Ross W. Graham
I finally had to count them. By late summer, the staff of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension had lost track of how many churches had been planted during 1998. There seemed to be a problem. None of us could hold in our memory the number or the locations of all the churches we had helped to start since the year began. In previous years, it had been easier to remember them. But for some reason this year, it was different.
I have routinely resisted counting because of God's displeasure with David's decision to count in 1 Chronicles 21. Just when things were going well in Israel, David counted the troops to see how strong he was and how much he had accomplished. God knew David's heart. He was beginning to rely on himself rather than the strength of his God. So we read in 1 Chronicles 21:7, "And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel." It is a terrible thing for a believer to become self-reliant. It is a denial of everything he professes. God must always have the glory.
So I didn't want to count. But finally I had to make a list of the churches that we had helped to get started in 1998. I counted fourteen of them. And it was only September. There was a good reason why I couldn't remember all the churches we had helped to start: fourteen was more than we had ever helped before. It was more than one a month. This was God's doing! I was humbled by the fact that our plans had not pointed toward such a number, nor had our resources anticipated it. We just kept focusing on our work and doing it as God presented it to us. And there it was: more churches than had ever been planted in a single year in Orthodox Presbyterian history. And God gets all the credit.
But as I press pen to paper (fingers to keyboard, actually), I realize that this article is not supposed to be just about Home Missions, but about thanksgiving and about the 1998 Thank Offering. Our theme this year is from the apostle Paul's burst of praise at the conclusion of Ephesians 3"Bring him glory in the church." Actually, those words are an adaptation of Ephesians 3:21, which I would translate as "To him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen." (Many translations follow the variant reading "and in Christ Jesus.")
When the Holy Spirit gave us these words, he was not sending us off on our own. The point we need to understand from Ephesians 3:21 is that the assembled people of God (the church), when focused on his will and work, naturally and automatically bring glory and praise to God. That is why the verse immediately preceding our theme shouts out, "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us." God gets glory from his church. We bring him glory by being his church. How is that possible? Because of God's "power that works in us." What we do, God is working in us (Phil. 2:12-13). How could it be any other way? And that is what is happening in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church right now. God is bringing glory to himself in spite of our feeble efforts.
Do you remember those fourteen churches? That is fourteen more churches than were around at this time last year to bring him glory. And what a group they are. I wish I had time to tell you their wonderful stories, but you'll have to look in future issues of New Horizons for that encouragement. Some, like Northwest Atlanta, Georgia; Bohemia, New York; Dayton (North), Ohio; and Pickerington, Ohio, are daughter churches lovingly planted by strong OP congregations. Others, like Ada, Michigan; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; London, Ontario; Kennewick, Washington; the San Fernando Valley of southern California; and Wichita Falls, Texas, are groups of people gathered by presbytery efforts and nurtured by regional home missionaries. A few, like Bentonville, Arkansas; Holland, Michigan; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Hispanic ministry in the area); and Salt Lake City, Utah, are the result of the vision, desire, and determination of men with a passion for the place where the new church is being planted. But all these churches are the result of answered prayer, and in each one there are scores of God's people who love him and who have been called together to worship and work in the service of their Savior. And God receives glory in his church.
Last week I sat down in my office with my good friend Tony Curto, an OP foreign missionary to Uganda, and I was reminded that on the other side of the globe, in circumstances quite different from ours here in the United States, God is receiving glory in his church. The challenges are enormous in Uganda and the growth is phenomenal, but the thing that kept tears in our eyes was that these Ugandan believers love Jesus Christ and work hard at following God's Word just as we do here in the U.S.A. And God receives glory in the church.
Foreign Missions general secretary Mark Bube has been updating me all summer on the wonderful things that God is doing in Ethiopia, where he has raised up a Reformed work. It is a new church, which was formed just a few months ago among believers who have read and understood the Scriptures in a different and fuller way since reading some of the theological works that OP foreign missionary Hailu Mekonnen has translated into their language. It wasn't there when 1998 began, but now it is a whole new church from which God receives glory.
And may we never forget the lesson of Eritrea. When our full-time missionaries were suddenly forced to leave and when our clinic in Ghinda was taken over, we thought that all was lost. But the reports of those who have visited the young churches that we helped to establish there are glowing. They were well founded. They were built, just like the OPC, on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. The church in Eritrea is going on without our being there. God called us in, used us to get things going, and then called us away. But it is God who builds his church. Over there in Asmara and Ghinda, God receives glory in the church.
Meanwhile, back here in our country, Christian Education general secretary Thomas Tyson keeps me informed about how the efforts of his committee factor into this equation. The Committee on Christian Education oversees the production of Sunday school literature in order that little ones can bring him glory in the church. They are producing training materials for church officers, so that ordained servants can minister more effectively. They are producing the denominational magazine that you are reading in order to keep the church informed and focused on God's glory. They are beefing up the OPC's Internet Web site, where folks are finding an OP church near them by using this new electronic means. And they are fielding pastoral interns so that young men can learn from mature, seasoned pastors how to serve as effective shepherds in the church that brings glory to God.
Home Missions, Foreign Missions, and Christian Education together are called Worldwide Outreach, because these ministries answer our Lord's call to make disciples throughout the world (Matt. 28:18-20). I have taken you on a brief tour of some of what Worldwide Outreach is all about. We speak proudly at times of "the whole work of the whole church," as if Home Missions, Foreign Missions, and Christian Education were the wonderful things we do to bring glory to God. In reality, our brief review points clearly to the fact that God receives glory from his church because of what we are and do by his grace, not because of what we are and do by our own effort.
Many things could be said about the importance of the OPC's Worldwide Outreach ministries and about the 1998 Thank Offering, with its goal of $400,000. If ever there was a time in our history when it made sense for us to open our wallets and checkbooks and give generously to Worldwide Outreach, it is now, when God seems to be using us and blessing us so abundantly. So much can be accomplished with the gifts and the accompanying prayers of God's people right now.
But the most important thing to say at the close of this article is that it is by means of these gifts and offerings that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church as a whole is able to focus its energy and efforts on carrying out the will and the work of God. It is that process which really brings him glory in the church.
Mr. Graham is the general secretary for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, November 1998.