Biblical Principles For Missions
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT MISSIONS
Among sincere Christians one often hears the statement. "The Bible is our infallible and all-sufficient guide for faith and practice." This is patterned in large measure after the statement of II Timothy 3:16-17 which reads: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God maybe perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works."
Without question, we accept the doctrinal basis of missions. However, it is well to briefly recapitulate what we have heard so often. We are devoted to missions because:
1. Our Lord commanded it. Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8.
2. The people of the world are lost. John 3:18; Romans 1:18; Romans 3:20.
3. Christ's atonement is all sufficient. I Timothy 2:5, 6; 1 John 2:2.
4. There is only one way of salvation. Acts 4:12.
5. The lost must hear the message. Romans 10:13-15.
The ensuing principles set forth are what we believe to be the Bible principles for Missions:
- The local church is the chosen and appointed instrument of God for the evangelization of the world.
All other organizations must be subsidiary and subservient to this. Much that is said hereinafter will be seen to be an outgrowth of this basic truth, so some attention will be devoted to establishing the Scriptural idea of the autonomous local New Testament Church. Unless this is clearly seen, all will ultimately be confusion and every man will do that which is right in his own eyes until the sad condition that prevailed in the days of the Judges will be reproduced.
- 1. It is the local church that is emphasized by the Lord.
A simple concordance study of the word "church" will amply demonstrate the truth of this contention. Eliminating the very few instances where interpretation may vary as to the precise application of the word, of the approximately 115 times the word is used in the New Testament, nearly every situation refers to the local church.
- 2. No other agency is recognized in the New Testament order.
While the World Baptist Fellowship thanks the Lord for all the blessings He has wrought through other agencies, including Bible schools, evangelistic boards and committees, and missionary agencies, it must be admitted by all honest students of the Word that these organizations are not to be found in the Scripture. They may not be anti-Biblical, but they certainly are extra-Biblical. It must be admitted in this connection that in many instances, they have been used of God.
- 3. The propagation of the Gospel in the great history book of the New Testament demonstrates the divine principle that missions must begin and end with the local church.
Upon the advent of the Spirit, a pattern was given (Acts 2:41-47). Here the process was preaching, regeneration, baptism, and addition to the church.
This principle was carried out with Paul, as well as with Peter. (Read carefully Acts, chapters 13 and 14.) It will be seen that from the local church at Antioch, two missionaries were sent out (13:1-4). They went through other lands, preaching the Gospel and gathering the converts into groups, which they organized into local churches (14:21-23). They then returned to the home church and submitted a report of their labors (14:26, 27). This method bore divine approval as is evidenced by the fact that in many instances. the very books of the New Testament are themselves letters written by the apostle to the local churches he established in such a way. (See I Corinthians 1:2; 3:10; II Corinthians 1:11; Galatians 1:2; Philippians 1:1; I Thessalonians 1:1; II Thessalonians 1:1.)
The principle was approved by our Lord Himself, for His last words to His own -- the Revelation -- was given to seven local churches which were selected to represent the churches of the entire dispensation. (See Revelation 1:3, 11, 20; 2:1, 7, 11, 12, 18, 29; 3:6, 7, 14, 22.) Surely all of these references are given to instruct the believer in that which pleases the Lord.
- B. From this fundamental principle of the Scriptures and in reference to the authority and position of the autonomous church, there are a number of important practical applications which need to be drawn, and which can be readily supported by further references to the epistles.
The basic challenge for the World Baptist Fellowship is: How shall we properly put this principle to work? What practical considerations will best carry out the Lord's will in these things?
Several important aspects and resultant methods are enumerated:
- Missionaries are commissioned by local churches, not by a Mission agency.
It may be that local churches will cooperate with recognized agencies and that approval of such a subsidiary agency may be sought. There is, in fact, very good reason why one ought always to work in cooperation with such agencies, but the church is the commissioning agency, the missionary organization is not. In the case of men, this ordinarily involves such public recognition as we commonly call "ordination." (See Acts 13:1-4.)
- Missionaries should be supported by their own local church.
This involves prayer primarily and finances secondarily, but includes both. Paul certainly received help from churches other than the one in Antioch (Philippians 4:15-18). So that we may recognize our primary obligation to our own in every way, the support of non-member missionaries should be engaged in only after we have ascertained that the needs of member missionaries are fully met.
- Missionaries sent out by a local church are subject to the authority of that church.
Paul, though an apostle, was not above giving a report to the home base (Acts 14:26. 27). Missionaries who may not conform to home-church standards are referred to the same home church for discipline (Acts 15:1-27). Missionaries, though greatly used of God over a wide area. are to explain their actions to the people at home. Peter, though an apostle, was not above this (Acts 11:18). Free-lancing was not practiced even by apostles, but they were sent by churches (Acts 8:14; 11:22). Missionaries who are commissioned and supported by a local church are subject to the authority of that church. No other agency may interfere with this order, and should any attempt be made to do so, appeal may be made to the Word of God to settle the matter immediately.
- As a logical outgrowth of the foregoing, the home church has a right to examine a missionary's work, to counsel with him regarding its pursuit, and to advise him regarding his activities.
Of course, this is never to be a substitute for the Spirit's guidance or in conflict to it, but God has established an order, and this must be respected. It will be discovered that a proper recognition of divinely established authority never militates against the true leading of the Holy Spirit. One of the greatest hindrances to this common-sense position is a current and rather idealistic, almost superstitious viewpoint that some take of missionaries. This view illogically and unscripturally tells one that no missionary ought ever to be questioned or examined regarding his work, but that the title "missionary" automatically places him in a category of infallibility and immunity from interrogation by mere mortals. Such people should read Galatians 2:11-14.
- All missionary activity should conform to the simple plan of our Lord as given in the Commission and demonstrated in early church history.
(Note Matthew 28:19. 20.)
Here are four distinct steps that are commanded:
b. Teach, or make disciples
d. Instruct in Christ's commands
Some feel that making converts is sufficient, and they stop at this point, but they have failed to fulfill our Lord's whole command. Others go so far as to baptize converts, but likewise, fail when they neglect (or refuse) to gather such into groups that are subsequently organized into local churches according to the plan revealed in Scripture. As one compares Matthew 28:19-20 with Acts and the Epistles, one sees that the divine goal in missions is the planting of indigenous local churches that are self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. Anything short of this whole program is not completely a Biblical mission. The World Baptist Fellowship Mission Agency insists that missionary activity be geared to this program, and does not have the time to waste upon unscriptural methods.
However, it should be pointed out in this connection that one should not infer that an individual missionary must himself actually perform the baptizing or organizing of assemblies. He may be working with others who share this task with him, such as was evidently the case with Paul when he worked at Corinth.
(Compare Acts 18:8b, 11 with I Corinthians 1:14:17.) Paul was occupied almost entirely with preaching. Others associated with him did the baptizing, but the end result was the establishment of the Corinthian church.
It is absolutely necessary that, regardless of the individual missionary's particular task, the sum total effort of the associated group be the establishment of local churches or the bringing into such assemblies the baptized believers. If the final result is not this, it is not missions.
- Mission churches must be self-supporting.
Read Philippians 4:15-18 and compare this with Acts 16:17 to see how quickly the church at Philippi itself was giving to missions. Read II Corinthians 8:14 to see that poverty cannot be used as an excuse to relieve a church from the responsibility of giving to others -- to say nothing of self-support.
- Mission churches must be self-governing.
Read Paul's missionary journeys in Acts and note after how little time they were on their own, and he exercised no ecclesiastical dictatorship over them. When writing back to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians, chapter five), he placed the whole responsibility of discipline upon them. It was not in his hands except to advise, and it certainly was not in the hands of a mission agency! The World Baptist Fellowship insists that the churches, which are established by missionaries, become autonomous and be freed from dictatorial over-lordship by extra-Biblical organizations.
- Mission churches must become self-propagating.
Read I Thessalonians 1:5-8, which was written shortly after Paul's departure from Thessalonica. Within a year or less, what had been but a mission church itself was beginning to send out the Word through its own missionary program. There are multitudes of mission churches that lean upon larger assemblies, continuing to do so to their own detriment until such time as they are thrust into their own responsibility. The world will never be evangelized by a few large, active mission-minded churches. This work must be shared by new, smaller assemblies, which have been brought into being by the activities of missionaries.
- 9. Churches should cooperate with mission agencies as a matter of efficiency.
It must be realized that mission agencies are in a position to render valuable services to churches and to missionaries which the churches and missionaries cannot perform for themselves in the nature of the case. For example, most governments recognize authorized sending agencies whereas, in some areas of the world, it would be almost impossible for an independent missionary to enter.
However, in all instances, the mission agency becomes a channel through which the local church carries out its work. The reversal is unscriptural; i.e., when the mission agency desires to employ the church as a channel through which to carry on its own work. Should this situation ever occur, cooperation between the church and the agency should be terminated. Mission agencies are valuable -- and indeed necessary -- but their value ceases whenever they assume authority over the local church. Local churches should cooperate only with such mission agencies as conform to this basic policy.
- 10. Finances should be regulated through the local church as advised by competent mission agencies that know conditions and needs.
However, monies should always be under church control. (Read Philippians 4:15.) It was the church which gave, not a mission agency, with individuals within the church making the contributions on a private basis. Giving is a personal matter with regards to our relationship to the Lord, but it is a corporate matter regarding our relationship to the missionary. A competent mission agency is a channel through which we can most effectively execute the giving done as a church.
From the foregoing, it will be seen that a very simple rule to follow, and one which conforms to the teaching of Scripture, is that all missionary activities should center in the local church as far as its practical, organizational function is concerned. It is significant in observing this connection to note that recent publications of missionary authors are emphasizing this truth. Often these works have come from those who. in former years, had not seen this truth and consequently failed to operate upon its basis. World conditions are forcing us to rethink some of these problems, and as once again the careful study of the Word of God is resumed, we discover with delight that there in its pages lay the solution all the while. God has not left His people without direction. His Word has the answer for every problem in every age. "This is the way, walk ye in it" Isaiah 30:21).