By Greg Simmons
Both Bowers and Winter start with two main assertions. First, that the scriptures are silent when it comes to a direct reference to specific churches planting other communities. Secondly, that Paul and his team functioned as the first para-ecclesiastical structure, therefore setting the precedent for the para-church structure as being the primary means for doing the work of missions and church planting
Let’s start with Bowers. He acknowledges that church planting was central to Paul’s mission. This is certainly a more biblical view than Winters’. Where he misses the mark is that he doesn’t believe that Paul expected established churches to be instruments themselves in founding new communities. He understands Paul’s admonition to believers “to be imitators of me” as being chiefly concerned with godly living and not a general call to follow him in mission outreach. He also sees Paul’s apostolic calling as the mark of missionary leadership and not something common to all believers. This is certainly true, but where he fails to connect all the dots is in not seeing this same calling being given specifically to leaders within existing churches. Paul’s fellow workers were, for the most part, leaders sent out from existing churches. Barnabas, Judas and Silas were leading men sent out from the church at Jerusalem. (Acts 15:22) Timothy was a man well attested to by the communities in Lystra and Iconium. (Acts 16:1-5) Titus was a leader in the church on Crete. It was primarily these leaders from existing churches that were Paul’s fellow workers. The men that participated with Paul in the founding new communities were therefore being sent as the mission outreach of their home churches.
I won’t spend too much time answering Winters’ argument that para-church is the primary instrument of missions and that para-church and church should be established on equal footing. The question that should be asked is whether Paul saw himself and those that were with him as a separate and distinct para-church team and not part of the organized church. Winters’ defends his paradigm of mission sodality by defining Paul as the first para-church structure. But, Paul defines himself as a “skilled master builder” of the church. Christ’s word is the final authority in declaring God’s means and purpose. Christ declaration in Matthew 16 is that He is building His “church” not His para-church sodality.
The emphasis throughout Acts and Paul’s letters is God calling gifted leaders from within the church to be the means of church expansion. Acts 11:22: The Jerusalem church sends Barnabas as a leader to Antioch to establish the believers.
Acts 11:25-26: Barnabas seeks out Paul and they return to Antioch to establish the church through their gift of teaching.
Acts 14:26-28: Paul and Barnabas return to their commissioning church at Antioch to bring a report of what God was doing in the rest of Asia minor. If Paul and his team were a self-contained para-ecciesiastical entity, why bother continually returning to give an account of their work. It’s because Antioch sent them out to do a specific work under its authority and they were fulfilling their responsibility to that church.
Acts 15:22: The Jerusalem church sends chosen men to Antioch to bring a decree concerning the keeping of the law of Moses. Afterwards Judas and Silas remained in Antioch to exhort and strengthen the church.
1 Thessalonians 1:6-8: Paul commends the Thessalonian church for following him in the proclamation of the Word throughout Macedonia and Achaia. This is a strong statement by Paul commending the church for their outreach to surrounding regions.
1 Timothy 1:3 Paul tells Timothy to stay in Ephesus to protect the church from false doctrine. This demonstrates Paul’s primary concern for the church in leaving a gifted leader like Timothy to oversee and protect the Ephesian church.
Titus 1:5 Paul leaves Titus in Crete to set things in order and appoint elders in the churches of Crete. The focus for Paul is always the well being of the church. His care is demonstrated by sending other leaders from within the churches to serve that purpose.
Titus 2:15 Finally, Paul commands Titus and the elders to lead and exhort the church with all “authority”. Therefore, the “authority” for church establishment and multiplication is not given to a separate, but equal para-church sodality, but to the leaders of the church exclusively.