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Keep the Cross Central

Follow-up: Keep the Cross Central

In surveying Paul’s letters to churches he planted, I have been pointing out lessons we can learn about following up with churches we have planted. In studying 1 Corinthians, we see two primary concerns that Paul sought to clarify and correct. The first is the need to keep the cross central and is the focus of this post. The second is the place of culture in Christian proclamation and life and will be the subject of the next post.

The cross was central to his message

Paul summarized his message as “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). As he said just a few verses earlier (1 Cor. 1:17), it is the power of the cross that is central to the Christian message. The word of the cross is the power of God that saves us (1 Cor. 1:18). This message that Jesus Christ was crucified distinguishes Christianity from Judaism and all other religions. In writing about the uniqueness of the gospel message, Leon Morris notes,

It was the place of Jesus that made the difference. To see him as Messiah was to put everything in a new perspective. Not only did the Christians see him as Messiah, but as the crucified Messiah. For them the central thing was the cross, so that Paul could sum up the message he proclaimed in the words, ‘we preach Christ crucified’ (1 Cor. 1:23). Whatever subordinate and incidental issues were involved, the essential difference between Judaism and Christianity was the cross (for that matter it is the cross that is the difference between every other religion and Christianity). 1Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its meaning and Significance, p. 11.

Faith Hope Love

Follow-up: Urge them to grow in Faith, Love, and Hope

This is the third post in my series on what we can learn about church planting follow-up from Paul’s letters. In a previous post on Paul’s follow-up with churches he planted, we looked at the letter to Galatians. There the key issue was making sure they got the gospel right. Turning to Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, the key issue is making sure they continue to grow in faith, love, and hope. Getting the gospel right is essential but making sure these new believers fully understand the gospel is a dynamic process. The biblical gospel produces in believers continuing growth in faith, love, and hope.

Thankful for their faith, love, and hope

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy were in Thessalonica less than a month (Acts 17:2) before they were run out of town. But nevertheless, some Jews and “a great many devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (Acts 17:4) accepted the gospel. In that short time, Paul and his companions developed a close bond with these new converts (1 Thess 2:7-11) and he had observed a remarkable transformation in their lives. He noted that this young church was characterized by faith, love, and hope, and he comments on these in the opening thanksgiving of each letter (in the second letter he does not use the word hope but the concept is implied by the word steadfastness).

Follow-up of church plants

Follow-up: Making sure they get the Gospel right

As I said in a previous blog post, follow-up is an important aspect of the missionary task — not just follow-up with individual new believers, but follow-up with churches that have been planted. I want to look at several of Paul’s epistles to see how Paul did this follow-up for churches he planted.

Galatians provides us with an example of the need for church-planting follow-up, as well as a model of how to do it. Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia was probably written about a year after he and Barnabas planted those churches on their first missionary journey in Acts 13 and 14.  Elders had already been appointed (Acts 14:21-23). The disciples had been filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52). Yet, a year later the purity of the gospel was under attack.

Church Planting Follow-up

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion on models of follow-up with churches once the church planter moves on. Church planters with denominational missions usually connect their new churches to some kind of organizational structure (a national version of the denomination to which they belong). But non-denominational missions may not form any type of structure to allow their church plants to relate to the founding organization or other churches. I have observed churches that have been planted by one mission organization seeking help from another church planting organization because there was no structure established by the original organization. Some form of church-to-church relationship ought to be in place so churches do not feel abandoned when the missionary moves on.

The Church is God’s Household

In this series of posts on the letters to Timothy and Titus, I have emphasized that Timothy and Titus were co-workers with Paul in planting churches in Ephesus (Timothy) and Crete (Titus). These letters are Paul’s instructions to his co-workers for dealing with various issues such as teaching sound doctrine and warnings against false teaching. About halfway through 1 Timothy Paul expresses another purpose in writing:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. – 1 Timothy 3:14,15 (ESV)

Behavior is very important in the letters to Timothy and Titus and in a future post, I will explore “good works” as a component of church planting.

Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash

Rebuking False Doctrine

The original temptation was framed “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1 ESV). Throughout biblical and church history, false doctrine surfaces whenever God’s Word is questioned and other sources of doctrine/teaching are embraced. Evangelical Christianity believes that the Bible is the supreme and final authority in matters of faith and conduct. The Bible is what God actually says. False doctrine/teaching is departing from what the Bible affirms. Not all doctrinal matters have the same critical importance and we must practice what Al Mohler calls “theological triage” (see my post on “How do we decide whom we can work with”). But first-level doctrines define Christianity and departure from the Bible’s teaching on these matters results in a different religion. So false doctrine is an important matter.

False doctrine/teaching is a prominent theme in Paul’s letters to his church-planting partners, Timothy and Titus, yet we never find the phrase “false doctrine” or “false teaching.” He does describe it as “what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20). Paul simply refers to the false teaching as a “different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3, 6:3) or sums it up as “whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10). In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul warns against a “different gospel.” There is an authoritative message of the Apostles that is not to be changed and is to be guarded and passed on to others. A “different gospel” or a “different doctrine” is to be avoided and rebuked vigorously.

Timothy and Titus as Models

In  a previous post we looked at how Paul identified himself as a preacher, apostle, and teacher of the gospel in the Pastoral Epistles. I suggested that today’s missionary identifies with Paul as preacher and teacher of the apostolic gospel. We are not apostles but preach and teach the message of the apostles recorded in Scripture. Timothy and Titus likewise were not apostles but served as coworkers with Paul and in the Pastoral Epistles were delegates of Paul. So we share an affinity with Timothy and Titus as ministers under the authority of the apostles.

THE ROLE OF TIMOTHY AND TITUS

In writing about the role of Timothy and Titus, Andreas Köstenberger notes:

Timothy and Titus are often viewed as pastors of local congregations. However, as mentioned, their role is not actually that of permanent, resident pastor of a church. Rather, these men serve as Paul’s apostolic delegates who are temporarily assigned to their present location in order to deal with particular problems that have arisen in their respective churches and require special attention.

Andreas J. Köstenberger, 2017, Commentary on 1-2 Timothy and Titus, p 8

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