“Preserve and IncreaseThy Church”

The words of the above heading are taken from the explanation in our Heidelberg Catechism of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom Come.” They teach us that we should not only pray but also work -for the preservation as well as the increase of the church through missionary endeavor. God must do both; he alone ,can preserve and guard the church against corruption and internal weakening; and he alone is able to add living members to the body of Christ. However, he uses those who already belong to his church, particularly its leaders, to accomplish this two-fold task.

All the ills of the church can be traced to the neglect of either or both of these functions of its leaders and members. There are, on the one hand, those who are far more concerned about the intensive growth of the church, its preservation, than its increase, even in this day of great emphasis on missionary work. They stress purity of doctrine, Scriptural principles of church government, the maintenance of church discipline and of catechetical instruction, the support of Christian schools, the preservation of the family altar, and whatever else is needed to prevent the inner decay of the church; but they have only a mild interest in the proclamation of the gospel to the unchurched and the pagan world. They fail to understand that all our efforts for the preservation of the church will come to nought unless they are accompanied by a virile missionary program. Such a church will succumb to the dry rot of selfishness and unnecessary controversy. It cannot be blessed because it fails to carry out one of the greatest tasks which Jesus Christ commanded his church to perform, namely, to preach the gospel to all creatures.

On the other hand, there are few evangelical churches today which neglect their missionary task. The principal emphasis today, even in some churches of Reformed persuasion, is on missions. One has only to peruse the official organs of these denominations to verify our statement. One of the most serious weaknesses of the church today is that it fails to place as much emphasis on preserving the church as on the work of expanding it. It is significant that “preserving” the church is mentioned in the Catechism before “increasing” it. This is only natural. The preservation of the church is fundamental to its extension. God, we believe, is even more concerned about the purity and strength of his church than about its size. Gideon’s select band of 300 men conquered the Midianites; the 31,700 who were dismissed might have caused defeat. Quality is even more essential than quantity. The increase of the church depends on its preservation. Today many denominations have lost their missionary fervor because they have denied the faith. They no longer believe in the absoluteness of the Christian religion; they hold that there is much truth in Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism and all the other pagan religions. The real incentive for mission work is gone; as a result the missionary spends his time and energy in humanitarian endeavors.

In this light we can understand why Paul, the great missionary of the early church, in his epistle to the Ephesians stresses only the internal strengthening of the church when he explains why Christ has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to the church. He docs this in these unforgettable words: “for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine….” The preservation of the church is essential to its perfection.

It should be evident that a church which fails to do its utmost to preserve its purity and strengthen its stakes call· not expect in the long run to lengthen its cords. It will not be able to send out missionaries untainted with false doctrines and zealous to preach an unadulterated gospel. Hence it is in the very interest of a powerful and fruitful missionary program of the church that we should make the preservation of the purity of the church our first concern.

We should both pray and work for the preservation of the church. No congregation and no denomination automatically retain their soundness and purity. In fact, this is the most difficult task of the church. It is easier to enlarge the scope of our mission work than to guard against the gradual entrance of false doctrine, prevent the neglect of church discipline, and keep the fires of spiritual zeal burning in the hearts of God’s people. It is easier to add a room to your house than to rid it of termites; to enlarge a business organization than to increase its efficiency; to make a fortune than to safeguard it and keep it intact. Many denominations succeed in gradually widening their missionary outreach, but few, if any, retain their first love, their spiritual distinctiveness, and their doctrinal purity.

And yet, the characteristic of our age is to emphasize bigness, numbers, expansion. That is particularly true of America. We of Reformed persuasion in this country are not immune to the passion for quantity rather than quality, witness the fact that we want a mission field in every quarter of the globe even if we cannot find sufficient workers to man all of them properly.

How much emphasis does your denomination place on spiritual preservation and intensive growth? How many are deeply concerned when such basic truths as the infallibility of Scripture are questioned? How many become alarmed when their teachers tell the students that Adam was “the first man with a soul,” the ultimate product of a sub-human race instead of a direct divine creation? How many take it seriously when some plead for the acceptance of new converts before they have received careful instruction in the Reformed faith? How many are alarmed when some contend that our mission churches can build up their own system of doctrine from Scripture, ignoring the rich heritage of truth contained in our creeds? How many protest when some would let down the bars against lodge membership?

To be sure, it is quite natural that some among the leaders of the church are specially concerned with its mission task while others place more stress on the preservation of its purity and the duty of continual reformation. But we often see that the latter are looked at askance while the former are applauded as the broad-minded, big-hearted men and women who really love the Lord. The church needs both types of leaders. It needs the watchers on Zion’s walls as well as those who go out to invite those outside to enter its gates and enjoy its blesSings. In fact none should stress the one at the expense of the other. May all pray fervently and work diligently both for the preservation and the increase of the Church. Then surely God’s kingdom will come.