Dear Praying, Helping Friends:
Before telling you what the Lord has been doing of late in Central & Eastern Europe, let me again touch on why we are there and what our goal is. The Great Commission (found in each gospel and Chapter One of Acts) makes it very clear that we are to take the gospel to all the nations. Matt. 28:18-20 goes further and makes it clear that the goal of the Great Commission is to plant churches where the “all things which I (the Lord Jesus) have commanded you” is to be obeyed. But these five brief versions are only a seminal form of Christ’s Great Commission. So, in such an important matter as this, we must ask the question: “Has God given us the Great Commission only in seminal form? Or has He amplified it elsewhere in Scripture, giving the church a comprehensive and altogether clear model for sound missionary work?” So much hangs on the answer to this question. For if we say “no,” the door opens up to all sorts of mission models, and we will tend to flounder in the way we do mission. But if we can say “yes,” we have clear, authoritative teaching on how the church today should be doing mission.
So, then, if the goal of the Great Commission is to be reached (planting churches abroad where the “all things” that Christ taught us is alive and well), we need a model elsewhere in Scripture which shows us how the Great Commission is to be carried out. Praise God He has not left us in darkness on this. In other words, we do not need to create our own model or pick and choose one of others’ making when it comes to taking the gospel to the nations. We already have the model in Scripture. It is in Acts Chapters 13-20 in the three missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul. Of course, there are many other places in the New Testament (and even OT) where the Great Commission is further amplified. But Acts 13-20 is that part of the Bible which gives us the one true model which sending churches must follow if they are to have a good program of supported mission work. Otherwise they will be in danger of not following God’s pattern for doing mission and will tend to have a poor and eclectic program of supported missions – especially in taking the gospel “to the nations” (foreign missions).
So every time I read of a Reformed teaching conference that lacks a serious missions component (implying missions is not a branch of Reformed theology) or attend a missions conference where there is confusion in this matter, it burdens me. It also concerns me that there is no up-to-date book on this subject (Herman Bavinck’s An Introduction to the Science of Missions is good, in fact loaded with good material, but does not highlight issues where Acts 13-20 stands in contrast to current Reformed models of doing mission. I have no more space here to talk about the missiology of Acts 13-20. But in later issues of this letter, I hope to cover a variety of matters such as: Who, according to Acts 13-20, qualifies as a missionary “to the nations”? What must be the goal of this missionary (or missionary team) before going to the field? What basic model must be followed to accomplish this task? How must nationals be trained if they are to reach their own people for Christ and build their own church in their own land? And what must the church at home do in order to have a sound and biblical foreign missions program?
Let me now hurry to the news! We praise God that — after years of doing the foundational work of training nationals to be church-planting pastors to their own people in Hungary, Romania and Ukraine — we are now seeing rich rewards. We see this in the growth of our Hungarian pastors themselves, in their “equipping of the saints,” and in the way our new church (Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central & Eastern Europe) and its 22 congregations of “ordinary” members are doing extraordinary work. I cannot catalogue all the ways our 16 pastors and their “ordinary” members are working and seeing God’s blessing. But I can say, in a few words, that it lies in their training, a tremendous spirit of unity, good fellowship with one another, and dedication to serve the Lord.
Now if the goal of our work is planting national congregations and an indigenous church that is fully self-supporting, self-governing, and self-sustaining — which it is — I think we can reach this goal in two to four more years (about 2014). I went to Hungary in 1990; our school began in 1992; and our first students graduated in 1996. That would be about one generation to finish. One generation is also the time we need to train our own kids and guide them into adulthood where they can raise their own families. So we are now on the “last leg of the run.” The two biggest things we still must do, in the next few years, is 1) continue to guide the process toward full maturity and 2) give our men and congregations the help they need until they can be fully self-supporting. Then, when that day comes, we who are the scaffolding must come down so that the building itself will be seen in all its beauty and functionality. Just as Eph. 4:9-16, especially v. 16, says, “From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
One of the ways we are still guiding our church is the development of a new Basic Discipleship program – especially in Romania. When our church began in 1998 (at the time our students were expelled from the Hungarian Reformed Church) we had no discipleship program because we had no people for it. Two years later, we had a D/M course (Discipleship/Membership) and were training new believers in the Word and helping them become members of our church, the RPCCEE. This worked very well and still works well. But in 2004, we started asking our pastors to add many more practical matters to this training – such as courtship, marriage, raising children, family finance, and job-related matters. Our members also needed practical training to evangelize unbelievers and help their pastors reach people who, though believers, are mired in bad church situations and need to be part of a faithful church. In the last six months we noticed that many of these people in bad churches needed basic training in the gospel itself. The problem was that our D/M course was too long (8 months) for them, so we needed something much shorter to see if they are really believers and, if so, let the gospel itself be their motive to leave churches unfaithful to Christ. So we have recently created a new BD course (Basic Discipleship) course with 8 lessons (only 2 months). It will be a bridge for people who seem to be believers, but seem to be clueless about their need to leave bad churches – that is, be a bridge from where they now are to really understanding the gospel and why they need to follow Christ in belonging to a good church.
And in the area of help, we are preparing for the day when our men and congregations in Hungary and Ukraine can be one presbytery, and our men and congregations in Romania can be another presbytery. With this year’s wonderful progress in buying or building properties, we are now 90% finished on that score. In terms of the personal support of the pastors and their ministries, our congregations, on average, are now providing 50% of what they need. Of course, this first 50% is by far the most difficult since this is Europe and since we started in 1998 with no members at all and almost no sympathizers. So this other 50% of operational support (support for our men and work-related expenses) should only take two to four more years to develop — after which the scaffolding can all come down!
This is all said for your prayers. Pray that God, by His Spirit, would energize our men and people and mightily bless the Word they are proclaiming to sinners and teaching young Christians. And continue to remember our financial needs. We still need $10,000 to finish our seventh and last building project this year (Erdoszentgyorgy, Romania). And $8,200/month to augment what our 16 men receive from their 22 congregations and four preaching points. Finally, please consider our special Christmas offering for the pastors. We want something extra for them so they can finish the year well with their very modest salaries. They are making great sacrifice. Clara and I also thank you so much for your prayers and letters and personal encouragement. You may not know how much you inspire us!
Yours in His faithfulness,
Bob and Clara Rapp.