Ever since the dawn of the era of the church, God has exploded onto the scene of humanity with awesome displays of strategy, power and missionary expansion. There is no greater example of this in the Scriptures than in the way God expanded His kingdom through the planting of churches in key cities. As we examine the New Testament (especially the Acts of the Apostles) we see that God is not pleased with static, status quo Christianity that lives only to maintain itself and its members.
This is not to say that God is against liturgies or predictable rituals for congregational worship. However, I believe He is opposed to missionary and church-planting strategies that can be fulfilled without the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.
As a matter of fact, there are several instances in the Book of Acts where God even allowed a major persecution to break out against the church, including the martyrdom of thousands of saints in order to catalyze church planting and expansion. Indeed, God cares more about fulfilling the missionary call of Acts 1:8 than He does about providing care and comfort for a church disobedient to the Great Commission, (Matt. 28:19-20 and Mark 16:15-20).
The following are key points in the Book of Acts that illustrate the audacious, untamed methodology of our church-planting God. As we examine this, we will see that there is no exact formula in Scripture to follow regarding church planting and kingdom expansion, only principles we can attempt to extract and apply to the best of our ability.
Here are highlights from the Book of Acts that will demonstrate the thesis of this article.
The key passage regarding the call to plant churches is found in Acts 1:8 wherein Jesus commanded His followers to be His witnesses in Jerusalem (their home base and community), then Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Hence, God never meant for the church to stay in one location resulting in a "bless me social club" that exists just to protect their own existence; the Apostolic church was meant to live and die for those who were not yet members of His Body. The power (dunamis) to be His witness was not only to perform great miracles, but most importantly, to plant churches in every nation and in every tribe, tongue and kindred, so we can look like the church in heaven as found in Revelation 7:9.
After waiting upon God for 10 days until they were endowed with power from on high, suddenly, without warning, the Holy Spirit fell upon 10 believers in the Upper Room; immediately, because of their supernatural ability to declare the wonders of God in the common tongue of the visiting worshippers in Jerusalem (for the Feast of Pentecost), the church exploded in growth with 3,000 people getting saved after Peter preached the first ever-church sermon. Notice, the first church sermon recorded was evangelistic and prophetic, emblematic of the original nature and essence of the command found in Acts 1:8.
In these chapters, we find that the church continued to grow and establish new believers by a systematic approach to building a foundation upon the apostles' doctrine, prayer, charity and small group discipleship (2:42-47). We also see that great expansion of the church came from unpredictable displays of God's power (proving the resurrection of Christ) from the healing of the lame man at the gate beautiful (chapters 3, 4), through visiting the prayer meeting of the church and filling all the believers with supernatural courage and boldness (4:29-33), through judging a married couple and striking them dead for lying to the Holy Spirit ( 5:1-11), through amazing miracles done in the streets of the city (5:12-16), through an angelic escape from imprisonment (5:17-21), through rejoicing in the midst of persecution (5:41,42), through empowering new leaders to care for their poor (Acts 6:1-12) and through mighty signs and wonders done by Stephen, one of their deacons (Acts 6.7). In all of these chapters, we see an unpredictable God who unexpectedly moved in power to perform miracles, rescue His people, fill them with courage to preach and grant them problem solving abilities for further expansion and discipleship.
The Gospel Expands (Acts 8-11)
This section of Acts shows how committed God is to church planting and kingdom expansion;
Evidently, the early apostolic church was not quick enough to obey the Acts 1 commission regarding being His witnesses beyond Jerusalem. Consequently, God allowed a mass persecution to take place that scattered all the believers (except for the apostles). Said persecution was so severe, the Scriptures described it as "ravag[ing[ the church" which included "dragging out both men and women and committing them to prison" (8:1-3).
One account I heard was that Saul was responsible for over 3000 Christians either being put to death or denying their faith! However, the result of this persecution was that Philip (one of the seven deacons selected in Acts 6) went to the city of Samaria and preached Christ. The preaching was accompanied by such great miracles that the whole city was filled with joy (8:4-7). Later on, some of the Jerusalem apostles had to come to confirm and establish the church that was launched without their knowledge, plan or intent (8:14-17)! The very next chapter, we see Jesus supernaturally confront the greatest antagonist of the baby church; Saul (9:1-9), who would then get converted and become arguably the greatest of all the apostles. God again supernaturally intervenes and shakes up His church by appearing to her leader, the apostle Peter, and shows him in a vision that he is to open the gospel up to the non-Jewish world, which eventually leads him to visit and lead the household of a Roman Centurion to Christ in the city of Caesarea (Acts 10).
This initially sparked great opposition from other believers in the church (Acts 11) who still did not understand the implications of the original commission to go beyond Jerusalem. Perhaps, they thought it meant only preaching to Jews who lived in all the nations of the world? This shows us how God will mess with our theology if it hinders whom we reach and how we present the gospel to the lost.
Another amazing development takes place as a result of the horrible persecution that took place against the Jerusalem Church. Not only was a church born in Samaria, but those persecuted went as far as the Greek city of Antioch and planted perhaps the greatest of all the apostolic churches in that era (11:19-30). At first, this church started off with only Jewish believers, but eventually they launched an apostolic team that planted churches among the Gentile world.
Joseph Mattera is an internationally known author, futurist, interpreter of culture and activist/theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence nations. He leads several organizations, including The United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (uscal.us). He also has a blog on Charisma magazine called "The Pulse." To order one of his books or to subscribe to his weekly newsletter go to josephmattera.org.
This article originally appeared on josephmattera.org.
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