The church of Christ is a universal one. This means not only that its members are drawn from all over this earth, but that they come even from varying ethnicities and walks of life— “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9). This diversity of the elect in my opinion is one of the most beautiful truths expressed in scripture. The spiritual descendants of Abraham truly do number greater than the sands of the seashores. This number then includes not only the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, but also members of other varying denominations, as well as peoples not even associated with any particular church. But this begs the question: how do we balance mission work with work in our own churches? Should precedence be given to one or the other? Is one more important? It seems to me that our churches have almost come to an unofficial decision in this regard that I am not sure is appropriate. Whether because of closeness to the situation, selfishness and lack of caring for missions, or whatever else, we seem to give more weight to our own schools with respect to prayer and especially to our giving. I believe it to be vital to maintain a more balanced approach to our schools and our mission work.
As far as our prayers are concerned, it seems that we focus more on our own schools than we do on foreign and domestic mission work. However, the sorts of things we typically pray about are not necessarily wrong. We often utter prayers asking for God to provide for the various support drives of our schools. There always seem to be shortfalls in the schools’ budgets, and these drives become necessary to enable the schools to continue operation. However, slightly rarer are the prayers for the accomplishing of the work of God’s servants in the mission field. Even when our thoughts are directed to mission work, how often is not the thought expressed not one of, “Grant, O God, that more ministers might be trained up, for the fields are white with harvest”? Even in praying for missions, we so frequently place the emphasis on our own situation. Certainly, it is not to wrong to pray for the training up of ministers; mission work necessitates this. But this thought often seems to serve as a nice transition into speaking of our seminary, which then leads back to our schools once again. It may be better occasionally to speak in our prayers simply of the ministers already present at a mission that they might have the strength to continue to take up that labor, and for the saints affected by the spread of the gospel there that the Spirit might continually work in their hearts, causing them more and more to see what wondrous works the Lord has done.
It can be very easy to overlook mission work in our prayers in favor of our local Christian schools. The most likely reason for this is that most of the time, we are simply so far removed from missions in our churches. Even our domestic missions are many hundreds, even thousands of miles away from most of our churches. It is simply a natural thing for us to think more about what we relate more to. The only real remedy for this is to pray that God might constantly help us to hold mission work in the forefront of our minds. In the Heidelberg Catechism’s introduction to prayer (Lord’s Day 45), the question “What hath God commanded us to ask of Him?” is posed (Q & A 118). The beginning of the answer given is very interesting. We read, “All things necessary for soul and body.” While it may not be the meaning originally intended by our spiritual fathers, it may well be appropriate to apply the use of the word body in this case to the while body of Christ. We must ask God all things necessary not only for ourselves, but for the whole of the body. This includes mission work. However, the gravity of the matter comes out not in the answer, but in the question. In asking what God commands, the Heidelberg Catechism implies that now having the answer, we view these things as our calling. This really puts a new emphasis on mission work in our prayer life.
But what of our giving to these causes? It seems that if we are doing well in one of these categories, it would necessarily be the case that we do well in the other. However, this means the opposite is also true; whatever shortcomings we have in the one regard will transfer to the other. This holds true here as well; our giving seems to have a heavy emphasis on our local Christian schools. It frequently seems to be the case that when my own congregation’s bulletin publishes the numbers from collections, the amount given to the schools listed far outweighs the amount given to missions, whether foreign or domestic. I have noticed a similar trend in my own giving to collections as well. I frequently give more money to collections for our schools than I do to anything else, aside from the General Fund. I am beginning to see this as inappropriate.
The prompt for this essay mentioned Acts 2:39 as a verse to think about. I find it interesting that this verse is so frequently used as a proof for infant baptism because of the beginning (“For the promise is unto you, and to your children”), but we always seem to forget about the ending of the verse (“…and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call”). This seems to me to be a very good summary of how we so often think. We focus so strongly on our own children and bringing them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord that we forget the gospel is for all kinds of people—once again, “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” If we keep this thought in mind, I feel that many of us, myself included, will change our habits with regard to our giving; how could we not give to causes which promote the spread of the gospel? As Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma pointed out in an article of his, “There is a qualifying factor.” It is important to note the phrase “Even as many as the Lord our God shall call,” because the call of the gospel will not convert all mankind. However, as he also pointed out, proclaiming the gospel call is still a necessity: “By means of missions, others are called out of darkness and grafted into the vine of God’s covenant” (Bruinsma—“Defining Missions”). What a humbling thought that our offerings help in the spread of the gospel and the gathering in of the elect!
Our calling then is to find an appropriate balance between the two extremes of considering only missions and considering only our own schools and churches. Rev. Lee wrote an article in the Beacon Lights a few years ago that speaks well to this idea. In it he said that it is important not only to think about Genesis 17:7, which speaks to the promise to Abraham’s children, but also verses 4 and 5, which speak of the surrounding lands, as Abraham was made the “Father of many nations.” Rev. Lee writes, “It is easy for a Reformed church to take a one-track approach to the covenant and be focused only on the covenantal duties and obligations connected with Genesis 17:7: catechism instruction and the covenantal education of our children. This other extreme is also something we do well to avoid” (Lee).
The obvious problem proceeding from this then is how to obtain a solid balance. Unfortunately, God does not give through scripture some sort of perfect formula for us to follow here. He never tells us to pray or give three parts to our schools for every two parts to foreign and domestic missions. He never even implies that this is supposed to be an even 50-50 split. Rather, this is something for which we simply must continually pray for guidance. We must pray that we not only give proper emphasis to the future of the established church through the education of our own children, but also to the spread of the gospel through the work of missions. In so doing, we must pray that God gives us an added measure of grace continually to resist the temptations that lead us to give wrongful emphasis to one side of the spectrum or the other. For example, when we find ourselves focusing too much on our own schools, we must guard against selfishness. When the focus is almost entirely on mission work, we must step back and remain careful that we are not operating out of a desire to Christianize the world.
Finding a proper balance between these two kingdom causes can be difficult. I am not trying to insinuate that our churches should seek always to have a perfectly even hand in our prayers and giving, nor am I saying that we are necessarily even very far from where we should be. But I do think we have some amount of work to do in this regard. In my own admittedly limited experience, missions seem to always take a back seat to our schools. As Rev. Bruinsma wrote in another article, “…if we see [mission work] only as a secondary labor of the church, we do injustice to the truth of God’s covenant” (Bruinsma—“God’s Covenant”). We should never allow ourselves to slip into the thinking that the conflict between giving of our thoughts, prayers, and monetary gifts to missions or to our schools is as it were an “us vs. them” situation. We are all unified by the blood of the Lamb, which redeems God’s people out of “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.”
Bruinsma, Wilbur G. “Defining Missions.” The Standard Bearer 15 Nov. 2007: 15 pars.
Web. 30 May 2016.
Bruinsma, Wilbur G. “God’s Covenant: The Foundations of Missions.” The Standard
Bearer 1 Jan. 2008: 17 pars. Web. 30 May 2016.
Lee, Dennis. “God’s Everlasting Covenant and Missions.” Beacon Lights Feb. 2010: 32
pars. Web. 30 May 2016.