Thursday, December 29, 2005

5-year Plans, Eric Nash (Bash) and Doing Our Duty

After a very-very-very-late-night, almost-dawn supper, someone asked what our 5-year and 10-year plans were. Everyone, he insisted, had to have a plan. Two people said they planned to marry (although no potential spouse was in sight). Someone envisioned great evangelistic projects to reach the unreached in Singapore. Another person had mission strategies all sorted out and ready to roll.

Well, the last chap mumbled, I guess I'd just like to keep continuing in Christ, to grow in knowledge of Him and love for the saints, to keep teaching the Bible faithfully and following up with those who don't mind me keeping in touch with them.

How trite and tried, he blushed.

That's already a given as a Christian, someone else drawled, what are your plans over and above that?

Erm...that's it, he said. That's it. And blushed even more deeply.

So I told him about Bash.

Eric John Hewitson Nash (1898-1982) (or "Bash") was (and still is) not a well-known man. So not much has been recorded about him. From the little we know, he was eccentric. He didn't fit in. Most people didn't take him seriously. Even his friends acknowledged that his pulpit skills were few. He had a weak voice. He was painfully shy and hated crowds. He was neither athletic nor adventurous, neither musical nor artistic. In fact, he was completely and snigger-worthily tone-deaf. He "possessed no masculine panache". He was unemotional. He lacked any special intelligence and charisma. He was always late for appointments. His biblical scholarship was severely lacking.

Yet this same man brought John Stott to Christ and has been credited by Dick Lucas, David Fletcher, Mark Ashton and many others as being instrumental for influencing them positively for God. And these men, in turn (as is obvious to all who live in this present generation), have influenced thousands and thousands of others all over the world.

The Unreached
It all started with an idea of Bash's that was roundly criticised and which others were certain would never work.

Bash's idea was this: where was the toughest mission field in the world? Where had people been passed over and neglected and unreached by gospel preachers? His answer: England's top public (as in private, posh, exclusive) schools. The educational institutions of the very rich and the very privileged. His own time at Rugby had showed him that nominal religion was often passed off as Christianity in these schools. Not a mutter of the gospel was to be heard. So started his mission/ministry to the youth of the top schools in England in the 1930s. (Over the decades, this grew into the annual Iwerne camps now run by Titus Trust, which produced many men who have since gone into full-time paid ministry appointments and have been telling the gospel to newer generations of people everywhere.)

Some criticised this specialisation as elitist:"Are not all men equal before God?" "Of course", would be Bash's quiet and only rejoinder.

There was much snobbery and class consciousness in these schools between World War I & II, and Bash wisely adopted customs (even clothes) that were acceptable to their class. He wanted nothing novel to confront the boys. The all-important issues of man's sinfulness in God's sight, and salvation in Christ, would be unfamiliar enough.

The Message
Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), Bash's message never moved far from the basics of the gospel. He adopted what he called an "ABC" approach. It was necessary to Admit the need of God's forgiveness and seek it; to Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; and to Call upon Christ to come into the heart to cleanse and renew it.

The Man and Ministry
Surely, there must be more. How did Bash influence so many boys? What made them listen to him?

Recordings of his talks assure listeners that it was not his public-speaking skills that persuaded (as much as is humanly possible) boys to give their lives for Jesus. But we are told by the boys, now old men, that 2 things stood out: (1) his Christ-centred life; and (2) his letter-writing ministry.

Of his Christ-centred life, it has been said that Bash prayed knowing that all depended on God, but he preached as if all depended on man. The cross of Christ was not just the starting point for Bash's Christian life and ministry — it was the plumb-line by which he kept a true course heavenward.

His love for the boys was apparent. He didn't just want them to come into saving knowledge of Jesus. He wanted them to mature and win others for Christ and build them up. So Bash spent incredible amounts of time and energy on follow-up, even until the boys grew into men who preached their first, then 100th sermon.

He would exhort, encourage and correct by writing letters. He would sit in at their sermons. He would urge the "successful" in ecclesiastical circles to use their influence for good. He also kept them humble. The story goes that an archbishop received a note from him saying,"Dear Bill, you are a big boy now but don't forget ... and perhaps you could ..."

And of his ministry of letter-writing, it has been said that Bash was never separated from his writing materials, especially on his "missionary journeys". During the war he continued to travel, sometimes driving many miles to visit a small group or even only one boy, or using the erratic war-time train service. There he would sit on an ill-lit railway platform during the blackout, with his attache case on his knees and his writing pad on it, "redeeming the time" by writing letters.

Bash took the trouble to visit John Stott at boarding school and wrote to him once a week for 5 whole years. The letters were neither chatty nor shallow. Each of them were mini talks encouraging Stott to grow as a Christian and giving him practical advice on how to live the Christian life. And John Stott credits this early nuture as essential for his Christian growth.

Stott later found out that Bash also prayed for him every day.

Bash was but one person through whom God brought many into saving relationship with Him. How many more unfêted, unrecognised, unseen workmen must there be?

Bash's story is inspirationally worthy of a Christian Reader's Digest which aunts like to read at bedtime.

But what are we to make of it? Should we seek to emulate Bash or any of the other missionaries to strange tribes in faraway lands?

I suppose this is an instance of one person doing his duty as a servant of God. And our first and foremost concern should not be emulate him but to also do our duty as servants of God.

Doing Our Duty
Q: Have we been saved to do grand evangelistic plans? Have we been saved to map out massive mission strategies?
No. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Becoming Christian does not mean baptising our secular ambitions and lust for power and glory into Christian terms.

The good work we are to do is to keep continuing in Christ, not following the ways of the world and the desires of the flesh and our sinful nature, to grow in knowledge of Him and love for the saints, to keep teaching the Bible faithfully.

Q: Over and above this, should we be proud that we have grand evangelistic plans or mission strategies? Should we be proud when all the people we follow-up become bishops and archbishops and leaders in solid biblical scholarship? Should we be proud that we have reached thousands and thousands of people with the good news? Should we even be proud that we are going about our evangelism and follow-up quietly behind closed doors so only God will know the good we are doing?

Any plan to share the good news is in itself part of our life as God's children and servants, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to be saved. But we cannot take credit for any good that we do. Because (1) the harvest is not ours but God's. For Paul planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:5-7); and (2) even our good works are not our own doing for it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13).

Q: Do we think imagine as we go about doing all this, God will thank us fervently on the Last Day? Do we envision that the more we do, the more God will reward us richly?

Says Jesus:
Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field,"Come at once and recline at table"? Will he not rather say to him,"Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink"? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say,"We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty." (Luke 17:7-10)
Sources on Bash:
"Bash", Evangelical Times
"Definitely Leadership Material", Evangelicals Now - May 1999
"The Counsellor and Friend", in "A Study in Spiritual Power", ed. J. Eddison (rev. edn. Guildford: Highland, 1992), p. 84.

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