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I Timothy 3:15
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"And how shall they preach, except they be sent..." Rom. 10:15
The Local Church Received The Command For Missions
Since the giving of the "Great Commission" to the church, churches now have a responsibility to be involved in missions on a worldwide basis. The missionary outreach of the church is the key factor in determining a local church's obedience to the command of Christ. (Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:18-20)
The Local Church Is The Only Plan For Missions
The scriptural plan of Acts 1:8 is for "BOTH" in Jerusalem and Judea. We must be involved in missions at home and abroad. As we seek to implement the plan of reaching the world for Christ, we of necessity find ourselves involved with the MISSIONARY.
In this article, we want to take a look at the biblical plan for sending the missionary. We would like to consider the missionary and how he is sent out. We want to compare other methods to the biblical plan of sending out missionaries. In answering these questions we must look at the earliest plan and practice for New Testament missions.
The Local Church Is The Biblical Practice For Sending Missionaries
Since the Bible is our rule of faith and practice, then it must be the source from which we derive our plan for commissioning and sending missionaries today. In some areas of our churches today we have departed from biblical practice, although we want to have a fundamental theology. It was the practice of New Testament churches to send out missionaries by and through the local church. It is apparent that many churches have departed from the practice of New Testament churches in sending out missionaries. (Acts 13:1-4)
The Local Church Is The Agency Of Missions
Christ gave the authority and responsibility for reaching the world today to the church. Thus, we need to look at the missionary and his biblical authority. First, we have his authority from God. (Acts 13:2) Every missionary must be a God-called man. Second, we have his sending authority or agency. (Acts 13:3) The agency upon which Christ conferred His authority was the church. We have no other agency mentioned in scriptures to have this authority. (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Acts 13:1-4)
The Local Church Has A History In Missions
In tracing the history of New Testament missions and missionaries, let us consider the book of Acts. Here we see established the historical pattern for missions. It is interesting to note that before the rise of Protestants that the local church was the only agency to reach the world for Christ. As time progressed we found the Missions Boards coming into existence following a Protestant pattern.
In Acts 13:1-4 we find the only agency God commissioned sending out the missionary. Historically the church is the one with the responsibility to send out the missionary. Is it possible that time, methodology, and conveniences have removed us from the foundational plan of the missionary being sent out under the authority of a local church?
The Local Church Has The Responsibility In Missions
Is it right that we would confer the authority given to the local church, to another agency or plan not ordained of God? Would we be justified in giving the rearing of our children to an agency not ordained of God? To each we should reply with a resounding "No." Then let me ask why we have given the sending of missionaries over to agencies outside the church. We do have local church authority and local church responsibility. We must also remember that there is accountability.
Does the local church get an outside agency to win souls, visit the sick, run our bus ministry, and teach our Sunday School? The responsibility biblically was given to the local church for sending out missionaries. Let us not neglect that which we have been commissioned to do and neither should we neglect the manner in which it is to be done.
The Local Church Received The Pattern For Missions
In the scripture we not only find divine instruction but we also find divine patterns. Acts 13:1-4 gives us one of those divine patterns. The men of Antioch were men of prayer and fasting. They wanted to know the will of God and also to do the will of God. Thus, they were willing to follow the Holy Spirit's instruction to send Paul and Barnabas to the work of which God had called them to. Thus, we understand the Holy Spirit's instruction was for the Missionary to be sent by and through the local church. Today we often find ourselves trying to improve upon God's plans through our own methodology,
We often act as if God is no longer on the throne and that the patterns of Scripture are outdated. The patterns are no more outdated than the scriptures. We do have a God who preserves. God can still accomplish His purpose in the same patterns as He did in the New Testament churches.
We find as we study each of Paul's missionary journeys that each begin and end at Antioch his sending church, with the exception of his journey to Rome, which was interrupted by prison confinement. The local church was his sending agency and authority. It was the local church that established his credibility. Twice in the New Testament we find the word RECOMMENDED, both times it is in reference to the church at Antioch recommending Paul the missionary to others for the work. (Acts 14:26, 27; 15:40)
The Local Church Received The Rights For Missions And Missionaries
Today we hear so much about rights that we find ourselves asking who really has the rights to missions and missionaries. We have three basic methods of operation today regarding sending missionaries to the field. The three methods of operation are: the local church missionary, the independent missionary, and the mission board or pars-church agency missionary. Which one really has the rights? Only the Bible can answer that question. We must be willing to put our methods up against the patterns and authority of the Word of God.
Let us consider each method:
Who is the INDEPENDENT MISSIONARY? We must point out that he is often erroneously confused with the Local Church Missionary. Webster defines INDEPENDENT, as not subject to control and self-governing. The independent has no sending agency, no church authority, and no scriptural authority because he operates outside the authority of the one Christ commissioned to reach the world. He is truly independent, self-governing.
Who is the PARA-CHURCH MISSIONARY? Webster defines PARA, as akin to, alongside of, and going beyond. We might compare by thinking of the PARACLETE, (Holy Spirit) as one who is called to your side or aid. Is it necessary, as some think, that the church needs one called to its aid to go beyond and do what the church either cannot, or maybe really will not do? Is there an agency to which Christ gave His authority for a time when the church would no longer fulfill its duty?
As we compare further, we find in operation today Mission Agencies who give managerial, supervisory, and investigative direction to and for the church and the missionary. Webster uses these terms to define a board. While it is true that Mission Boards provide a great service for the missionary and the church, we must ask if this method is for convenience, and was it part of the New Testament pattern for sending missionaries to the field? We find that in this method the point of authority becomes either directly or indirectly the Mission Agency. Thus, they usurp the New Testament Local Church Authority. As pastors, we would not think of having deacons from different local churches serving as deacons together in our local church.
Today so many have practiced the pattern of mission agencies that they have made grave errors in rejecting men who are following biblical patterns. Brethren, we need a fundamental theology with a fundamental practice.
Who is the LOCAL CHURCH MISSIONARY? We would say that by every evidence of Scripture, he is the true biblical pattern for missions. He is called of God, sent by and through the local church. His funds are handled by the local church. (We do believe and preach storehouse tithing don't we?) He is not an INDEPENDENT because his authority is the Local Church. This plan may require a little more work and faith on the part of our Pastors, people, treasurers and secretaries but it is a local church operation. We could actually save money in this plan and be able to send more to the field.
The Biblical Pattern Answers Its Critics
Quite often an idea may seem new because of lack of use over a period of time. When the idea surfaces again it may give rise to skeptical questions due to a lack of familiarity.
We would like to consider three often repeated questions, particularly in reference to the local church missionary.
(1) "What happens if the pastor dies, or leaves for another church?"
Do we tell our new visitors not to join the church or our members not to tithe because the pastor might die or leave? It is possible that there are events and circumstances beyond our control that we must trust God for? Is not the king's heart in the hand of the Lord and He turneth it about whithersoever He will? Brethren let us be careful that we do not reveal our lack of trust in the power of God. God can still operate His plan and keep His children. He can take care of His man.
(2) "What about the accountability of the local church missionary?"
In Acts, it was to the local church that Paul rehearsed all that God had done. It was the local church at Antioch he reported to. He also corresponded with the Philippian church concerning their financial support of his ministry. We are accountable to our authority. We must make sure that our authority is the one Christ commissioned. We must remember that we are accountable for implementing the right plans and patterns. We need not be accountable to another agency not ordained of God but to the one that God ordained. In the light of Scripture the local church is the ONLY ONE with commissioning and sending authority. Is our practice Biblical or convenient?
(3) "How do I keep track of the local church missionary?"
In a day when we can go to the phone, telegraph, and the post office box, do we not have a tremendous advantage over Antioch who tried to keep track of Paul? Who keeps track of the pastor, the Board Director? Is this not why the church at Antioch recommended Paul to others?
The Biblical Pattern Has Its Advantages
Today churches are faced with calls from more missionaries than they can possibly support. The mission dollar must be used wisely and biblically. The question is often, what can we do to further our missions support?
Should we support mission board directors and mission board secretaries as missionaries? Should we support mission headquarters buildings in place of missionaries? We could get more to the field if we used our own local church secretaries, treasurers and buildings and use the excess revenue to send out more missionaries.
While the harvest is plenteous and the laborers are few, should we not do all that we can to send all that are called to the harvest of souls and the establishing of indigenous churches? Let us once again return to a biblical practice of sending missionaries to the field by and through the local church. Brethren, in a day when one out of ten churches that a missionary goes to is able to support him, we must ask if we are doing things right.
Many churches are spending much of their money in support of agencies which operate outside of the authority of the local church. We need to support missionaries not agencies. We need to be practical but not at the expense of the Word of God. Let us return to the "Great Commission" to the church. Let the church send the missionary to the field. "How shall they preach, except they be sent...?" Let us look for the local church missionary who is biblical in theology and practice.