Sometimes it is good to look in the rear view mirror to see the way forward! It was the ancient Greek historian Thucydides who said that his history was important to "those who desire an exact knowledge of the past as a key to the future, which in all probability will repeat or resemble the past." Lately I have been reading history books. A CRCA pastor got me on to Peter Fitzsimons and he is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. His retelling of the horrors of the Dutch spice trade in his book Batavia gave me a window into the faith (or lack thereof) of my ancestors and the church which has been for me the locus of over three decades of ministry. His book Fromelles & Posieres - In the Trenches of Hell was not an easy read and helped me understand why the 'spirit' of the Anzac is so strong in Australia. The latest history book I picked up was A Church En Route, a retelling of the first 40 years of history of the denomination I now serve, the CRCA.
The general editor of this historical overview was J.W. Deenick, a pastor who served our churches for over 30 years until his retirement in 1983. This book was written several years later on the occasion of the 40 anniversary of the Reformed Churches in Australia (1991). His grandsons have followed his footsteps and are faithfully serving CRCA churches today, both in Launceston, Tasmania: Jono (Riverbank) and Karl (The Branch). En Route is a fascinating read, full of tidbits about the CRCA, her people, and her churches.
One aspect of this denomination that I have come to deeply love and appreciate is its commitment to the missional heartbeat of the church. This was what lured me initially to consider uprooting from Canada and moving (literally) to the otherside of the world. It was the missional vision to be "a church reforming to reach the lost for Christ." When I read this account of the history of the CRCA I came to appreciate that this commitment to the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20) has deep roots. In 1985 the churches committed themselves to what came to be known as the "Dandenong Declaration". Churches embraced the biblical truth that the Lord expects us to bear gospel fruit. Deenick writes: "In the Dandenong Declaration, our churches are encouraged:
- to reach out with the gospel in a spirit of friendliness and compassion;
- to recognize and develop the evangelistic gifts the Lord has given; and to provide opportunities to exercise these gifts;
- to adopt lifestyles as Christian families that will build bridges to people in the neighbourhood; and
- to develop a variety of models for outreach." (p. 270)
Deep in the history of the CRCA is this unwavering sense that the church's mission is "to make Christ known to young and old, to rich and poor, to Aboriginal, Asian, and Western, and to do so in a language that is understood and through compassionate service, is what in the [CRCA] we have believed to be our calling from the start." (Ibid.) Our calling from the start! When we look in the rear view mirror we see that from the very start of the CRCA in Australia it has been about reaching the lost for Christ. This is also the way forward: reaching the lost for Christ. Making Christ known! Proclaiming the gospel in Word and Deed. This vision is what led men and women to move to Solomon Islands and engage the work of S.W.I.M. This calling compels a growing group of Christians to plant a new church among the Chinese migrants in Point Cook (VIC) or a small group of men and women to reach out to the marginalized on the other side of Port Phillips Bay, in Pakenham (VIC). The G.O.S.P.E.L. fruit being harvested in India today is the outworking of this missional vision. The impetus behind the Church Health Network is to help churches become more effective in reaching the lost, the last, and the least in our neighbourhoods and cities. The Discipleship Matrix is all about equipping every Christ follower to make disciples and so fulfill the Great Commission.
Looking back we see that this has been our journey all along and this is also our journey ahead. Deenick summed it up best: "When he comes again, the Lord Jesus wants to find us doing just as he has instructed us (Matthew 24:46). For a church en route it is the only way into the future." (p. 271) May our mission heartbeat in the past continue to be repeat today and into our tomorrows!