The Work of Missions is the Church

This article contains a portion of an address by missionary Bruce Hunt at the opening exercises of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, 1957.  This is the third of three propositions contained in that address.  The first,  The Work of the Church is Missions, and the Second: Missions is the Work of the Church.

3. The work of missions is the church

In the third place, the work of missions is the church—or, to put it a little more clearly, the work of missions is primarily the establishment of the church.

 A little over a year ago, a well-known American evangelist and educator, on a visit to Korea, invited me to a conference in his hotel room. In the course of the conversation, he expressed it as his opinion that there was very little real Christianity in Korea, that it was mostly “churchianity.” The same expression was used by a fellow passenger on the plane last summer as we were returning to the States. This passenger is a missionary who has in recent years traveled more widely than most missionaries have the opportunity of doing in many countries of the Orient. Recognizing that his travels put him in a better position than the usual run of us to make comparisons and judge objectively, I asked him for his opinion of the Korean church. He said in effect that its large audiences, full prayer meetings, sacrificial giving, and zeal for the Word of God and witnessing were unparalleled in any of the mission fields he had been visiting, that the church in Korea was in a class by itself, but that it had too much “churchianity” (the same word used by the evangelist educator).

I think I know what these men mean by “churchianity,” and I would be the last to deny and the first to deplore the existence of that kind of ecclesiasticism in Korea to which I think they are referring. I too have tasted the enmity of church leaders in Korea and have been reprimanded by their courts, even having church courts warn their people against me.

But when both of these men point to the “churchianity” of the Korean church, are they not perhaps unwittingly putting their fingers on one of the secrets of mission work in Korea which many have admired and whose fruits they have sought to emulate? Namely, that not only was that work begun by churches, but the object of the work was the establishment of the church. Korean Christians are church conscious and they are a church which believes in expanding the church.

It is a lack of church consciousness which I believe underlies much of the trouble connected with the well-meaning sacrifice and zeal of modern evangelical mission activity and causes it to have so little real impact on people. We cannot but covet the choice lives and the large sums of money that are being poured into the work of missions. And, at the same time, our hearts bleed when we see so little fruit for such feverish activity and when we see these young missionaries frustrated and in many cases broken because of what seems to be their misdirected efforts.

Where some say that there is too much “churchianity” in Korea, I would like to remind them that, in spite of all the evils that would be liable to fasten themselves to the outward form of the church, it was still our Lord’s purpose to “build his church.” That great missionary Paul, sent by the church at Antioch, made disciples. He taught them. He baptized them, sometimes in groups. He appointed elders to whom he committed the care of the flock—the blood-bought church—and he tells us that it was God’s intent that through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known (Eph. 3:10).

There are plenty of flaws in the Korean church, but—praise God!— a church has been established there, a church that has its own congregations, and deacons and elders, evangelists, pastors, and even foreign missionaries—a church whose members have been so possessed of God’s Holy Spirit that they are concerned over the lost, and not only witness to them, but send out people to witness to them in more remote places. They have started orphanages, leper colonies, an old folks’ home, a home for cripples, and charity hospitals. They work among the blind and deaf and care for the poor. They carry the gospel to those who are in prison. They have started Christian schools—several grade schools, an academy with five hundred students, and a college where their young people may be nourished in the Lord and grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God as well as man. They have Bible institutes and a seminary where the things received may be committed to faithful men. It is a church that decides matters of doctrine and practice in church council, seeking to be guided by the Word of God, a church that has opposed error, and one that tries the spirits to see whether they be of God.

Yes, in Korea the evils of ecclesiasticism have often attached themselves to the church, but, as one U.S. Army chaplain put it, “We found the church there.”

I feel that what modern evangelical missions needs is a dose of good “churchianity,” to counteract the debilitating disease of “projectitis.”

In missionary talks, the prowess of individual missionaries and the phenomenal success of their work is too often stressed. There is too much of hero worship in missionary propaganda. And young people often go to the field with the ambition of making their mark in the missionary world. One will go to do radio work, another literature work, school work, children’s work, student work, relief work, medical work, tract work, country evangelism, agricultural work, or orphanage work. Do not misunderstand me, people certainly have different talents, and people with only one or two talents must employ those talents where they can be utilized. The world needs more than the general practitioner. Specialists, too, are necessary. But to what end is this specialization being used?

The Bible tells us of specialists, saying, “God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:2). In Ephesians 4:11, Paul starts out with a similar list, saying, “He gave some to be apostles, and some evangelists,” etc., and then in the twelfth verse, he gives us the purpose of these diversified gifts. It is “for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ.” Yes, the work of missions is primarily that of building the church.

Last week I received a letter for which I was very thankful, though it rather shook me up. It came from one of the pastors of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It seems that a friend of ours from one of the interdenominational missions doing work in Korea had recently been invited to speak in their church and had made a very fine impression. Let me quote part of his letter—”After the meeting, it was obvious that interest was created for the orphanage. In fact, that interest was shown before I even arrived here…. Now I am pleased by the fact that people show interest in missions, but I feel this interest should be channeled into our own work in Korea…. The reason I am writing to you is that there seems to be some lack here of information about our own work in Korea.” Then he tells of someone speaking to him about our work in Korea and saying something like this: “Bruce Hunt spends his time teaching in a seminary and speaking here and there, but shouldn’t he settle down and establish a church?”

Now I was thankful for that letter because the pastor wrote me for information about our work and was distressed at the lack of understanding about our work among his people. I was also thankful that the one mentioned does not want the missionary who represents him to be beating the air, that he wants him to organize or work to establish a church. Both of these men from their vantage point are concerned about the work of missions and I am thankful. That is as it should be.

I am not disturbed because the people of that church are interested in an orphanage which does not happen to be in our work in Korea. Nor am I specially zealous that money from our churches should be channeled only into our work. In fact, we ourselves have on occasion also tried to help that particular orphanage work in which his people are showing such a lively interest.

What shook me in the letter was the possibly excusable, yet evident lack of information and understanding about our work which it indicated. Because I have heard that particular kind of criticism before, perhaps I was a little more sensitive and read more between the lines than I should have. Perhaps the one quoted did not mean to compare the work we are doing with that of the missionary doing orphanage work. Perhaps he did not mean to say that we are spreading ourselves too thin in our work, and would it not be better to settle ourselves down and work to establish one or two local churches rather than “speaking here and there.”

As I say, maybe I was reading more between the lines than I should have. But it did bring up in my mind the comparison between the two works. Comparisons are odious, and the particular orphanage in question is doing one of the finest works among orphans that I have seen in Korea. I have often thought it illustrates those words, “Who gives himself with his gift feeds three.” So many are giving money to help orphans, and their gifts without the givers indeed seem bare of fruit. But at this orphanage there are seven Americans, who have left home and their country to work for around one hundred children. Of course, the work is just beginning and they hope to expand and help more. They use American money to pay a full, to our standards, staff of workers. The missionaries themselves, who are consecrated Bible institute and seminary graduates, are also carpenters and builders and have themselves done much of the building of the orphanage dormitories and missionary residences. Yes, the orphanage looks “Stateside,” as we say out there, and is run very much like a Stateside institution, with Stateside money and seven Stateside people taking care of one hundred or more orphans. I do not begrudge the orphans. Would that more could be done for them. The missionaries are having a fine Christian influence on those children and giving them excellent practical training. No, I do not begrudge the orphans, nor do I criticize the missionaries for the way they are conducting the orphanage. I think they are doing an excellent job.

But what bothers me is the implication that perhaps we should stop what we are doing and go and do likewise. Is it the understanding of any in our church that what we are doing is not as important as that orphanage work? Is our conception of our church’s missionary task that it is fulfilled when we complete and perfect one or two projects, such as an orphanage or a local church?

To begin with, it might be pointed out that it is only within the last six months that the number of our workers in Korea has reached six, not the seven working in that orphanage. Would it be the best economy of manpower and money to use our six in perfecting one project or church? Just what are we seeking to do with our six? We are seeking to establish a church.

The seminary in which I spend a few hours a week teaching grew out of the Korean church’s crying need for workers. It is only one of the means we are using to prepare the leaders for the close to six hundred congregations of that church, besides the congregations still unborn. In addition to teaching in the seminary, some of our staff of six are teaching in two Bible institutes, a high school, and a Christian college, all started and largely supported by the Korean church itself to train its workers. This same staff of six is being asked to teach in nine other Bible institutes, part of the work of that same church in its program of expansion. These six are trying to render at least a little aid to twenty orphanages and twenty leper colonies operated by the members of the Korean church. It is not a case of seven missionaries giving full time to one project (an orphanage with one hundred children), but six missionaries helping to build a church with its many-sided program: twenty orphanages ministering to over two thousand children, twenty leper colonies with nearly four thousand inmates, a seminary, eleven Bible institutes, two hospitals, a Christian college and high school, and several Christian grade schools, a church with its Sunday schools and young people’s work, with its evangelistic campaigns and mission programs.

The Rev. Theodore Hard, one of the graduates of Westminster Seminary, has been on the field a little over three years. But in addition to teaching in the church’s college and seminary and Bible institute, he is helping the pastors and students of that church to get good books. He is helping the members of that church witness to and minister to the pitiful veterans in the Korean Army Hospital. He and Mr. Spooner took part in a young people’s conference this summer. He has visited a number of the orphanages during the summer and brought help to them. He has participated in the relief program of that church during the terrible floods of the past summer. Just yesterday I received a letter from him reporting the actions of one of the presbytery meetings which he attended and whose problems have become his problems and ours. Because Mr. Hard and Mr. Spooner are identified with the church, already the leaders of that church come to them to talk over important matters. Mr. Hard spoke twenty-two times in Korean during June, July, and August, twelve of these times in a presbytery area other than the one where we are living—his “work assignment for particular emphasis outside Pusan,” as he puts it. There are six presbyteries of that Korean church asking that missionaries work with them in their many-sided program.

Even while they are in training, the students of the Bible institutes and seminary of the Korean church are ministering to the many groups without pastors (for there are a little over one hundred ministers for the close to six hundred congregations) and starting new works. The speaking here and there in addition to teaching took the speaker away from home more than ninety days last year, visiting over fifty different churches, some more than once, in an effort to follow the apostle’s example of “confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:22), for along with Paul and Ted Hard and Boyce Spooner, “besides those things that are without [orphans, hospitals, relief, schools, etc.] there is that which presseth upon us daily, anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:2).

No, we do not believe that the work of missions is some personal project upon which we can make a personal report. The work of missions is the establishment of the church.

Should we settle down, in the words of the questioner, to organize or work to establish one local church—one mere project, one orphanage? It is a fair question and one that as people interested in missions we should all ask. I believe the answer is no. However successful one congregation or one project may appear, the question should be asked by every minister and Christian teacher of his own work or any work to which he or his people give their support: Does this contribute to the building of the body of Christ, the church catholic?

It is the church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail. Orphanages, hospitals, leper colonies, and relief projects which are not conducted and staffed by true Christians, members of the body of Christ, cannot claim for themselves protection against the gates of hell nor be expected to show forth the “manifold wisdom of God” (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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