About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Planting Churches And The Apostolic Mission


The term "church planting" has become a popular term in Evangelical Christianity, but is it a concept validated in the New Testament?  Is planting churches what the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18 through 20 all about?  That text reads:



"Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."


Something we often overlook when thinking of the Great Commission, or the apostolic mission, as it is also called, is that there is more to it than what we read in Matthew.  John 21:21 through 23 adds to what Jesus commissioned His apostles prior to His return to heaven.  That passage reads:


"Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'"


Beyond the above, read Acts 1:4 through 8.


"On one occasion, while he [Jesus] was eating with them, he gave them this command: 'Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift [Holy Spirit] my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.  ...  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem , and in all Judea and Samaria , and to the ends of the earth.'"


We are in error if we take Jesus' instructions to His apostles found in Matthew 28:18 through 20 and ignore the rest of His instructions.  We, therefore, learn the following from the above passages about apostles and their mission. 



- apostles were sent into the world as Jesus Himself was sent into the world. 

- are authorized to make disciples from all nations.

- are to baptize and instruct the disciples to obey all of what Jesus taught.

- are to have already received the Holy Spirit into their lives.

- are to go on their mission in the power of the Holy Spirit.

- are to forgive sin, meaning, proclaiming forgiveness on earth on behalf of God.


Although the apostle Paul was not present at the commissioning of the original apostles, he was commissioned as an apostle.  Since he was the predominant New Testament apostle, we learn much from his apostleship.  In general terms, his commissioning instructions are seen in Acts 9:15 and 16. 


"This man [Paul] is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel .  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."


Paul adds to the above in Galatians 1:15 and 16. 


"But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles ..."


With the above in mind, I define the apostolic mission as the process by which we, through the authority and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, make disciples of Jesus through the proclamation of all that Jesus taught.  In this process, Jesus works alongside us by confirming our message to the hearts of those to whom we preach. (Mark 16:20 reads:


"Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it."


In other words, Jesus provides the spiritual necessities while the apostles preach, and why?  It is Jesus, not us, who gives birth to the church and builds it as He pleases.  (Matthew 16:18 reads:


"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."


When those to whom the apostles preach embraced the gospel message and receive the Spirit of God in their lives, a community of disciples are birthed in a given locality.  At that point, God-appointed, man-ordained, elders are selected to lead and care for the new community, as seen in Titus 1:5.


"The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you."


Giving structure to the new community of disciples, as seen in the ordination of elders, is foundational to church, but, it is subsequent, or secondary, to the apostolic mission itself.  The establishment of church is a by-product of the Great Commission, something our Evangelical church's concept of "church planting" seems to miss. 


We build our preferred, but not always Biblical, structured church.  We do so, hoping to draw people into it so we can make disciples of them.  I think that is getting the cart before the horse, so to speak.  The Great Commission commands us, through the power of the Spirit, to make disciples, not plant churches.  It is Jesus who plants, or gives birth, to the church when He places His Spirit within those who embrace the apostolic gospel we preach.  Once the church is planted, it is also Jesus, and not elders alone, who cause the church to grow.  If pastors feel that church growth is their responsibility alone, they will cave under the pressure caused by the weight of that responsibility.              


You might think I'm making too big of a deal over this, but I suggest that if the New Testament instructs us concerning this matter, we should follow its instructions.  As we read on the label of almost everything we purchase; "for best results, follow the instructions." 

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