December 12, 2017

Biblical Basis for Deputation

Alan Patterson

This is Missions emphasis week at Proclaim & Defend.

imageThe Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions explains what happens in the current practice of deputation: “In the deputation process initial missionary appointees visit churches and other gatherings of Christians to present their ministry for the purpose of developing prayer and financial support to underwrite missionary endeavors.”[1] This is the presentday practice for missionaries under nearly all fundamental mission agencies and has been the common practice from the birth of faith missions in the 1800s. However, we may legitimately ask the question, “Is it biblical?” Or to rephrase it, “Is there a place in the New Testament that comes close to approximating this practice?” The answer is yes, but that place is not where you might expect. It is not in the book of Acts or in Paul’s epistles. Rather we find it in the somewhat forgotten book of 3 John (5-8).

In the Apostle John’s latter days there were many false teachers; consequently, he charged believers to not in any way bid “God speed” to these deceivers who did not confess that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh (2 John 7-11). In that environment of itinerant, deceptive but persuasive, false teachers – John also calls them “antichrists” – John warned believers not to give Christian greetings or hospitality to such purveyors of lies about Christ. However, despite his strong admonitions against false teachers, John had equally strong commendations for those who lovingly assisted traveling teachers of truth. So how does this passage relate to current-day deputation? How do these early traveling teachers of truth and their practice correlate with today’s missionaries on deputation? In several ways.

First, these traveling teachers were genuine believers and not false teachers; they were “brethren” (5). Though they were brethren, some were also “strangers” (5) and thus unknown beforehand by Gaius and the other believers in the church. This parallels what often happens in deputation today. Missionaries seeking support usually need to go to churches that they have not visited before and whose pastors and people they may not know. Though not mentioned here, we learn elsewhere that traveling missionaries sometimes took letters of commendation (see 2 Cor. 3:1) to introduce themselves. This too parallels what missionaries today practice when they send pastoral letters or even videos of recommendation from their home churches.

A second correlation to today’s practice is that these teachers were on the move. As we have noted, sometimes they were strangers, people traveling both far and near in order to meet and minister to God’s people. Some on deputation today travel tens of thousands of miles. They then travel to foreign countries where they are usually unknown even to the believers.

A third parallel is that the traveling teachers of John’s day went forth “for His name’s sake” (7). They were not sightseers and peddlers of spiritual remedies, but rather men with one motivation and one purpose – the motivation of honoring Christ’s name and the purpose of making that name known wherever they went. Today’s true missionaries are not going forth because they want adventure, though they probably will have more of that than they desire, or because they want to travel the world, but because they know there is no other name under heaven whereby men can and must be saved.

A fourth parallel between modern day missionaries on deputation and these traveling teachers is that they needed financial support and hospitality and were not looking to the unsaved for that support: “taking nothing of the Gentiles” (7). This verse assumes that they were not only teaching believers but were aware of the spiritual needs of the unsaved and were preaching the Gospel to them.

The final parallel we will note is the reception that God’s people should give traveling missionaries. John lauds the welcome that Gaius gave to these men, telling Gaius that he had acted faithfully in all that he had done for them, even though they were strangers (5). John’s reference to the teachers’ testimony about Gaius (6) shows that Gaius showed them warm, loving hospitality. Besides his commendation of Gaius for the love he had shown to these men, John exhorted him to “do well” (6) by “send[ing] them on their way in a manner worthy of God” (6b, NASB). In other words, these true missionaries should be treated as honored servants of God. “Sending them on their way” translates one Greek word and often connotes missionary support based on the particular need.[2] One standard Greek lexicon defines the word this way: “to assist someone in making a journey, send on one’s way with food, money, by arranging for companions, means of travel, etc.”[3] Remember, they are accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we “ought to support such men” (8, NASB). “Ought” is a word of obligation – not doing this would be wrong. Why this obligation? Because by doing so we are “fellow helpers to the truth” (8b). What a privilege, what an opportunity, and what a responsibility we have to assist missionaries who are going out on deputation for the sake of His name to preach the truth. When missionaries visit your church, are you proving to be a fellow worker for the truth by your love, hospitality, support, and encouragement?

Alan Patterson is the Administrative Director of Gospel Fellowship Association Missions. This article appeared in the Spring/Summer 2017 edition of Sowing & Reaping, the GFAM newsletter. It is republished here by permission.

  1. Easterling, “Deputation,” Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. A. Scott Moreau (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000), 271. []
  2. See also 1 Cor. 16:6, 2 Cor. 1:16, and especially Titus 3:13. []
  3. W. Arndt, F.W. Danker, and W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 873. []

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