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Reformed and Covenantal: Why Doctrine Matters in Missions

By Mark Bates, Jul 2, 2024

At Mission to the World, we aim to be a ministry that is guided, inspired, and shaped by our theology. This is why “Reformed and Covenantal” is one of our core values.

But our mission is not to help Christians become Calvinists. Our mission is not to help Baptists become Presbyterians or Dispensationalists to become covenantal or Arminians to become Calvinists. Our mission is to make disciples—that is, to see people who are not followers of Jesus become followers of Jesus.

However, that does not mean that doctrine doesn’t matter. Sound doctrine and theology are essential to our mission because, to put it bluntly, bad theology hurts people.

Consider two of Mission to the World’s regions—Africa and Latin America. If you look at the statistics produced by missiologists, both Latin America and Africa are predominantly Christian. In Latin America 80% of the people claim to be Christians. In places like Ecuador, Panama, and Peru, it is over 90%. In Kenya, it is over 80%. In Rwanda, it is over 90%.

So, why are we sending missionaries to these places?

Because in many of these places, the gospel that has been preached is not the gospel at all. Instead of hearing the good news that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, they have been taught that they are saved by grace plus works, faith plus works: Christ works plus your works. In other instances, the gospel that has been exported is the prosperity gospel.  

Through the missionary activity of some, people have simply exchanged one form of spiritual bondage for another. As a result, the gospel has brought little, if any, transformation to society. In Uganda—where 80% of people profess faith in Christ, including the current president—recent elections were plagued by violence, murders, scandals, and egregious abuses of power.

When asked why there is so much corruption in Africa, even among those who profess faith in Christ, Nigerian missionary and New Testament scholar Dr. Femi Adeleye says it is because people have been fed a diet of prosperity gospel and are looking for shortcuts out of poverty. They have not been given either a biblical view of grace or of vocation and work. MTW International Director of Africa, Victor Nakah, observes that there has been a failure of discipleship. Bad theology hurts people. Bad theology produces bad fruit. We need to send people who will proclaim the gospel of free grace.

God’s Sovereign Grace and Providence Lead Us to Obedience

That is why it is important that we are soundly biblical, which we believe means to be Reformed and covenantal. There are a lot of doctrines that come under that heading of “Reformed and covenantal,” but let’s consider two: God’s sovereign grace and God’s providence.

By sovereign grace, I mean that God loves us, not because of anything we have done to earn it or deserve it, but solely because He has determined to love us even when we did not deserve it. It is a love we did not earn and therefore a love we cannot lose. God’s providence refers to His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.

Simply put, God’s in control of everything.

If I believe those two things, then obedience is a natural outcome. If I believe God adores me and that God is working things together for my good, then I am going to obey because I trust Him more than I trust myself. So, obedient faith is a natural, logical response.

Also, if I believe those things, it affects how I endure suffering. Here is an illustration I heard someone say: Let’s say that there are two girls on a basketball team that is playing for the league championship. Because this is an important game, both want their fathers to be there. So, each asks, and each father promises that he will be at the game. However, the game starts and neither are there. At halftime, both look in the stands for their fathers, but they still are not there. Finally, the game ends, and the fathers are nowhere to be seen. They missed the whole event.

Now, let’s say that one of the girls comes from a home where the father is undependable and self-absorbed. He has time for work and his hobbies, but he rarely seems to have time for her. 

The other girl, though, has a very loving and attentive father. He has always been there for her when she needed him. How will each of them react to the fact that her father has not come to her game when he promised?

The first girl is going to say, “I knew it. I can’t count on him. All he ever thinks about is himself.” The second girl is going to say, “I wonder what happened? I know he wouldn’t miss this game on purpose. I hope he’s okay.” Same event. Two different reactions. Why? One was assured of her father’s love while the other was not.

If you are confident in God’s love for you, then when it seems that God has ignored your pleas you might say, “I don’t know what is happening. I don’t know what God is doing, but I know whatever He is doing it is because He loves me.”

Theology matters. It is why we at MTW are uncompromising on our values. Bringing Reformed and covenantal theology to the nations is not the mission. But in a world where poor theology often twists the gospel of grace, solid theology is fundamental to our mission to make disciples of all nations. 

Interested in serving? We have opportunities ranging from one-week trips, to longer internships and intensives, to full-time service. Learn more at mtw.org/serve.

Mark Bates
Mark Bates is MTW's senior director of U.S. Operations. Mark has a B.A. in Greek from Bryan College and a master's degree from Reformed Theological Seminary. He served as youth and singles pastor at Orangewood PCA in Maitland, Florida. In 1991, Mark and his wife, Tricia, founded University Presbyterian Church in Orlando. From 2007-2021, Mark served as senior pastor of Village Seven PCA in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mark and Tricia have three daughters.
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