Foreign Missions and the Proposed Church Order

“Since foreign mission work is beyond the scope and resources of the congregations and classes, it demands the cooperation of all the churches and is therefore to be performed under the auspices of synod” (Article 81a of the Proposed Revised Church Order).

The synod of 1963 of the Christian Reformed Church will consider and be asked to adopt the Proposed Revised Church Order. Among the proposed revisions is a rather extensive section (articles 77–82) dealing with the subject of missions. These proposed articles detail the work of home and foreign missions, and are a considerable revision of the article now in effect in the present Church Order. Because the revision is so extensive and so detailed, the church should consider carefully and deliberately whether these articles should be adopted, and what their meaning is for the mission work of the future. These articles, if adopted, will govern and give direction to the mission work of the church for many years, for we all know that constitutions and church orders once adopted are not frequently revised nor easily amended.

In general, I believe that the entire proposed revision is far too lengthy and detailed. There is much material in this revision which could well be omitted, and which is hardly constitutional material. A good constitution should be as brief as possible. It should say as much as possible in as few words as possible, and should establish the basic principles which shall govern and guide the churches.

This serious fault of the proposed revision applies also to the section on missions. The revision contains much material which is not necessary to state in such detail in a document which serves as the church’s constitution. Much of this material could better be included in the various Mission Orders which synod may adopt to direct the various areas of work assigned to its administrative boards.

First of all, Article 81a includes material that is not in itself constitutional. As I read the article, I note a difference in what I believe the article should say and what I believe the authors of this revision also mean to say. But as it presently stands it says what it should not, and what it should say it does not.

To my mind this article should say that all foreign mission work carried on under the auspices of the synod is the responsibility of all the churches. This is implied in what is stated, but it is not stated in the clear way in which it ought to be stated. The work of the churches in synod is the responsibility of all the churches. We cannot escape this conclusion if the good order of the churches is 1’0 be preserved, and if synod continues to deal with those matters which represent the common interests of all the churches represented in synod. The responsibility of these churches includes the financial support of all synodically established projects and activities. It involves every member of the churches in their responsibility to pray for the work and the missionaries, to Support them, and to maintain a vital and vigorous interest in the work. Foreign mission work is not the life-time hobby of a few dedicated individuals, but is the actual fulfillment through these servants of Christ of the responsibility which each and every member of the churches has to the Christ who saved us. For various practical and necessary reasons we must and do carry this work on jointly through missionaries who are called and set aside for this work.

Second, is it actually true that foreign mission work is always and of necessity “beyond the scope and resources of the congregations and classes”? The revision by implication limits the home mission work to mission activity carried on in the communities in which our churches are located according to the previous articles of the revision (77–80).

Is this the only mission responsibility the churches have? Is this the only kind of mission work which is within their scope and resources? By implication foreign mission work would now have to be defined as mission work carried on outside the continental boundaries of the United States and Canada. Can it truthfully be said, for example, that mission work in Mexico and Cuba are “beyond the scope and resources of the congregations and classes”? There may well be practical reasons why this type of work should be done under a denominational board, but is there a constitutional reason for this? May our churches and classes, if they are minded to fulfill their God-given responsibilities, surrender this right to the synod in this way, and limit themselves for the future by such a provision? I think not.

Third, is this provision concerning the scope and resources of foreign mission work Scriptural? This is after all the final test of the proposed revision. In this matter at least the Scriptures arc not silent. The Holy Spirit separated Paul and Barnabas to the work fo r which they were called through the church at Antioch. One gathers in reading the New Testament that the local churches were not unaware of their responsibility to witness. Though much of their witness was naturally directed to their own communities, there was no limitation on any local church or group of churches such as this revision implies.

Fourth, there is an increasing demand in our churches to “let synod do it.” This is often nothing less than an escape from personal responsibility. Our local churches must wrestle with the problems in which our present age involves us. We may not take the easy way out of responsibility to our Lord by removing the direction and discharge of this work still further from the minds and hearts of the people.

What can be done about this? For one thing, the churches and consistories must be roused to the matter under discussion, and take a careful look at what the proposed revision means. Is it really a better instrument than the present Church Order? Are we willing to exchange the one for the other? Will we have gained? Has the revision now proposed actually assisted the churches, or has it moved in the direction of greater centralization of power (and to the common mind, responsibility) ? Does this revision take away much of the local initiative and prerogatives that we have always felt were needed for a strong home base? I submit that in this matter at least local initiative will be deadened and interest wane in years to come. As a result we shall have to place increasing emphasis upon board and synodical campaigns to tell our people about the work, and enlist their support and interest. This is already the case. Is not the surrender of the prerogatives of the churches too high a price to pay for a (questionably) higher standard of efficiency?

Each of our members should be aroused to take greater personal interest in the Church and its work and programs. Regulations and rules must become more detailed and numerous when the people governed by them lose sight of the principles behind these regulations. We cannot relax in our day. Have we become the kind of church that will only accept its responsibility when that responsibility is spelled out in detail? I trust not and I think not.

We do have from the Lord a marvelous heritage. We can look confidently today to our people to support the Lord’s work. Let us not kill their initiative or hinder their participation by removing entirely to the synodical level a God-given responsibility and opportunity. If one of the churches, or a few together, or a classis sees first to accept a certain responsibility and are able to discharge this responsibility well, they should be encouraged to do so, and to do it well. They should also guarantee that the combined interest and responsibility they have to the whole body is not neglected.

If these things will be safeguarded in any revision adopted by synod, then the Church Order will fulfill one of its own stated purposes, which is that the churches “may fulfill their calling according to the Scriptures and the Reformed creeds” (Article 1).