Our Mission Field
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) is amazingly committed to missions. In spite of its small size and limited resources the OPC provides full time support for foreign missionaries who serve in such places as Uganda, China, Haiti, Japan, Quebec and Uruguay. In addition, the OPC vigorously supports and promotes the work of starting new churches in such diverse communities as Long Island, New York to Naples, Florida to Seattle, Washington, and numerous other communities. Lake OPC itself had started as a “mission work” or church plant overseen by Covenant OPC in Mansfield and served by the Presbytery of Ohio’s Regional Home Missionary (RHM), Rev. Larry Oldaker, until its particularization as an established, self-supporting congregation in June of 2012.
In fact, the OPC was founded in 1936 in part over concerns about serious compromises in the mainline northern Presbyterian Church over missions. Some modernists on the mainline church’s denominational mission board and some serving as missionaries out on the field (such as the famous author, nobel prize winner and modernist Presbyterian missionary, Pearl Buck) saw missionary work as being more concerned with providing humanitarian and educational assistance than evangelizing non-Christians to win them to Christ and establishing new churches in places where the church was either underrepresented or nonexistent.
Dr. J. Gresham Machen, a New Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and staunch defender of historic, orthodox Presbyterianism, protested the modernism that had infected the official Boards and Agencies of the mainline church by helping to form the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which was committed to sending out Bible-believing Presbyterian missionaries. For this and other actions that were perceived by some as disturbing the peace of the church, Dr. Machen was unjustly defrocked from the ministry by the mainline church in an infamous ecclesiastical trial in which Dr. Machen was not even given the opportunity to defend himself on the substantive issues involved, an event that quickly led to the formation of what is now called the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
So the OPC is and always has been committed to missionary work, both at home and abroad. But I suspect that some might wonder about the need for and emphasis on starting new churches in North America. Some might say things like, “I can understand sending missionaries to other parts of the world where there are very few Christians and Christian Churches. But even in some of the most secular places in North America you don’t have to drive far to find churches of all kinds of denominational and non-denominational brands. So why should the OPC be so aggressively committed to church planting here in North America? Wouldn’t the OPC’s limited resources be better served in sending out even more foreign missionaries to distant lands, or perhaps in helping to revitalize dying churches and churches in decline here at home?”
Dr. Ed Stetzer, a veteran Southern Baptist church planter who has helped to start numerous churches and who coaches church planters, writes the following in his book Planting MIssional Churches (Nashville, Tennessee: B & H Academic, copyright 2006):
“Our Research Team at the North American MIssion Board recently recalculated the church-to-population ratio based on statistics from the U.S. Census.
* In 1900, there were 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
*In 1950, there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
*In 2000, there were 12 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
*In 2004, the latest year available, there are 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
“In 1900, the Census Bureau counted 212,000 churches. In 2000, the number of churches that existed in the United States was 349,506. In other words, the number of churches increased just over 50 percent while the population of the country has almost quadrupled. This decline in church-to-population ratio helps to explain the decline of the North American church during the past century.” (p. 9)
Dr. Stetzer goes on to write:
“The spiritual deadness of North America appears not only in its culture but in its churches as well. Churches in the first decade of the twenty-first century are closing at a phenomenal rate. Eighty to 85 percent of American churches are on the down side of their life cycle. Win Arn reports that thirty-five hundered to four thousand churches close each year. The percentage of Christians in the U.S. population dropped 9 percent from 1990 to 2001. The number of unchurched has almost doubled from 1991 to 2004. Gallup provides further insight in a January 2002 poll – 50 percent of Americans describe themselves as “religious,” while another 33 percent said that they are “spiritual but not religious” (11 percent said neither, and 4 percent said both).” (p. 13)
From the above statistics it appears that there is still a great need for starting new churches here in North America. In addition, I would suggest that there is a great need in North America for many more solidly biblical, confessionally Reformed, historically Presbyterian churches such as the OPC seeks to start through its home missions efforts. Why do I say that? Because many (though certainly not all!) of the newer, non-denominational churches that seem to be popping up all the time, are focused far too much on things like niche demographics, slick marketing techniques, and a man-centered “felt needs” message than they are on things like sound biblical theology, reverent, God-centered worship and historical-connectedness to the “faith of our fathers.” There is great opportunity today for confessionally Reformed churches like the OPC to fill the spiritual void created by the shallow church culture that pervades the Christian scene here in North America, and great need for such confessional churches.
While we should certainly be concerned to continue sending out missionaries “over there” into foreign fields as part of fulfilling the great commission, we should also realize that in the post-Christian America in which we live, the mission field has come to us, right to our doorstep. North America is our mission field. Cleveland, Mentor and northeast Ohio are our mission fields. Let us at Lake OPC continue to follow the noble OPC tradition of being committed to the missionary labors of the church. And let us also realize our own missionary setting, viewing our own communities as our mission field, and Lake OPC as a missionary outpost for the kingdom of God here in northeast Ohio. May our great missionary God, who sent out His Son into this world to rescue us, be pleased to use Lake OPC to gather in a great harvest of souls in the mission field in which He has placed us.