And Jesus came up and spoke to them saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations(Matt. 28:18-19).

Introduction

The great commission is a church planting issue that needs the serious attention of all Christians (Acts 1:8). Jesus gave this command to the apostles shortly before he ascended into heaven, and he essentially outlined his expectations from his disciples while in absence. This made church planting a necessity for every organised local church. The only sure way of extending the borders of Christianity is by doing missions. Missions pushes away the borders of darkness from the world with the word of truth, which is the gospel. Church planting is necessary and presupposes all Christians as ambassadors for Christ in our cities (Jerusalem), in our states and countries (Judea and Samaria), and anywhere else God sends us (ends of the earth). Fulfilling the great commission requires church planting. The spread of false teachers and the emergence of suburbs also necessitate church planting.

The Great Commission demands church planting

The centrality and primacy of the local church’s job description lies in the Lord Jesus Christ’s authority. The church is to go into the whole world and make disciples. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations.” Though there had been a need in history and a place in the early church for the itinerant evangelists and teachers in God’s plan (such as Phillip and Apollos as good examples), however, the church has a special place and a critical role in God’s plan for church planting. Phillip and Apollos both worked with the local churches to add to their number and strengthen them in the faith.  Church planting is the greatest task that the people of God must focus their gifting, labour, money, prayers, and resources on.

Throughout the book of Acts, it was the priority of the apostles to establish local churches. This is especially evident in the missionary journeys of Paul, who planted churches by the grace and power of God wherever he went. Paul did not just preach and move on from place to place without seeing any fruit. Instead, he entered a place and stayed there until either a church was raised up, or he was forced to flee because of persecution. Like Peter and the other apostles present at Pentecost, Paul’s understanding of fulfilling the Great Commission included planting local churches. It was from those local churches that the word of God was then to sound out to the areas around them. Thus the apostle Paul wrote, “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly” (1 Thess.1:8; see also 2 Thess. 3:1). Those churches were a constant witness, a light, and a testimony to the communities around them. The regions were reached with the gospel, the land was evangelised, and the gospel of Christ made inroads into society by saturating regions with local churches of disciples who obeyed Jesus Christ.

The word “church” translated in Greek as “ekklesia” means an assembly of called out ones—the gathered flock of those God called out of the world, and joined together in Christ by his Spirit. We that are saved are that church. Christ told us about the founding of the church in Matthew 16:17-18. Then he told us about the discipline and authority of a church in Matthew 18:15-20. However, through the Great Commission, the Lord has given a mandate of what a church is supposed to do, i.e. to get involved in missions. Missions is all about extending the borders of the kingdom of God through the light of the gospel, by so doing pushing away further the borders of darkness. In a nutshell, Christian mission is about obeying Christ, sharing Christ and relying on Christ. Specifically, God sends missionaries through the support of the church to the unreached people groups. Therefore, all Christians have a mission of reconciliation. The Lord works through them to rescue the perishing. In view of this, it must be pointed out that the Great Commission is a church planting issue.

Why is church planting a necessity in missions?  Note with me the following reasons: –

(1)   Church planting is a response to the great commander (Matt. 28:18-19): The head of the church, Jesus Christ, has all authority from the Father in heaven. The same authority has been conferred on his church. The Son of God as “Creator” has the right to all things, to control them and dispose of them as he wills (Col. 1:16-17). But the universe is put under him more particularly as Mediator, that he might redeem his people; that he might gather a church; that he might defend his chosen ones; that he might subdue all their enemies, and bring them in as conquerors and more than conquerors (Eph. 1:20-22, see Albert Barnes’ commentary). In view of this, the duty of the church is to obey the commander who has said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”

(2) Church planting is a response to the great command (Matt. 28:20): The gospel army must move upon the nations. The Lord seeks a universal empire and sends forth his armies to conquer the world. Every church and every disciple must understand that they have marching orders. We are commanded to go and make disciples. Church planting is an answer to the great commander’s call, and his command to the church is that she must be in the business of making disciples.  Literally, the implication of the Greek verbal construction of “Go” in this text carries the idea of “having gone”. The burden of the command is not on the word, “go” but rather on the phrase “make disciples”. That is, as we are going, the imperative is that we are to “make disciples” of all peoples (see Young’s Literal Translation). How are we to do this?

(a)   First, by teaching them:  The word rendered here “teach”, is not the one that is usually used in the New Testament. This word properly means “to disciple, to make disciples” of all nations. The commission of Jesus is to the church in every age. Therefore, the theme of the Great Commission is the mission and purpose of a local church. Everything we do in the local church must be centred on going and making disciples. We are commanded to “make disciples”—not disciples of ourselves, not disciples of some denomination, but disciples of Jesus Christ. A disciple is a disciplined follower, a pupil, a student, a learner, and an imitator.

(b)   Second, by baptising them: In baptism, the Christian declares himself to be one with Christ. He is joined to Christ, and is decisively committed to him. It is a definitive external act, declaring an internal disposition of a true and living relationship with Christ the Lord.  It is called being “baptised into Christ Jesus.” In Romans 6:3, the apostle Paul says, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?” In baptism, we declare that we are not ashamed to own Christ as our Lord. Baptism sets up a marker of publicly declaring our faith in Jesus, and our relation to him. Baptism is staking a claim. It is nailing the colours to the mast. And rightly so, they are “baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This means that the commander expects real converts to be produced from the ministry of his preachers. If Jesus expected baptisms to be performed, then he certainly expects converts to be made and souls to be saved. While there can certainly be some exceptions in God’s great sovereign will and divine providence, if we are not seeing any converts from our ministry we may very well want to re-examine our methods, our prayer lives, our preaching, and our goals. Part of the Great Commission is seeing souls saved and baptised.

Brethren, no matter how competent a religious organisation might be if it is not a church, it does not qualify to carry out church planting work. The Great Commission by its very nature demands that we plant churches. In other words, church planting is indeed a response to the Great Commission.

The spread of false teachers requires church planting

The reason for the diversity of spiritual gifts in the church is to enable it to grow into maturity even though it is in the era of heretical teachings. The apostle Paul wrote, “We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves…by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” This is the reason why when the Lord Jesus ascended he gave diversity of spiritual gifts to the church (Eph. 4:11-12). The purpose here is to show that he has made ample provision for the extension and edification of his church. Therefore, we can conclude the following from this gesture of the Lord in giving the church diversity of gifts:

(1)   Church planting is a safeguard for believers. We are living in the time and age when it is said that some men will not keep up with sound doctrine. They will teach doctrines taught by men rather than Christ, flooding the world with the prosperity gospel. By so doing, they will be producing converts of their own rather than Christ and making them worse candidates of hell than themselves. Many pastors, perhaps out of a lack of trust in the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the flock, or perhaps out of a wrongful need to control everything, have perpetuated this crippling distinction. They do almost everything in the local church while many of their members only attend the services and do nothing.

As a result, many local churches look like our football tournaments, where you find 50,000 spectators seated watching 22 men chasing after a piece of leather called a football. I define football as 22 men on the field desperately needing rest, and 50,000 fans in the stadium desperately needing exercise! The church sometimes can be reduced to that. Instead of being on the move fulfilling its mandate, it is crippled.

Therefore, planting of churches with sound faith is critical as a safeguard for the believers not to deteriorate into such malaise.  You will note that there are three aims of church ministry demonstrated to us in the text of Eph. 4:11-14. Those with leadership gifts are to equip the saints for the work of service, so that the body will grow to unity, maturity, and Christ-likeness. The three aims of church ministry are as follows:

(a)   The building up of the body (verse 12). Christ gives leaders to the church (like pastors and teachers) “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service [or ministry], to the building up of the body of Christ.” So the aim of church ministry is the building up the body—not just the individual members of the body, but the body as a whole. While the lists in Rom. 12:6-8 and 1 Cor. 12:8-10 focus on the gifts, here Paul’s emphasis is on the gifted men. He has not listed all possible gifts, but rather concentrating on leadership gifts. Also, each of these leadership gifts centres on the word of God, showing that the word of God is foundational to a mature church.

When the word is diminished or compromised, the church will be anaemic. Calvin’s main emphasis in reforming the church was his amazing expository preaching ministry. The same could be said of Luther and of the Puritans a century later. That is why the church must devote herself to the work of expository preaching in its quest to make disciples.

(b)   The church’s unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (verse 13). The apostle Paul wrote, “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” So the aim of the church is to keep on building up the body until there is unity in the faith and unity in the knowledge of Christ. Therefore, the need for having true converts as members of the church must be the priority. It is impossible for the church to attain unity with a group of infidels.

(c)   The body of Christ attaining a corporate personality of Christ-likeness (verse 13b). The apostle Paul wrote, “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” In other words, the aim of ministry is not only that individuals be built up, but also that the body of Christ should attain to a mature man (not men, but man) and that man being the Lord Jesus Christ. As we are commissioned to go and make disciples, we are bearing the character and portrait of the master himself.

Therefore, the church’s obedience to the demands of the commission to make disciples provides an opportunity for growth of its body into spiritual maturity. When the whole body is building itself up in corporate likeness to the maturity of Christ, the effect is that the members of the body in that process become discerning and perceptive and stable. They have their minds trained to see through the subtle, manipulative use of language that tricks people into affirming things that are not true or right. So one of the reasons why the saints minister to the body of Christ is so that every member would become wiser and penetrating and perceptive and stable, and less gullible.

The church must make disciples to the end that the members are mature enough to sniff error, and able to stand in this perverse world and wicked generation. They must be brought to a point where they are able to see blasphemy, misuse and misapplication of biblical truth for personal interest and political convenience, and follow the right way for the glory of the Lord. For instance; during the Gulf War in Iraq, it is said of President George Bush Jnr. that he sacrificed the meaning of Matthew 5:14 on the altar of national pride, when he said to the National Religious Broadcasters in justifying the Gulf War, “I want to thank you for helping America, as Christ ordained, to be a light unto the world.” What that amounts to is an outrageous distortion of Jesus’ meaning. That misuse of Scripture is designed for immature babes that are easily swayed by surface words without thought and discernment. The “light of the world” in Matthew 5:14 does not refer to Americans bombing Iraq no matter how justified the war may have been.

How about here in Zambia? We cannot ignore the current crop of the so called “prophets” and “men of God” who use scripture for personal gain and have lured many immature babes into the so called prophesies, prosperity, and healing gospel to mention only a few. They promise them wealth and health at the expense of their own hard earned cash. They hide in the popular phrase of sowing a seed. The need of the time for the people is the true gospel and Christ does not want the members of his body to be babes in these things, blown about by “the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”

(2)   Church planting is a remedy to the spread of false teachers.  The apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1-4.) In its quest to destroy false teachings the church needs:

(a) A discerning spirit (1 John 4:1). Missions is all about pushing back the borders of the kingdom of darkness with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The remedy to false teaching is growth. Growth is a building up of believers in their faith. “Building up” pictures a building under construction, but Peter uses it in 1 Peter 2: 5 with the body of Christ; where the analogy would be physical growth. This includes both adding new members to the body through evangelism, and seeing all of the members growing spiritually as they come to know God and his word in deeper ways. In the first sense, we read in the early chapters of Acts how “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47), so that the church in Jerusalem came to number in the thousands (see Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7). We must not be content when we see very few coming to saving faith. We should realise that there are unusual times of revival, when the Spirit of God brings many to repentance and salvation. We should pray for such times and we should, even in more normal times, long to see some lost people coming to salvation. In Acts 2, they were not only added to their number, but they also devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching. This is commendable as remedy to the spread of false teaching. Mature Christians will always discern the Spirit of God. The apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

(b)   The truth of the incarnation (1 John 4:2-3). The truth of the gospel will always bring unity to the church. The apostle John wrote, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” And Paul wrote (Col. 1:28), “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” Or, (Col. 2:6-7), “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” In both texts, Paul mentions teaching or instruction as a primary way that these saints were being built up in truth.

New suburbs (new borders) necessitate church planting

The only way to ensure church growth is by having a deliberate policy where all our members participate in evangelism as witnesses. It is a known fact that all those who are truly God’s people by regeneration are witnesses. The Bible says, “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD” (Isa. 43:10). It must be understood that the nature of the church is that it is militant by design and hence the following must be noted:

(1)   Church planting is a ministry “on the go” (Matt. 28:19). There is need for church members to become opportunistic evangelists, taking advantage of every opportunity to go out with the gospel. Peter is a very good example of this on the day of Pentecost. He challenged the men of Israel to listen to him (Acts 2:1). It was an evangelistic effort that saw the birth of the church with 3,000 new believers added to their number (Acts 2:41). I stated earlier that the phrase “Go” is actually “having gone” or “while you are going”. It suggests that it is an obvious part of Christian living. It is similar to what Jesus said about the secret duties of prayer, fasting, and giving in Matthew 6. Instead of giving imperatives such as “pray”, “fast” or “give”, it is as if it is such an obvious Christian duty that no such imperatives are required. Hence, the language is When you give, When you pray, When you fast etc. In the same way, it is as if Christ is expecting his disciples to already be going and making disciples.

(2)   Church planting is a ministry of extension by nature. The job description of the church is that of a witness. Extension of the borders of the church is only assured by her witnessing to the world. We can borrow an argument from the command in Acts 1:8 that we must go from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Even though the gospel is already among the Gentiles, the suburbs that spring up necessitate an extension of the church’s boundaries. A witness is one who accurately and honestly relates to others that which he has heard with his own ears and has seen with his own eyes, felt and experienced in his own heart. He does not relate second-hand information. He declares what he himself knows to be true. The apostle John wrote, “That which… we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life…” (1 John 1:1-3)

Therefore, if the church is not doing the work of evangelism to the lost world, it is not doing God’s will. It must be considered as an act of betrayal if the church that bears Christ’s name does not witness for the Lord. The silence is tantamount to being a traitor. The only succession found in the book of acts is that of witnesses for Christ rather than apostolic succession in the ecclesiastical sense, nor a succession of orthodox tradition, but a succession of witnesses to Christ.

Conclusion

Church planting is a response to the Great Commission and the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the church. For all that the Lord has purchased with his own blood are his witnesses. The church must submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ by fulfilling its mandate. Though Para-church organisations may be zealously winning souls to God, the duty of church planting is entirely the church’s responsibility. God forbid that she neglects doctrine and gives rise to false teachers. A church that does not have a passion for church planting betrays the cause of the master.

References:

Albert, Barnes: Commentary

Young’s Literal Translation: commentary

John Piper:  DesiringGod.org Ministry

Dr. Hymers Jr. www.realconversion.com ; plan that actually works!

  1. H. L. Parker’s fine book, Calvin’s Preaching([Westminster/John Knox Press], 1992),

CH Spurgeon: Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, by Rev. Iain H. Murray (Banner of Truth Trust, 1995).

John Stott (One People [Falcon], p. 30, cited by James Boice, Ephesians [Baker], p. 142, italics in Boice)