Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 17, 1950

How To Do Missionary Work

By H. Leo Boles (Gospel Advocate, Nov. 3, 1932)

The church of the New Testament is a missionary church. All the work that it does, that it should do, is missionary work. Any work that it does in filling its mission is missionary work. The church is doing missionary work when it feeds the hungry as much as when it is preaching the gospel. What is the New Testament way of doing missionary work or carrying the gospel to foreign lands? What examples have we in the New Testament of this kind of work? Are the examples of missionary work in the New Testament for us to follow today? I think that all will answer this question in the affirmative. How are missionaries sent out? Who sends them? Who supports them?

The New Testament gives an example of a church doing missionary work in the case of the church at Thessalonica. Paul and his company had left Antioch and had gone to the province of Macedonia. The church had been established at Philippi. Paul went from Philippi to Thessalonica and established a church there. The churches in Macedonia were not wealthy. Later, when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he said to them that they knew "how that in much proof of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality." (2 Cor. 8:2) Paul states further that they contributed "beyond their power." Now, this church at Thessalonica, like all other New Testament churches, was very active in having the gospel preached. In writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul said: "And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit; so that ye became an example to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in' Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything." (I Thess. 1:6-8).

We learn from this that although the church at Thessalonica was poor, yet it abounded in zeal and missionary activity; that from this church "sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia," but in other places. Thessalonica was in the province of Macedonia. This church had the gospel preached to others in Macedonia and extended its activities beyond the boundaries of its own province. This should teach us that no church is so poor and so weak but that it can do missionary work. We learn, furthermore, that no church is so poor or weak that it needs to cooperate with other churches in doing missionary work. The church at Thessalonica had the gospel preached throughout the province of Macedonia and Achaia without the cooperation of any other church or the help of any missionary society. If this church in its deep poverty could carry on an extensive program of preaching the gospel in an independent way, why cannot other churches do the same?

This leads to the declaration that the missionary work of preaching the gospel as recorded in the New Testament was done by individual churches acting independent of each other. There is no example in the New Testament of two or more churches joining together their funds for the support of the gospel. J. W. McGarvey, who was an able exponent of society work, or churches working through missionary societies, was called upon to give an example of churches cooperating in having the gospel preached. He replied: "I do not find in the New Testament a single example of two or more churches that cooperated in mission work." Professor McGarvey had written two commentaries on the book of Acts of the Apostles; he had been a close student of the New Testament for many years; and he was in favor of churches working through the missionary society. In fact, he stoutly defended the missionary society and urged churches to support the missionary society. He was frequently called upon to give his reasons for supporting the missionary society. He would have rejoiced if he had been able to give a New Testament example for such church cooperation in missionary work. The fact that he did not give it is proof positive that he could not give it. But when he makes the confession that there is no such example in the New Testament where "two or more churches" cooperated in missionary work, we may know that there is none to be found in the New Testament. Brethren who are specializing in "missionary work" and traveling over the country trying to get churches to "cooperate" in supporting missionaries should ponder seriously this statement of Professor McGarvey. A challenge is here issued to anyone to find a New Testament example of two or more churches uniting their funds and supporting the preaching of the gospel.

Churches cooperated in relieving the distress during the famine, but churches did not "cooperate" in supporting the preaching of the gospel. The fact that we have no New Testament example of such, and have no statement of Scripture which authorized it, ought to be sufficient to convince all that God did not want his churches to work that way. There are found in the New Testament three distinct sources from which the preacher of the gospel received support. It is well for us to study these. The first source is from the church that sends out the preacher. Paul says on this point: "What soldier ever serveth at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?" (I Cor. 9:7) The Lord ordained "that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel." (Verse 14) A church could not be faithful to the Lord by sending a man out to preach the gospel and let him go at his own charges. The second source from which the preacher received support was from the people among whom he labored. "But let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things." (Gal. 6:6) Again: "If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things?" (I Cor. 9:11) The mission field is where the missionary plants and sows, and God wills that he shall reap of the carnal things of the people among whom he labors. Paul was thrown by a shipwreck on the island of Melita among barbarous people. It is not reported whether anybody turned to the Lord, but Luke says: "And when we sailed, they put on board such things as we needed." (Acts 28:10) Paul and others remained there some time, and we cannot think of Paul's remaining there and not preaching the gospel. When they were ready to leave, they gave to them such things as were needed. The third source from which the missionary received support was from "other churches"—that is, from churches other than the one in the field where he worked. Other churches with their independent and individual activities sent support to the one who needed help. These three sources are clearly revealed in the New Testament. The church sending the preacher out should support him; the people among whom he labors should help; and other churches may contribute to his needs.

(Associate editor's note: It will take more than the memory of conversations on the part of "the canny editor" and the "Ace writer" of the Gospel Advocate, that they had with brother Boles, to off-set his writings. If he changed, then the editor certainly would not try to defend him, since he is pretty rough on men who change. We have more interesting articles in store for the readers, all from the files of the Gospel Advocate. Watch for them, and be amazed, inasmuch as we are assured that the "1950 style" of the Gospel Advocate is no different from the "style" of other years. We have been accused of misrepresenting these men. We will let them speak for themselves. The current efforts of the Gospel Advocate to discredit us in our quotations is a subterfuge that anybody but a mighty corny editor ought to be ashamed of.