Monday, January 10, 2011

Paul’s Normative Strategy for the Churches Today

By Max Strange 10/31/2010
After ten years of mission work, the Apostle Paul spoke as if his work had been completed. How can this be after such a short time? Missionaries in the field have spent their whole life dreaming of doing what Paul did in the time it takes a kindergartener to achieve the tenth grade! Missionaries at home and abroad have lingered all over the world doing the most bizarre so-called ministries and labeling them as mission. Many “missionaries” lay no foundations, no lasting gospel/Christocentric community, no instructed people, no self-propagating society; no permanent people rooted and built up in Apostolic doctrine, which marches forward in zealous mission. Paul did have a strategy and there are clear implications that it is normative for the church today. The church is in peril when we are absent a strategy from Scripture for without a strategy a wide world of anarchy introduces itself. It welcomes her through the front door and heartily greets the so-called “mission” work with a legitimate smile when in fact it is not. If there are no guard rails, anything goes, and so does the church.

We see a clear and normative strategy in the Apostle Paul. It was said by Paul that he completed the Lord’s work of establishing the churches…the people of God. He was a “wise master builder” (1 Cor. 3:10). He was the Apostle to the Gentile world who A/authored two-thirds of the New Testament (Acts 9:15). He founded the first Christian churches across the whole Mediterranean landscape, covering three Continents, and does so by using the same ways that strongly point to a laid-out strategy. He also instructed that elders be appointed (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) and that they were to set in order the church (Eph. 3:8-10; 1 Tim. 3:14-15). He also instructed believers to imitate him as he imitated Jesus Christ (2 Thes. 3:7-9; Heb. 13:7). Therefore, Paul, the wise master builder, Gentile directed, chosen, one to imitate, founder of many churches, is the ultimate church planter who gives us a normative strategy for church mission today.

It is also to be considered that Paul’s strategy had deep roots. Being worthy of investigation, it seems that Paul learned his strategy from his Jewish training as a Pharisee (Matt. 23:15; Ph. 3:4-6) and thereafter as a Christian, his gospel centered/church-planting strategy was crystallized by Jesus Christ. It was further modeled in and by the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch (Gal. 1:17; Acts 13:1-3; 16:1-6). Paul’s strategy has therefore a universal quality and normative value for Christians today since it was modeled by God in the Old Testament and given by Jesus in the New and passed along to Paul and confirmed by the church. On this side of the Cross, where else should we go to discover how to do Mission? Absolutely no where! In Acts, Paul lays out a pattern for Mission.

It is important to note that Paul’s methods were malleable but not his strategy. He did not have a white-knuckle-grip on his methodology. He held his methods open-handed. He was willing that they be changed, redirected, tweaked, or altered by the Holy Spirit’s providential and pressing circumstances (i.e. ran out of town by jealous Jews). However, his strategy was concrete. It was not wobbly jelly. It was marble strategy that could withstand all the changing gust of time and culture.

If Paul had no genuine strategy and if Jesus did not give Paul his plan, then we should say that any work, in the name of Jesus, is legitimate. Paul’s strategy is Biblical and it gives us guide post to do mission the way God would have us do His mission. We should not look for pragmatic results to justify our ministries. If the pattern is to gather believing congregations upon the gospel of Jesus Christ, leave behind a well instructed and duplicating society of Christians, and to upbuild the church for this very goal, then we ought to get in line with God’s strategy for his global gospel plan.

This strategy fits into the normative pattern we see in Acts which is Word increase and disciple multiplication to the ends of the earth (Acts 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30). Paul brought the Word and all its power to bear upon the minds of people. This resulted in new converts by the Spirit’s Word-work. Paul simply lived out the pattern in Acts –by preaching the gospel (Word increase) and gathering new believers (disciples multiplied) into gospel instructed, local assemblies called churches. This work expanded all over the Roman world. Was it the strategy that made it successful? Perhaps, Paul’s success should be rightly directed toward the unified work of the church that sent Paul to speak his clarion gospel in strategic centers, and implement his ancient, yet Christianized and lucid strategy, by the undeterred work of the Holy Spirit.

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