SERMON MANUSCRIPT FOR MARCH 25, 2007
week, we continue our series of vision casting messages, picking up where we left off last week with the leadership’s
vision for us as a church to plant a healthy, reproducing church in our area.
Last week, we emphasized three main truths. First, we saw
from multiple sources that the Twin Ports area is a very spiritually depressed area as seen by the distinctly low
percentage of people involved in any kind of religious groups, including churches.
Second, we saw that our church here at
We saw that as a church, we must repent of our unfaithfulness and earnestly seek God through prayer about whether he is calling us to plant a new church. The leadership is compelled he is doing that on the basis of what we heard last week and even more importantly, the Biblical perspective we will look at this morning. We must build our ministry on the word of God because—as impressive as the statistics may be concerning the comparative effectiveness of church planting in reaching the lost, that alone is simply not sufficient basis for making a decision requiring the kind of sacrifice and effort this endeavor would require of us. At the end of the day, we must have something more solid to ground our faith in than studies, as helpful as those may be. We must be firmly grounded in God’s word.
there an explicit Biblical mandate that says to existing churches, “You
must plant new churches.”
No—The mandate is to reach our
He did not consider his work to be done in a city until he had
planted a believing church there. Paul says to Titus in 1:5, “This
is why I left you in
Other verses support this as well. After Paul and Barnabas
separated in Acts chapter 15, verse 41 says that he and Silas departed and “went throughout
Let’s look at two possible objections to that as a Biblical basis for planting a church. The first might sound like this: “The book of Acts is a history book and therefore the events in it are to be seen as DE-scriptive, and not PRE-scriptive.” In other words, Acts is a narrative book that tells us what the APOSTLES did—not necessarily what WE are to do. First, it is good to understand that simply because the Bible describes something; it is not necessarily prescribing or commanding it. However, please don’t forget that most of the Bible is written in narrative form describing various events and it was about those parts too that Paul says in Second Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
That tells us that those descriptive parts of Scripture are not merely descriptive, but are intended to teach us something and here’s how they instruct us—we learn from their example. In First Corinthians chapter 10, Paul is referring to a descriptive section of Scripture in the Old Testament and he says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” It just isn’t valid to dismiss history or “descriptive” books like Acts by saying that because they aren’t explicitly PREscriptive, they are somehow unsuitable to teach us how to do things like win the lost. They set out very important examples for us to learn from.
A second potential objection to using Paul’s apostolic ministry to encourage us to plant churches in our culture could be stated, “Of course Paul planted churches—there were no churches where he ministered—that’s all he could do. Romans 15 says that his call was to go only to places where there were no existing churches.” It’s true that the imperative to plant churches in a more “churched” culture like ours is not as easily seen from Paul’s example as it is in places around the world where there are no churches presently. It would be a mistake however, to say that just because his context was unchurched and ours is “churched,” that this renders his example largely irrelevant.
What I mean is--there are other, Biblically rooted reasons why the Holy Spirit in Acts holds up Paul’s chosen strategy to reach the lost by planting churches, beyond the fact that it was the most obvious option available to him. In other words, Paul didn’t plant new churches only because there weren’t any existing ones. I believe he also used this strategy because planting new churches grows out of two basic Biblical truths that Paul knew very well--First, about the fallen nature of this world and second, about the very character of God himself. Let me explain that as we move to our second Biblical reason to reach the lost by planting healthy churches which speaks to the nature of this world we live in.
That is: Planting churches is blessed by God because it works to overcome the fallen tendency of this world’s institutions—including churches, to stagnate and decay over time. The Bible in both testaments teaches us that one of the sad realities of living in this fallen world is that even the institutions God puts in place tend to decay and deteriorate over time. In Romans 8:21 Paul is anticipating that time when his hope for this world will be realized—that time in the future when “…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Paul is saying that this world is now in bondage to decay—it is subject to the corruption by the sin embedded within it.
That’s the way it will be until Jesus comes and makes all things new. In First Corinthians chapter 15 Paul says of these bodies “…What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.” These bodies belong to this fallen world and as a result are rotting. Things in this world—even the church, which is not OF this world, but is IN this world, have an inescapable tendency to eventually become corrupted over time. Only in glory will institutions indefinitely remain healthy and unaffected by sin. First Peter 1:4 promises a future “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” In heaven, institutions will be imperishable and undefiled and unfading, but not in this life.
We see this
sad truth illustrated in the Old Testament all over the place. In
Genesis, the decaying, corrupting power of sin is so potent that just three chapters after the fall, God tells
Noah the putrid sin of humanity has already reached his threshold of tolerance.
He promises to pour out his humanity-destroying wrath through a great flood on the earth.
God’s response is to begin something new with Noah. As you move into Exodus, in chapter 14 the Israelites cross the Red Sea
after God had--through repeated, miraculous acts delivered his people from the bondage of
Think of nearly all the good kings of
brings Martin Luther onto the scene. The gospel is recovered and
sound Biblical theology is re-discovered and put into practice. The
Reformation spreads like wild-fire over
Don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t mean God can’t pump new life into existing churches. Two
of the ways Scripture teaches that God brings life is through birth and resurrection.
Both of those metaphors are used to describe how God imparts spiritual life. “You must be born
again.”[John 3:7] “You have been raised
up with Christ” [Eph. 2:6]. God desires to continually
re-infuse existing churches with new resurrection life and we must earnestly seek that here at
Why is that? Why do even these creations of God tend to become corrupted? Romans eight tells us they do, but why? One answer is--because maintaining spiritual health in this world is a fight. We live in a world that is constantly pushing against us—constantly challenging us. We are swimming upstream every minute of every day and the moment we stop working against the corrupting flow of this world, we begin to be carried away by the opposing currents. The Bible consistently describes the life of faith as a fight. Paul in First Timothy chapter six tells Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” The evangelical church MUST understand that you do not fight—you do not live a radical, faith-filled life in order to become a super saint, you fight to because that’s how you spiritually SURVIVE! Paul tells the Colossians in chapter one that Christ has done the work of reconciliation on the cross, “…in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you have heard…” Those verbs, “stable,” “steadfast,” “not shifting,” all imply that you must remain firmly anchored in the truth and holding fast against the opposing current of this world that seeks to sweep you away.
The Biblical way to fight the fight of faith is not to buckle yourself into a static church and get comfortable. No—faith is exercised in the risks implicit in our obedience to the Great Commission. We were reminded last week of William Carey’s description of this process entailed, “attempt great things for God, expect great things from God.” Obedience is the fruit of faith. In Romans chapter one, Paul tells us that he was called by God to “bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.” So, what must churches do in order to remain steadfast in faith? Stop trying to get comfortable in this world and FIGHT, OBEY--do radical things that absolutely require God’s provision if they are to succeed. Given the fact that we live in a corrupting world that requires us to fight the fight of faith--given the fact that God has told us to exercise our faith through our obedience in areas like reaching our Jerusalem—given the fact that the only apostolic model we have is planting churches—why would planting a church NOT be a good thing for us to consider?
Biblical reason to plant a church is: Planting
new churches is consistent with the creative, life-giving character of God and his gospel.
Therefore, church planting uniquely
provides God a showcase to reveal his glorious character.
When I say that God is creative, I am referring to the fact that he is the Creator and we must never forget
that God did not create the world simply because he had to start somewhere.
He created because creating is part of his essential character—that unmistakably influences HOW he does
things—he does them as the Creator. The terminology surrounding the
gospel is replete with language that speaks of God’s native creative character.
When Jesus saves a person, according to Second Corinthians 5:17, they become a “new creation.”
In Matthew 9:17, Jesus speaks of the new kingdom that he will be inaugurating and how it is qualitatively
different than the old one and he speaks of this as “new wine.” “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins.” "New" means, newly given by God.
The new relationship with him that will be established within this
All that newness is not simply because the old wasn’t good enough, but also because God is the Creator God who by his nature delights in doing new things. This is not just a characteristic of the gospel. The Bible verse that is projected onto our wall nearly every week is Isaiah 43:19 and it isn’t speaking directly to the gospel. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” This is who God is. None of this absolutely mandates us to plant a church. But it more than refutes the tired notion that just because there are existing churches in town, God doesn’t want to birth many more, especially when only 15% of the population is attending existing Twin Ports churches. Each new healthy church uniquely places God’s character on display.
Let me quickly give three ways in which new, local churches uniquely expand the opportunity for God’s glorious character to be seen. If that is true from Scripture and if we are a church that prizes God’s glory above all things, then this should have a profound impact on our thinking in this area. The first way God’s glory is magnified through the planting of new churches is found in the truth that the church is the body of Christ. When Paul uses this term for the church, he uses it to refer not only to the universal church as Christ’s combined body of believers, but also the local church. In 12:27 he says, “Now you [Corinthian church] are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” If each local church is an expression of Christ’s body on earth, intended to display his glory through the manifold gifts and attributes and ministries and relationships as each church works in dependence upon the Holy Spirit—if that’s true, and if you yearn for God’s glory to be magnified, why wouldn’t we want MORE glory-reflecting expressions of Christ’s body? Don’t you want more local expressions of Christ’s body that can by God’s grace show the dazzling, manifold character and ministry of the body of Christ?
way God’s glory is magnified through planting new churches is seen in the truth that the
church is the bride of Christ. Again, the Bible uses this
term to refer not only to the universal church, but also to local assemblies of believers.
Paul says to the church in
way God’s glory is magnified through planting more churches is found in the truth that the
church is the
In my estimation,
a big part of the reason for the overwhelming statistics I presented last week as to why new church plants are
so much more effective in reaching the lost than established churches, is because God blesses things that bring
him glory and are rooted in the Bible. Planting healthy churches
qualifies on both counts. My conclusion is simple—given the Biblical
truth that planting a new church is the only apostolic model for reaching lost cities—given the Biblical truth
that this strategy flows out of the character of God as he works to create newness out of the inherently corrupting
institutions in this world—given the Biblical truth that his glory is magnified in new expressions of his body,
his bride and his temple—the question for us at Mount of Olives to me is NOT—“Why
should be plant a church?” The more Biblically rooted
question seems to be, “Why on earth wouldn’t we be anxious to do
this and then keep planting them until Jesus comes for his bride and brings us to his new temple in the New Jerusalem?”
May God give us the grace to thirst for the glory of God and do whatever we can to manifest that glory in the best,
most Biblical way possible as we at Mount of Olives fight the fight of faith as Christ’s church here in
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