The Work of the Church Is Missions

 This article was gleaned from Tim Bergen’s Blog “Here There And Everywhere“.  It contains an address by missionary Bruce Hunt at the opening exercises of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, 1957.  This post contains the first of Hunt’s propositions.  The second and third will be posted seperately.

My subject today is “The Church and Missions.” I wish to develop this subject under three propositions:

1. The work of the church is missions.
2. Missions is the work of the church.
3. The work of missions is the church. 

 

1. The work of the church is missions

The first proposition that I would have you consider is that the work of the church is missions. That is, the work of the church is not primarily self-preservation, the perfection of organization and equipment, the improvement of the membership, or several other firsts that people might propose.

What has been called “the Great Commission,” the task of evangelizing the world, was given to the church and thus became its great work. [We do not believe that Mr. Hunt, in emphasizing the importance of missions in the work of the church, was intending somehow to set missions in opposition to worship. Indeed, as his own life’s work on the mission field demonstrated, missions ever has in view, in the gathering and perfecting of the saints, the extension of the worship of the living and true God.—Ed.] When the risen Lord, having been given all authority in heaven and on earth, spoke the words of Matthew 28:19 and 20 to the eleven disciples, he did not address them as some separate little group, but as a part of the church he was establishing. And therefore the work given to them is a work committed to the whole Christian church, considered both as a unit and as the individual members which compose it.

No member of the true church, or congregation of Christians, can rightly say, “I don’t want to make disciples,” “I don’t want to be a witness,” “I have no ability along that line,” or “I have a personal dislike for that kind of thing and so I won’t do it.” Missions is the great reason for the church’s existence, its great work.

We are perhaps indulging in speculation about “the secret counsel of God” when we say the reason the early church in Jerusalem was persecuted was because, having received the Holy Spirit, it had not gone to make disciples of all nations, and God had to drive it to the task by persecution. But we leave the realm of speculation for the clear statement of God’s Word when we say “there arose on that day a great persecution against the church and they were all scattered abroad”—and “they that were scattered abroad [i.e., the individuals who are also called the persecuted church] went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:2, 4). Collectively and individually, the church was finally obeying the Great Commission.

Our Lord said, “Every one therefore who shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). Jesus ordained every one of us collectively and individually to bear fruit, to make confession, to be witnesses. Confession is an essential part of the experience of salvation—”For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10). Paul declared, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). When our Lord was asked to rebuke the children who were shouting hosannas and proclaiming him to be the Son of David, the One coming in the name of the Lord, he said, “If these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).

The work of missions which has been committed to the church means carrying out Matthew 28:19 and 20: “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” or Acts 1:8: “Ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” We have heard these words so often that it hardly seems worthwhile repeating them, especially before a group of men who have dedicated themselves to the task of preparing for preaching the gospel, the evangel. But it is because I am constantly running across people among regular church members and even ministers and elders who do not believe in missions in its broadest sense that I am saying today that the work of the church is missions.

There are churches which do not reach out to their own community. They are a closed corporation, a social club with a limited membership. They not only do not go out, but dislike and are afraid to go out. They have an actual distaste for missions, home or foreign, and not only begrudge time given to the consideration of missions, but actually ask that the subject not be brought up, and that missionary speakers be forbidden. This may be a rather extreme position, but it is by no means as rare as one might suppose.

Then there are those who, though they would not say they are against missions, conceive of the work of the church as merely shepherding the elect; looking up and calling on those who are already church members; studying, defending, preserving the gospel pure; and teaching it to the elect and their covenant children. If they have put their money into Christian schools and into building up their local church, they feel they have done all that is required of them.

As theological students and later as pastors and even as missionaries on the field, you may find yourselves studying—not because you need to, for the sake of making the truth clear and plain—but as an escape, an excuse from going out and witnessing.

I trust that at this seminary you will get a fuller grasp and a greater zeal for the Reformed faith. I am a Calvinist by conviction and experience. I believe that the Calvinistic theology gives one the truest motive for missions. I believe the Reformed faith is needed today as never before. But it quite disturbed me a few years ago when a minister who has since left our communion said to me in effect, “Calvinism is for the intelligentsia, so we should concentrate our efforts as a church on the intelligentsia.” If our Calvinism cannot be made plain to the smallest child or the most ignorant [bushman]—if we cannot carry it to the masses on the street corner—there is something wrong with it. I would say it is not true Calvinism. I pray that the Reformed faith which you learn here may be for you and for those to whom you go in the future, a reforming faith.

We may have the light which we study, defend, and preserve, but our Lord said, “Neither do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand” (Matt. 5:15). And how sharp was his criticism of the steward who came saying, “Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where thou didst not scatter and I was afraid, and went away and hid the talent in the earth; lo thou has thine own” (Matt. 25:24-25).

When it was told our Lord, “All are seeking thee,” he said to his disciples, “Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, for to this end came I forth” (Mark 1:37-38. In John 17:18, our Lord says to the Father, “As thou has sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”

When the disciples met the risen Lord and were full of questions about the time of the kingdom, the Lord told them it was not for them to know the times or the seasons, but they were to be witnesses to the uttermost parts of the earth.

When the disciples stood seemingly dazed and bewildered at the sight of the ascending Christ, the angel asked them, “Why stand ye here?”

It might be said that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church owes its very existence to the belief that the work of the church is missions. For when Christians within the old church found they were hindered and frustrated in seeking to proclaim the gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth—when they discovered that they were being made to support missions which were indeed no true missions—they found that relationship incompatible with their Christian faith and were compelled to break away.

The great work of the church is missions. In other words, the work of the church collectively and of its members severally is to “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” It is for Christians to be “witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 16:31). And it is through missions, through fruit bearing, that the church glorifies God. “Herein is my Father glorified: that ye bear much fruit.” It is God’s intent that his manifold wisdom should be made known through the church (Eph. 3:10).

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The son of missionary parents, the Rev. Bruce F. Hunt spent his life chiefly in foreign missions (especially in Korea) beginning in 1928. He was a founding member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936, and retired from active missionary service in 1976, after more than forty years on the mission field. At the onset of World War II he was for a time imprisoned in Manchuria for his open opposition to the government’s attempt to force emperor worship on the Korean-speaking Christians among whom he labored. See his gripping autobiographical volume For a Testimony, available from the Committee for the Historian. This article appeared in New Horizons in three parts beginning March 2002.

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