Growing Together: Apostolic Churches & The Great Commission

Growing Together: Apostolic Churches & The Great Commission

The apostle Paul described his relationship with the Philippian church and its elders as a “partnership” (Phil 1:5,7), and it’s clear from the New Testament that this kind of partnership was integral to the “advancement of the gospel” (Phil 1:12), enabling the mission to flourish and the churches to grow daily in number, so that the world of that day was “turned upside down” (Ac 17:6)! Jesus had risen, ascended, poured-out His Spirit and sent-forth His church, and this Spirit-filled church – inspired and thrust forward by her apostles, guided and cared-for by her elders – began to impact and transform every society into which she was planted!…

Now, in a world in greater need than ever, and with a gospel as powerful as ever, it’s the great destiny of the church to once again turn the world upside down and make way for the return of Christ.  Led by her apostles and elders, and with every other precious part fully functioning, the church is the hope of the world!  And in a time of such abundant harvest, we must be so missional and so well-built that multitudes can be rapidly added, discipled and sent-out.   This paper seeks to lift our vision of the church, the apostles and the elders, and considers how their powerful partnership can best be outworked today…

Authentic Apostolic Ministry

Authentic Apostolic Ministry

One of the most distinct and significant Pentecostal-Charismatic developments of the last forty years has been the emergence of various groups insisting upon the validity of present-day apostolic ministry. Such claims are not without historic precedence, but the present movement has gained considerable momentum and an increasingly widespread acceptance. With it comes the danger of dilution; a watering-down of vital biblical truths, principles and patterns.

This article links to a thesis (written for my Masters Degree in 2012) concerned with the authenticity of apostolic ministry, in which the investigation is carried out from three perspectives.

1. Firstly, there is a thorough examination of the biblical evidence concerning the nature, functions and hallmarks of apostolic ministry as found in the Gospels, Acts and Epistles. Lukan and Pauline concepts of apostleship are compared, Paul’s self-understanding is probed, and a clear picture of authentic apostolic character, tasks and fruit emerges.

2. Secondly, there is a consideration of several ecclesiological matters, including the extent to which notions of ministry in general, and apostleship in particular, are shaped by views of the nature and mission of the church. This is followed by an overview of the historic development of modern concepts of apostolic ecclesiology.

3. The third perspective is a practical one, and here we consider how those convinced of a continuing apostolic ministry are outworking their beliefs. The focus is on some of those associated with the Restoration Movement, together with others representing the wider so-called ‘New Apostolic Reformation’. This part of the thesis considers the grounds and process of apostolic recognition, the exercise of apostolic authority, the development of apostolic spheres or ‘networks’, the apostolic approach to the major tasks of the church, and the response of the new models to the pressing issues of apostolic ‘succession’.

The overall concern of the thesis is to investigate the nature of biblically authentic apostleship: What is an apostle? What does he do? Are the biblical patterns relevant for today? Are contemporary expressions authentic If apostolic ministry is essential in enabling the Church to come to unity and maturity before the return of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13), then it’s vital that we arrive at a truly biblical view of these things…

The THESIS is available to download using the link below. SUMMARY sections can be found at pages 48-50, 75-76 and 107-108, with overall CONCLUSIONS at pages 110-112.

Why Mission Matters!

Why Mission Matters!

Our ideas about participating in ‘mission’ are many and varied! To some, it seems daunting and way beyond the comfort zone! To others, mission is what happens overseas, and requires a special calling if we are to get involved. To some, it’s regarded as the pastime of the super-zealous. And to other, perhaps, it is still seen as a special department of the church – an alternative to ‘prayer’ or ‘bible study’!…

But, as you’d expect, the Bible gives us an altogether different perspective! In the pages of the New Testament we find ‘mission’ is part of the normal day-to-day life of the church – requiring neither a special calling nor a special bravery. Here, mission is what inevitably happens when followers of Jesus live their lives with compassion and generosity towards those around them.

And it seems to me that the early church were absolutely convinced of a few things that fundamentally shaped this perspective; this straightforward view of mission and how they participated in it. Let me suggest four such convictions they had, that God wants us to be equally convinced about:

Firstly, let’s be convinced that our mission is nothing less than the outworking of God’s eternal purpose! The very first page of the Bible announces that God’s plan is to fill the earth with people in His image; God’s original commission to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). Thereafter, all the covenants included an ‘expansionary’ dimension: Noah, like Adam, was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1); Abraham was promised descendants too numerous to count (Genesis 15:5); Moses received a covenant designed to keep God’s people holy and healthy as they expanded in the promised land (Exodus 20ff); and the covenant with David involved an everlasting, ever-growing Kingdom (2 Samuel 7). It’s no wonder, therefore, that when Jesus gave His followers what we now call the ‘great commission’ – telling us to “go into all world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19f) – He was effectively re-stating the original commission and re-emphasising God’s eternal purpose and desire! God wants His People everywhere, so His Kingdom comes and His glory covers earth as waters cover sea!…

Secondly, let’s be assured that our mission is nothing less than continuing all that Jesus started!  As Luke tells us, the four Gospels are a record of “all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1), and the start of the ‘second phase’ of His ministry is described in the Book of Acts – where we see His Church continuing all He’d started: proclaiming the Good News of Kingdom and proving He’s King by setting people free and establishing churches in every place!…

Linked with this, thirdly, let’s understand that our mission is nothing less than the very reason Jesus sent His Spirit!  He told His disciples to wait until they’d received the power that He’d promised (Luke 24:49) and that the baptism with the Holy Spirit would empower them to “be His witnesses” in the locality, in the region, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). To put it another way, the baptism in the Spirit was the ‘ultimate act’ of Christ’s first coming: it wasn’t enough to have a forgiven people; He needed a Church empowered by His Spirit so they could continue His works!  He lived, died, rose, and ascended….so that He could send His Spirit!  It was all part of the eternal plan: He ascended with His physical body but left a spiritual Body behind – His Church, now filled with His Spirit.  And all this means that the baptism and empowering of the Spirit is for our mission and not just for our meetings!… 

And then lastly, let’s appreciate that our mission is nothing less than the key to Christ’s return! Jesus told us He will come again and He told us exactly when it will happen (and, therefore, when “the end will come”). So there’s no need for speculation! The return of Christ will take place when (and only when) “this good news of the kingdom” has been “proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14).  The early church were convinced of this! And so their zeal and devotion to spreading the Good News everywhere was deeply rooted in a belief that fulfilling the great commission of their Lord was the most significant thing they could do with their lives…

Mission really matters, and never more so than right now! And when followers of Jesus live their lives with compassion and generosity towards those around them we experience the joy and fulfilment of participating in His eternal purpose, continuing all that He started, living-out a life empowered by His Spirit and – not least – hastening His return!

The Unstoppable Mission

The Unstoppable Mission

As we’ve seen in Part 1 and Part 2 of this mini-series, Jesus is totally unchangeable – the same yesterday, today and forever – and has a Kingdom that, unlike every earthly kingdom, is totally unshakeable.  Now we will see that He has empowered His Church to spread the Good News of His Kingdom everywhere. This is our mission, and nothing can stop it!…

Let’s start by briefly making 4 vital statements (expanded elsewhere) that will put things in context and explain why the mission is unstoppable:

  1. Our mission is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose. The original commission to Adam was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and God’s desire to see his people fill the earth is seen repeatedly thereafter.  Our great commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20) is a re-statement of this great purpose. 
  2. Our mission is continuing what Jesus started.  The Gospels record “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1) and Acts shows the early church continuing all He’d started, as they proclaimed and proved He is King and has defeated every enemy.
  3. Our mission is the very reason Jesus sent His Spirit.  Acts 1:4-8 makes clear that the whole purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to empower His disciples to be His witnesses in spreading the gospel.
  4. Our mission is the key to Christ’s return. Jesus declared He will come again and “the end will come” only when the good news of Kingdom has been preached in every nation (Matthew 24:14).

Since the purpose of God will always prevail, and Jesus will finish what He started, and His return is never in doubt…we can be assured that our mission cannot be thwarted – it is unstoppable

Now, if you’re anything like me, it will also help to know: What does this look like in practice?  How will it happen? How do we move from theory to reality?  And how can we play our part?…  

The story of the healing at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-12) provides some answers to these important questions.  This story is positioned: immediately after 3,000 people are initially added to the church (Acts 2:41) and then more are added “every day” (Acts 2:47); and immediately before a further 2,000 are added (Acts 4:4) – and in fact it’s this event that triggers the second wave of growth.  And this story is here in the middle of these things by design, to tell us about “one day” that illustrates “every day”, about one man who was saved and added as an example of thousands of others, and to describe one supernatural act that was typical of the “many signs and wonders” prevalent in the church (Acts 2:43).  And, as such, it contains keys that help us become part of unstoppable mission and growth in our communities and churches.  Let’s look at 5 things we see here:

Firstly, the story shows that our mission is not our meetings!  This miracle took place as Peter and John were on their way to pray (verse 1).  God moved in power outside the meeting, because that’s where the need was!  Our mission doesn’t depend on our buildings or our meetings; we can play our part at any time in any place!  We are never ‘more spiritual’ or ‘more usable’ when we are worshipping, praying or fellowshipping with others; in fact, as far as mission goes, we’re probably much more useful when we’re not in a meeting! Meetings aren’t a substitute for mission; good doctrine isn’t an alternative to good deeds; and our great community must not distract us from our Great Commission!  If we want to turn our world upside-down we must let Him turn our church inside-out!

Secondly, we must not miss the moments. Peter and John arrive at the Gate at just same time as the lame man (verse 2); God creates ‘a moment’ when they find themselves sharing the same small patch of planet earth!  None has planned it, but Peter and John know how to make most of every opportunity; and are alert to this ‘moment’ and available for God to use them at any time in any place.  Jesus had told them to “Go and make disciples….” And promised “You will receive power…. you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…”  And now here they are: in Jerusalem and ready to be used!  Participating in the mission means being ready for the many ‘moments’ God will bring our way.

Then, thirdly, we must look and listen.  Peter and John listened to the man’s request and then “looked at him intently” (verse 4).  If we’re going to recognise these God-given opportunities we must attune our senses to what’s happening around us: there’s always something to see and hear; every situation and conversation alerts us to a heart-cry if we look and listen carefully.  Peter and John were ‘present in the moment’, and gave this man their time and attention. Playing our part means taking time to notice and care about the need that’s all around us.

Fourthly, we must be ready to give what we’ve got.  In response to what they saw and heard, Peter simply gave the man what he had (verse 6).  He gave him Jesus, and a miraculous healing in His Name.  Simply sharing what we have, passing-on what we’ve discovered and allowing our lives to overflow is the very heart of our mission!  And note that Peter and John gave away what they enjoyed “every day” (Acts 2:42-47) to a man who’d spent his life begging “every day” (Acts 3:2) – and from then on no day was ever the same again!  It’s a great picture of a thriving church sharing the goodness of God with a barely-surviving world.  When we keep it simple and give what we’ve got…the mission is unstoppable! 

And then lastly, we must help people up and let them hold on.  Peter reached out and helped the man up (verse 7) and let him hold on as they took him into the gathered church (verse 11).   It takes great courage to lift up a lame man!  But also to share your story, offer to help, sit and listen, ask if you can pray…. But note that it was as he lifted him up that healing exploded in the man’s body!  God moves when we step-out.  This man expected nothing more than a hand-out, but Peter offered an outstretched-hand.  He was present in the moment.  It’s a reminder that Jesus embraced people, sat with them, fed them, wept with them, calmed their storms, touched and healed them.  And He’s just the same today! 

Let’s be sure nothing stops us from opening-up our lives, reaching-out and helping others in… and so playing our part in this great co-mission! In this way we can outwork God’s purpose, continue what Jesus started, enjoy His empowering and hasten His return!

(An extended video version of this message is available here)