D. C. PRENIER Home Missionary, Radio, and Sabbath School Secretary, Central American Union Mission
This time of the year, when the entire Christian world is chanting and worshiping in the name of Him who was born in Bethlehem, let us take a brief glimpse at those humble characters, the shepherds, whose names we do not know. "The story of Bethlehem is an exhaustless theme. In it is hidden 'the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God' (Rom. 11:33)." The Desire of Ages, p. 48. "In the fields where the boy David had led his flock, shepherds were still keeping watch by night. Through the silent hours they talked together of the promised Saviour, and prayed for the coming of the King to David's throne. 'And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.'" Ibid., p. 47. It was not the fame of these humble shep herds that was heralded on that first Christ mas morning. It was the advent of the King of heaven and earth, the Prince of peace, the Saviour of the world, that was pro claimed with great rejoicing. These insignificant men of the out-of-doors had no aspiration that their names go down in Biblical history, nor did they ever go on record, not even the chief herdsman, who said, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem" (Luke 2:15). All we know about them is that they were shepherds. Their vocation and their devotion to duty sufficed, and they were ready and waiting for the coming of Jesus.
Does it suffice us, dear brethren, that we are mere shepherds abiding in the field? Are we willing to lose self in our vocation? Which matters more to you, my dear fellow shepherd, your name, or your calling? Are you satisfied with your calling, contented to be an underherdsman? Or is the greatest interest of your calling the hope of becoming chief herdsman? Is it that of keeping watch over the flock of your care? And if so, is the supreme burden in keeping watch that of coveting greener pastures and larger flocks, or is it rather that of preparing your soul, and your sheep and lambs of solemn trust, for the appearing of the blessed Saviour? "If God really calls any man to preach, He also calls some congregation to listen. If any Christian is called of God to perform a duty in the cause of the kingdom of God, he may be absolutely sure that the Good Shepherd has gone ahead and made the way of duty ready and plain." ROY L. SMITH, The Lord Is My Shepherd, p. 30.
What is your purpose in your ministry? Is it in reality a purposeful ministry? The only words of these rustic outdoor men of Judea that have been recorded are, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass." The most purposeful leadership that your flock needs today is: "Let us now arise and see." Let us therefore bestir ourselves and be watchful unto prayer. Already the darkest night hour of this earth's history has struck. On every continent millions of sinners are groping desperately in the night without hope and without God in the world a world of fear, of misery. Let us now arise to that purpose and say to them, "Let us now go and see and behold the face of the Saviour, Christ the Lord." "Heaven and earth are no wider apart today than when shepherds listened to the angels' song. Humanity is still as much the object of heaven's solicitude as when common men of common occupations met angels. . . . To us in the common walks of life, heaven may be very near. Angels from the courts above will attend the steps of those who come and go at God's command." The Desire of Ages, p. 48. Some of the most famous and immortal paintings of the great European Renaissance masters portray our Lord, the Christ child, radiating from the straw-filled crib a brilliant light, brightly illuminating the whole interior of the stable. This is not altogether in contradiction to the hallowed concept of the nativity scene that the shepherds conjured up in their minds at the moment of the angelic announcement. "At these words, visions of glory fill the minds of the listening shepherds. . . . Power, exaltation, triumph, are associated with His coming. But the angel must prepare them to recognize their Saviour in poverty and humiliation. 'This shall be a sign unto you,' he says; 'Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' " Ibid., p. 47.
Although the angels did appear in a halo of heavenly light, the eager shepherds found a newborn infant whose only distinction was designated by the crude reali ties and discomforts of the swaddling clothes and the manger of the stable. "We marvel at the Saviour's sacrifice in exchanging the throne of heaven for the manger, and the companionship of adoring angels for the beasts of the stall. Human pride and self-sufficiency stand rebuked in His presence. Yet this was but the beginning of His wonderful condescension." Ibid., p. 48. "Departing with great joy, they made known the things they had seen and heard. 'And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.' " Ibid.
These shepherds were highly honored in receiving from heaven tidings of the birth of Jesus. This was the greatest experience in their lives. It can also be the greatest experience of our lives if we will but go now even unto the Bethlehem of our experience and see what the Lord hath made known unto us, if we are loyal abiders. Are we willing to abide in the field? Are we willing to abide in that same country until Jesus comes? The shepherds were, and they did. I have seen some workers who, it seemed, from the very day they arrived in their new field of labor had one foot on the ground and the other foot on the plane to return to the homeland. They were wasting their time in the field. Their vigilance was in vain. The glad night of Jesus' birth was actually during the springtime of the year, which fact means that there were more lambs in the flock. Do we keep a faithful watch and a relentless vigil over the lambs in our flocks? Do we love the children of the flock of our care as we should? If they love us, we have the answer. Or are they afraid of us? "So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watch man unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shall hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. ... If thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand" (Eze. 33:7, 8). : "Oriental law provides that a cattle tender may exonerate himself from blame or loss by carrying to his employer some portion of an animal that has died without the tender's fault: but if he cannot prove his innocence and due carefulness he must bear the loss." Dictionary of the Bible (American Tract Society), p. 551.
In my office are two pastoral pictures. One is of Christ, the Good Shepherd of the sheep. Both pictures show prominently a long rod in the left hand of the shepherd. This rod has on the upper extremity a pronounced crook, which was indispensable for bringing the wayward strays under control and away from danger and the many pitfalls of the way. Are we as shepherd leaders willing to comply with our pastoral duty by wielding our discipline gently, yet firmly; decisively, yet patiently, kindly, upon the sheep of our care? Or do we bear our sacred implement of authority only as a beautiful ornament? If the latter is true, we are a mere hireling or a false shepherd. Another sign of the false shepherd is the wielding of the rod to clout and to smite.
Are we willing and worthy to sound a fearless, positive voice in denunciation of hypocrisy within the congregation and to call sin by its right name? "Modern travellers in the East meet with many pleasing confirmations of the truth of Scripture in respect to these particulars; they see the shepherd walking before his flock, any one of which will instantly run to him when called by its own name." —Ibid., p. 552. If that same tender trust can be our own experience, what rewarding and fruitful fellowship and success will be ours always, wherever we go! We will be indeed, and in every sense of the term, "shepherds abiding." It will then never be a monotony or a drudge to keep watch over our flocks day or night. We will be alert to any emergency, any crisis, that may arise, even in the moment when we least expect it, as emergencies certainly will come.
If we are found slumbering and sleeping, the wolves will enter into the flock's pres ence to disrupt the serenity and tranquil lity of the pastoral scene, with the only object of scattering and destroying.
The wolf is a sinister creature and most deceptive. The wolf has, however, some very admirable qualities. Not to mention his highly developed senses and canine instincts, and his swiftness, superior even to that of the human being, there is his formidable strength and courage in the face of danger and mortal combat, his studied cunning the way he calculates every risk and estimates every advantage. There is also his conjugal fidelity to his lifetime mate.
But we must not permit these attributes to deceive us or ensnare us. The wolf is a deadly enemy, a cowardly aggressor with the disposition of a savage, who preys upon the weak and defenseless creatures, often for the sheer pleasure of slaying. There are times when the deadly wolf enters into the midst of the Lord's flock to scatter, deceive, and destroy. He may even come disguised in sheep's clothing, so as to trespass upon the green pastures of "Thus saith the Lord." It is on the darkest night that he will rush in to rob and to kill.
The wolf of criticism is destructive of the greatest number of sheep of the Lord's flock. The wolf of idleness drives them further and further astray. The wolf of pride and vainglory is the most successful in ensnaring its victims. There are hypocrisy and worldliness. Many others could be named, but by far the most deadly wolf is the one suffering with rabies the dread rabies of jealousy. If ever there is a time when the shepherd must maintain his own composure and use a positive and patient approach to the situation, it is in the face of petty jealousy.
The Joyful Return
"And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them" (Luke 2:20).
I well recall the homecoming of a mission president on one occasion and, oh, the gloomy report he brought home with him! Tales of disappointment, injustice, failure. He hadn't obtained the workers he wanted, nor the amount of money the field needed. Cheerful smiles of welcome changed to crestfallen frowns, animated spirits were depressed into downcast spirits. It was a most unpleasant homecoming of our shepherd to his field. There is already enough darkness and gloom in this dismal world of ours without bringing more of it to bear upon our fellow workers and our church members. To us is committed a glorious message of hope and peace, of good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people tidings direct from heaven.
We also have the happy privilege of en joying the fraternal association of fellow shepherds and a Christian mingling and sharing of experiences that should surcharge our souls with that spiritual glow and sanctified cheerfulness that is so indispensable in wielding an influence of op mism, of radiant faith and wholesome good will toward all men, in this world's night of woe. Let us glorify and praise God!
I love to picture that faithful band of hardy men gathered closely together on a lonely spot one night on that rugged Judean hillside, huddled about the fire with their shaggy companionable dogs. The theme of their conversation, the subject of their prayers, was the coming of the Messiah. And then came that sudden glorious manifestation of celestial pageantry. "Oh that today the human family could recognize that song! The declaration then made, the note then struck, will swell to the close of time, and resound to the ends of the earth. When the Sun of Righteousness shall arise, with healing in His wings, that song will be re-echoed by the voice of a great multitude, as the voice of many waters, saying, 'Alleluia: for the Lord Omnipotent reigneth' (Rev. 19:6)." The Desire of Ages, p. 48.
Let us gather ourselves anew about the fire as shepherds abiding in the field and throw into the midst of it a fragrant log from the giant cedar of Lebanon, and re kindle the flame with a spray of the hyssop of purity, an olive branch of peaceful intentions, another branch of the pomegranate and of the fig tree of high promise and fruitful service, a palm branch of perseverance and victory, and another seasoned log from the giant and perennial oak of faith unshakable and cause that living flame of truth everlasting to shed its bright beams afar into the remotest parts of the field, to dissipate the nocturnal shroud of blackness and danger. And we will let them radiate that live glow of spiritual fervor unquenchable, whose warmth will draw us near one another into that circle of brotherly affection and unbreachable sanctified unity. Then, and only then, will the angel of the Lord come upon us and the glory of the Lord shine round about us.
Then we shall all experience together that wondrous privilege that transcends all rapture, like those humble Judean herdsmen of old, of looking into the sublime and lovely face of "the Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." May God help us not to relax our vigil in the night.
"The Field Is the World''
W. R. BEACH Secretary, General Conference
Jesus had a world vision. He thought of His "Father's business" in terms of a world program. He did not say, "I am the light of Palestine." He proclaimed, "I am the light of the world" (John 8^ 12). He did not teach His disciples that they would be "the salt of Nazareth," or of Judea. Said He, "Ye are the salt of the earth" (Matt. 5:13).
The salvation of all men was His supreme thought. It was His Father's business, and He made it His one occupation. He set out with His little band of disciples along the dusty roads of Palestine to save men. He evangelized and instructed His disciples in the way of His witnesses. The results were to be certain. "I say unto you," He explained, "That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abra ham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:11). This world strategy laid upon the church the obligation of proclaiming a truly world message by truly world-minded messengers. The apostolic believers came early to this concept of the task. They came to it in the teeth of opposition and despite bitter dissensions born of chauvinism. The Jerusalem council (Acts 15) was the high-water mark of the crisis and set the course of the Christian institution. It decided that the church would not be sectarian; it would not be provincial, national, or even continental; it would be a world undertaking. It would have a universal message. In this respect, too, there came a falling away. The church finally busied itself with building up an ecclesiastical institution and with codifying its requirements. Church dogma had to be buttressed against renovation.
The salvation of the church institution finally superseded the salvation of men. The highest spiritual benefits were jealously reserved for ascetics, the initiated few. The church outlook was limited in the main to the confines of a political-religious world. It identified itself with the empire. The church became chiefly Latin in its genius and scope, and ceased to be catholic. Then came the time of the end and a complete revival of apostolic faith and practice. God lifted the scales from off the eyes of His men. In response to the prophetic call a people set out upon a world task. We are that people.
We are to go to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." We go with God's last message. We must address ourselves to all faiths, to all religious bodies, to all national entities, to all races, to all men. Our thinking, our planning, our preaching, must stem from this fundamental obligation and concept and purpose. We must follow the universal Master to the ends of His domain. We go out to convert men, not to Protestantism, nor to any special brand of Christianity. We must bring them to God's "everlasting gospel." Must we not, then, in every section of the world field preserve ourselves from ecclesiastical and national commitments and affiliations, from all regional philosophies of religion, economics, government, or culture, and stand firmly on the platform of God's world organization and God's world message? That is basic. To be sure, we shall cooperate with all men of good will and purpose, but we shall dedicate ourselves undividedly to the mandated trust. We shall take root in all sections of the world, but we shall not be at home except in the atmosphere of God's glorious kingdom. We shall wear the garb of divine revelation and carry with us the atmosphere, not of this land, or of some other land, not of this culture, or of any other culture, but of heavenly places. We shall go to all men with God's message for all men.
The Universal Family
A world field implies, further, the acceptance of the universal Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. "I bow my knees," said the apostle of the nations, "unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Eph. 3:14, 15).
The sublime truth caused a new day to dawn upon our earth. It broke down, through reconciliation in Christ, the partition wall between adversaries, between races, between men. The enemy was to be loved. Even the Samaritan was to be a neighbor. Christ from heaven sent Paul to evangelize the Gentiles. The elect of earth became a universal race, a new humanity. The Christian would be "a new creature," said Paul (2 Cor. 5:17).
The consequences of this were far reaching. No more was there to be a distinction of race, or caste, or people. The implication was love and duty toward all men total love, unrestricted duty. The most attractive spots on earth became those crowded with the densest masses of human beings, for it is there that the great phenomenon of Christianity will work its most miraculous results. Christians, moved with compassion, looked upon a dying world with deep concern, for God is the father of mankind, and all men are their brothers.
Yes, something of the universal family love must reach out from Christ's disciples. It will tug at the heartstrings of the unsaved. The prodigal may be a good way off in language, in race, or in color, but this love in the lives of the disciples will draw him up the steep path from the miry pit. With the father of the parable, the Christian will look for the prodigal, gaze often with unspeakable yearnings far down the road that the lost wanderer must travel homeward. Every lost brother will be found for the Father's sake.
A denial in any form of the universal Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man will eat the heart out of a world movement and stifle as nothing else can the spirit of "Abba, Father." Another implication of this world concept is that Christ's disciples will not be prompted in their actions alone by feelings of pity and commiseration, nor by considerations of expediency. The church will not evangelize simply because certain populations are in great physical or spiritual dis tress. In fact, who can judge the degree of suffering and perdition? Are they the peculiar lot of backward peoples? Moreover, the pity motive would wax and wane as physical and spiritual needs increase or de crease.
The Advent responsibility growing out of a world concept is tied to something more stable, less fickle. It is part and parcel of our faith. We go forth "to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" be cause the world is our field, because God has entrusted us with the responsibility of saving all men. The love of God will kindle in our hearts the fires of a universal task for all men. With the great apostle we shall say, "The love of Christ constraineth us" (2 Cor. 5:14).
No "Home" or "Foreign" Fields
Then this world concept of the task will eliminate any distinction between "home" and "foreign" missions. To be sure, lands differ, peoples vary. This must be taken into account in our world strategy. The work must be organized in such a way that the task can be prosecuted successfully and quickly. Men must be called and sent out. Funds must be gathered and allocated. Organizations must be effected. Achievements must be the goal. However, there is one field it is the world. The evangelistic appeal and the missionary undertaking will be one and the same thing. The love of Christ will direct the Advent Movement toward the man across the street and the man across the seas simultaneously.
Jesus did not put a time lock on His great commission, to be released to the man afar after the home folk had been converted and the work built up. He knew that such near-sightedness would be the end of the Christian religion. He was almost impatient with His disciples in their narrow and overzealous thought of the "kingdom of Israel." It was the kingdom of God that was to be their preoccupation. "Ye shall be witnesses unto me," said He, "both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). This was a bifocal utterance. The "both" and the "uttermost part" were not accidental, and they are the antithesis of "first" and "then," which is sometimes the false reading of this verse. The matter of geographic difference is irrelevant. "The field is the world" (Matt. 13:38).
We find sometimes a few long-visioned but impractical people and workers who are moved by the needs of distant peoples but who remain listless about conversions next door. There are others with a strong evangelistic fervency for those they can see, but who are not interested in the winning of people obscured to them by the veil of distance. Both are wrong. In the Advent cause each believer, each worker, each church, each institution, is responsible for the evangelization of the whole world. "The world is my parish" must be our in alterable vision. Has this denomination geared its thinking, its planning, its financing, to this fundamental consideration? This is something for us to think about. One question cannot be avoided. It is this: How shall the legitimate desire to expand and strengthen the work at home, or in any section of the field, be related to the needs of undeveloped lands and unentered areas? If you labor in this fair land of America, upon which God has laid so mightily His hand of blessing, the problem will be a real one for you, and upon the solution you give to it will depend in a very definite measure the quality of your real contribution to the cause and the success of the Advent Movement. However, the same question, to a greater or lesser degree, must be answered in every section of the world field. Every unit is at the same time a home base and a mission enterprise. There always is, there always must be, a field afar. A correct answer to this problem should take into account the following:
1. The total resources of the Advent Movement must be contributed and pooled.
2. These accumulated resources must be allocated according to the requirements of the great commission summoning us to the evangelization of all lands.
3. Our contributions and allocations and even our requests will be inspired by sacrifice. Our greatest efforts, our largest gifts, our most profound choices, our most prodigious exploits, must be for others. Our keenest disappointment will be when we are limited to our local parish instead of working for the world parish. This spirit will lead us along the fragrant paths of sacrificial living to unprecedented heights of achievement. Unrestrained sharing of God's favors will generate irresistible power for the accomplishment of the task.
4. The example of the more favored lands will be decisive out to the four corners of the earth. Then, this world concept of the gospel task will mean unity in world results. Seventh-day Adventists around the circle of the globe profess the same faith and identical Christian practices. They serve one God, hold to one doctrine, constitute one people, are one field, and will reflect the same image of the same Master. For some, perhaps, this is the most astonishing achievement of Seventh-day Adventists. A Seventh-day Adventist is always the same, whatever his race, language, or nationality. This is a modern religious phenomenon. This is because of the universal work and message. The same message produces the same results. The preacher in the highlands of Imerina, in Madagascar, and our evangelist in the Land of the Midnight Sun tell the same story, announce the same faith, proclaim the same religious practices, as the professor of systematic theology in the Theological Seminary and the missionary to the cannibals of the South Sea Islands. When the converts of these representatives come together they need not ask, "What do you think? What do you believe? What is your work?" One God, one doctrine, one people, one work. And so it must ever remain if we are to pursue a world task to final success and prepare a people "without spot, and blameless" at the Lord's appearing. We are marching toward the same kingdom.
A Cosmopolitan Working Force Best
5. The fifth and concluding point pertains to what might be considered a very critical phase of the mission program. We hear a great deal of discussion today in mission circles on the problem of the "old" and the "young" churches. The time has come, it is said, to place more responsibility upon the young native churches. They must be led into self-support as well as into selfpropagation. The native churches, it is added, must become autonomous. The leadership must be national.
These problems are crucial. Mission lead ers of the great societies feel that the future of the mission program is at stake. Solutions are put forward according to circumstances and possibilities. Expediency regularly ap pears as a determining factor. But the Advent Movement can have no conflict between the old and the young churches. This is due primarily to our world concept. Why, every unit of the Adventist Church is self-propagating and selfgoverning within the framework of the world church! The whole is responsible for every part. The weaker units find strength and assistance in associating themselves with the whole. The stronger gather inspiration in the same association. The French say, "One hand washes the other and together both wash the face." This movement is one body with many members. These members organize and direct their labors, build up the house of God and extend His work, counsel with one another through a general leadership which itself is the sum total and expression of the component parts. These are fundamentals upon which can be built the edifice of a world church. They are the large basis of normalcy in our organization. The foreshadowing of emergency of the crisis should not be a deter mining factor. Without 'thought of crisis or of the forced departure of missionaries, the leadership of the church will be appointed as the natural projection of our world concept. Qualifications for this leadership will not be the special gifts of a race, or a people, or a school.
Experience teaches that the work of God is best fostered in any section of the world by a cosmopolitan working force. Such a setup brings into action gifts sufficiently varied to counterbalance weaknesses and to enhance qualities, and constitutes the constant reminder of a movement embracing "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." Then the normal play of circumstances, the carrying out of the fundamental principles, will bring into specific positions of leadership the men and women whose preparation, whose spiritual, moral, and mental powers, whose experience, authority, and ability to get the work done, indicate that they are the best qualified for these positions.
It is in this way that we can hope to lead a world church to the achievement of a world task. Thus can we maintain the miracle of a truly world church with a truly world mission. Onlookers will continue to marvel at it while the cause of God advances triumphantly to the four corners of the earth.