Category Archives: Mission

Motorcycle Evangelism

I was in Grade 2 and it was my first effort at evangelism, or at least to try and invite someone to church.  Our family was living in the Arctic town of Inuvik and we were attending the local Baptist church.  My Sunday School teacher was outward looking and tried to teach us church kids to be the same.  She encouraged us to invite our friends to come to church so they could hear the gospel.

Nicky lived on the same street as us, a few doors down.  Like me, his father was an RCMP officer — he was a street cop, my Dad a pilot.  Nicky was also in my class at the Sir Alexander Mackenzie School.  Unlike me, he was a Newfie; he had this quirky Newfoundland accent.  He and his family were also not church-going folk.

One day I was hanging out over at Nicky’s place.  What my Sunday School teacher said was weighing on my mind.  So I said to Nicky, “Hey, do you want go to church with me on Sunday?”  Nicky replied, “Nah, I don’t go to church and I don’t wanna.”  I stopped for a moment and thought.  Nicky needed an incentive.  So I said, “If you come, you’ll get one of these really neat pencils.”  I showed him the pencil I got at Sunday school.  It had all these colours associated with Jesus and the gospel and then Bible verses in tiny print to explain what each meant.  Nicky wasn’t impressed:  “I don’t need a stupid pencil.  Nah, I told you, I don’t wanna go to church.”

He was stubborn.  I had to up the ante.  Clearly he needed a bigger incentive than a pencil.  I thought of something Nicky would regard as irresistibly cool.  With the most persuasion I could muster, I told him, “If you come, they’ll give you a motorbike!”  I don’t how I came up with that whopper, but it certainly didn’t work.  Nicky just said, “No way, I don’t believe you.  No church would give away a motorbike.  Nope, not comin’.”  Nicky never did come to church with me.

I was in Grade 2.  So perhaps you can forgive me for being an evangelist whose honesty didn’t match his zeal.  In my desire to achieve the goal, I tried to appeal to the greed naturally resident in human hearts.  But, in aiming so high, my pitch was transparently unbelievable, even to a kid in Grade 2.

Sadly, some of what passes for evangelism doesn’t get much beyond my Grade 2 efforts.  The human heart isn’t naturally drawn to the gospel message of rescue for sinners through the cross of Christ.  In their natural condition, human hearts don’t find that message attractive or persuasive.  Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23).  Yet some try to share the good news in a way that promises things the Bible doesn’t.  Maybe not motorbikes, but certainly health, wealth, and prosperity:  “If you come to Christ, you’ll be blessed materially.  Your health will be better.  Your relationships will improve.”  Such incentives are really no different to a Grade 2 kid telling his friend to come to church so he can get a motorbike.

I often think of the memorable words of C.S. Lewis in God in the Dock:

As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

Lewis was right.  Becoming a Christian is going to mean struggle and difficulty.  It means bearing a cross, dying to yourself, killing sin.  From a this-world perspective, there isn’t much (if anything) to commend it.

So, how do we make the gospel persuasive?  Or:  how do we even just make a case for someone to join us for Sunday worship at a church service?  Here’s the thing:  the power of persuasion ultimately isn’t in us.  Our calling is simply to speak the truth in love.  We’re called to share the gospel with whomever we can.  Now 1 Peter 3:15 says you should be prepared to give an answer if someone asks you, “Why?”  Why should someone believe the gospel?  Because it’s the way to be rescued from the judgment we deserve and it’s the way back to the way things should be in terms of how we relate to our Creator.  Why should someone come to church?  Because, we tell them, there they’re going to hear the best news available to humanity.  In a world of bad news and worse news, a faithful Christian church is going to herald the good news of who Jesus is and what he’s done.

When we say true things like that, God may be at work in that person’s heart with his Holy Spirit.  The words we speak may be God’s instrument to persuade and draw that person in to Christ.  Or perhaps not.  Ultimately the persuasion isn’t in our power.  God persuades when he chooses to do so.  We just have to speak the truth.


The Southgate Fellowship Affirmations and Denials

While our Reformed churches haven’t been lax in doing mission, we certainly haven’t been prolific in writing about it.  Our work in the area of missiology (the study of mission) has been notoriously miniscule.  This is a shame for two reasons.  First, Reformed theology has a lot to offer the field of missiology in general.  Second, in the last half-century there have been some deeply concerning developments in this field which Reformed theology is well-equipped to address.  These developments are not just theoretical, but have an immense practical bearing.  Not only would our churches and their missionary activities benefit from more Reformed missiological reflection, so would many other Christians.

To that end, I’d like to introduce you to a document developed by The Southgate Fellowship (TSF).  As they describe themselves,

TSF is a fellowship of theologians, missiologists, and reflective practitioners fully committed to the visible church and her Christ-appointed mission.  In obedience to Christ and his Word, TSF exists to advance biblical thinking and practice in world mission, as captured in the solas of reformational theology.

TSF started meeting in 2016 and participants hailed from Canada, the United States, and Europe.  The TSF Council consists of several men, three of whom are affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America, two are (Reformed) Baptists, one is an Anglican, and one is from the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

This year, TSF published its “Affirmations and Denials Concerning World Mission.”  This document was published in the journal ThemeliosIt’s also readily available on the TSF website.  This document (hereafter AD) contains 100 sets of affirmations and denials on a host of contemporary missiological issues.  Some of those issues include:  the authority and nature of the Bible as revelation from God, extra-biblical revelation (such as dreams), contextualization, whether salvation is possible apart from Jesus Christ, and the relationship between word and deed ministry.

Appreciation

I have great appreciation and approval for almost all of AD.  What I appreciate most is that it begins with a high view of the authority of Scripture:

We affirm that Scripture authoritatively and uniquely reveals and explains the meaning of the redemptive work of God in history, centering in and accomplished by Jesus Christ, and provides authoritative and sufficient instruction for faith and obedience, including authoritative and sufficient instruction for faithful dissemination of that unique message. (1e)

AD presents a view of Scripture which every Reformed believer ought to affirm – one which is in full agreement with what we confess in the Belgic Confession.  This is solid rock on which to build the rest of the affirmations and denials.

For example, the word “uniquely” implies that no other “sacred text” is in the same category:

We deny that one can pick aspects of the non-biblical sacred texts and declare them in any way to be Holy Spirit-inspired.  (12d)

Furthermore, the Bible alone is God’s ordinary means of salvation.  Then what about dreams or visions?

We affirm that if God were to use extraordinary means today (e.g. miraculous events, dreams or visions), that these occurrences should be interpreted providentially either as pre-evangelistic praeparatio [preparation], uncommon tools in God’s hand for sovereignly drawing people to himself, or as divinely purposed tools for hardening unbelievers in their unbelief.  (15a)

I appreciate how AD seeks to do justice both to the unique nature of the Bible as well as the reports one sometimes reads of how people are drawn in through unusual means.

TSF is also to be commended for their biblical definition of mission.  AD asserts that mission involves the “verbal proclamation of the gospel, by which the Spirit of Christ calls people to turn in repentance and exercise faith, for the glory of God” (66a).  The greatest need of sinful human beings is Jesus Christ.  So where does that leave Christian acts of mercy?  They’re not mission, according to AD.  However, mercy ministry can never be separated from mission (74a); they belong together.  Missionaries who show no compassion for the suffering and needy are not carrying out a faithful ministry (73b).

There are many more positive points I could mention, but I want this brief overview to give you a taste so you’ll go and check it out for yourself.

Concerns

I also want to highlight a couple of areas that could be problematic.  Even though AD is long, it still lacks a lot of context.  There are points where I wish there was further explanation.  This is especially in the section on ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church).  For example, I put a question mark behind this statement:

We affirm the value of working across denominational boundaries (within or without mission agencies), according to biblical principles of ecumenism.  (77a)

My question would be:  what are “biblical principles of ecumenism”?  How are those defined?

Similarly, in the same section, there are affirmations and denials regarding the relationship of churches to mission agencies and parachurch organizations.  Two worth noting:

We affirm that visible churches bear the primary responsibility for the theological, moral, and ministry-method oversight of missionaries. (75a)

We affirm that the visible church has the primary responsibility to recruit, mobilise and send individual church members into mission. (75b)

The qualifier “primary” is what grabs my attention here.  Why not “exclusive” responsibility?  If we’re working from a biblical perspective, isn’t it the church (and only the church) which sends out, supervises, and supports missionaries?  Also, I’m perplexed about the use of the plural ‘churches’ in 75a and the use of the singular ‘church’ in 75b – I’m not sure if there’s a fine theological point being made there.

While I’m generally appreciative of the section on culture, there seems to be an overstatement of its relationship to religion.  Affirmation 87a reads:

We affirm that the word ‘culture’ is used generally to describe the shared set of artefacts, characteristics, meanings, and values that give shape to the total corporate life of a group of people.

That’s a fairly conventional definition for our day.  I would note the mention of “artefacts” – this is referring to things like eating utensils, cooking implements, and musical instruments.  Older definitions of culture by Reformed theologians like Klaas Schilder often ignored this aspect of culture, so I’m glad it’s included here.  But these statements then raise questions:

We affirm that culture and religion are interrelated, interdependent and inseparable, the latter informing the former.  (90a)

We deny that any facet of human culture may truly be a-moral, a-theological, or a-religious. (90b)

I wonder: if chopsticks are a facet of human culture, how are they, in themselves as material artefacts, related to religion?  It seems to me that their use is what ties them to religion, i.e. whether you use them to eat to the glory of the true God.  This could use some clarification.

What’s Missing?

It’s a long document and fairly comprehensive, but there are some things barely mentioned or not at all.  For instance, I’d like to see more about the historic creeds and confessions.  They’re mentioned in the section on the Trinity (22a), as well as in 71a’s affirmation about how local theologians should be accountable to “formulations of the Christian faith.”  This is good, but I wish there was more.  I also wish that AD had statements regarding worship and the place of women in mission.

Overall, AD is as faithful and comprehensive statement on mission as I’ve seen from a biblical perspective.  In 1999, the World Evangelical Fellowship Missions Commission released its Iguassu Affirmation.  While that statement had some biblical content, it doesn’t really measure up to what the Southgate Fellowship has produced.  Any Reformed believer interested in mission (which should be all of us!) ought to read and study these Affirmations and Denials.  Perhaps it will stimulate the further development and expression of Reformed missiology in our circles and beyond.


Liberation Theology and the Social Gospel

In 1999, the World Evangelical Fellowship Missions Commission held a missiological consultation at Iguassu, Brazil.  This was one of the statements issued:

In a world increasingly controlled by global economic forces, Christians need to be aware of the corrosive effects of affluence and the destructive effects of poverty.  We must be aware of ethnocentrism in our view of economic forces.  We commit ourselves to address the realities of world poverty and oppose policies that serve the powerful rather than the powerless…We call all Christians to commit themselves to reflect God’s concern for the justice and welfare of all peoples.

Note the attention to affluence versus poverty and the powerful versus the powerless.  Setting up these kinds of oppositions is typical of thought influenced by liberation theology.

When you hear the term “liberation theology,” you might be inclined to think of the Liberation of 1944, an important event from our Dutch church history.  But you’d be quite wrong.  Liberation theology is quite removed from any Reformed theology.  The latter is biblical and God-honouring, the former not so much.

Liberation theology has had quite an influence on the way some Christians think about mission.  Whereas biblical mission is about the proclamation of the gospel to save sinners from the wrath of God, liberation theology holds that God’s mission in this world is to deal with injustice and oppression.  Biblical mission is about a gospel of salvation – liberation theology is about the social gospel, a pseudo-gospel.

Liberation theology originated in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s.  This was a time of radical social upheaval in that region.  Social revolutions were fuelled by Marxist and socialist ideology.  That way of thinking also forms the background to liberation theology.

If we’re looking for a succinct definition, Millard Erickson’s is on the money:

Liberation theology is a collection of theological movements which put more emphasis on deliverance of human beings from various types of temporal bondage – economic, political, and social – than on personal redemption from sin.  It tends to draw upon social sciences rather than biblical and theological bases. (Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology)

I would note especially that last statement.  What the Bible says is not a high priority for liberation theologians and those influenced by them.  When they do consider what the Bible says, more often than not, they read their theology back into the text.

History and Influence

Not surprisingly, given its Latin American roots, the term “liberation theology” was coined in Roman Catholic circles.  It first appeared around 1968, in the context of Roman Catholic discussions about how to address political oppression, poverty, and sickness in Latin America.  In 1973, a Roman Catholic theologian from Peru, Gustavo Gutierrez, published “A Theology of Liberation.”  In the early 60s, faced with rampant violence and social upheaval, Gutierrez had embraced Marxist social analysis.  That led him to break with traditional Roman Catholic theology and develop his new theology of liberation.

While liberation theology was especially in vogue in the 70s and 80s, its influence remains to this day.  Emphases of liberation theology can often be heard in evangelical missiology.  Evangelical authors such as Ronald Sider are well known as having drunk from the fountain of Gutierrez and others.  Liberation theology terms like “preferential option for the poor” are oftentimes heard in evangelical discussions in the area of mission.

Main Features

The most important feature of liberation theology is that it starts from below with the situation of the oppressed and poor.  It doesn’t begin with the Bible as an authoritative source.  Instead, it uses the human situation as its text.

That human situation is fundamentally seen as a matter of class conflict.  This is how Marxist and socialist ideology is at the roots.  Liberation theologians such as Gutierrez follow the idea that there are tensions in society, there are exploited social classes, and a new world order will result when these exploited social classes engage in revolution.  In their way of thinking, the major issue in life is about who has the power.  It’s about a class struggle.

Theologically, liberation theologians assert that God is on the side of the oppressed and the poor.  This is where we encounter the language of God’s “preferential option for the poor.”  Liberation theologians maintain that God prefers to work with the poor and oppressed.

As far as Christ goes, he is but an example.  He struggled for the poor and the outcast, and so we must do likewise.  He became totally involved in a historical situation of conflict and oppression.  The cross has nothing to do with reconciliation with God.  Instead, it’s a picture of the suffering experienced by God when people are downtrodden.

What becomes of mission?  It’s sharing with people the fact that God also suffers when they are oppressed.  God wants them to be free of poverty and oppression.  The gospel is purely social – it’s something happening on a horizontal level.  Sin is no longer about offending God.  It’s purely about human oppression and suffering.  The mission of the church is simply to follow the example of Jesus and show God’s commitment to the poor.

Brief Evaluation

Any system of theology which has Scripture as an afterthought is obviously flawed from the start.  Liberation theology’s presuppositions rest with Marxist thinking rather than any biblical faith commitment.  With these Marxist presuppositions, humanity’s fundamental problem is the class struggle and social, economic and political oppression.  With biblical presuppositions, humanity’s basic problem is the sin which alienates us from God.

In liberation theology, salvation is all about freedom from oppression.  Sin has been redefined in Marxist terms.  Christ is merely an example of how we can confront economic, social, and political oppression.  He has nothing to do with rescuing fallen humanity from the wrath of God against sin.  When you abandon the Bible as your authoritative source for theology, this is one of the hellacious places you may end up.  It’s a denial of the true gospel.

But Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?

If we take the Bible as our infallible authority, what is the truth about where God stands in regard to the poor and oppressed?  And how does that impact mission?

The justice and love of God surely compel him to frown when there is injustice and oppression.  However, we cannot say this without immediate qualification.  Poverty and oppression are the result of the fall into sin.  Sometimes they can also be God’s judgments upon sin.  The truth is, apart from Christ, everyone deserves poverty, oppression and suffering.  These things exist in the world because of human sinfulness.  They also exist to faintly point to the reality that something far worse awaits those who unrepentantly continue to rebel against God.

There is far more to say.  But let me finish with Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  There are numerous passages in the Pentateuch commanding God’s people to show compassion and love, also to the foreign sojourners dwelling among them.  Likewise, we are commanded to care for those around us who are hurting.  God will use our care and compassion to open doors for the gospel, so that people are brought into fellowship with him through Christ.  That’s the main thing.

There is a limited sense in which God is on the side of the oppressed – and so we should be too.  However, it would be ill-advised to build a theology around that.  Letting this thought define and direct Christian mission would likewise be misguided.  Mission is about proclaiming the gospel of salvation – and Reformed churches ought always to keep this in view.


Pastoral Q & A: Should We Call Unbelievers “Pre-Christians”?

While it’s not overwhelming or huge, there seems to be a bit of a trend to refer to unbelievers as “pre-Christians.”  A parishioner attended another church in our state recently and came across this way of speaking and asked me about it.  Is it acceptable to substitute “pre-Christian” for “non-Christian” or “unbeliever”?

If we turn to Scripture, the word “unbeliever” is used 14 times in the New Testament.  It’s used to translate the Greek word apistos.  Sometimes the word “Gentile” (Gr. ethnos) is used to refer to those who aren’t Christians, extending the Old Testament idea of the pagan nations surrounding Israel.  In Ephesians 2:3, non-Christians are referred to as “children of wrath.”  Later in the same chapter, they are “strangers to the covenants of promise” (2:12) and “aliens” (2:19).  However, the standard word in Scripture is simply “unbeliever.”  The word “pre-Christian” is not used at all.

Nevertheless, there is no issue with using a non-scriptural word if it captures a biblical concept.  The classic example is the word “Trinity” – it’s not used in the Bible, but the concept is definitely there.  So, can a biblical case be made for referring to unbelievers as “pre-Christians”?

I can appreciate the positive attitude this term is meant to convey.  When we give a Christian witness to someone, we certainly hope that the Holy Spirit will use our witness to bring someone to faith in Christ.  We pray in that way and perhaps we should pray more expectantly than we often do.

Yet the fact of the matter is that we don’t know God’s plans for the salvation of any given person.  Scripture reveals a doctrine of election:  God has chosen some to eternal life before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).  But we don’t know who they are and neither should we presume to know.   Instead, we address each person with the thought that only God knows whether or not that person is going to be a Christian.  Our calling is not to guess or assume an outcome, but simply to present the gospel.

There is another aspect to this.  From the point of view of a non-Christian, adopting the language “pre-Christian” could also be offensive.  When I was in seminary, I attended a book club once or twice.  Some of the other attendees were Reformed Baptists.  One of them jokingly referred to me as a “Reformed-Baptist-in-training.”  I knew he was just kidding around and so it didn’t bother me.  Friends can banter like that.  But couldn’t this language of “pre-Christian” be unnecessarily offensive to an unbeliever just off the street?  If I put myself in those shoes, I would think:  “What arrogance!  They think they’re definitely going to make me a Christian.”  The gospel is offensive enough on its own; we don’t need to add offense with unnecessary and presumptuous terminology.

So in the interests of humble modesty about God’s plans, and in the interests of avoiding unnecessary offense in our witness, it’s best just to use the standard biblical terminology.  If someone isn’t a Christian, then we ought to just say they’re an unbeliever or a non-Christian.  Keep it simple.


Angels and Mission

When it comes to angels, there are two extremes.  One is to treat angels like little gods.  Roman Catholicism does this by encouraging prayers to angels.  Another extreme is to neglect angels altogether.  Neither extreme is biblical.

Historically, the Reformed churches have neither ignored the angels nor given them excessive attention.  If you look at the index of Calvin’s Institutes, two-thirds of a page are filled with references to angels.  This soundly reflects the emphasis found in the Scriptures.  Similarly, article 12 of the Belgic Confession has a paragraph devoted to the Scriptural teaching about the creation and purpose of angels.  However, I don’t think many people have considered how the biblical teaching on angels bears on how we think about the missionary task of the church.

Belgic Confession Article 12

Says our Confession, “He also created the angels good, to be his messengers and serve the elect.”  The angels were also part of God’s created work, though we do not know at what point they came into being.  Regardless, their purpose is clear:  they exist to serve God and his people.  Though they were created good, some of the angels have fallen – these we call the devils and evil spirits.   These hounds of hell “are so depraved that they are enemies of God and of all that is good.  With all their might, they lie in wait like murderers to ruin the Church and all its members and to destroy everything by their wicked devices.”  This means that when we consider our missionary task, there is a formidable array of opponents waiting to destroy everything we try to do.  But, on the other hand, the reverse is also true:  we have a redoubtable heavenly host allied with us as, by the power and grace of God, we break ground for his kingdom.  The good angels serve to build and establish the church.  They are there to facilitate our missionary task.

The missionary task was given to the church by our Lord Jesus in such passages as Matthew 28:18-20.  The Scriptures are clear that the angels must always be considered in connection with him.  They exist to serve the church and its task because they first exist to serve our Lord Jesus Christ.  In popular portrayals, angels tend to be individualistic.  They stand on their own.  However, in the Scriptures, angels are first the servants of God, sent out by Christ and therefore under his authority.   This is clear in a passage such as Mark 1:13 where, following the temptations of Satan, our Lord Jesus was served by the angels.

The Service of the Angels

This service of the angels is a feature of the ongoing spiritual battle with Satan and his minions.  In the Old Testament this is most vividly seen in Numbers 22-24.  Dr. J. DeJong describes quite accurately the scene:  “Particularly the first chapter describes the intensity of the struggle with Balaam first being commanded not to go, and then going, and finally a messenger is sent to meet him, an adversary.  We have here an adversary against the Adversary, an opponent opposing the opponent.”[1]  And, of course, in the New Testament we see this battle with Satan and his angels in the Revelation of Christ to John.  The whole Bible makes it clear that we live in a time of spiritual conflict.  One of the preeminent ways our Lord Jesus fights this conflict is through his angelic armies.  These armies continue to serve Christ as he daily gathers his church from the four corners of the earth.

These angels are therefore an integral part of the mission of the church.  Their involvement is not dispassionate.  Rather, the Scriptures make clear that they are emotionally involved with what is going on.  They share in the disappointments and the joys as lost sinners are brought to their master, King Jesus.   Luke 15:10 tells us that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  When there is joy within the bride of Christ, there is also joy with his servants the angels.   But why?

It’s because, as Christ’s servants, the angels are also participating with the church in the gathering of lost sinners.  Here we can think of their supporting role in the book of Acts.  Angels appear in the very first chapter to comfort and encourage the apostles after the ascent of our Saviour.  In chapter 5, an angel appears to release the apostles from prison so that the intense growth of the church could continue unabated.  He encouraged the apostles to continue preaching to that end.  In chapter 8, an angel goes to Philip and sends him down the desert road to Gaza where he providentially meets the Ethiopian eunuch – thus the gospel begins its journey into Africa.   In chapter 12, Peter is released from prison again by an angel.   Then, in chapter 27, an angel appears to Paul and assures him he will provide a witness before Caesar.

What About Today?

Do the angels continue to form an integral part of the mission of the church?  Though their presence may not be visible to the same degree, we have no reason to believe the angels have withdrawn themselves from the church-gathering work of Christ in this present day.  They serve Jesus Christ and have not stopped doing so.  In fact, the Olivet discourse shows that they will have a role in the last days of this earth:  “And then he will send his angels, and gather together his elect from the four winds, from the furthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.” (Mark 13:27).  In their facilitating and guiding the missionary task of the church today, they are preparing for the great last day of our Lord Jesus.

There is an interesting story that has circulated for many years in Reformed churches about a certain preacher in the Netherlands.  If I am correct, the story took place in the 1800s.  This preacher held an evangelistic service in a certain town and then made his way safely home through the dark streets.  A number of years later, a man came to him and told him that he’d become a Christian because of the preacher’s ministry.  He asked if he remembered that dark evening so many years ago.  He did.  He then asked who the other two men were who had been walking with him.  He and a friend were lying in wait to kill the preacher (who had irked them with his message and presence), but the other two had scared them away.  The preacher replied that he had been all alone that evening.  Suddenly, he realized that he had not been alone after all.

Whether or not that story is totally accurate, we can be sure the Scriptural teaching on angels means that missionaries are never alone.  Certainly, we have the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and guides us with the Word.  But we also have the angelic host who protect us.  In so doing, they serve Jesus as he gathers his church through us.  They not only protect, but in ways unknown, they also engage the enemy in offensive battle.  While we do not want to speculate, we do know that the angels are fighting the spiritual war in the spiritual realm – and their victory is assured.

The biblical teaching on angels gives insight and strength, not only to the missionary (and those who support him), but also to the mission congregation.  New believers can know that their struggles are the concern of their Lord Jesus and he will support them with his angels.  But the mission congregation can also find strength in this teaching when they gather for worship.  Sometimes, especially at the beginning, mission congregations can be small.  Such a congregation does not worship alone.  Our Lord Jesus is there with them (according to his promise in Matt.18:20), but we also learn from such passages as Hebrews 12:22 that his holy angels are present too.   In his Institutes (3.20.23), Calvin writes:  “God willed to appoint the angels to care for our salvation.  Consequently, they attend sacred assemblies, and the church is for them a theater in which they marvel at the varied and manifold wisdom of God [Eph.3:10].” An acute awareness of this fact can be an immense support for young believers who often feel the isolation and loneliness which true faith can bring.

The bottom line is that angelology (the doctrine concerning angels) is a matter of comfort for all of us, and also when it comes to our missionary task.  When faced with our spiritual struggles (not against flesh and blood), we can recall the experience of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6:16-17.   They were surrounded by a heavenly army of angels, prepared to fight the Lord’s battle.  Angels continue to do battle today; they continue to serve our Lord Jesus.  A heavenly host is warring together with us.  We know that the power of God is on their side and ours and thus we can have both courage and optimism in our work of proclaiming the gospel to lost sinners.

In different ways, Jesus Christ continues to gather his church:  He sends his Spirit.  He sends men.  He also sends angels.  Thus, the glory belongs not to the angels, nor to us, but to our faithful Saviour, the Shepherd who gathers his sheep.

[1] “Angels and their Role in Pastoral Care,” by Dr. J. DeJong, in Koinonia 19.1 (Spring 2002), p.11.