Last fall Reedwood Friends (Portland) held a class on “How can Friends recover successful outreach?” I led a session based on this Scripture text:
“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps’.” (John 4:35-37 NKJV)
Let’s consider together four kinds of “white unto harvest” situations in which both Gospel sowing and reaping occur:
*Eras of rapid technological change,
*Eras of significant political upheaval.
*Eras of liberation and new frontiers
Catastrophic events. Penitence prepares the field when social or natural disasters strike, such as drought, floods, fires, storms and wars. Colleges and social reforms flourished following our Civil War. Revivals flowered after the Depression. Penitence and spiritual renewal followed recent African tribal genocide. People respond to catastrophic events in despair or chastened hope. Spirit-anointed Gospel proclamation, fellowship and service help “keep hope alive”. Such planted seed yields bountifully. The same pattern occurs in respect to personal catastrophes—infidelity, accident, drug addiction, violence, criminal mischief, etc. Last fall Fred and Mardella Newkirk (George Fox alumni) were honored for 40 fruitful years of ministry to broken folks of Long Beach California. World-wide, amid debris of violence, Christian Peacemakers and relief agencies, too, sow seed for future harvest.
What do we learn from catastrophic “fields white unto harvest”? Faithfully to bring God’s message of truth and grace in such a way that, rejecting despair, rage, and self-justification, folks become penitent and by Divine grace find hopes restored. God honors a broken and contrite spirit, often mediated through a caring community of faith.
Eras of rapid technological change. The industrial revolution of the West shattered the social order. But ponder its Kingdom harvest: abolition of slavery, emergence of temperance societies, broader educational opportunities, and significant global missionary outreach. A recovered unity between nature and society enriched the soil. Quaker and other Christian scientists, engineers, politicians and doctors helped end miseries accompanying that revolution. Quaker testimony about fair business and governance practices led to a more just society. Christians leavened the order through rescue missions, education, fair working conditions, and improved health care. A prime example of finding a field white unto harvest arising from social debris of the Industrial Revolution is the Sunday School.
Robert Raikes, editor of Gloucester Journal founded what some dubbed “the greatest lay movement since Pentecost.” Distressed by corruption of slum children, he and pastor Thomas Stock envisioned a school taught on available time—Sunday, using available resources—lay people—and reaching street children, not just church families. In 1780, in her home, a Mrs. Meredith taught older children who then coached younger ones. Raikes wrote textbooks. Within two years, several schools opened the area. Excitement spread. By 1831, Sunday School in Great Britain ministered weekly to 1,250,000 children, approximately 25 percent of the population. (Summarized from BelieversWeb)
What are negative aspects of our technological revolution? Children overburdened by media sounds and images, adults enslaved by drugs, coarse entertainment, and numbing affluence/poverty, We witness intellectual assaults, also, among them challenges to faith by atheistic scientists who blame religion for social vexations. The God Delusion by professor Dawkins sold a million copies. Philosopher Plantinga labels Dawkins book an “extended diatribe [that] contains little science….” (Wikipedia). In a reasoned rebuttal, The Dawkins Delusion? (IVP, 2007) Allister and Joanna McGrath logically demolish the fulminations of their dogmatic atheist Oxford colleague; but in our culture media hype often overrides logic. I read somewhere that whereas 6 percent of older people are atheists, as many as 20% of younger ones are. The foundations of Western civilization are imperiled.
What to we learn from this field? To empower ordinary folks to bring Gospel order in the midst of rapid change. How do we in NWYM sow and reap? Through camping and work programs, leadership development, Samuel Schools (brain child of my wife, Fern), Christian schools, George Fox University, cross generational hands-on ministries, by strengthening the interface of Christian theology with theoretical and applied sciences.
The soil is ready for an articulate and compassionate Christian apologetics paired with equally sensitive evangelism. Thank God for the many Christian biologists, engineers, chemists, and other scientists, including those at George Fox University, who follow the lead of world-renowned believers such as John Polkinghorne, Cambridge physicist -theologian, Owen Gingerich, Harvard astronomer, and Francis Collins, geneticist and head of the Genome project (The Language of God.) Encourage them! Scientists and technicians are part of the “priesthood of believers”—to use Martin Luther’s term. I encourage educators and pastors to clarify thought systems and patterns of action. Focus worship on reverence for God, on self-denial–and penitence. Incorporate as channels for Christian community new and traditional communication technologies—both blogs and books. Aim for balance in the church’s three basic Gospel tasks: proclamation, fellowship and service. Discern how both to sow and to harvest.
Eras of significant political upheaval. Imperial Rome, besieged at perimeter, rotten at center, offered the early church opportunities for sowing and reaping. Christianity soon supplanted bankrupt paganisms. In the 17th century Quaker sowing and reaping occurred amid civil strife, gathering into vibrant Christian community “shattered Baptists”, disillusioned 5th monarchists, troubled soldiers from Cromwell’s army, and assorted seekers.
Will there be cynicism or penitence in our country in the face of disillusionment with our government’s preemptive war policies? “Some trust in chariots. . . we will trust in God.’” Rejoice in evangelistic harvesting in China amid an uncertain, even hostile, political climate.
What do we learn from this field? To identify and gather into covenant fellowship people looking for that “city whose builder and maker is God”. To locate the church within God’s kingdom: trans-tribal, trans-cultural, trans-national, trans-cultural. To plant God’s truth in the soil of governance, school, commercial and work units, and service agencies.
Eras of liberation and new frontiers. In different ways people are anticipating or experiencing release from “Egyptian bondage”. Our own county began as such a trek, followed by westward migrations that formed strong econo-religious communities– like Newberg–new “Promised Lands”. We’re inheritors of this legacy, now threatened by individualism and consumer-driven culture, in which image trumps substance.
What do we learn from this field? The importance of community. Global economics, travel, and cross-cultural experiences offer new frontiers and many options for community. We can now experience the Church catholic, can be less parochial, can be a community of Quakers world-wide. (Praise God for Ken Comfort’s prophetic message at FWCC last summer in Ireland!) Our theology of the universal and saving light of Christ is good seed. Sow it in the fertile soil of relativistic culture where folks grope for unifying principles! In our times people do “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
So, we build colonies of the Kingdom with strong networks of interaction—social, spiritual and economic- like Northwest Friends’ enfolding Hispanic immigrants. A faithful church gathers in seekers while retaining reverence before the Lord. Hebrews 12:28 (NIV) reads ”Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe”.
Peace and Joy!