|The FISHERS 50th Anniversary|
A Layman Looks at Literature Ministry throughout the Church Age
As I reflect on God’s sustaining grace over the last 50 years of the ministry of Fishers magazine, I am amazed at what God has done through the meagre efforts of redeemed sinners at The ‘Fisherman of Christ’ Fellowship, who strive to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called (us) out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Pt 2:9). Literature ministry in the universal Church is a vast enterprise, and we have been allowed a tiny part in it.
I pen my thoughts in this article not as a professional publisher, but as a minister of the Word and a shepherd of Christ’s flock, looking at Christian publishing from my little corner of the world, and marvelling at what I see of the providential hand of God throughout Church history. Allow me to share my perspective of what God has done through the published word.
The Process of Literature Ministry in the Early Church
The New Testament is a unique book because it is not merely the product of human creative intelligence, but is God-breathed; so that every word is precisely as God would have it. The Lord Jesus guaranteed this when He said to His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (Jn 14:26). This ensured the accuracy of the contents of the four Gospels, as the disciples were inspired by the Spirit to remember accurately all that Jesus did and said.
But what about the rest of the New Testament – Acts and the epistles? Their inerrancy is also guaranteed by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord again promised this in Jn 16:12-13, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth”.
Later in Church history, the process of publication came to include translating the original New Testament texts into other common languages of that day. By any measure, the publication of Scripture was a task vigorously pursued – for apart from the 5,800 Greek copies of Scripture, we have 10,000 Latin and 9,800 Syriac Coptic translations as well (just to name a few). By way of comparison, the next most widely published work was Homer’s Iliad, which had fewer than 100 copies in total.
We seldom think about this, but there was a time in Church history where the literature ministry consisted of much copying and carrying – work that today is often done commercially by non-believing persons.
This was an important part of the assembly of Christians for worship, which is why Paul exhorted Timothy, “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tm 4:13). Regarding the letter to the Colossians, Paul directed, “When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans” (Col 4:16). Without this final step of reading, Christian ministry through literature would be utterly useless.
Major Disruptors to the Literature Ministry through the Church Age
The Printing Press
Later, with advancements in printing technologies, more and more Christian literature were produced and widely circulated. Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door on 31 October 1517. By 17 November of that same year, copies of that protest document were printed and distributed in London. Thanks to the printing press, Luther became the world’s first “best-selling author” with a third of all books sold in Germany originating from him. This had a huge impact on the Protestant movement of his day.
A Resurgence of Translation
Electronic Mass Media
But this disruptor is not necessarily advantageous to the universal Church. The fact that almost anyone can write something, claim it to be “Christian” and publish it on the Internet means that there is a voluminous amount of written material on the World Wide Web, and not all of it is good nor sound, and a lot of it is downright heretical. This requires the modern day Christian to be able to discern not just between right and wrong, but also between right and nearly-right.
Some Future Challenges for the Church’s Literature Ministry
This present author is neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet (Am 7:14), but would like to share what he considers are some significant challenges for the Church in the near future, especially concerning her ministry through literature.
Lack of Translations
Reaching these peoples will entail a believer learning a language he does not know, in order to preach Christ and Him crucified in the language of that unreached ethnic group. But once some people come to Christ and a church is established, the very next step is to give them God’s Word in their own language.
The difficulties are formidable – the language must be learnt to a high level of fluency by the missionary, he must codify the language of that people group (for often, theirs is only a spoken language, not a written language), then he must teach those people their own language in written form, translate the Bible, have it checked and refined, then give the local ethnic church a copy of the Bible in their heart language.
This is the work of a team, not an individual; this is the work of a lifetime, not a few short years. But this is also work that is necessary if the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is to be obedient to Christ’s Great Commission.
Dearth of Reading
Many people have stopped reading the Bible altogether, they only read Bible verses, and take them right out of context, misunderstand them, then misapply them to their lives. The Bible is a collector’s item at home, it is a decorative piece on the bookshelf, many pride themselves with having different versions, different editions. They may refer to it once in a while when they are in a crisis, or when they are looking for an appropriate verse to quote on a greeting card. A very small proportion of believers read the Bible to know God, to know God’s heart, to know God’s ways to know God’s will, so that they may do God’s will.
Make no mistake, if after all the hard work has gone into writing, publication and distribution, if in the hands of the book-owner at the end of this entire process, the Christian literature is not read, the entire effort is an utter failure.
Being Mindful of Your Readership
On the other hand, any Christian publication ministry must be strategic in deciding who they want to reach – the material you produce cannot reach everyone everywhere, so you must be selective. Be watchful for where God has opened – or is opening – doors of opportunity for you, and do your best to serve the readers God has given to you.
Christian Literature Cannot Replace Shepherding
The writer of Hebrews admonishes, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb 10:24-25). This cannot be done apart from genuine, active membership of a local church. Any Christian literature ministry can only support the local church, it cannot be a local church.
A Plea for Prayer
We, the production team, look forward to meeting with each and every one of you in the New Jerusalem.