Roughly three months ago, I wrote an article criticizing the portrayal of cessationism by Ernest Goodman in his article, “The Spirit Incognito.” Goodman has written a three-part response to my article, which can be found at “Missions Misunderstood.” This is my response to Part 2.
Concerning the qualification and sending of missionaries, I have argued that men who desire to go and who are biblically qualified should be sent. There is no need for God to tell a particular church to send a particular person. In contrast, Goodman says that “our criteria for sending is not only some checklist of qualities and qualifications, but also a spiritual unity of the sending church.” I do not exactly know how to respond to this statement because I do not know what Goodman means by “a spiritual unity of the sending church.” What I do know is that Goodman believes this spiritual unity “is reached through prayer (and sometimes fasting), as the Spirit of God brings the opinions of the pastors in line with Christ” (If that is not mysticism, I don’t know what is). From this, I deduce that spiritual unity exists when the opinions of the pastors of a particular church are aligned. Goodman refers to Acts 13:2 as the precedent for this doctrine; but in that verse, the Holy Spirit speaks audibly and says, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (NASB). There is nothing recorded in this passage about the opinions of the pastors being brought in line with Christ. I do not know of any biblical precedent for such a doctrine. If there is one, I would like someone to point it out to me. In the meantime, I do not see any biblical reason why a qualified person should not be sent based solely upon his qualifications.
Goodman then asks a series of questions, which I will answer.
“What are the criteria for ‘missionary?’ Where do these come from?”
The criteria for a missionary are identical to the criteria for an elder. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, the office of elder within the Christian Church had four main functions. Elders acted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (I consider pastor and teacher to be the same function). Some elders performed one function. Others performed more. My point, though, is that an evangelist is an elder who focuses his time and energy on the proclamation of the gospel to non-Christians. This is also the job of the missionary. Therefore, I consider the missionary role to be a sub-set of the evangelist role. “Missionary” is simply a descriptive term used to describe the evangelist who is sent across some kind of border to proclaim the gospel to a particular group of people. Since the missionary is an evangelist and because the evangelist is an elder, the missionary must therefore be an elder, and the qualifications for an elder are spelled out very clearly in Scripture.
“What if the candidate is qualified, yet doesn’t want to go?”
No one should be forced to travel somewhere he does not want to travel. Why would we ever send someone out as a missionary who doesn’t want to go?
“What if he’s both qualified and willing to be sent, but he is needed in his local church?”
The only instance in which a particular elder is needed in his local church is if he is the only elder in that local church. For him to abandon his flock would be a sinful desertion of his responsibilities. He would not have the right to send himself out as a missionary. If he wants to serve as a missionary, he must first appoint at least one other elder in his place. At that point he is no longer needed in his local church, and he is free to go out as a missionary.
“Why should we ‘pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ (Matthew 9:38) if God has nothing to do with the calling and sending of his people?”
Who said that God has nothing to do with the calling and sending of his people? I never said that. I have never heard anyone else say that. In my book The Great Enterprise from a Reformed Perspective, I devote a whole chapter to the calling and sending of the missionary and describe exactly how God calls and sets apart his missionaries. So, to be clear, God is very active in calling and sending missionaries. However, that does not have to mean that the Holy Spirit is telling particular pastors of particular churches to send particular missionaries to particular places.
Goodman then goes on to say that he is not as trustful in human wisdom as I seem to be. I do not know why Goodman thinks I am trusting in human wisdom. I have certainly never advocated that anyone trust in human wisdom. On the contrary, I believe Scripture exhorts us to use godly wisdom, wisdom that applies the commands of Scripture to our lives. Solomon’s judicial decision between the two women who came to him with the dispute over the baby is a good example of this. The Bible made clear that stealing a baby was a crime. Solomon then used wisdom and logic to devise a way in which to differentiate between the perpetrator and the victim. The Holy Spirit did not tell Solomon who the real mother was. He used his brain to figure it out. Is there any reason why we should not do the same thing today in the context of missions?
Goodman then asks these questions, “You can’t reach out in every direction at once. With which tribe, language, or nation will you begin? How does a church determine where to allocate resources and where to pass up perfectly good opportunities?” The answer is quite simple. God’s people only have to do what Scripture demands that they do, and they are free to do anything Scripture does not forbid. Therefore, God’s people have the freedom to answer these questions any number of ways.
Goodman also asks, “When is the work in a particular place finished?” Missionary work in a particular place is finished when one of two things happens, when a church is planted or when the missionary determines that he should not continue to throw pearls before swine and shakes the dust off his feet and leaves. The follow up question most certainly is, “When/how does the missionary determine that he should not continue to throw pearls before swine and shake the dust off his feet and leave?” This is a more complicated question over which there is some legitimate disagreement. Suffice to say for now that there are ways in which the missionary can make this determination without the Holy Spirit specially telling him that he should leave a particular place.
Goodman again makes the claim that some people “believe that God no longer interacts with His people in real-time.” Who believes this? God interacts with his people every day. Just because God does not speak audibly to me does not mean that he does not interact with me.
Lastly, Goodman explains some of the various ways a person can share the gospel. I agree with him. There are lots of ways to verbally proclaim the message of the gospel. This was my very point to begin with. All of these ways are legitimate ways to proclaim the message of the gospel. Missionaries are free to pick and choose from them. Missionaries have brains. They can decide which way they think is best for the time and place. There is not one right way of doing it. There are lots of right ways to do it. We do not need the Holy Spirit to tell us which right way to use. God just wants us to use one of them.
While Goodman goes on arguing that the Holy Spirit has to specifically tell us what to say to who, he says this, “How you present the gospel is a huge factor in how it’s received . . . Fortunately, the eternal destiny of the nations does not depend on my speaking ability.” Does this not seem like a contradiction to anyone else? What he says and the way he says it is a huge factor regarding whether or not the gospel is received, but whether or not the gospel is received does not depend on what he says. Maybe I have misunderstood what he is trying to say. If so, maybe he or someone else can correct me.
Stay tuned for my response to Part 3; and again, if I have missed something that you think I should have addressed, let me know so that I can address it either in the comment section or in the next article.