Scriptural Missionary Work - 1893

By James W. Zachery

The great mission of the church is to preach the gospel, at home and abroad. "Preach the gospel to the whole human race" (Mark 16:15), falls upon our ears today with the same emphasis as when spoken in the days of yore. Not to obey this injunction is to sin against God. No work is more important, and none more clearly revealed in the teaching and practice of the early Christian Church. God has told us what to preach, where to preach, when to preach, how to preach, and how to be supported financially while we preach.

In this, as in all other things, we must imitate the New Testament Christians of the first century. Their plan is always the best one. We must work in and by the church, for and with the church, in the name of Christ and for his glory in the church. We must not go out and work out of the church in any way that might bring the divine organization into disrepute.

Both young Christians and old Christians should work for missions, and work in the divine organization - the church; for they need no other organization. Go to work in "dead earnest" for Christ in the church, and you will not want any other organization.

The church of the New Testament is fully sufficient and efficient to evangelize the whole world. To affirm otherwise is to charge God foolishly, and declare the plan of plans in his counsel insufficient. All the human societies, constitutions, pledges, and pet names at work inside or outside the Church of Christ are not only unscriptural and useless, but in years to come they may play havoc with the only divine organization which Jesus died to establish. Genuine Christians do not necessarily need them. It can not be proved by the New Testament that it is, in any sense, the duty of any Christian to organize and foster them. But it can be proved that all the time, money, and talent spent in the propagation of human societies in the church robs the divine organization of her power and glory, and praises an organization unknown to the Bible in name, constitution, and officers.

To use the well-spoken words of Brother John S. Sweeney, "What I mean is that Christians do not need to spend time and means organizing and fostering such societies. The Church of God is spiritual house enough for us to live in, temple enough for us to worship in, vineyard enough for us to work in, husbandry enough for us to tend, building enough for us to work on, army enough for us to march, drill, and fight in. People who are contending as they say, for primitive Christianity, for New Testament Christianity, should stand for the church of the New Testament, and having others to spend their time and money on human societies, if they can not be persuaded to do better."

These are words full of wisdom. Clear the churches of this rubbish, and keep them clear. Let each Christian feel the importance of duty in his relation to Christ and his brethren, minus the societies, and then the world will tremble before our power with truth. One can put ten thousand to flight. The ancient church met, and imparted instruction both to the young and old, using the best means at their command; and the church now should do the same. Genuine church work! Why call it Sunday - or, worse, "Sabbath" school work? The New Testament church sent teachers into neighboring communities, to teach the gospel to both young and old. We should do the same now, where it is necessary, using the best means at our command, ever working as a member of the church for the glory of Christ in his church, doing all by his authority (Col. 3:17; Phil. 3:17, 18; Eph. 3:21). This was their home mission and Lord's Day school work. And then the churches had foreign missions. They sent out preachers, heard their reports of work done, and helped support them in their labors.

Mind you, the church (and not the society or board) did this. It was the church working through the heaven-appointed officers, elders and deacons. Read the history of Antioch mission work (Acts 13-19), which probably is only a brief account of one-fiftieth of her work.

To the memory of such noble men of God as Jacob Creath, Benjamin Franklin, F. G. Allen, and Moses E. Lard - and for the benefit of certain erring brethren -- I herewith subscribe a document worthy of preservation, which was read before the Foreign Christian Missionary Society in Nashville, Tenn., August, 1892:

"1. That we, believing as we do, that all should be one in Christ, of the same mind and of the same judgment, speaking the same things, and endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, can not countenance the corruption of the pure speech of the Bible, and do deeply deplore the grievously-divided state of the church, whereby brethren are embittered against each other, congregations are torn asunder, and sections are arrayed one against another.

"2. That believing as we do, that whatsoever is not of faith is sin, we can not conscientiously cooperate with any missionary society, home or foreign, with officers unknown to the New Testament, and terms of membership at variance with the spirit and genius of the gospel; it being our firm and abiding conviction that in building up such societies we are pulling down that which our fathers labored to build up, and are sapping the strength of the church for which Christ died.

"3. That, believing as we do, that the scriptures furnish us unto all good works, and that preaching the gospel stands pre-eminent as a good work, we boldly affirm and earnestly contend that the Bible contains a divine system of evangelism powerful to shake the Roman Empire in its day, and perfect enough to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth; and we modestly submit that, putting this faith into practice, we have demonstrated that in our own day this divine plan is effectual, in that without other organization the primitive gospel has been planted in this region, a mission among the Indians has been sustained for many years, a mission in Turkey has been established, and the volunteer band in Japan supported.

"4. That we, in consideration of the aforesaid truths and facts, come before you with brotherly love, and beseech you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you abandon these organizations, which found no necessity or recognition in apostolic times, and that you concentrate your zeal and energies in the churches of God, under the direction of their heaven-appointed officers, which we all admit to be common and scriptural ground, thereby removing a cause of widespread division, and bringing about the union and co-operation in which there is strength, and which will enable us to make more rapid conquest of the earth for Christ. And to this end we present this memorial, and for this consummation, devoutly to be wished for, we shall ever pray.

"C. M. Wilmeth, David Lipscomb,

E. G. Sewell, J. A. Harding,

M. C. Kurfees, and others."

The intention, spirit, and meaning of the above document is that, instead of one hundred missionaries being. under the control of and supported by a board or society unknown to the Bible, it would be far better for each missionary to be sent out by some church or co-operation of churches, through elders, deacons, and messengers - being thus supported by the church, all work done and published in the name of the church, for the glory of Christ in the churches (Eph. 3:21), and the missionary in no way dependent upon or subject to any organization except the church or churches which sent him. Thus bringing churches and missionaries in close union, zeal for mission work would be greatly increased and divine example followed.

This, in my judgment, is by far the best and cheapest plan (less liable to create trouble among publishing companies and such like), even were it admitted the Bible gives no plan, and hence each church as it pleases about plan - Methodist Conference, or otherwise.

There is more in this question of plan than some good brethren have yet been made to see. Just think of it: you must even subscribe to the society plan before you can draw money from the Church Extension Fund, which otherwise would, be a good thing if kept out of the divine organization. I raise no protest against proper organizations outside the Church of Christ. We need them, we must have them; but not in the church to run the church or even do church work. The Church of Christ, with heaven-appointed officers, will attend to her own business.

Let Republicanism and Democracy, and all other human institutions, stay out of the church. If any member of the church goes into the building and loan association, or other organization, let him go there as a citizen, and not in the name of church, or as authorized by Christ.

In other words, I mean in all religious matters let us do only as Christ says, but in all other matters let each man do as he pleases, ever striving in his own judgment to do the best he can. That there are many matters of business concern - scientific, financial, educational, and political - of which the Bible says nothing, is known to all intelligent people. In these each man does as he pleases, and must take the consequences. The Bible was given for a sufficient rule of faith and practice only in religion. Whatever is not taught in it must not be imposed upon the faith and practice of any New Testament church. Here is the fatal rock upon which all unscriptural societies in religion must die. Many things unscriptural - i. e., not taught in scripture - are wholly permissible and right so long as not taught as part of our religious faith and practice.

Christians often ask, "What will become of the heathen?" A much more important, appropriate, soul-stirring, and scriptural question is, "What will become of Christians if they do not send the gospel to the heathen?"

This is emphatically the question, and, Christian, you had better let it burn on your heart until it bursts your pocket-book, and lays your money at the feet of Jesus to save the perishing. "How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10: 14). "How shall they preach except they be sent?"

No church can be doing its full duty without helping in missions, home or foreign. To refuse is to sin against God. No New Testament church is so poor that it can not give five dollars per year to missions, if it would only try. Every able-bodied Christian who can not, during three hundred and sixty-five days, make five dollars to help rescue the perishing, ought to be ashamed of himself and his worthlessness in the world. Every Christian, male and female, should be an industrious, money-making, and liberal giving Christian.

The deacons of each church should see to it at once that missionaries are chosen, fields of work selected, and, either alone or in connection with other churches and individuals, working in the name of Christ, that contributions weekly or quarterly be sent to the missionaries, home and foreign. Don't send it to the board or society. It is a burden to them, and they keep eight dollars out of every one hundred, to pay for collecting and sending the money. You can send it to the missionary as cheap as you can to the board. See?

Communicate with the missionaries, and find out how they do and what they need. Above all things, do your duty. But says one, what is my duty? I answer, Only obey the New Testament teaching. That is your duty, and nothing else can be made your duty. Something else may be privilege, but it can not be the duty of a church or Christian. A church that believes the teaching of the New Testament on missions can not consistently work through any unscriptural organization or society as duty or privilege in missions, for the reason that by necessary inference, precept, and example, the New Testament teaches a plan and plans of work, in which there is no "so-called society," no organization but the church of the living God. The divine organization is all-sufficient. All we need now is work, and lots of it. We have plenty of organization - the church.

In Christ's name go to work, and let these whimsical societies alone. The "societies" will all die so soon as the churches do their full duty, as taught in the New Testament. Then we will have scriptural mission work in plan or plans, and in doctrine - work, and lots of work. Let every child of God work. Work by divine example. Work, for the night is coming. If you can not work with your mouth, then work with your money. Work with both. Get somebody else to work. Work for Christ and his organization. Rather than work not at all, WORK ANY WAY.

Roll on the mission work, home and foreign. If the churches would do their full duty on mission work, they would be as destitute of human societies as were New Testament churches in apostolic times. Who will dare deny?

I insist we must go by the Bible in all matters of religious faith and practice. I insist that preaching the gospel to the heathen stands pre-eminent as part of the faith and practice of New Testament churches. Who will dare deny?

I insist that it is right for churches to hold conventions and public gatherings for mutual edification, business transactions, general fellowship, and Christian progress; and that it is not only wrong, but actually sinful, to constitute such gatherings permanent organizations, with constitutions, names, and terms of fellowship unknown to the New Testament. See? See?

The New Testament churches held conventions. They were all tight at first, but by and by they organized the Roman hierarchy. See what men will do. Nip the thing in the bud. Let us have independent, entirely independent, church government. Brethren, here is our only hope of ultimate success.

Elders and deacons, see to it that no outside man interferes in your church government. Members of the Church of Christ, if your officers do not see to it, then put them out of office, and elect men who will do their duty. Love your officers, and stand by them in defense of the whole truth. This is very important in mission work, home and foreign.

1. A scripturally missionary church is one that learns and practices only the teachings of the New Testament on the subject of missions, and hence knows, approves, supports, and hears reports from the preacher who does the work. Study carefully the Antioch Mission work (Acts 13:1-52; 14:128), and ' labors of all New Testament missionaries.

2. An omissionary church is one which knows the faith and practice of the New Testament Christians and churches on mission work, and then omits to do it - willfully disobeys. Such people will never be saved in heaven. That's all there is about that. They are not worthy of salvation. A man who can see the world around him lying in darkness, and his heart not be moved to give at least one dollar per year to save the perishing, in the light of God's word is a sinner or an erring Christian -- yes, a sinner (James 5:19, 20).

3. An anti-missionary church is one which exalts the wisdom of men above the wisdom of God, and adopts a scheme which makes void the teaching of the New Testament on missions, or places itself where it can not know, approve, send, support, and receive reports from the missionary, as a church, and thereby aids in the destruction of independent church government, as regards its finances. There is a gospel sense in which such a church is anti-missionary, even though by its boards and societies it might revolutionize the world, and loving friends might carve upon the beautiful monuments of its leaders: Here lies the "PRESIDENT OF THE HOME MISSIONARY SOCIETY," and here lies the "PRESIDENT OF THE FOREIGN CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY SOCIETY." Yes, a coveted honor. Good men, against whose moral integrity I would speak not one word.

"And now, brethren, I commend you to God and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).

(The Witness of the Spirits, pp. 231-241, published 1893, reprinted by Gospel Advocate, 1954)

July 1969