How should the church do missions?
What do we understand by missions?
The question might seem quite trite, considering that mission endeavour is one of the most discussed topics of the church, one of the efforts most zealously encouraged and carried on.
Yet what do we understand by missions?
Or to put the question a bit differently: What does Scripture teach us concerning mission labours as the calling of the church of Jesus Christ throughout history until time shall be no more? And in that same connection, what is the calling of the individual in regard to mission endeavours?
In answering that question, we think at once of the Great Commission of our Lord as expressed in Matthew 28:19, 20, 'Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.' See also Mark 16:15, 16; Luke 24:46, 47.
From this Great Commission we can already draw some definite conclusions concerning missions as the calling of the church.
The word 'mission' means 'to be sent,' thus, to be sent by Christ. The name 'apostle' means 'one who is sent out.' The apostles were appointed to their special office by the One sent of the Father, by Christ. He breathed on them His Spirit as the Spirit of the resurrected Lord thus qualifying them for the work of the apostleship. John 20:22. On Pentecost they were more fully enlightened for their ministry by the outpouring of the Spirit upon the church. But the point that must be stressed here is that the apostles, the eleven, were particularly called of Christ and qualified by the gift of the Holy Spirit to perform the work of proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth. Later this same calling comes through the church to others, as we shall see. But the apostles were the first to be called and to be sent out as 'fishers of men.'
Jesus further tells us in the Great Commission that he who is sent must teach. Literally this can be translated as 'make disciples,' that is, to make disciples of those who hear the Word. They must not be made disciples, followers, or pupils of some particular man, but of Christ. No one may say, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Cephas,' but each must be a disciple of Christ, taught by Him, and therefore ready to take up His cross and to follow Him. See I Cor. 1:12, 13; Matthew 16:24.
This is confirmed in Mark 16:15, 16, 'And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be damned.'
Mark speaks of preaching the gospel. The gospel is the 'glad tidings,' but then the glad tidings that Jesus brings through His ambassadors. It is the glad tidings as we now have it in the Scriptures, the infallible, authoritative Word of God. It is that Word which is the power of God that makes disciples from all nations.
Here Jesus once more stresses that those who do mission work must be called and be sent. And they must go into all the world, even to every creature. While the preaching of the gospel was limited to a great extent to Israel in the old dispensation, and Jesus restricted His preaching almost entirely to the Jews, in the new dispensation the gospel must reach out beyond the established church, even to every nation and to all peoples, even to the uttermost parts of the earth. For Jesus says in Matthew 24:14, 'And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come.'
We can therefore define mission work as: That work of God in Christ whereby, through the official ministry of the Word by the church, He gathers His church as His chosen and redeemed people in Christ from all the nations of the world, both from Jews and from Gentiles.
Since we shall have occasion in this pamphlet to refer to this definition from time to time, it is well to keep it in mind and to turn to it when necessary.
Before entering into more detail on the subject itself, we should ask ourselves: What, according to the Scriptures, motivates us in doing mission work?
Are we motivated by a desire to improve the social conditions in this present world? Is our goal set on a better world in which sickness and poverty are reduced to a minimum, warfare is banished, and the whole world enjoys a millennium of peace and prosperity, similar to the original garden of Eden?
Or are we motivated chiefly by a 'passion for souls'? Is our primary concern to save a lost world?
Or are we motivated first and foremost by our love of God? Is the love of God and the zeal for His name and His glory our chief concern?
It is important in this connection to turn to the sixth chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah, where Isaiah is called to be prophet. There we read: 'In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.' The reaction of the prophet was that he became fully aware of his own insignificance and unworthiness, so that he cried out 'Woe is me! ...for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.' But now do not fail to note the next two verses: 'Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said: 'Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.' The prophet had to be cleansed by the blood of Christ, as it was represented by the coals from the altar. He had to be purified in his heart, so that his lips were pure to utter the Word of God as the Spirit of Christ gave him utterance. Then he hears a voice that says: 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' To which the man of God can only answer: 'Here am I, send me.'
Anyone sent to preach the gospel must be filled with a deep sense of the holiness of the only true and sovereign God. He is sent of God, and he must seek God's glory first and always. Even as God in holiness is devoted to Himself as the only God, so also the servant of God must be devoted to God. His motive must be always: The glory of God through the gathering of the church.
It is true, of course, that 'whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.' I Cor. 10:31. This may sound like a platitude in our godless times, but it is in perfect harmony with the first petition of the Lord's Prayer: 'Hallowed be Thy Name.'
That first and foremost desire of our hearts makes it possible to pray all the other petitions. But that must be first.
And that is the more reason why this must be our motive in any mission endeavour. For God says in Isaiah 43:11, 12, 'I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour. I have declared, and have saved, and I have showed, when there was no strange god among you; therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.' What a wonderful motive: 'Say unto the heathen that the Lord reigneth. He is God. Besides Him there is and can be no other. He is the only Saviour. 'Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.' Revelation 4:11.
With this in mind we ask ourselves: What is the purpose of missions? Is it to create a kingdom of Christ here on earth? Or is it to win souls for Jesus? Some of these expressions are used so often that we have come to accept them without question. But where in Scripture are we taught to seek an earthly kingdom? Where do we read of doing something for Jesus, such as winning souls? Was that the purpose of the prophets in the old dispensation? Was that the purpose of Jesus Himself in His earthly ministry? Is that what the Great Commission means?
You will find the very opposite in Scripture.
Jesus speaks of 'teaching' all nations, or of making disciples from all nations. Here already we have the key to true mission work, and an important one at that. On the day of Pentecost the small band of disciples, numbering a mere hundred and twenty souls, was increased to more than three thousand. Daily others were converted and added to the group of disciples of Jesus. Acts 2:47informs us: 'And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.' And in Acts 13:48 we read that 'as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.' 'The apostles were sent out to preach the Word. They were God's witnesses, proclaiming the gospel of salvation in the name of their risen Lord. And through their preaching the church was gathered. The gathering of the church, that is, of God's elect, is obviously the purpose of all mission endeavour.
This is in harmony with the testimony of Jesus Himself, that He must gather His sheep which are given to Him of the Father. He had gathered His sheep mainly from the fold of the Jews in the old dispensation. But His work was by no means finished, for there were still other sheep given to Him of the Father, which had to be gathered in. Thus we read in John 10:16, 'And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.'
It is with that in mind that we can understand the often referred to passage in John 3:16: 'For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' Any student of the Scriptures must realize that the term 'world' in Scripture almost never refers to all men head for head. It can refer to the sum total of those who are under the dominion of Satan, so that the believer is warned not to love that world of wickedness. I John 2:15. Who would think for a moment that the 'world' in I John 2:15 refers to all men head for head, including the elect? No one. But neither can John 3:16 refer to the world of wicked men, as in I John 2:15. Here in John 3:16 Jesus is speaking of the entire organism of God's elect, as they finally make up that multitude that no man can number in the new creation.
Plainly the purpose of missions is that the church of Jesus Christ is gathered from the very ends of the earth, so that all the elect of God are united in perfection in glory.
Closely related to the question of the purpose of missions is another question: Who does mission work? Does man win souls for Jesus? Or is this a joint effort of God and man working together? Or is it the work of God carried out through His servants?
To ask the question is to answer it.
Nowhere in Scripture are we taught that we can do anything for God. But we are taught the very opposite. Jesus says, 'Without me ye can do nothing.' John 15:5. This certainly applies to the preaching of the gospel, and expecting fruit from that preaching. How encouraging therefore, on the other hand, is the confident boast of the apostle Paul, 'I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.'
Reference is sometimes made to I Corinthians 3:9 to prove that gospel preaching is a joint endeavour of God and man. We read there: 'For we are labourers together with God.' Now that certainly sounds like a cooperative venture between God and man. But will you kindly take a look at the context? For there we read that Paul is nothing, and Apollos is nothing; nothing but ministers by whom the Lord works His works. Paul adds, 'I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planted anything, neither he that watereth; but God giveth the increase.' And then he concludes in verse 9, as is more accurately expressed in other translations, 'For we are labourers together (Paul, Apollos, and others) of God.' And notice that: Of God. Not, with God. Nor: for God. But, of God.
Let us refer once more to John 10:16. Christ speaks as the Good Shepherd, saying, 'And other sheep I have.' Notice, not: I hope to have. Not: I shall have. But: I have. The Lord eternally knows and claims as His own all those given to Him of the Father. (John 6:37.) 'Them also I must bring.' Christ gathers His own. He brings them in. And He brings them in by the preaching of the Word. For: 'And they shall hear My voice.' When Christ speaks through the ministry of the Word the whole elect church is gathered as one flock, and is led into the sheepfold of glory. 'And there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.'
Acts 2 closes with the statement, 'And the Lord (notice hew this work is ascribed solely to Him) added to the church daily such as should be saved.' The apostles were deeply aware of the fact that they were but instruments whereby Christ worked His power, for when Peter healed the lame man at the temple gate, he did not take the credit for himself, but ascribed the power to the Prince of Life, 'Whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we all are witnesses.' For notice, 'And his name (His presence and power) through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know; yea, the faith which is by Him (notice that even the faith is from Jesus, Eph. 2:8) hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. Acts 3:15,16.
Paul in his missionary journeys went as the Spirit directed him. Sometimes he was hindered from working in certain areas, in order to be directed to some new field of labour. 'Now when they (Paul, Silas, and Timothy) had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the Word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bythinia, but the Spirit suffered them not.' Acts 16:6, 7. Shortly afterward Paul received the Macedonian call to preach the gospel in Macedonia. (Verse 9). And there in Macedonia the first convert was Lydia, a seller of purple, of whom we read: 'Whose heart the Lord opened that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.' Paul was the instrument through whom Christ preached His Word to open her heart so that she was receptive to the Word.
The apostle to the Gentiles soon learned to speak of 'an open door' given to him of Christ. He sought from the Lord an open door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ. Colossians 4:3. The Lord also gave him an open door; that is, gave him ready hearts to receive the Word, sometimes even 'great and effectual.' II Corinthians 2:12, I Corinthians 16:9. The Lord did this by working faith in the hearts of many, even of Gentiles. Acts 14:27. But it cannot he emphasized too strongly, this was always from the Lord.
That raises the question, Hew does Christ work ? Is it true, as we hear it said so often that Christ is dependent upon willing workers, without which He cannot work? Or does He create the willingness in the heart? And that occasions another question, Does Christ work through self-appointed preachers such as Billy Graham, and through such organizations as man may establish? Or does God hold Himself to the chinch institute and the office in the church? These questions are very important, and worth our serious consideration.
How Christ Works
It must be very positively maintained that God is a God of order, Who does all things properly and orderly, even according to His Word. Therefore God has instituted the office of His church as a special office. In the old dispensation there were certain men who were called to be prophet, or to serve as priest, or to hold the office as king. Each of these was called and ordained of God for his own particular office. No one might intrude in that office (Saul as king might not even bring a sacrifice, since this was intruding upon the office of Samuel. I Samuel 13:8-14). In the new dispensation Christ first instituted the office of the apostles, who were His special witnesses. Later He introduced the office of the ministry of the Word. Romans 12:7, 8, and other passages. These are called to preach the Word, for that Word is used by Christ as the power of God unto salvation. Therefore we also speak of the preaching of the Word as the chief means of grace, that is, as the means whereby Christ bestows His grace upon His church. Just as God uses food and drink to sustain us physically, so He also uses means to supply our spiritual needs. And just as God refuses to depart from that rule that man must live by bread, so also God binds Himself to the rule that man shall live spiritually by every Word of the Spirit. Thus God uses means to bestow on us the grace of Christ. And these means are twofold, namely, the preaching of the Word and the use of the sacraments. The preaching of the Word both works and strengthens faith, while the sacraments strengthen the faith that is wrought by the Word. It is for that very reason that a sincere child of God can not and may not neglect those means of grace.
But if this applies to the ministry of the Word in the church, this certainly applies also to the preaching of the Word in the mission field. Christ binds Himself to the ordained means of the official ministry of the Word also when He gathers His sheep from the far ends of the earth.
This is evident from the parable of the sower. 'Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but others fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.' Matthew 13:3-8. This passage speaks of Christ as the sower. But it also teaches us that the seed is the Word. See Matthew 13:19-23, Mark 4:14. Christ sows the seed of the Word promiscuously, so that many hear it. But only the good soil that is prepared by the Holy Spirit through regeneration, receives the Word so that it brings forth fruit of faith and repentance unto eternal life.
Scripture also stresses that Christ prepares for Himself a great company of preachers. Psalm 68:11. In the Old Testament, prophets were called of God to proclaim His Word. They were anointed with oil to show that they were ordained of God and qualified by His Holy Spirit to speak as the Spirit of Christ gave them utterance. As ambassadors of Christ they could say: 'So saith the Lord.' This is also true of the apostles. Christ chose them and sent them out to preach. John 6:70; Matthew 4:18-22, etc. He placed His Spirit upon them. John 20:22, 23. He made them 'fishers of men.' No one should be so foolish as to take this to mean that they were dependent upon a certain sort of 'fisherman's luck.' The very idea is contrary to their high calling. Jesus explains this figure in the parable of the dragnet. Christ directs the dragnet of His covenant through the sea of this world to gather His own. As the net sweeps along its course it takes in both 'good' and 'bad' fish, both elect and reprobate, which are finally separated when the net is drawn up upon the shores of eternity. This is quite different from the haphazard 'winning of souls for Jesus', which becomes the work of men rather than the work of God in Christ. One must consider it only a privilege to be instrumental in God's hand to gather His elect.
Do not fail to consider in this connection the calling of the apostle Paul. He was a chosen vessel of God to bear His Name to the Gentiles. Acts 9:15. He was personally called to the ministry on his way to Damascus. Acts 9:5, 6. And shortly after, he was assured of this by Ananias. Verses 15-18. Did this mean that Paul now felt licensed to go out on his own initiative? Not at all. He spent at least three years preparing for the work. Galatians 1:15-17. One would think that now he would be free to go wherever he pleased. Yet he waited. He waited until Barnabas brought him to Antioch, where he labored for some time. No, he waited still longer. He waited until the Holy Spirit called him and ordained him through the church at Antioch. Acts 13:2-5, 'As they (Paul, Barnabas and others) ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.' The underscored words are certainly significant. Here we have an official call by the Holy Spirit through the church. The Holy Spirit also ordained them, qualified them, and sent them out. And when these men returned they 'rehearsed all that God had done with them and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.' Acts 14:27.
The Scriptural passage in Romans 10:14-17 is even more significant: 'How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom (literally 'whom') they have not heard? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things!... So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.' In no uncertain terms we are told here that salvation is by faith and by faith alone. But that faith cometh by hearing. Even as Jesus says: 'My sheep hear my voice.' John 10:27. But this voice of Jesus comes only through the preaching. For how shall they hear without a preacher? And this preacher must be called of Christ through the church and ordained by the church. He must be qualified for the work and sent by Christ Himself, for, as Paul stresses, 'how shall they preach except they be sent?'
No one has the right to impose himself on that office as a self-appointed preacher. He must have the same respect for the office that Paul showed, and at the same time must be aware of the unworthiness and unfitness that Paul often expressed. He considered himself the least of the apostles and unworthy to be called an apostle. His confidence lay in the fact that he was called of Christ Himself to the apostleship. Romans 1:1. But Paul also held in high esteem the church institute with its ministers, elders, and deacons. He spoke of ministers as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, through whom Christ Himself speaks. II Corinthians 5:20. Through these officebearers Christ baptizes and administers the Lord's Supper. Through them He exercises the keys of the kingdom, opening and closing the kingdom; declaring believers inside and unbelievers outside of that kingdom. For what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven. It is as serious as that! Matthew 16:19. From this necessarily follows that also missionaries must be called and sent out by Christ through His church. No individual, no society, not even a denomination can perform the ministry of missions, but the church must fulfill that mandate through missionaries properly called and ordained.
This does not mean that there is no place in the realm of mission endeavour for personal witness. There is also the office of believers in the church. Every sincere child of God is a Christian. The very name means, 'partaker of Christ's anointing.' I John 2:20. We are stewards in God's house, called to use the talents entrusted to us by God. 'But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.' I Peter 2:9. We are God's witnesses. Isaiah 43:12. The early church after Pentecost was very much aware of this, for they spread the Word wherever they went. Acts 11:19-21. We should not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but be ready at all times to give account of the hope that is within us. Many who speak highly of missions and of their zeal for missions hide their own light under a bushel. We must let our 'light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven.' Matthew 5:16. But then we must also encourage those who are interested to come along with us to the church and the Sunday worship. No, we must not leave the impression that just any church will do. We may not leave them 'to attend the church of your choice.' We must lead them to the church where the Word of God is preached in all its purity, where the sacraments are celebrated according to the command of Christ, and where church discipline is properly exercised in Christ's Name.
What, then, is the preaching of the gospel to the unsaved ? Is it an offer of salvation that man must accept in order to be saved? Or is it the almighty, efficacious calling of Christ whereby He gathers His own?
It has become so common to hear or to speak of an offer of salvation, that many never even question whether this is Scriptural or not. The impression is often left that God offers salvation, but man must accept that offer. Some even insist that God cannot save us unless we are willing. Christ stands at the door and knocks, but He cannot enter unless we turn the knob and open the doer of our hearts; to let Him in. And often an appeal is made to Scripture to prove this.
An Offer or a Call?
Now every sincere believer must know in his own heart that he is not worthy nor able to accept Christ. Much less would we be willing. We simply would never be saved if salvation depended in any sense upon us. What an inexhaustible source of comfort it is that we may believe and confess that salvation is OF THE LORD. This is also the plain teaching of the Scriptures. Jesus says: 'The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.' Luke 19:10. He goes out into the desert to find His wandering sheep, because the sheep can never find their way back alone, but can only wander further away. Luke 15:1-7. In even stronger language than that He declares: 'No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.' John 6:44. And Paul stresses exactly that in Ephesians 2:4-9, 'But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we weredead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast,' I have taken the liberty to underscore certain parts of the text, in order that we may note Paul's strong emphasis on God as the Author of our salvation. Also the emphasis of God's sovereign grace to us who were dead in trespasses and sins. And likewise the emphasis on the accomplished work of the cross. Christ not only died to merit salvation for us, but He even accomplished it by His death. When Christ arose, all the saved arose; when He ascended to heaven, all the saved were included in Him. How, then, can their salvation still depend upon their acceptance? No, from beginning to end the work of salvation is a free and sovereign gift of God. All boasting is excluded!
In this connection we turn to the parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14. There Jesus speaks of those who were 'bidden' to the wedding feast. He even speaks of refusing to come. And He goes on to say that the servants are sent into the 'highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid them to the marriage.' This certainly emphasizes that the gospel is 'good news'. A wedding feast is a happy occasion. It also points out that this glad tidings is proclaimed wherever God will send it. And in spite of the good news, there are those who reject it and refuse to come. The outward preaching of the Word comes to far more than are saved. Yet some are saved; for the wedding feast is filled to capacity with guests. There are no empty seats at Christ's wedding. How do we explain that some reject the call of the gospel and are punished for it (see verses 7 and 13), while others are saved? Jesus gives us the answer in verse 14, 'For many are called (by the outward preaching of the Word), but few are chosen.' And those that are chosen are drawn by the power of the Spirit in their hearts.
This also explains the often quoted passage from Revelation 3:20. 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' A careful reading of the entire passage will convince us that no mention is made whatever of 'the door of the heart', even though this has often been assumed and even expressed in pictures. Jesus stands at the door of the apostate church of Laodicea, when the members are neither hot nor cold, so that Christ is about to spew them out of Him mouth. He Himself has been cast out, so that He stands on the outside. And therefore, standing at the door of the church where He no longer has a place, He calls the faithful to come out. He even makes it very personal, assuring the individual that hears His voice and opens the door to Him, that the Lord will join with him in covenant fellowship of salvation.
That places us before the question: what must be the content of the preaching in the mission field? Some like to speak of a relevant gospel. The idea seems to be that the message that is brought from the pulpit in an organized church would not fit in the mission field. The doctrines of Scripture cannot be expounded, because they are too difficult to understand or be accepted. These must be simplified, or else a timely message must be brought that will not offend, but will have a strong appeal to the audience. Sometimes it is advocated that one must adapt himself to his listeners even to the extent that he adopts their customs and practices. Only after they are converted are they ready to receive the sound truth of the Scriptures. Is this true?
The Contents of the Preaching
Jesus tells us that we must go out into the whole world and preach the gospel. That means preaching the Word as it is given to us in the Scriptures. We must not pretend to be wiser than God by bringing our own philosophies, but as ambassador of Jesus Christ we must be able to say: 'So saith the Lord!' Anyone sent to preach must preach Christ crucified. And to do that he must certainly proclaim the truth of Scripture that God sent His Son into the world to save sinners. But then he must preach the cross, the substitutionary suffering of Christ as a complete atonement for the guilt of His people. He must testify of sin and guilt, call to repentance, and declare salvation through faith and through faith alone. This means that the preacher dares to speak of the sinner as dead in sin and of salvation as coming only from the Lord. The Holy Spirit speaks through that Gospel, applying it to the hearts of God's elect.
When Jesus spoke, the common people gladly heard Him. Yet He spoke with authority and not as the scribes, so that it was commonly agreed that no man spoke as this man. He expounded the Scriptures, pointed the people to 'Moses and the Prophets' with an emphatic, ''It is written.' But at the same time he did not hesitate to upbraid the scribes and Pharisees for their self-righteousness. He often offended by His preaching, so that many remarked, This is a hard saying, who can hear it?', and left Him to follow Him no more. John 6:60, 66.
A few of Paul's sermons are preserved for us in the book of Acts. It is evident throughout these sermons that Paul preached all the fundamental truths of the Scriptures. He even brought up the subject of the resurrection at Athens, where he was laughed to scorn. In his epistles to the newly founded churches he unfolded doctrines hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures unto their own destruction.' II Peter 3:15, 16. As he approached the end of his ministry, he could say to the elders of Ephesus, 'Ye know ... how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly,. and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. ...Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.' Acts 20:18-21, 26.
This should immediately warn us against a 'social gospel.' Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever preached social reform. Jesus did not advise the soldiers who came to him, to break away from the Roman army, but warned them to do their duty. Jesus did not raise revolt against the Roman authorities, but rather taught in every respect submission. The apostles did not attempt to improve social conditions among the Gentiles, but they preached the gospel of salvation, pointing the church to the coming of Christ and the Kingdom of heaven as their only and sure hope.
That does not mean that a missionary cannot adapt himself to the situation he meets. When Jesus approached the Samaritan woman, He asked for a drink of water, in order to tell her about the Living Water, John 4. He spoke freely in parables, using earthly pictures to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Paul fed the spiritual babes with milk, because they could not digest solid, spiritual food. But it was, nevertheless, milk, not water. The profoundest truths can be presented in a simple way. And that without perverting the truth of Scripture. Ministers must do this in the catechism class, and missionaries must do this in the mission field, but at all times preaching the Word, in season and out of season. II Timothy 4:2.
But then we must always follow the pattern of the Scriptures. Jesus and the apostles, for example, would never approve of the common practice of our day to try to reach the parents through the children. Jesus did say, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.' Mark 10:14. He did not want the adults to stand in the way or to interfere with the children. But He did want the parents to bring their children to Him, also coming themselves to be taught of Him. The whole covenant idea of Scripture requires that children be reached through their parents, but not parents through the children. God gathers His church in the line of continued generations, so that when parents believed, also their children were baptized. We must not try to be wiser than God.
Never can it be emphasized too strongly that mission work is preaching of the Word. Never may it be replaced by anything else. So often, emphasis is laid upon hospitals and clinics and schools rather than on the preaching. And that is definitely wrong. True enough, the needy must be helped, the sick must be cared for, and the children must be taught. But this is all secondary, and must supplement the preaching rather than replace it.
All this already implies that the gospel is always very specific in its address.
A Specific Gospel
It speaks to individuals. It describes their sins, their miseries. It calls to repentance. And it assures them of forgiveness upon repentance, even of salvation through faith, and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Turn, for example, to Isaiah 55:1. 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.' Although the spoken word reaches the ears of the entire audience, it calls those who are athirst. Those who are complacent in their sins will immediately say, 'This does not apply to me.' But the regenerated sinner, who is burdened with his sin and guilt, panting after mercy and forgiveness will know that this is addressed to him. The same Holy Spirit Who made him thirsty for the waters of life also satisfies that thirst through the preaching of the Word.
Or turn to Matthew 11:28, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' Here again we have a general proclamation of a specific gospel. Jesus addresses those who labour and are heavy laden. Only those who are burdened with the guilt of sin and who despair because of their bondage in shackles of sin, will heed this Word. It is also meant for them. Christ calls them personally: 'Come to Me!' And they come, drawn by the Spirit, broken, humbled to the dust, crying: 'O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.' To them He says just as emphatically as when He was among us on earth: 'Go in peace, thy sins, though they be ever so many, are forgiven thee.'
This is also true of the passage in Revelation 22:17, 'The Spirit and the bride say: Come. And let him that heareth say: Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.' The 'whosoever will' certainly cannot be applied to every man, woman, and child. There are many that are unwilling. In fact, no man is willing by nature, for he is an enemy of God and a slave of sin. Paul describes us as dead in trespasses and sins. How can a dead person be willing? But in this passage the 'whosoever will' is the same as the one that is athirst. God has made him willing, even thirsty, so that when he is drawn by the Word. He comes and drinks freely of Christ, the Water of life. God's Word cannot fail.
From this it is evident that the Word of God never returns void, but always serves its purpose. In fact, it always has a twofold effect. 'For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but, unto us which are saved it is the power of God.' Or again. 'For the Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God.' I Corinthians 1:18, 23-24.
Therefore Paul could confidently say concerning the positive fruit of his labours: 'And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.' He could also assure the church at Corinth: 'Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are a savour of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?'
And as to the individual who hears the Word, he can say with Paul, 'For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.' II Timothy 1:12.
'By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.' Ephesians 2:8.