by Vergil Gerber
The church in New Testament perspective is neither incidental nor accidental. Establishing the goal toward which all missionary purpose is to be directed, Jesus enunciated with incisive language: “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18) . Fulfillment of the missionary mandate, therefore, is to be measured in terms of church dimension. (Matt. 28:19-20.)
NSM Editor’s Note: for all diagrams, see the pdf version of this article.
The church in New Testament perspective is neither incidental nor accidental. Establishing the goal toward which all missionary purpose is to be directed, Jesus enunciated with incisive language: "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18) . Fulfillment of the missionary mandate, therefore, is to be measured in terms of church dimension. (Matt. 28:19-20.)
The evangelistic task falls short of its objective unless it relates individual conversion to the local community of the redeemed. "To be an effective Christian it is not enough to be an individual believer," Elton Trueblood asserts. "Men are never really effective unless they share in some kind of group reality. Inadequate as the fellowship of the church may be, in many generations, including our own, there is not the slightest chance of Christian vitality without it. New life normally arises from inside."1
The church is both the goal and the agent of dynamic reproduction. On the day of Pentecost the first church in Jerusalem added 3,000 to its embryonic fellowship of 120 members. These in turn reached out into the metropolitan community gaining favor with people. And day after day the Lord added to their number people who were being saved.2 (Acts 2)
The early koinonia was much more than a local fellowship as an end in itself. The root meaning of the Greek word is "to have in common, to share with others." Barnabas and Paul received the right hand of fellowship (koinonias) at Jerusalem in order that3 they might go to the nations (Gal. 2:9).
It is in this missionary dimension that Beyerhaus and Lefever define the church as being "at one and the same time the community of the redeemed and the redeeming community."4
This mission to reproduce herself in every nation is the dominating motif of the Book of the Acts-the acts of the early church. Her spiritual dynamic is the dunamis of Pentecost. This dynamic quality in the Person of the Holy Spirit is promised to the disciples for the explicit purpose of multiplying nuclear cells around the world (Acts 1:8).
"The Great Commission derives its meaning and power wholly and exclusively from the Pentecost event."6 "Restlessly the Spirit drives the Church to witness, and continually churches rise out of witness."’ Dynamic, living cells multiply into hundreds of congregations in Asia, Europe, Africa and around the world. The Book of Acts is the historical record of first century church multiplication through missionary witness and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
There are two parallel truths which, if properly understood, lay the foundation for starting and organizing local churches overseas:
1. Only God can do this. For the church is the life of God in action. All life originates with God. Its unique characteristic is its reproductive quality. It cannot be self-contained. Spiritual reproduction, whether on the individual or collective level, is intrinsically and uniquely the work of the Holy Spirit. Neither methods nor men, however good, can reproduce the life of the church. This is the Spirit’s ministry.
2. While men are wholly dependent upon the Spirit for the reproduction of life, in paradoxical contrast God has made Himself wholly dependent upon men for the building of His church. "God’s methods are men, and we are the men!" Melvin Hodges affirms. "Methods are no better than the men behind them; and men are no better than their contact with God."8
There is no such thing as "instant church." In this 20th century when everything comes in instant "how-to-do-it" packages which guarantee maximum results at minimum effort, churches are still born out of travail of soul. No miracle drug or promotional stimulant can eliminate the hard labor of bringing churches into existence. Even after two thousand years of Christian experience and evangelistic know-how in the ecclesiastical science of church-birth, there are still no easy formulas nor simple how-to-do-it package plans for church reproduction. Winston Churchill’s pungent words, "blood, sweat and tears," serve to remind us that the church too is born of blood, sweat and tears-the blood of Christ, the sweat of discipleship and the tears of prevailing prayer.
Though God has left it to men to build His church, He has not left to trial and error the construction of that church. Too often we start with missionary activity rather than the missionary objective. We recruit volunteer workers rather than craftsmen. We equip them with scaffolds and tools and material resources. And we send them out. But we neglect to provide them with the necessary know-how for building, or with a clearly defined plan for starting and organizing churches overseas. As if churches were of secondary importance-a sort of by-product of Christian mission.
For any other career we require specialized training. What would happen if we required a major in church extension and a year’s internship in church planting before graduating missionaries or sending them to the field? "It is highly important," says Soltau, "that missionary candidates be wellacquainted with the goal of mission work in terms of an indigenous church and with the New Testament principles by which this goal can be attained."9
No one would think of building a building without a welldefined plan of construction to follow. It is not enough to provide materials and hire workmen. A building starts with an architect’s concept of the end result to be achieved. Once that objective is agreed upon, a careful plan of construction is drawn up. This blueprint is then carried out in detail by experienced laborers. All three are vital to its success.
These three come through with remarkable clarity in the pages of New Testament history. Robert Coleman refers to this biblical blueprint as "The Master Plan of Evangelism.10 What he sees in the pattern laid down by our Lord and His early followers is a detailed blueprint for numerical multiplication of visible, local fellowships in every nation. Let’s look at it:
On the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) we see a responsible church growing out of witness. Filled with the Holy Spirit the first Christians began to speak, not in unintelligible babble, but in effective communication. And men from every nation under heaven received their witness. The result: three thousand were baptized and added to the Jerusalem fellowship. Many others carried the seeds of the church to foreign soil.
What clearly emerges is a newborn church with all the characteristics of what Beyerhaus and LeFever call "responsible selfhood."11 From its inception individual and corporation responsibility can be seen in
ORGANIZING — They were immediately baptizzed and added to the new fellowship, v. 41.
EDUCATING — They continued in the teaching of the apostles, v. 42.
SHARING — They sold their possessions to take care of their material needs, v. 45.
REPRODUCING — They gained favor with all the people and the Lord added daily people who were being saved, v. 47.
This self-determining and self-continuing nature of the Jerusalem church gives striking evidence of well-defined mission. At the same time the church’s mission was yet to be accomplished. As Alexander McLeish points out in his Princeton lectures, the establishing of a responsible church is not only central to the existence of the faith but to its proclamation to the world. "The object of its existence is to expand its fellowship to all nations."12 He views the calling into being of the new fellowship as the agent for worldwide missionary purpose. Turning the pages of the historic blueprint we see the fulfillment of this purpose in churches being reproduced in Judea, Galilee, Samaria and most of the then-known world. How was it accomplished? What specific methods produced this phenomenal first century expansion? For an answer to this we follow the pattern laid down by the greatest of all New Testament missionaries, the Apostle Paul.
Paul’s methods were directly related to his predetermined mission. All of his missionary activity contributed to that end goal. "His was no vague effort to meet universal need which so often inspires what we loosely call `evangelism’," says McLeish.13 He concentrated on the creation and care of churches.
Let’s begin with his relationship to the Antioch church. Paul started by becoming a responsible member (Acts 13:1). As a Christian he recognized that he was responsible to the church and for the church. Responsible churches are made up of responsible members. This principle is vital to effective evangelism. Accepting Christ as Savior means accepting Him as Lord. And this means responsible church-relatedness. This "cost of discipleship" as Bonhoeffer calls it, stands out in the New Testament blueprint in sharp relief against the easy believism of modern evangelism. "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the church." . . . "Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ."14 The first step in starting and organizing local churches overseas is to "make disciples" (Matt. 28:19)-Christians who are responsible to the church and for the church. If we fail here, we will inevitably fail in establishing the church.
Paul, along with Barnabas and others, spent eleven years developing the responsible selfhood of the Antioch church. From the beginning Paul recognized the centrality and automy of the local fellowship. He placed himself under its, direction and discipline. It was to the church that the Spirit finally spoke: "Separate unto me Paul and Barnabas for the work whereunto they are called" (Acts 13:2). It was the church that sent them forth on their first missionary journey. It was to the church that they returned to report (14:27).
Here is a principle of inter-responsibility: the missionary responsible to the church; and the church responsible for the missionary. Furthermore, the church is both independent and interdependent. Paul and Barnabas were sent by the church at Antioch to the Jerusalem church to report on their missionary work. Hearing the report, the latter took official action on the report (v. 25,27 ), making certain recommendations that had far-reaching effect on the founding of new churches in other places.
McLeish observes, "This acknowledgment of the church at every stage of his work has, for a man of St. Paul’s independence of mind, a very special significance for us."15 These two principles of interrelationship stand out with clarity:
1. MISSIONARY responsibility to the CHURCH — CHURCH responsibility to the MISSIONARY.
2. CHURCH independence — CHURCH interdependence.
Paul’s carefully planned methods for starting and organizing churches concentrated on the population centers: Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Antioch, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia (Acts 14). The cities were his target. He went where the greatest number of people were. At times he preached in the synagogues; at other times in the market place or the open air. Sometimes he concentrated on individuals; at other times on the masses.
But his strategy was always to concentrate on the areas of greatest potential for church growth. Although preaching and witness planted the seed, this was never an end in itself. It was always followed by in-depth instruction with the view to making responsible disciples (14:21).16
Paul never seemed hurried. He took the time needed to develop responsible converts into a responsible fellowship. In Corinth he spent a whole year and a half (18:18). In Ephesus he needed three years (20:31). In Rome he stayed two years. In every place when the church was sufficiently mature he encouraged them to appoint leaders (presbuteros), committed the newly-organized group to the Lord in prayer, and moved on to another place (14:23).
The simplicity of church government in New Testament practice is not accidental. As J. B. Phillips says, "This surely is the church as it was meant to be. It is vigorous and flexible, for these are the days before it ever became fat and short of breath through prosperity, or muscle-bound by over-organization." 17 Paul clearly outlined for Timothy, a young church planter and convert of his in whom he had invested considerable time and training, the qualifications necessary for the two offices of the church, i.e. bishop-elder-pastor18 and deacon19 (1 Tim. 3). The need for these arose as a result of the phenomenal growth of the church at Jerusalem and its resultant problem (Acts 6).
Gustav Warneck (1834-1910), who has often been called the founder of the scientific study of missionary principles, distinguishes three stages in the process of building a responsible church:20
Stage 1: Gathering of individual believers.
Stage 2: Forming them into congregations.
Stage 3: Joining of local congregations into a communion.
This is in keeping with the principle of interrelationship which we observed in Antioch-Jerusalem churches, i.e. the interdependence of the early fellowship.
Although many twentieth century missionaries look for a building as the first step in the development of a church, even before the preaching of the gospel, the New Testament lays little or no stress upon a building as the necessary means to the formation of a church. Erroneously we speak today of "the church on Main and Walnut Streets." But the New Testament leaves no room for such interpretation. The Greek word literally means "called out ones" and is used in the Scriptures to denote the assembling of believers together in a certain place, or the designation of a specific fellowship of believers in a particular place.
We read of "the church of the Thessalonians" (1 Thess. 1:1), or the church meeting in the house of Nymphas (Col. 4:15). It is true that Paul often began his initial efforts preaching at the local synagogue of the Jews, but this is never considered a church in the New Testament. For many years the early believers met in homes and never possessed any special buildings for their gatherings (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2).
"There is no clear example of a separate building set apart for Christian worship within the limits of the Roman empire before the third century. 21 Paul concentrated his efforts not on buildings but on men. Men are God’s method.
"It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow Him . . . . .His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before He ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public . . . .the initial objectives of Jesus’ plan was to enlist men who could bear witness to His life and carry on His work after a returned to the Father.22
Jesus’ selection of disciples was done with the utmost of care. Prior to the selection of the twelve He spent all night in prayer (Luke 6:12-16) . These men at first do not impress us as being outstanding church leaders, but what is evident is their willingness to learn. And Jesus concentrated His teaching on these few. "Here is the wisdom of His method . . . .the fundamental principle of concentration on those He intended to use . . . .The necessity is apparent not only to select few laymen, but to keep the group small enough to be able to work effectively with them. 23
Paul likewise concentrated on potential leaders, i.e. Timothy, John, Mark, Aquilla and Priscilla, Philemon, etc. In writing to Timothy he underlined "and the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2) . Here is the "each one teach one" philosophy of mission: making reproducing Christians who in turn will make other reproducing Christians. Here is the mathematical solution to world evangelism, i.e. the principle of multiplication rather than simple addition.
While great stress today is laid on money and methods, men are still God’s means of reproducing responsible churches. "We can study methods of church growth and write books about indigenous church principles, all of which is well and good; but we will never have anything like New Testament churches and New Testament growth until we get something like New Testament men with New Testament experience. I do not know how this affects you, but it challenges me to the depths of my being. God’s methods are men, and we are the men!"
1. Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed, Harper & Row (New York, 1961), p. 21.
2. Notice the use of the present participle sozomenous in the original text (v. 47).
3. A purpose clause introduced by the preposition hina.
4. Peter Beyerhaus and Henry Lefever, The Responsible Church and Foreign Mission, William B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, 1964), p. 110.
5. Note it is "both/and"; not "either/or."
6. Harry R. Boer, Pentecost and Missions, Wm. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, 1961), p. 47.
7. 1bid., p. 161.
8. Donald McGavran, Church Growth and Christian Mission, Harper & Row (New York, 1965 ), p. 32.
9. T. Stanley Soltau, Missions at the Crossroads, VanKampen Press (Wheaton, Ill., 1954), p. 18-19.
l0. Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism, Fleming H. Revell (Westwood, N. J. ), 1964.
11. Beyerhaus and Lefever, op. cit., p. 21.
12. Alexander McLeish, Objective and Method in Christian Expansion, World Dominion Press (London, 1952) , p. 11.
13. 1bid., p. 8.
14. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, The MacMillan Co. (New York, 1967), pp. 45, 64.
15. McLeish, op. cit., p. 8.
16. Note the Greek participle is mathetevsantes not didaskontes.
17. J, B, Phillips, The Young Church in Action, The Macmillan Co. (New York, 1955), p. vii.
18. Acts 20:17,28 and 1 Peter 5:1-3. The Greek words used in these verses give a threefold picture of the office: as bishop he is the overseer of the affairs of the church; as elder he is the respected leader of the congregation; as pastor he is the spiritual caretaker of the flock. Cf. Dana-Sipes, A Manual of Ecclesiology, Central Seminary Press (Kansas City, 1944 ), pp. 92-93.
19. "The origin of the office of Deacon is usually ascribed to Acts 6:1-6. . the verb translated `serve’ is from the same root as the noun translated `deacon’." Ibid.. pp. 88, 89.
20. Beyerhaus and Lefever, op. cit., p. 49.
21. J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, Macmillan Co. (London and Cambridge, 186), p. 241.
22. Coleman, op. cit.
23. 1bid., p. 24.
24. Melvin Hodges, Church Growth and Christian Mission, op. cit., p. 32.
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