Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Paul’s Intent for Church Multiplication and its Extent to the Nations

By Max Strange
Leaders & The Early Church

Many have examined the past 2,000 years of history as their main hermeneutic to determine the intent and role of the church without first consulting the Scriptures as their primary source. Surely one would not admit it, but when pressed, the historical hermeneutic comes to the forefront. Many examine the records of the early church Fathers and church history thereafter to establish a view of church mission. Some have looked down these corridors and have concluded that the church’s mission is for a select few, “the gifted ones,” and not some church-wide concern to expand and multiply itself (Bowers), while others (Winters) hold strong to the idea that para-churches (Sodality) are the sole independent outreach-arms of the organized church (Modality). It is not bad to examine history to see how God has worked in and through the church. Yet, it is faulty when Christians examine history and use poor examples of reckless and Scriptureless ideologies of so-called “mission work” and present them as proofs of God’s intention. Surely, God’s Word is the final authority to understand whether or not God wants His church to multiply itself and initiate new churches or if He desires an organization, alongside the church, to do multiplication labor. Does God not give us in His Word a steel thread that runs upon the heights of this dilemma that may be held tight, and give us steady guidance for whether or not the church should multiply itself, how it ought to conduct mission, and who should do the work? The Old Testament and the apostle Paul present us with the intent for the churches. We will see that the concept of church multiplication did not suddenly appear, like the rabbit from the magicians trick hat, but has shown to be a steady and growing anticipation throughout the entire Old Testament.

God told Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over fish…birds…every living thing that moves on the earth…” (Genesis 1:28-30). God designed Adam and Eve to carry out His intentions for planet Earth. They were to image forth God and rule it, bring order to it, be caretakers of it, and fill the Earth with lovers and worshippers of God on this theocentric planet. This shows us God’s earliest intention for His people to multiple themselves.

To Noah, God reiterates His promise after the great and terrible flood to “be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it.” The faithful eight were to multiply on the Earth, men and women who would give glory to God. This multiplication is seen next when Abraham arrives into God’s Story.

He gave to Abraham the great and special promise, “Go from your country…I will make you a great nation…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). God tells Abraham to “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them…so shall your offspring be…I will multiple you greatly…you shall be a father of nations…I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you…I will be God to you and to your offspring after you…for an everlasting covenant.” (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:5-6; 17:1-8). The promises are rich clues for the church to come, one that multiples into a vast number of godly people that fill the earth. This shows us again God’s intention for His people to multiple themselves.

We read through the Psalms that God says, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage and the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8) and “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Psalm 22:27). It goes on to say that God’s praise and dominion will reach to the ends of the earth in Psalm 48:10 and 72:8. We see in Isaiah that God will raise a signal for nations afar off and whistle for them from the ends of the earth and declares, “Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth!” (Is. 5:26; 45:22). God’s plan has always been to whistle for them from the ends of the earth and call out to all the nations before the final trumpet call! The Old Testament gives clues that the mission of the church to come is one that will extend and move out to the nations. The New Testament continues this movement.

Now, with great power and authority, Paul comes, riding on the back of the Great Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” and finds himself caught up in Jesus’ apostolic promise “I will build My Church” in Matthew 16:18 and Acts 1:8 “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Matt. 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). Acts begins where Luke ends and it unfolds the beginning of the Great Commission. Acts provides a depiction of the Gospel speeding ahead from Jew to Gentile lands and the work of the Holy Spirit advancing Jesus’ kingdom through His people. Pentecost arrives, and “devout men from every nation under heaven” are assembled, exposing further God’s intention for a world encompassing church. Arabians, Cretans, Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Jews, proselytes, and the whole gang, all begin to declare the mighty works of God (Acts 2:5-13) from every nation! The ripple effects of Pentecost are evident all throughout Acts. Marker after marker demonstrates that God’s mission for the Church is one that multiplies itself. It added to their number daily (2:47), expansion occurred from temple to temple and from house to house, (5:14; 42), the Word increased and the disciples multiplied greatly (6:7), Persecution drove Christians outward (8:1), The Gospel headed South to Gaza by Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch (8:26), The Church was built up and multiplied (9:31), Peter’s vision and his explanation to Cornelius made it public that God shows no partiality and accepts men from every nation (10:1-44), many people were added to the Lord (11:24), the Word increased and multiplied (12:25), Paul says, “We are turning to the Gentiles” and the Word spread throughout the whole region and increase mightily (13:46-49; 19:20), God opened a door of faith to the Gentiles (14:27), and finally Paul desired to go to Rome and eventually Spain (23:11). Acts is left open-ended with Paul’s great statement, “let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:18).

In addition, Paul frequently admonishes the churches to join in to imitate him and the other apostles in their example, their way of life, and their faith. We cannot help but imitate his life patterned after Christ, by reaching the lost, multiply believing communities, and establish them (2 Thes. 3:7,9; Heb. 13:7; Phil. 3:7). It is therefore evident that both the Old and New Testaments demonstrate a growing, expansive character of God’s intention to reach the nations. This plan of God did not cease with the beginning of the church. Yet, we notice some recent authors who attempt to counter this redemptive historical character of God to reach the nations by Christian churches and create an unnecessary division between church and mission.

Ralph Winter’s article on The Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission does well to point out that the Christian church borrowed the synagogue and evangelistic pattern from the Jews and reveals the church’s Old Testament roots. On the other hand, Winter’s division of the church into two categories is unwarranted. church mission has always been tied to the local church. Though it may seem that several missionary ventures in Acts were “semi-autonomous,” Paul continued to trail back to Antioch and find his home base of recuperation and support there. God works through the authority of His church and any work that goes on as a side work, must come under the authority of a godly band of elders connected to the local church(1 Peter 5:5). Though this may sound like a clanging cymbal to many that have an individualistic mindsets, it is nonetheless Biblical. Division within the corporate body of believers, as seen with mission boards, seminaries, Christian publishing houses, para-church organizations, music ministries…etc, must be under the sanctifying authority of the preached Word and submitted to godly men who are sound in the faith and who shepherd the flock in their care. Avoiding this creates splinter groups who are accountable to no one and are in danger of heresy, disunity, false teaching, pride, and leading to power and control, hunger and Satanic bombardment.

Paul Bower’s, Church and Mission in Paul, views church mission in a different but equally disturbing way. Bower’s, rightly asserts that the church must be active in church plant but goes too far in suggesting that Mission is carried out by a select few and not by a team connected to and moving out from the local church. Bowers twists several key Scriptures to fit his agenda and appeals to American individualism and anti-authority sentiments. He dislocates the church’s Missional arm from the rest of the church body. The churches were involved with their own individual growth, and yet they aided Paul and his missionary team with prayer and support. All the parts of the Body must work together and Mission arm cannot be dislocated or severed from the Church. A chicken with its head severed from its body looks alive as it runs around with vigor, but it soon dies because it has no connection and life from the head.

It has always been the character of God to spread His glory to the nations and to the ends of the Earth. Scripture after scripture points to this reality. God has commissioned the church to go and preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations, and that was Paul’s great aim. The outworking of Paul’s mission revealed that he went forward as an extension of the Antioch church (Acts 13). He went and each center that he established was meant to radiate outward and multiply itself just as God had intended long ago. Each new believer was given the missionary Spirit of Christ, just as Christ himself left His heavenly home to be on Mission. Therefore, the text implies, from Old to New Testaments, when the Church finally arrived, and Paul established Gospel outposts all over the Roman Empire, they were meant to multiply themselves in order to reach the nations as God had long ago orchestrated. That even as Christ builds His Church, Christ is accomplishing His Father’s goal to invade the earth with His glory. This is implied by the Biblical text from cover to cover. To not be mission-minded or outward focus is simply not in-line with the very heart and nature of God.

And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.

Luke 14:23 (ESV)

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