elect to Himself is not in any way restricted by human depravity and inability or outright opposition to the gospel. These and related teachings give both courage and patience to those bringing the gospel and those receiving it.
A Worshipping People
What does it mean that the ultimate aim of missions is the glory of God? It means that the process, as well as the end result of missions, is bringing praise to God.
In observing the purpose of the first mandate ever given to mankind (Genesis 1:26-31), the writer of Psalm 8 exclaims: "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy Name in all the earth!" This ties in with the redemptive work of Christ (Hebrews 2).
The Old Testament, as well as the New, indicate the widest possible scope in bringing glory to God. The psalms testify to this very strongly, e.g. Psalm 148 and 150, "Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!" Notably Psalm 67 is a great Mission psalm. It prays for God's blessing on His people, and that not without purpose: "That Thy way may be known on the earth" and more, "Thy salvation among all nations," and more yet,
Let the peoples praise Thee, O God; let all the peoples praise Thee.
God's blessing of His people is not to be detached from this purpose. Just like the promise of Christ's presence ("Lo, I am with you always...") is not to be separated from the mission mandate "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations!"
Missions and You
"The church is looking for better methods," wrote E.M. Bounds, "God is looking for better men, for people are God's methods." God's instrumentality is a church that is Christ-honouring and a Spirit-filled witness to His sovereign grace. Are you in that church in that place where God wants you to serve Him?