by Edwin L. Frizen, Jr.
During the past decade the place of the church in missionary outreach has come into prominence through discussions on church/missions relations.
During the past decade the place of the church in missionary outreach has come into prominence through discussions on church/missions relations. There continues to be an increasing emphasis on the "sending" role of the church. It is appropriate that we ask, "Who is the sending church?" To answer this question we need to consider the definition of the church, the New Testament church, the role of the church today, and the missionary/ church relationship.
THE DEFINITION OF THE CHURCH
An ad hoc group of IFMA and EFMA missions executives considering the church concluded:
The church, the body of Christ, is composed of all regenerate believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, alive and dead, without reference to geography, race or ecclesiastical affiliation. The church on earth manifests itself in visible communities, which, according to the Scriptures, include both those who by regeneration through the Spirit are truly his and some who in spite of their profession have not yet partaken of the life of Christ.1
This definition of the local, visible church reminds us of the important fact of the two-fold makeup of the local church membership that will not be revealed until the true church is united with its Lord and head. Dr. Edmund P. Clowney wrote:
According to the Bible, the church is the people of God, the kingdom and body of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit ….The reformed family of churches is said to conceive of the church as the people of God, the sacramental churches to regard it as the body of Christ, and the Pentecostal churches to regard it as the fellowship of the spirit.2
Interdenominational missions interpret the biblical revelation on ecclesiology to be an integrated balance of all three positions. At Green Lake, ’71, a joint IFMA-EFMA-sponsored study conference, Dr. Clowney spoke of God’s continual presence in his church. He said:
The close biblical connection between the holiness of the church and its witness (Phil. 2:14-16; I Pet. 2:9-10) grows out of the reality of God’s abiding presence in the midst of people. The people of God, then, are his assembly, gathered before him; and a nation of priests, even a temple, with God dwelling in the midst. They are also his possession, his chosen treasure.3
David Ewert points out that God not only dwells in the midst of his church, but that the church was created by him. Ewert said, "The church is not a creation of the Apostles, it was fashioned by the diving Lord. Its origin can be found alone in the creative act of God. It was born out of the event of Easter. It should also be said that the early church looked upon Pentecost as its birthday."4
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
The great commission stands between two of the greatest events of Christian history – the resurrection and Pentecost, between the exaltation and Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord said to his disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
The great commission of Jesus Christ is a mandate to witness, and it is a mandate to witness universally. It is at Pentecost that the witness of the church began. God chose preaching as the means of transmitting life. It was at Pentecost that the church began to see clearly the purpose of its existence here on earth while waiting for the return of its head was to witness of the redeeming grace of God through Jesus Christ.
The proclamation of the gospel is not one activity among many in which the New Testament church was involved, but it was the basic, the central activity. Harry Boer stated:
The urge to witness is inborn in the church, it is given with her nature, with her very being. She cannot not witness. She has this being because of the Spirit who indwells her. Pentecost made the church a witnessing church because at Pentecost the witnessing Spirit identified himself with the church and made the great commission the law of her life.5
Pentecost made the church a witnessing church, and her witness was spontaneous and immediate. She did not need to reflect as to carrying out her task. What needed reflection was the extent of her witness – to Gentiles, or the universality of her witness.
The book of Acts is the only book in the New Testament that deals with the life of the church. The theme throughout Acts is the expansion of the faith through missionary witness in the power of the Holy Spirit. Missionary witness was inseparable from the New Testament church. It was also inseparable from the Holy Spirit.
In Acts, prominence of the church — the corporate believers and the Holy Spirit in the sending progress is very significant. Acts 11:22 states that "…the church at Jerusalem…sent Barnabas to Antioch. " This indicates that the church selected and sent him. Acts 13: 1-4 tells us that in the church in Antioch, while a group of prophets and teachers were worshipping and fasting, "the Holy Spirit said, `Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off." It is further recorded that Saul went to Antioch because Barnabas " brought him" there (Acts 11:25-26). Later when Barnabas and Paul parted company, according to Acts 15:39-40, Barnabas "took Mark" and Paul "chose Silas, and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord." Later, as recorded in Acts 16:3, Paul "wanted to take" Timothy "with him," and we are told (Acts 16:2) that `the brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him."
It is apparent that New Testament congregations were consulted and involved in the sending role. It seems evident from scripture that in the New Testament church the Holy Spirit used the corporate initiative o£ congregations or the initiative of missionaries in selecting people. The New Testament church selected, commended, commissioned, supported, and prayed. There is no evidence that the missionary volunteered, or that the great commission was the motivating force in missionary witness. The Holy Spirit given at Pentecost was the motivator, the undergirder, the empowerer in the missionary witness of the early church.
With this background of the role of the New Testament church in sending, let us consider the types of churches to which present day evangelical non-denominational missions are related, and their role in sending.
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH TODAY
No IFMA mission is a part of any denomination. IFMA-related churches are many. They are not a homogenous group.
Historically, IFMA missions have been considered interdenominational in that the missionaries from North America came from different denominational churches. Today, however, the majority probably come from independent, or nondenominational, backgrounds. The denominational churches from which missionaries and support come, include some mainline denominations, such as United Presbyterians, and more evangelical denominations, including Baptist, Congregational, Mennonite, Presbyterians, and others.
The independent churches with which IFMA missions are related include some churches with a denominational name, but no longer affiliated with a denomination. There are also the Bible churches, community churches, house churches, and other nondenominational churches. While IFMA missions require church membership for their missionaries, a number of these workers accepted the Lord in, and may receive support from, parachurch groups. Referring to such groups, Dr. Ralph Winter wrote:
But elastic as the word church is, it is rarely stretched to fit a whole group of now common structures, such as the…coffee house, the InterVarsity Bible study group, the…shipboard Navigator prayer cell, and so on. The fact chat Christ is among those two or three that gather together in his name doesn’t apparently decide the issue: most ecclesiastics will generously acknowledge all these structures as part of Christendom, but not as specifically "church" structures.6
W.E. Vine was an apologist for the independence of the New Testament church. He wrote:
A conspicuous feature of the development of the missionary activity recorded in the New Testament is the independence of the churches one of another by way of ecclesiastical authority and constitution….The divine plan is characterised by an entire absence of any amalgamation of churches, determined by either geographical or racial or ecclesiastical organization.7
IFMA-related missionaries come from a variety of local churches. What is the role of these churches in sending the missionary to the field? The church has moved far from the ideal set forth in the New Testament. Dr. Boer stated:
They have through default permitted to come into being that characteristic phenomenon known as the missionary society….The missionary society is, scripturally speaking, an abnormality, but it has been a blessed abnormality.8
Let us look again at the New Testament church. It knew nothing of the distinction between the church, on the one hand, and the missionary effort – either inside or outside the church – on the other hand. Dr. Roland Allen said:
The church was first established and organized with a world-wide mission for a world-wide work. It was a living organism composed of living souls deriving their life from Christ, who was its head. It was an organism which grew by its owes spontaneous activity, the expression of that life which it had in union with Christ, the Saviour. Its organization was the organization fitted for such an organism; it was the organization of a missionary body. Consequently there was no special organization for missions in the early church; the church organization sufficed. It was simple and complete. There was abundant room in it for the expression of the spontaneous individual activity of its members; for every member was potentially a missionary; and the church, as an organized body, expected that activity and knew how to act when its members did their duty. With the activity of its members, it grew simply by multiplying its bishops.9
After the first few centuries, tae church lose its missionary character. Even the reformation leaders and 17th century theologians, such as Calvin, Luther, Melancthon, and Zwingli, felt that the great commission was liven to the apostles and ceased to be in effect when they died. It was William Carey, toward the end of the eighteenth century, who launched a powerful plea for missionary witness in the non-Christian world. For more than a century and a half now, since Carey’s plea, missionary witness has been carried on by volunteers. Great emphasis has been placed on the great commission as the motivation for witness.
The sending role of the church today is primarily in commending and commissioning after the volunteer has purposed to go. Often the local church is not involved until after his training is completed and the mission society has been selected. Then the church is approached for support.
This lack of involvement is a result of the emphasis on volunteerism, and the absence of the recognition of the place of the Holy Spirit in working through the church to select qualified people. The New Testament church sent its proved leaders, and so far as the New Testament record is concerned, the great commission was not the motivating factor in tie early witness of the church.
The lack of involvement also stems from the fact that churches do not comprehend the full meaning of the church in her essence as a witnessing body, that missionary witness is her central activity. It is the responsibility of pastors to peach this nature of the church. When the church is taught the truth, she will become what she once was, and ought to be, a truly witnessing church. Roland Allen said:
We have been taught that the spirit of Christ is a spirit of holiness. We have all been taught to recognize the signs of his presence in terms of virtuous conduct. We have not been taught that the spirit of Christ is the spirit which embraces the world and desires the salvation of all men. We have not been taught to recognize the signs of his presence in ourselves in terms of missionary activity.10
The primary sending role of the church today is in financial support and prayer. There is little or no involvement in selection. Commending and commissioning usually come after the church has been approached for support. There is evidence that many churches resent the missionary’s failure to involve the home church in his purpose of missionary service until it is approached for support. The candidate must cultivate the proper concept of the church. Dr. George Peters said, "In the total realm of operation and function in missions here is perhaps the most hazy and undefined idea . . . . Somehow the average American missionary has a low and limited view of the church."11
THE MISSIONARY/CHURCH RELATIONSHIP
The consideration of the relationship of the missionary to the church is of vital importance in any study relating to the sending church. The missionary is usually the key to a good relationship with the local church, both the home church and other supporting churches. The relationship with the home church usually will have started before the missionary volunteered for service. The basis for any good relationship is communication. The church must be informed of the volunteer’s missionary purpose. Counsel should be sought regarding the place for training, the field of service, the selection of the mission agency, etc. The candidate should bring the church into every aspect of his purpose, planning, and going.
IFMA-related missionaries come from a variety of churches. To some missionaries, the personification of the local church is the pastor. However, there are many who make up the church. Other representatives are the council of elders; board of deacons; boards of missions, Christian education, and deaconesses: the women’s missionary society, or circles; board chairman; the treasurers; and other church officers; Sunday school teachers and classes; and prayer meeting participants. The list could be extended to include every member and attendee. These are all part of the local church with whom the missionary needs to build meaningful relationships.
Building relationships is a continuing process. The local church is not a static organization. It is constantly changing whether it is growing or not. Pastoral staff often change during a missionary’s term overseas. Even if the church staff remains fairly constant, the membership is likely to be changing, particularly in urban and suburban areas.
Changes occur, not only in the personnel of the local church, but also in interests and emphases. Such changes may take place within a term of missionary service. Some churches develop an interest in the functioning of small groups within the congregation. The new emphasis may be on sharing, shepherding, fellowship or body life, or a dominating interest may be in church growth, bus evangelism, evangelism explosion, or some other program of outreach. The program of missionary education and the policies and practices of the missions committee may have changed. Two difficult areas of change that may face the furloughing missionary are the charismatic question and the interpretation of biblical separation.
In building new and continuing relationships with the sending church, the missionary must be prepared for a multiplicity of different factors. Many sending churches are becoming interested and involved in the evaluation of their missionary’s ministry, the evaluation of the agency with which he serves, the evaluation of priorities of their own church missions program. This is a growing emphasis and one which the missionary and the agency should take seriously.
A few church leaders are starting to struggle with the implications of a more simple life style. Some are concerned with the continually rising cost of missionary support, and are wondering if the support of overseas national workers may not be better stewardship and more effective in building the church of Jesus Christ. Others may emphasize reaching the overseas students that are flooding North American universities and colleges.
In order to build relationships a missionary must demonstrate a spiritual ministry in the local church. The type of ministry depends upon the missionary’s gifts and abilities. An effective ministry will largely depend on an understanding of the interests, emphases, and condition of the local church and its members. The initiative for ministry often has to come from the missionary.
One of the best ways for a missionary to build relationships with the church is to spend time with the church and its members. To listen, and to learn of the current congregational concerns and interests. The missionary should seek to serve the church in every way possible. Participation in local church programs and functions with the church membership is very important. This is not an easy assignment.
Research and planning for participation is essential in order to be effective, especially in view of the limitations of furlough, family obligations, multiple church involvement, continuing education opportunities, the need for additional support, and a host of other factors. Who is sufficient for these things?
I concur with Dr. Harry Boer, when he said:
If the church is to return to a true appreciation of her missionary character and thereby to a fuller discharge of her missionary duty, the nature of the Spirit and her own nature as a bearer of the witnessing and life-giving Spirit will have to be emphasized more than has been done in the past. This must be done especially by the Christian pulpit. We must cease preaching the great commission as a command to be obeyed but must present it as a lieu that expresses the nature that governs the life of the church….It is not, like the commands of the law, a command which men are impotent to obey. It is a command that has been given because the church has the power to obey it, because the Spirit has been given to the church, because it is of her essence and nature to be a witnessing body.12
If this truth takes hold, a wonderful change can be effected, because, as Dr. Boer stated, "the Spirit who indwells the church will respond to his own voice."13 When the church returns to the early church pattern, the Holy Spirit will identify his choice, and will move the congregation to send. We shall see expansion in the church worldwide. There will be an adequate supply of qualified workers in all areas of need. The church will become the true sending church when it becomes involved with the Holy Spirit in the selection process.
1. Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association, "Findings of an Ad Hoc Committee of Mission Executives," (Mimeographed).
2. Edmund P. Clowney, The Doctrine of the Church (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1969), p. 10.
3. Edmund P. Clowney, "The Biblical Doctrine of the Ministry of the Church," in Missions in Creative Tension, ed. Vergil Gerber, South Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1971), p. 243.
4. David Ewert, "The Biblical Concept of the Church," in The Church in Mission (Fresno: Board of Christian Literature Mennonite Brethren Church, 1 >67), p. 33.
5. Harry P. Bier, Pentecost and Missions (London: Lutterworth Press, 19G1), p. 122.
6. Ralph Winter, The Twenty-Five Unbelievable Years 1945-199. (South Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1970), p. 98.
7. W.E. Vine, The Divine Plan of Missions (London: Picketing and Inglis, n.d.), p. 61.
8. Boer, Pentecost and Missions, p. 214.
9. Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, 3rd ed, (London: World Dominion Press, 1956), pp. 126-127.
10. Roland Allen, Missionary Principles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1964), p. 43.
11. George W. Peters, "Issues Confronting Evangelical Mission," in Evangelical Missions Tomorrow, edited by Wade T. Coggins and Edwin L. Frizen, Jr. (South Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 197i), p. 163.
12. Boer, Pentecost and Missions, pp. 216-217.
13. Ibid., p, 218.
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