Harvest festivals will always have a special place in my heart because it was at one such service that I first began to suspect that I would end up in full time Christian ministry. I didn’t tell anyone of course. I was hardly a teenager at the time, but I can still recall sitting in our local parish church sensing that I would end up working for the church one day.
I assumed it would be in the Church of Wales but that was not to be the case because I went through a long period of doubt, and even aggressive atheism before I finally gave in and became a committed believer, when I was reluctantly attending a Baptist church. And even then, the thought of becoming a minister never entered my head. I was very happy teaching History and French and I had my career mapped out. Or so I thought! But all that changed on one dramatic night, and I became a Baptist Pastor.
Looking back now, I can see that I came to faith as a result of trying to discredit and to disprove the Bible. But as I did I discovered that the famous 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon knew what he was talking about when he said ‘Defend the Bible? I’d sooner defend a lion. You don’t defend the Bible, you open its cage and let it roar’.
I was reminded of this when I came across a news story headlined ‘In China, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’. It was more than fascinating, it was hugely encouraging because James Howard-Smith was able to say ‘Religious activity, particularly by foreign organisations, is still heavily restricted in China, and we’ve taken care to cultivate a relationship with the authorities that over the years has borne fruit. Since 1987, when Bible Society was invited to set up Amity Press in Nanjing, 90 million Bibles have been printed for distribution in China’.
As a result, people are coming to faith in such numbers that there aren’t enough leaders to deal with it. Howard-Smith continued ‘The living word has filled to bursting China’s reopened churches, overstretching the very limited availability of ministers. On average, more than 6,500 Christians will be served by a single ordained pastor, mostly in less affluent areas, not at all representative of China’s new wealth’.
And the Bible is clearly the key to this explosive growth. As one Chinese church leader said, “The Church in China is experiencing a revival because the word of God is like wood in the fire.”
Sadly, the Bible seems to be shaping our culture less and less today. It could even be argued that we are witnessing a similar trend in sections of the church too. A recent poll for example discovered that only six per cent of British adults read or listen to the Bible, while 55 per cent of those who describe themselves as Christians said they never do so. And one evangelical Bishop has gone so far as to say that following its vote to bless same-sex partnerships the Church in Wales has essentially turned its back on the Bible and chosen to “go with contemporary culture”.
Like the tide however, church attendance and religious faith ebb and flow, but whatever may be happening in any one geographical area nothing can stop Jesus reaping a harvest in the most unpromising of soils. That’s why I am not disheartened. If it can happen in the home of ‘The Little Red Book’ it can happen anywhere, even in Wales. Perhaps it’s time for the church to ‘open the cage’ a bit more so that the ‘lion can roar a lot louder’.