Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 3, 1951

Churches Can Do Mission Work

Geo. B. Curtis

(Note: I have no intention to inject myself into the current controversy raging over evangelistic work as it is being carried on in Lubbock, or elsewhere. I wish to write an article, unbiased entirely, setting forth some principles that I think will be helpful. Good men are arrayed against good men over methods. Time and effort are being lost. Souls are being lost as a consequence. In the language of James: "Brethren, this ought not to be." — G.B.C.)

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Matthew 28:19)

"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:15-16)

It is inconceivable to think that God would give a law upon which the salvation of the souls of men depended that could not be obeyed without divine displeasure. No more emphatic language was ever employed by the Lord than that of the Great Commission. Not only can "mission" work be done; it must be done. I am as adverse to the forming of missionary societies—one man or otherwise—as any man among us. The church is the sending medium selected of God to do His work. To this I am sure that we shall all agree. With this fundamental truth before us it remains for us to determine how the early church carried out the work of evangelism.

Let us first look into the words of Christ in the Great Commission for all the information that we can get. He says, "Go!" The method is not given. He says, "Teach!" The method is not given. The gospel is to be the subject matter taught. This is specific and emphatic. The going and the teaching is to reach to "all the world, all nations and every creature." Upon the shoulders of eleven unlearned men—chiefly Galilean fishermen—was laid the stupendous task. Functioning under this commission, these same unlearned men functioned so effectively that before their generation passed, it could be said, "Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." (Rom. 10:18) Today it seems that we can hardly cross a state line without stirring up a hornet's nest on methods of doing work. Salvation is predicated upon the acceptance of this evangelical work; and damnation upon its rejection. I sincerely think that we shall be lost if we fail to obey this command just as surely as if we disobeyed the command concerning faith, repentance and baptism.

In his last interview with his apostles before his ascension the Lord told them that they should be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. The church at Jerusalem was founded under this order, coming into existence on the day of Pentecost. For a period of a few years the efforts of the apostles and of the Jerusalem church were centered within the city of Jerusalem itself. Persecutions arose to the extent that the church was scattered abroad. (Acts 8:1) "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word." (Acts 8:4)

This, so far as I know, was the first effort to carry the gospel abroad. The apostles remained in Jerusalem. Under Philip's preaching the gospel reached Samaria. He was one of those who "were scattered abroad." This "scattering abroad" was a rather far-reaching campaign of evangelism. "Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." (Acts 11:19-21)

These evangelists from Jerusalem carried the gospel into Phenice, Cyrene, Syria and Samaria at least. The apostles remaining at Jerusalem were deeply interested in the work of these men. Peter and John followed Philip into Samaria and Barnabas was sent to Antioch. How far the Jerusalem church, or any other church supported these men, we have no way of knowing. We know that: this evangelistic work was acceptable with heaven. But we must not conclude that persecutions and its attendant scattering of Christians are necessary to scriptural mission work.

When the news of the success of the gospel in Antioch came to Jerusalem the church there sent Barnabas to Antioch. He came, saw the grace of God and rejoiced. Feeling the need of a co-worker, Barnabas went to Tarsus to find Saul. Saul was brought to Antioch where he and Barnabas labored for a whole year. The name Christian was bestowed upon Christ's followers here.

Prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of these, Agabus, foretold the famine that was to come to the land of Judea. The brethren at Antioch responded nobly by sending relief to the brethren in Judea. This collection was made of the Antioch brethren, sent by the hands of Barnabas and Saul, into the hands of the elders in Judea, to be used for the relief of the poor saints. (Acts 11:22-30)

Here are some principles set forth in the actions of these early churches: (1) The gospel must be preached whenever and wherever it can be preached; (2) Money can be collected of one church to be used by other churches; (3) This money can be given into the hands of chosen men to be carried to the place of its use; (4) This money can be used by the elders of the receiving church or churches.

I think it is a safe conclusion that more than one church existed in Judea. In the city of Jerusalem alone the membership of the church soon reached into the thousands. On the day of Pentecost three thousand became obedient to the faith. Acts 4:4 recounts the addition of five thousand men, multitudes of both men and women were added (Acts 4:14), and a "great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7) Judea was the province of which Jerusalem was the capital and chief city.

Inasmuch as there were a number of towns and villages in Judea, and the gospel was to be preached there following Jerusalem, it is inconceivable that no churches existed elsewhere than Jerusalem. This being true, another principle is established, namely, the collections from one church may be used scripturally by a number of churches. Whether the elders into whose hands this collection was given were of the Jerusalem church or of all the Judean churches we have no way of knowing. If delivered into the hands of the Jerusalem church, and by them distributed to the rest of the congregations in Judea, this would establish the principle that one church could scripturally act as a representative of another church, or to use a modern term, a sponsoring church. This bit of information is lacking.

A future article, or articles, will deal with evangelism in other New Testament churches.