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The Biblical Basis for Church Planting
Jesus said He will build His Church. Examples in the New Testament on how church-planting takes place offer encouragement.

Jesus said, “I will build my Church;” He did not say, “go plant churches.” The New Testament does not treat this most important issue dogmatically. Church-planting is described rather than prescribed.

…God wants us to plan to church planting in widening circles....

Contemporary Christians prefer to standardize what the Holy Spirit does in a fluid, spontaneous and varied fashion. Nonetheless, the book of Acts shows a pattern of church multiplication in ever-increasing regions that we believe can be the primordial lifeline and the model for us today.

Therefore, we can be confident that God wants us to plan for church planting in widening circles around our own churches, areas, regions and unto the ends of the earth. This is where the action is. These are the past and present acts of the Holy Spirit. This is the biblical description of the church’s normal activity, even if it is not formally ordained.

The Cornerstone

Let us back up a bit for perspective. Nothing is more precious to God than the Church, His beloved Son’s bride! God’s mission in the world was first to send and seek her out. “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4). The Son came to seek and find that which was lost (see Luke 19:10). But as the parable of the Good Shepherd demonstrates, the mission was only completed when He brought the lost sheep home and everyone was able to rejoice as it was enfolded into the flock (see Luke 15:6). As we evangelize, we must do likewise – integrate new believers into lively communities that bear all the marks of a New Testament Church.

God’s plan was always to dwell in the midst of His people, whether in the tabernacle or the temple or the Church. When the Son of God came in the flesh, it was “to tabernacle” among us (see John 1:14), and He declared that He was the new meeting place with the Father when He indicated that, henceforth, His body was the temple (see John 2:19). And thus, our Lord’s project par excellence is: I will build my Church (see Matthew 16:18). He paid the price to become the cornerstone of that building: “This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone” (see Acts 4:11).

Our Lord gave His final instructions for this construction in Matthew 28:19 and 20. We do not see the word church in this well-known passage. But the only way to accomplish the Great Commission, which includes disciple-making, training and baptism, is through the establishment of local churches. Likewise, the only way to carry out the discipline Christ ordained in Matthew 18:15-20 is to have and to plant local bodies of a minimum of “two or three gathered together in my name” in order to be able to “tell it to the church.”

The foundation

God revealed to Paul that the establishment of the church was to have not only a cornerstone but also a foundation based on the Prophets and the Apostles. Paul declares that we are edified together for a dwelling place of God, a holy temple: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).

The contemporary church can and must also send apostles....

The Apostles and the Prophets are the foundation of the church in the sense that they were mandated to bring a completely fresh revelation from God – a new word concerning a new covenant. As witnesses of the death and resurrection of Christ, the Apostles laid the essential groundwork – teaching – for the church. Consequently, the Christians who gathered “continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42).

God inaugurated His project at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came in power to energize Peter’s preaching, and about three thousand souls were added to the “Church.” (The oldest manuscripts do not indicate the word church in Acts 2:47, and one must wait until 8:1 before encountering a clear indication that new converts, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, called themselves the Church of Jerusalem.)

The Apostles not only taught; they also were sent near and far to found or strengthen churches. Paul, especially, was conscious of having received a mandate to plant churches. He affirms: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (I Corinthians 3:6). The contemporary church can and must also send “apostles” (with a small “a”!); that is to say, pioneers who will plant new churches in the cities of Canada, the frontier regions of the world, the unreached and hidden people groups of the globe. We must send out apostello – missionaries – who will establish assemblies founded on the Word of Christ and the Apostles.

Living stones

Following the massive persecution of Christians after the assassination of Stephen, many members of the new church in Jerusalem were dispersed, and they brought witness of the Good News to all of Judea and Samaria.

“Ordinary” Christians filled with the Holy Spirit confessed the name of Jesus Christ and churches came into existence. It would have been impossible for these dispersed Christians and new believers to travel to Jerusalem every week to attend the “mother church” in Jerusalem. We see that the Jerusalem leadership sent out Peter and John to verify and authenticate the work initiated by Philip the deacon-evangelist (see Acts 8:14). Of course, this church-planting was entirely new and unplanned, but it was the Holy Spirit instigating the birth of numerous “daughter churches.”

We read that, “the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31). How are we to understand that the word church is in the singular here? Certain manuscripts have it in the plural, but the best reading is singular, based on the oldest versions. These churches (plural) in Judea did exist independently of the Jerusalem Church since Paul writes of “the churches of Judea which were in Christ” (Galatians 1:22).

Antioch

The Holy Spirit prompted certain of these dispersed Christians to leave the region of Israel and to travel “as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch” (Acts 11:19). Up until that time, Christians had not received instruction by the mother church about evangelizing Gentiles, and they were “preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.” Therefore, the Spirit urged a few to witness cross-culturally.

“Some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus” (v.20). This ingenious and novel effort was met with tremendous success! “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (v.21).

It is from this new church “plant” in Antioch that the Spirit sent out two of the best church planters: “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’” (Acts 13:2). The approval of the leadership and of the church of Antioch for this venture in church-planting beyond the local church borders plus the accountability of Paul to his “home” church in Antioch at the end of each of his missionary journeys gives us the clearest model for church-planting in the New Testament. It is the local church that has the responsibility to plant new churches!

 

Asia Minor

Paul used a variety of approaches to plant churches. He went to great urban centres, started at the synagogue, made disciples by quick strike evangelism, entered family or professional networks, used public controversy, debated the philosophical questions of the day, etc. But he steadfastly held to two fundamental principals: on the one hand, new believers were always added to a local church where a plurality of elders led (see Acts 14:21-23), and on the other hand, these churches were planted and strengthened by the teamwork of a number of workers. This contributed, during Paul’s first missionary journey, to the church plants in Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and Perga.

 

Europe

Having arrived in Troas, during his second church-planting mission trip, Paul was prevented by the Holy Spirit from going elsewhere in Asia Minor as he had planned to do. Paul concluded, from the Macedonian vision that he received in the night, that the Spirit was sending him to enter Europe.

Indeed, he was able to found churches or groups of disciples in Philippi, Thessalonika, Berea, Athens and Corinth.

Church-plants planting churches

During his third voyage, having reported to the mother church in Antioch, Paul again set up churches in Asia Minor: Galatia, Ephesus and Troas. Then, he started on his final venture to Rome in order to witness for Christ in the heart of the Empire.

Thus, the phenomenal growth of Christianity described in the book of Acts was based on the principle of churches planting churches.

Moreover, the structure of the account of this growth by Luke in the book of Acts is based on sections that all conclude with a reference to the multiplication of churches. Paul’s expectation was that the churches he planted would multiply as well. Paul gave to Timothy the order to transmit the ministry to faithful men, some of which, no doubt, would carry the Gospel elsewhere out of Ephesus. In Thessalonika, it is clear that the church influenced the surrounding region of Macedonia, Achaia and beyond.

We don’t know how many church-plants were involved, but Paul applauds them as a model for all believers (see I Thessalonians 1:7,8).

Epaphras, who had joined Paul in Rome, was recommended for his work in the Lycus valley including the church of Colosse (see Colossians 1:7), the one in Laodicea (see 2:1, 4:13) and the one in Hierapolis.

Within four decades, churches had planted churches in all the major pagan centres of the known world.

Conclusion

A study of the models of the growth of the early Church should motivate us to grow qualitatively and quantitatively and to plant churches from existing churches. We should never be satisfied with the status quo. Even small churches can plan for multiplication so that, in the end, the Lord will complete His masterpiece when He will build His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

“The truth of the Gospel has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth” (Colossians 1:6). Let us produce this most desirable fruit. Let us pray, plan and prepare new church-plants!

Rev. Rene Frey is the pastor of Église Baptiste Évangélique de Rosemont and is currently teaching a course from the Biblical Institute in Leadership Development.

Originally published in Evangelical Baptist, Spring 2009.

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