Monday, April 12, 2010

Paul’s Concept of Establishing Churches

By Ben Zemmer
A cursory study of the usage of the Greek word sterizo in Acts and the epistles yields the idea of further deepening and strengthening of the believing community as a vital part of the maturing of a new local church. In the NASB, the word sterizo is translated “confirm” (1 Peter 5:10), “establish” (Romans 16:25; 1 Thessalonians 3:13), “established” (Romans 1:11; 2 Peter 1:12), “strengthen” (1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:17, 3:3; James 5:8), and “strengthening” (Acts 18:23). In his epistles, Paul often uses the word to describe his relationship with the newly formed churches – newly converted believers still in many ways young and week in their understanding of the Scriptures (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Luke used a derivative of sterizo (“episterizo”) when describing the work Paul and Barnabas did when returning to their newly planted churches on their way back to Antioch (Acts 14: 21-23).

Clearly included in sterizo is the ordering of the church and appointing elders (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). The health of a local church is in many ways tied to how well it is established in the truth – the gospel. Paul longed to preach the gospel to believers in Rome who had already heard the gospel upon their conversion, but they still needed to hear it in all its fullness and depth in order to be strengthened and established as a mature believing community (Romans 1:15). It would be incorrect to summarize Paul’s mission work as merely proclaiming the gospel and having made converts to progress on to the next city without any regard for or contact with the new believers in the new fledgling local church. In many ways his ministry was a full orbed process of leading churches from youth to adulthood, immaturity to maturity in their knowledge and application of the gospel.

Paul’s Establishing Process:

Studying Paul’s letters to the churches in conjunction with Luke’s account of in Acts can provide some helpful insight into how these churches progressed to maturity through Paul’s ministry in the gospel. Below is an approximate chronology of Paul’s pattern of establishing churches.

1. Proclaim the gospel (Acts 13:5; 14:15-17; 17:2-3; 18:4)

2. Recognize the believers (Acts 13:12, 48-49)

3. Appoint elders (Acts 14:21-23)

4. Address individual problems as they arise all the while applying the gospel (Acts 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:15-2:4)

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