Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 15, 1949

"Thy Speech Betrayeth Thee"

Walter N. Henderson

"If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." (I Pet. 4:11) We have departed from this principle in much of our speaking. Especially in speaking of preaching the gospel we hear much talk of "missions", "missionaries", and of "sponsoring churches" and "overseeing elders." The church had its beginning in Jerusalem and spread to the uttermost parts of the world. Much of the New Testament deals with this work without using such terms as the above. Can it be that somebody is not speaking as the oracles of God?

If "words are signs of ideas", then speaking is the art of using words to convey thoughts and ideas to others. In speaking we try to use the words best suited to convey our thoughts to our audience. "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." If I have some hauling to do, I want a vehicle made especially for that particular kind of work. If it is logs, I want a log cart; if sand, a dump truck; if it is a sick person, then an ambulance. Words are the "vehicles of thought." A dump truck is not a good conveyance or vehicle for hauling a sick man to the hospital. Neither are denominational phrases good vehicles for expressing New Testament ideas!


The word "mission" is one that is overworked. It is a good word if used properly. Because of denominational usage, however, it is generally used to mean a new or a small congregation—a group of Christians who are not capable of carrying on their own work as it is customarily done. That is, they are financially unable to build a house and hire a preacher to preach for them. In the minds of some probably a "mission" is a baby church. In speaking to the Corinthian church, Paul addressed them as "babes in Christ", yet never did he refer to them as a "mission". On several occasions he mentioned a church in somebody's house. Undoubtedly these congregations were small; but to Paul they were churches, not "missions".

Have you ever listened to one of our brethren who is called a "missionary" (I mean a "foreign missionary"), and noted how many times he used the word "mission" and how few he used the word "church"? Almost invariably those who have been in the field for several years will refer to the fruit of their labor as the "mission" rather than the church. What are we doing, starting "missions" or planting churches? Can it be that they are using the right word to describe their accomplishments? I have received the impression from some of these talks that a "mission" is a combination of a school and a church. If this is true, they are making a poor beginning!; they digressed before they got started.


What is a "missionary"? A farmer is a man that operates a farm. I suppose that a missionary is a man that runs a mission. Anyway I know that he is something unknown to the early church; for the Bible speaks of things as small as gnats, and as large as whales, but nowhere does it mention a "missionary"! Seriously, I know what brethren mean when they speak of a "missionary"; but that is exactly what I am opposed to. I am opposed to calling a gospel preacher a "missionary". If he follows the New Testament pattern for gospel preachers, he is a preacher of the gospel, regardless of where he preaches it. The greatest preachers that ever lived carried the gospel the first time into all the world without ever learning that they were "missionaries". That was a word they did not apply to themselves; the Holy Spirit did not use it with reference with any of them; and no gospel preacher called any other gospel preacher by any such a designation.

Perhaps we have not moved away entirely "from the hope of the gospel", but we are moving. We are certainly moving away from it in our speaking and in our thinking. If this course is pursued, it will truly move us away from "the hope".

One of the modern improvements is a "sponsoring church". Now a "sponsoring church" is a congregation with "overseeing elders" — that is elders who are overseeing a work across the ocean! This is a joke. All any of these elders are likely to know of what is going on in their foreign diocese is what their missionary tells them. Unless of course, they develop a "floating elder" who crosses the ocean periodically to see after the work in the foreign diocese.

The latest thing out is a "Field Missionary Representative". That is too much for me. I'm going to have to ask for some help on this one, for I just don't know what it is. I can't find it in the Bible; and I haven't heard any of my denominational friends speak of such a thing. Brethren, if anybody knows just exactly what is the function, status, duties, responsibilities, and specific New Testament work of a "Field Missionary Representative", please let me know—and especially how to get that way.

If words are the signs of ideas, there are some rather strange ideas abroad in the land. I must say the sign of the times is bad. For every sign seems to point toward a departure from the sound doctrine. We are either using the wrong vehicle to convey our ideas, or else we are carrying the wrong cargo. We are trying to express Bible ideas in denominational phraseology, or else we are thinking as they think. I am afraid that the latter is true. If a man is what he thinks in his heart, and if the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart (which it does), if you listen long enough, you can tell what a man is. Indeed, "thy speech betrayeth thee."

Brethren, I am anti-mission; if a mission is what I think it is—something like a leaky pump that always needs priming. The church of our Lord is an ever-flowing spring, no matter if it is in Jerusalem, Antioch, or Philippi. Through famine, poverty, persecution it held high the banner of the Son of God, extending the borders of the kingdom, until it was smitten with loose thinking, the father of all false doctrines. I am ready to turn the "missionaries", "missions", and "Missionary Field Representative" all over to the "Missionary Board" and let it look after them.

Let the church send forth gospel preachers into all the world, preaching the gospel of Christ to every creature under heaven. Let churches be planted among every people in all the lands of the earth. This is according to the great commission of the Lord; this is what he wants done. And the churches can do it without using the worn-out phraseology of defunct denominationalism. There is not a work to be done that needs to be described in any such language.