Missionaries with Amnesia

"Young man, if ever you would do good, you must preach the gospel and the free grace of God in Christ Jesus"
Richard Sibbes (1577 - 1635) to Thomas Goodwin (1600 - 1680)

I recently discovered a sermon preached by C.H. Spurgeon in which he related an anecdote from the life of Adoniram Judson.

I would like to reproduce here verbatim Spurgeon's relating of this anecdote. I think there is a great need to. There are far too many people today who call themselves 'missionaries' but have sadly forgotten what they are supposed to be doing. They have become missionaries with amnesia. What a tragedy that they are not driven, like Judson, like Spurgeon, (and like Paul!), to verbally proclaim the message of Christ in words!

Some of them call themselves 'social missionaries', and believe they are proclaiming the gospel in actions. But in Scripture, the gospel is ALWAYS a message to be verbally proclaimed. Certainly, it is to be accompanied by good works, but the works themselves are NOT the gospel, and anyone who never calls people to repentance and faith in Christ is NOT being a faithful missionary of Christ. They are, to borrow an expression from English law, off on a frolic of their own.

There is something wrong when otherwise apparently gospel-faithful churches blindly support such people.

Judson's words, as related by Spurgeon, are a wake-up call. Here's the extract:

"This thought struck me when I was preparing for preaching, that I should have to tell you an old story over again; and just as I was thinking of that, happening to turn over a book, I met with an anecdote of Judson the missionary to Burmah*."
* aka Burma or Myanmar

"He had passed through unheard-of hardships, and had performed dangerous exploits for his Master. He returned, after thirty years absence, to America."

"Announced to address an assembly in a provincial town, and a vast concourse having gathered from great distances to hear him, he rose at the close of the usual service, and, as all eyes were fixed and every ear attent, he spoke for about fifteen minutes, with much pathos, of the precious Saviour, of what he had done for us, and of what we owed to him; and he sat down, visibly affected."

"'The people are very much disappointed,' said a friend to him on their way home; 'they wonder you did not talk of something else.'"

"'Why what did they want?' he replied. 'I presented, to the best of my ability, the most interesting subject in the world.'"

"'But they wanted something different ‐ a story.'"

"'Well, I am sure I gave them a story ‐ the most thrilling one that can be conceived of.'"

"'But they had heard it before. They wanted something new of a man who had just come from the antipodes.'"

"'Then I am glad they have it to say that a man coming from the antipodes had nothing better to tell than the wondrous story of the dying love of Jesus. My business is to preach the gospel of Christ; and when I can speak at all, I dare not trifle with my commission.'"

"'When I looked upon those people to-day, and remembering where I should next meet them, how could I stand up and furnish food to vain curiosity - tickle their fancy with amusing stories, however decently strung together on a thread of religion? That is not what Christ meant by preaching the gospel.'"

"'And then how could I hereafter meet the fearful charge, "I gave you one opportunity to tell them of ME; you spent it in describing your own adventures!"'"

"Well, if Judson told the old story after he had been thirty years away, and could not find anything better, I will just go back to this old subject, which is always new and always fresh to us ‐ the precious blood of Christ, by which we are saved."
(from the sermon 'The Blood', in 'Sermons preached and revised by the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, fifth series' published by Sheldon/New York 1859)

So what am I saying?

Does this mean that missionaries should not give their supporters and prayer partners back home an account of the specifics of what they are doing in their work?

No, I don't believe it means that. Judson's zeal for preaching Christ was commendable. But I don't believe it would have been wrong for Judson, having clearly preached Christ, to ALSO give an account of the details of his work. That could still be done in a gospel-centred way.

But what greatly disturbs me is when so-called 'missionaries' not only fail to preach the gospel when they are back home giving a talk about their work - they fail to ever preach it out in their so-called 'mission field'. They seem to have fallen for a false understanding of what mission is, and have turned the gospel into a program of social action, devoid of ever verbally calling people to repentance and faith in Christ.

Does your church support false missionaries?

If your church supports missionaries, and you have concerns they may have fallen for the 'social gospel' error, I suggest you ask them the following question. If they know the Lord, and are genuine, they won't object to this in the slightest.

Here's the question:

"When was the last time you told someone, in words, that we all must turn to Christ in repentance and faith in order to be saved?"

If they are genuine, they won't have to think back too far.

If they evade the question, or change the subject, or refuse to answer, I suggest there is a serious problem. In which case:

  • Pray for them, and enquire further - do they themselves actually know and believe the true gospel, or are they merely religious?
  • Even if they are true believers, if they are not doing the true work of a missionary, still pray for them, that God would open their eyes as to what they should be doing.
  • I would further suggest that it is NOT appropriate for a gospel-faithful church to give financial support to so-called 'Christian missionaries' who NEVER proclaim the gospel to anyone in clear words. I am not saying non-Christians should not be helped. I am saying that they should not be helped under the pretence that they are Christian missionaries when it is highly suspect whether what they are doing is Christian at all. It does seems right to me to support all kinds of good causes, some of which may be secular, and there are non-Christians who do some good in the world (by common grace). But it is not right for a gospel-faithful church, or individual believer, to support someone who claims to be a believer and claims to be carrying out the Great Commission, yet who believes in NEVER calling people to repentance and faith in Christ. Such people are false missionaries, claiming to be something they are not. They should not be encouraged in their self-deception - they should be challenged to repent.

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