During the past few years we have witnessed a remarkable upsurge of interest in mission work in the Christian Reformed Church, not only in foreign lands but also in the home land, especially among the unchurched. Let us rejoice because of this. May the day not be far distant when everyone of our churches. large or small, will be intent on bringing the gospel to non-Christians in its own vicinity. whether at home or institutionalized.
However, we feel that a word of caution is not out of place. Enthusiasm for missions should never become an excuse for lowering the standards of membership in the church, surrendering our distinctiveness in doctrine, or losing interest in preserving the purity of the body of Christ.
There can be no defense of abandoning the endeavor to teach new converts the glory of the Reformed faith. Neither could there ever he a good reason for neglecting to guard the purity of the Church and fostering the spiritual growth of those who are already members.
It is highly significant that the apostle Paul, the greatest of all missionaries, stressed the importance of the preservation of the Church not less than its extension. For example, he teaches us in Ephesians 4 that God gave not only apostles and prophets, pastors and teachers, hut also evangelists “for the perfecting of the saints…unto the building lip of the body of Christ…till we all attain unto the unity of the faith…that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine…”
The great weakness of modern evangelism is that its great zeal for leading men to Christ is not matched by an equally enthusiastic interest in “the perfection of the saints” and the spiritual enrichment of those who are newborn babes in Christ.
Onesidedness seems to be an ineradicable human trait. Even Christians and churches seem unable to escape it. We so easily emphasize one truth at the expense of another. Mission enthusiasts easily lose interest in Christian schools, in doctrinal issues in the church, and in measures needed for preserving the purity of the church, while ardent advocates of Christian education and constant church reformation may lack zeal for the cause of missions. Let us see the necessity of maintaining the proper balance between church extension and church preservation.
Faithfulness in the proclamation of the advanced truths of the gospel to those already in the fold (Hebrews 5:12–14), in the exercise of church discipline, and in the maintenance of sound doctrine in the denomination as a whole is just as important as a successful mission enterprise. It is tragic that often when denominations begin to address themselves with proper vigor to the task of missions they begin to compromise with false doctrines and questionable policies. It is less strange than tragic; for it is much harder to preserve the purity of the church than to enlarge its borders.
It is not true of course that if a church only emphasizes missions it will automatically guard its spiritual heritage. Neither is it true that if a church is faithful in maintaining its soundness in doctrine and discipline it is sure to be wholeheartedly devoted to the cause of missions. It is necessary to be fully aware of the necessity of both church expansion and church stability, of external growth and internal strengthening. This was the glory of the Pentecostal church that while it burned with zeal for adding converts to its rolls it “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:41, 42).
At the same time it is well to bear in mind that it is far easier to stimulate the mission interest of a church which still clings to its principles than to restore its purity after it has once begun to drift from its moorings. It is impossible for a church which has compromised with the spirit of modernism to continue to respond to the mission challenge. When churches lose the conviction that there is no salvation for lost souls in any religion but Christianity they have lost their message and their enthusiasm for real mission work is bound to fade. Nothing can be more important even for an ardent performance of the mission task of the church than keeping its doctrine pure and maintaining a high standard of spirituality among its members. From among those members it must recruit its missionaries. These missionaries will not rise much above the level of faith and devotion that prevails in the church which reared and educated them.
The first and most important requisite for the continuation of a sound and strong mission program by a church is the exercise of the utmost caution in preventing liberal ideas from infiltrating into such a church. History proves that liberalism is the death of missions—the kind that is worthy of the name.