Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Look on Fields White To Harvest GOD COMMANDS CHURCH GROWTH. Dr. Donald McGavran
Look on Fields White To Harvest
GOD COMMANDS CHURCH GROWTH
Dr. Donald McGavran
The Final Lectures
Look on fields White to Harvest
As the Lord Jesus, accompanied by His disciples walked through Samaria, He said earnestly to them, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together” (John4:35-36 NIV). The Lord also said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:37-38 NIV).
His disciples had thought that the actual harvest of souls, the actual multiplication of Christ’s followers, would come in some future time—after four months. Our Lord, knowing what they were thinking, said most clearly, “No, not at some future time but now. The fields are white to harvest. If you wait, the ripened grain will fall to the ground and rot. Ripe fields must be reaped now. These sheaves must be carried into the master’s barn now. Bringing in one sheaf every ten days is not what God wants. He wants a sheaf every two minutes. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest to send laborers—many laborers—into His harvest.”
This was the situation even before His followers had rightly understood the Christian message, even before the Holy Spirit had descended upon them, even before the Lord Jesus had died on Calvary. These words of our Lord are much more applicable today here in North Carolina and across the world then they were there in Samaria nearly 2,000 years ago. These words are not only applicable; they should be understood as a command to reap ripe fields.
When we disobey this command, we disobey our Lord. He said, “Look on the ripe fields”. We look elsewhere, maintaining that there are many other tasks, such as caring for the existing flock, training future ministers, and working for brotherhood and justice, that are much more important than bringing in sheaves of ripened grain. This passage is not often thought of as a command to evangelize effectively, bringing multitudes of reborn men and women into a living relationship with the triune God. Christians today in many Branches of the Church are doing many good things, but alas, too few of them are girding themselves with sickles and ropes and bringing in a sheaf every two minutes. This is a significant crisis acting today’s church and all its seminaries.
The New Testament is full of passages which indicate the steady purpose of the triune God to make the gospel known throughout the entire world and to institute a new kind of life based on complete obedience to Him, a complete surrender of self to Christ, and a mighty multiplication of Christian congregations.
Turn, for example, to the Epistle of Paul to the Romans: “Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5 NIV). The whole epistle which has so frequently been treated as a summary of essential Christian doctrines contains an essential doctrine frequently overlooked. Paul in chapter one, verse five, says that he has been called of God “to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from Faith” (NIV). Now the Greek words for Gentiles are ta ethne—the peoples, the tribes, castes, segments of society, urbanites and ruralites. Paul declares that he has been called of God to call all the peoples of the world to the obedience that comes from faith. That is God’s command. Doing that is essential Christian conduct. No one can be a good Christian who does not engage in this enterprise. God intends that all men shall have the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as God and Savior. The only way that this can happen is for Christians everywhere to consider the extension of the gospel, the winning of men and women to Christ, and the multiplication of living churches as God’s command.
Eternal God Commands Church Growth
Not only does the Epistle to the Romans begin in this fashion, it also ends by stressing church growth. Look at the 16th chapter and the 25th to 27th verses:
“Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all ethne might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen (NIV).”
This is a magnificent ascription of praise to God. It ends with the words, “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” Paul, in this wonderful passage, piles word on word and phrase on phrase until the whole gleams and shines in the sunlight. However, if we go back and read the passage carefully, we shall find a most effective command to evangelize the whole world. I lay before you the exact quotation. I shall leave out some qualifying words and phrases. “My gospel…hidden for long ages past…but now revealed…by the command of the eternal God, so that panta ta ethne might believe and obey him.”
This closing passage unquestionably indicates that eternal God Himself has commanded that the gospel be made known to panta ta ethne, leading them to “believe and obey Him.” Wherever Paul went, urged on by this command of eternal God, he proclaimed the gospel, won men and women to Christ, and multiplied churches. His letters almost always went to churches, not individuals. In Philippi he won not only Lydia, that seller of purple, but the jailer and his family and many others. He did not write to Lydia or the jailer. He wrote to “all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons,” i.e., the whole congregation (Philippians 1:1 NIV).
Eternal God’s command voiced in Romans 16:26 echoes what Paul Wrote in Romans 1:5 and is a most essential part of the entire epistle. Indeed, it may be considered the driving force behind the epistle. Paul’s entire life was lived in obedience to this command. Eternal God Himself commands that the gospel be made known to all the peoples of earth. Since it is impossible to imagine that eternal God commanded this to Paul only and to no other Christian, we are forced to the conclusion that God sent His Son, the Word made flesh, precisely so that panta ta ethne, all the peoples of the world, should be led to believe and obey Him, and thus be saved. God wants His lost children found and lays this command firmly on His redeemed in all times, in all places.
While Paul does not say to the Romans, “You as individuals and as congregations must engage in world evangelization,” surely such a message is implied in these two and other passages in the Book of Romans. All Christians march under this command. What they do will, of course, depend very greatly upon the circumstances in which they find themselves; but that command which energized the lives of the apostles must also energize the lives of all Christians and certainly all students and professors in divinity schools throughout the world.
It is certainly natural that Christians in all places and all ages should think of proclaiming the gospel to panta ta ethne as something beyond their own capacities. Nevertheless, all great revivals of the church have rested back on first one man and then many, hearing and then obeying this command. In the days of William Carey, very few, if any, Christians in the British Isles thought of world evangelization as commanded by God. Then William Carey heard this command. When he voiced his convictions that God was commanding His Church to proclaim the gospel to all the peoples, he was sharply rebuked. A noted leader of his communion turned to him in open meeting and said, “Sit down, young man. When it pleases God to evangelize the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine. Sit down.”
Fortunately, William Carey obeyed God rather than this misguided elder, and the entire history of the world began to change.
Eternal God’s command so clearly voiced in the passage we have considered must today be heard and obeyed. The process may well start with divinity schools where the future leaders of the Christian cause are trained. As seminaries, individual Christians, congregations, and other Christian organizations hear this command, they will turn their attention to the enormous fields white to harvest—the great urbanizations rising in every land, the thousands of unreached peoples from among whom very few, if any, have become Christian, and the increasing millions of secularists, materialists, agnostics, and atheists.
The Ultimate Authority Commands Worldwide Discipling
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:18-19).
How striking it is that the New Testament records that not only does eternal God command world evangelization, but the risen and reigning Lord does also. He says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” What overwhelming authority! What He is about to say does not come from the carpenter of Nazareth or from the itinerant preacher, going up and down Palestine not knowing where he was going to sleep that night. It does not even come from the atonement for sins, dying on Calvary. It comes from Him to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given.
What is this Ultimate Authority going to say? Is He going to say, “Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself?” That certainly is an important command, but He doesn’t say it. Is He going to say, “Go to church and worship God?” That also is important. But He doesn’t say it. What He does say is, “Therefore matheteusate panta ta ethne.” Matheteusate is a verb in the imperative. It means enroll in my school or enlist in my army or incorporate in my body the Church. Panta ta ethne—panta means all, and ta ethne means the peoples, the tribes, the castes, the segments of society everywhere. All are to be discipled.
When the Bible was translated into English in 1611 by order of King James, the missionary concern of the Protestants in northern Europe was minimal, or more accurately, nonexistent. Consequently, they translated this passage as “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” The more accurate translation is “Disciple all the peoples, all segments of society everywhere.” The Ultimate Authority in the universe commands this; it is clearly incumbent on all Christians to obey it.
This was the command which motivated the Student Volunteer Movement. John Mott, Robert Speer, and Robert Wilder, hearing this command, framed the battle cry of the Student Volunteer Movement as “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” The Student Volunteer Movement has faded; but the command still rings out clear and unequivocal. It should be taught by all divinity schools to all ministers in training.
Liberal Christians in the past half century have consistently denigrated this command. Some have maintained that it was never spoken by the risen Lord but was added by an editor perhaps as late as A.D. 110. However, all those who believe that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative, true, and utterly dependable Word of God still hear it as our Lord spoke it—disciple all the peoples of planet earth. This command sends them to multiply churches in the towns and cities where they live and the unreached billions in the whole earth. It is important to realize that the Lord Jesus is not here giving a suggestion to His followers. He is not making a recommendation. He is not saying, “Do this if you find time or if it is financially feasible.” He is not saying to divinity schools, “Please squeeze this in as an elective.” He is issuing a command—disciple all the peoples of earth.
This task today is largely undone. Not only are there more than 150 million in the United States who have yet to be won to ardent Christian faith, but there are 3 billion unwon in the world, and by the year 2000 there will be at least 4 billion. Unless Christians listen to and obey this command, they cannot be fully Christian. One has only to listen to the television broadcasts to realize that we do not live in Christian America, we live in a secular, materialistic, indeed an almost pagan America in which practicing Christians are a minority. True, at present we are an influential minority, but unless we obey this command at home and abroad, we may soon become a much smaller and less influential minority.
On this point we would do well to listen to the Rev. Mark Christensen of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. He says:
“It is becoming increasingly clear that an enormous shift toward a secular culture is taking place in America today…There is an enormous need to relate to the unchurched in a manner and method that makes sense to them.”
Kevin Perrotta, a Roman Catholic who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, writes: “The integrity of Christian belief, life, and mission is at stake in the contemporary conflict between the gospel and secular culture…Our own time is marked by widespread rejection of historic Christian beliefs…The deep anti-Christian trends of our time (must be combated by all Christians).” Both these quotations emphasize that theological seminaries must devote considerable time to teaching and evangelism which will prove effective in an increasingly secular and materialistic civilization. There is no time to lose. Seminaries must act now.
The Apostle Paul Commands Winning as Many Unbelievers as Possible
The fourth command to which I would direct the attention of theological seminaries and ministers and all practicing Christians is found in 1 Corinthians. It reads as follows” “I try to please all men in everything I do…that they may be saved. Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1 RSV).
I Corinthians 9 and 10 is usually thought of as Paul’s comments on eating meat offered to idols, and, of course, he is talking about that. However, what guides the entire thought of these two chapters is the conviction that all Christians should be all things to all men, in order to win some. Paul says this has been the guiding principle of his life, and then he commands all Christians to imitate him in this respect as he imitates Christ. He says very clearly, “whatever the circumstances in which you find yourself, even that of eating meat in a friend’s house, make yourself a Christian witness, do not raise unnecessary difficulties. Do not assume that your jailer is your enemy. Address him as your friend. Do not believe that only as a free man can you preach the gospel. Believe, rather, that when you preach it with chains on your hands and feet, it is more effective than when you are free.”
This is not only Paul’s way of life but one which all Christians, especially theological seminaries, should practice. It is at this point with a command voiced in this fashion that the science of missiology today speaks most relevantly to all Christians. The science of world evangelization (which is what missiology is) says clearly, “If you are to unde4rstood, you must speak the language of your listener. You must know his culture and speak from within it. You must voice the message so that it will make sense to him. You must not sound like a Jew trying to make others into Jews or like an American trying to bring others up to American culture and scientific achievement. No! You must be all things to all men.”
To the urbanite masses in Mexico City you must speak from within their culture, saying to them in effect, God has prepared a way of salvation for you, living at your level, suffering your disabilities, surrounded by your temptations, anticipating the rewards you anticipate. Begin walking in the way God has prepared for you. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, live as saved men and women. Whether you live with chains on your hands and feet or free makes little difference, live redeemed lives wherever you are.
To be sure, implicit in the gospel is the assurance that as ethnos after ethnos is disciple, as society after society is Christianized, tremendous advances in justice, brotherhood, peace, and good living will be practiced and should be achieved. If we want human improvement, nothing we can do will secure it as rapidly and as effectively as discipling panta ta ethne. The colossal error of some misguided Christians is to believe that we can have a just and egalitarian society without men and women becoming believing Christians. The Bible gives no grounds for any such hope. Nor, for that matter, does human history. Clear-eyed vision indicated that until men and women are reborn, a great amount of moral advance is not likely to occur.
Many Biblical Passages Confirm God’s Command
As we consider the overwhelming purpose of the New Testament to evangelize the entire world, we remember the many passages in which our Lord assumes that these express commands will be obeyed. I will refer here to three. The first is, when our Lord was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a woman brought an alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it on His head. When His disciples objected to this waste of money, He reproved them saying, “Whatever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mark 14:9 NIV). Our Lord assumed that eternal God’s command would be carried out, that all seminaries would teach effective evangelism responsibility, and the gospel would be proclaimed in all the world. There are many such passages.
The second important example is found in Matthew 11:28-30, where our Lord said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NIV). He certainly was not speaking only to those who were weary and burdened in the few dozens or hundreds who were then listening to Him. He was voicing His permanent, perpetual, worldwide invitation, to all those of all cultures in all countries and all ages who are weary and burdened. The Christian faith assumes that it is the only true and full understanding of God’s plan for the entire human race.
This is especially important in America today, where a brotherly attitude toward all nations is held to be politically necessary. The science of anthropology frequently assures us that all cultures are equal. This makes it easy to assume that all religions also voice essential truths. Some are possibly more exact than others, but all religions are good for their adherents to follow. In reaction to the imperial era when Europe ruled most of the rest of the world, democratic America is saying loud and clear, your own ways are probably the very best ways for you.
Christians must think much more exactly. While appreciating the good in other cultures, Christians must hear Christ’s invitation to all those in all cultures and all religions who are weary and burdened to come to Him and obey Him.
The Old Testament also has many passages which affirm that God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, from the very beginning intended all men to leave their idols and follow Him. Let me mention just one passage. In Genesis 12:3 God says to Abram, ”In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God wills the salvation of panta ta ethne, all the peoples in every continent. God commands their evangelization.
All Seminaries and all Christians Must Obey These Imperatives
God’s command to His Church to evangelize the world must be heard and carried out by all components of the Church. World evangelization must not be limited to missionary societies and professional evangelists. These commands are laid upon every Christian. “Imitate me” was not written to Paul’s fellow evangelists. It was written to the Christian fellowship in Corinth, to all its members, men and women alike. The entire body of Christ needs to hear and obey the imperative to world evangelization. An effective spread of the gospel should become a substantial part of every seminary’s curriculum. Only then will it become a part of family prayers in every Christian home.
This is of particular importance in theological seminaries. This is a part of a true and adequate theology. Any knowledge of God, the true and ever-living God, must give priority to His commands that all His lost ch8ildren be found. They must be found in all segments of society—the rich, the poor, the rural, the urban, the literate, the illiterate, Americans, Africans, Asians, Europeans—all the lost must be found.
The words panta ta ethne so often used must not be overlooked in divinity schools. God clearly intends that all segments of society in all nations of the world not only hear the gospel but obey the gospel and become followers of the Lord. Some, maybe many, will hear and reject the gospel. God has granted people free will; He does not make them into automatons. But He does want the Christianization of all segments of society. It is the high duty of the Church to work at this enormous task. In this series of lectures this truth will be constantly held in mind. It is from this perspective that we will view current society, world history, and the duties and responsibilities of all arms of the Church and especially of theological seminaries, both faculty and students.