Church leaders need to study. Preachers need access to quality literature, if their ministries are to be biblically sound. Those who teach churches must have an effective grasp of the truth, if they are going to nurture their flocks to spiritual maturity.
However, for many pastors in the younger churches of the developing world, there is a huge shortage of sound and deep Christian literature available. Their constant frustration is their inability to study at the depth to which they aspire.
And yet just ponder our privileged position in the English-speaking world! We have such a wealth of Christian literature — a rich heritage of truth, with which God has graciously blessed us over many centuries.
The crying need of today is the translation into the languages of the world of the very best of the Christian literature available to us in English. Surely this is our overriding missionary responsibility, to share that heritage with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
It is not that there are no Christian books available overseas, but there are two problems. First, much of the available literature is of questionable soundness. As one missionary working in the Far East has commented, ‘Benny Hinn is a more recognised pastor and author in Asia than Martyn Lloyd-Jones’.
Second, the translated literature which is sound tends to be the lighter, shorter works. This is understandable, given that translating books is a demanding process. However, most of the large, theologically weighty works by our greatest Reformed predecessors are yet to be translated.
Surely the urgent need right now is to make available to our younger brothers and sisters the great classics of our Reformed heritage. Is it not the case that the single most important aspect of our responsibility today towards younger churches around the world is the sharing of our heritage?
This is a moral duty placed upon us. We must make these literary treasures available to the global church. It would be quite irresponsible of us simply to hoard it all selfishly for ourselves.
It is our privilege to be living at a time when the kingdom of Christ is visibly on the advance across the world. We are frequently reminded that the centre of gravity of the church is shifting away from Europe and North America towards the so-called ‘Global South and East’. At such a time as this, it is our duty to pass on the baton!
But there are many churches all around the world who know nothing of the heritage that it is our privilege to enjoy — and so often take for granted and fail to use to its full potential.
The younger churches are in desperate need of the very best in Reformed literature to shape their life, future, effectiveness and prospects for years, indeed centuries, to come. To fail to share our theological heritage is very short-sighted about which theological direction the global church might take. Our calling is to broadcast Reformed truth for the sake of the long-term health of the global Christian faith.
The translation of the very best of our Reformed heritage is both time-consuming and costly. This means that strategic and sacrificial giving is needed on the part of Western churches for this very purpose.
If I am right that the major missionary responsibility of the church in the English-speaking world is to share this heritage with the church worldwide, then this ought to lead to new thinking about the use of church missionary budgets.
What troubles me is that UK churches have limited resources to donate to world mission, and yet tend to support, at immense cost, various humanitarian, social, medical, construction and justice-related projects.
I am not denigrating those projects: human needs abound, and responding to them is right and proper. But, if this becomes the major focus of our missionary giving, are we really thinking and acting strategically for the sake of Christ’s kingdom in the world? I fear not.
I worry that much missionary giving by British churches is squandering meagre financial resources on projects that have little, if anything, to do with the real kingdom priorities of today.
Humanitarian projects can never be our priority, if we truly believe in the supreme importance of the human soul, and if we genuinely believe in the overriding value and the essential and indispensable centrality of God’s Word.
Is it not time to reconfigure our missionary budgets to meet the strategic need, to fulfil this urgent duty? Surely, in all our budgeting, the uppermost question should be, ‘How can we make available to younger churches the heritage with which we have been blessed?’ Strategic planning is what is needed.
The Indian evangelist, K. P. Yohannan, quotes tellingly the words of a Chinese communist military officer to a missionary, as the communists were gaining the ground that would eventually lead to their conquest of China.
The officer observed that missionaries had been working in China for a century without winning the country to their cause, whereas it had taken the communists just ten years to acquaint the entire population with their doctrine.
He explained the difference like this: whereas Christians had tended to set up schools and hospitals, ‘we communists have printed our message and spread our literature all over China. Someday we will drive you missionaries out of our country, and we will do it by the means of the printed page’.
The printed page remains a powerful tool. So where is our strategic missionary thinking and budgeting?
Dr Jonathan Bayes is director of COM-UK