A Modest Proposal Renewed

Yesterday I got an email from a confessional Reformed Christian in Germany. It’s a “big deal,” because there aren’t very many Reformed folk left in Germany. His letter was a plea for help. It’s his impression that the confessional Reformed churches in North America don’t really care about “old Europe” as the Bush administration put it.

Is that true? Well, not entirely. To their credit, Mission to North America, the foreign missions arm of the PCA, has a vigorous mission to Europe and Germany. WSC alumnus David Stoddard is working in Berlin, helping to establish a Reformed seminary there (search the MTW site for “Berlin”). There are other Reformed folk working in Germany too, but Sebastian’s post was troubling. I pointed him to the excellent missions program of the OPC and to the efforts of the RCUS on the African continent. The RPCNA has missions to Japan and Cyprus. The ARP has missions to “Mexico, Pakistan, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Wales, and the Persian World.” I didn’t, however, have a lot to say about the mission of my own federation, the URC. Why not?

It’s not that the URC doesn’t have anyone planting churches overseas (the best, narrow definition of “mission” – Christ ordained the visible, institutional church to preach the gospel, administer the sacraments, and exercise discipline), we do. Pastor Steve McGee is church planting in the West Indies and Pastor Bill Green is working in Costa Rica and Pastor Neal Hegeman is training ministers for Spanish-speaking countries. There may be others, but these are all I could find.

It’s not just that the URC does not have many ministers in other countries planting churches, which is a shame in and of itself, but its the way we go about fulfilling our mission. Our Church Order (the document by which we govern our practice) does not use the word “committee.” We have, however, at least one standing Synodical Committee: The Committee of Ecumenical Relations and Church Union which seems to have three sub-committees. Presently we are engaged in ecumenical dialogue with several fellow NAPARC denominations and federations, most seriously with the Canadian and American Reformed Churches. I understand the ecumenical imperative of John 17 and I also understand that there is an explicit divine imperative in Matthew 28:18-20, to preach the gospel and to make disciples the world over. This task, however, heretofore, we have left to individual congregations. There have been informal attempts to coordinate missions across the URCNA, but to what effect?

The URCNA is reluctant to form committees out of fear of Synodical tyranny. That reaction would be more understandable if we did not have a CERCU pushing what sometimes has seemed a shotgun marriage between the URCNA and the CanRC despite misgivings and even expressions of doubt and concern about the procedure and the goal. Clearly, if we can have a synodical committee to help us fulfill the mandate of John 17 (accepting for the sake of discussion that John 17 is about the organizational unity of the visible church) then why not a synodical committee to coordinate the foreign missions of the URCNA,  to raise funds, to communicate the needs of the field and the misisonaries to supporting churches?

There are very important questions which need regular answers if we are to prosecute our mission faithfully:

  • Who are our missionaries?
  • Where are they?
  • What are their needs?
  • What are the opportunities for new missions?
  • Who is willing to go?
  • How well prepared are our future missionaries to plant churches in other cultures?

I’m not a missiologist, so I can only guess at these, but I suppose there are lots of other questions that should be asked and answered on a regular basis. The local congregation, and even a classis (a regional assembly of delegates from congregations) is not equipped to answer these questions in regards to foreign missions. This is clearly a Synodical, cooperative enterprise. What is the sense of every classis having a missions committee (do ANY of our classes have missions committees?).

There are a couple of ways of doing this. The most likely model is to staff the committee the way we staff the CERCU, with delegates from each classis. If that is objectionable, then perhaps we could assign the work to a consistory and rotate it every few years? The first seems preferable to the second, but some effort is better than no effort.

Reformed people are often caricatured as disinterested in missions. I know this is a slander because I’ve seen Reformed people pray, work, and prepare to fulfill the Great Commission. I agree with my colleague, Danny Hyde (our pastor at OURC) who said recently:

Finally, we must also become a missional people, that is, we must have a sense of evangelistic purpose to the world. Our faith is a treasure which most of our culture has never heard of. We must be zealous to work together in local evangelism, regional church planting, and foreign missions.

What are our local congregations doing to advance the mission? Who knows? How would anyone know? Meanwhile, there are Macedonian men calling us to come, preach Christ and plant churches across the globe. Are we doing the best we can? I don’t think so.

We have a commendable zeal for Reformed ecumenicity, but do we have a similar zeal for mission? Our church order says nothing about committees, but we have a CERCU? Why not a Committee on Foriegn Missions (COFM)? If Synodical tyranny is the concern, then we must dismantle the CERCU at Synod Palos Heights and leave ecumenicity to the local congregations. We cannot have it both ways. The mission is too important to left to ad hoc efforts.

This essay first appeared in 2007.

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  1. I can relate to the guy in Germany. I live at the edge of the Ozarks in Southwest Missouri.
    I was raised United Methodist. My 17 year old son and I became Reformed about 3 years ago. We left the UMC one month ago. The closest Reformed Church is about one hour from where I live.

    On Sunday mornings for the past month we have been listening to sermons from Reformed pastors that we get from the internet. We plan to attend the church that is one hour from us at least once a month.

    We hope and pray that a Reformed Church plant will one day be placed near where we live.

  2. Dear Dr. Clark,
    Since you originally wrote this blog article the RPCNA missions board has become RP Global Missions and its URL has changed to http://www.rpglobalmissions.org/. Just thought you and others might like to know.

    I don’t know if the RPCNA would directly been involved in mission work on the continent or they would doing it through one of our sister churches the Reformed Presbyterians in Ireland or the Reformed Presbyterians in Scotland. I can ask my pastor since he has been on that board for quite a while. I know when my sister went to Nice, France to help a RP mission work the actual work was started and continued through Scotland.

    RP Global Missions is overseeing a work is Sudan, but it started with a pastor in Canada. In fact, Synod 2010 passed a motion to explore fraternal relations with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Southern Sudan!

    • I’m sure that Nathan is referring to our work in Nantes under the auspices of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, and not Nice. We are the only RP work in France. Perhaps students coming to France for study should seek to support truly calvinistic churches.
      I agree that Reformed churches have neglected Europe – and in particular France. Huge celebrations such as Calvin 500 do very little for Europe

  3. One idea, is to tarket young reformed men who desire to go to seminary and have that desire already to go to the missionfield and have some of the practical skills (language skills,etc..) and are involved with a NAPARC Church and help put them for seminary (an approved one) and give them an allowance while there if the seminary is in an environment out of the USA or Canada where the skills can be improven or learned with a contract that says they will plant or have to pay back ( over time with no interest) if they do not do that. This is just one practical suggestion.

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