If I could recommend just one book for you to read this year it would be The Ministry of the Spirit: Selected Writings of Roland Allen.
I found in this book the best selections of Roland’s writing anywhere and it includes his hard to find “booklets” on Non-professional Missionaries and Voluntary Clergy. These two chapters alone are worth the price and effort to find the book. I bought mine used for under $10.
His take on “Gospel first before social missions” is the best I have read anywhere! Here are the chapter titles as they are in the book.
Pentecost and the World
Mission Activities Considered in Relation to the Manifestation of the Spirit
St. Paul and the Judaizers: A Dialogue, An Illustration from V.S. Azariah,
The Case for Voluntary Clergy
To the Parishioners of Chalfont St. Peter
Do yourself, and the missionary movement world-wide, a favor and read this book!
For the least in the Kingdom,
Once upon a time, Almighty God told a farmer to build a boat out of wood. For its time, it was a really HUGE boat! God told him to build it 300 cu. x 50 cu. x 30 cu. Beautifully simple, round numbers, don’t you think? He also told him that there should be a door, three decks and a window in it and gave him about 100 years to build it…
I’m sure by now you recognize this Genesis account of Noah and the Ark- which took place over 4000 years ago in human history. What struck me recently is the fact that God told a farmer to build an Ark that would be the biggest sea-going vessel ever built out of wood and the largest ship of any kind until 1858!
What can we learn from this?
God has a “blueprint”, call it a method or plan, that makes all other methods and plans and dreams and visions OBSOLETE!
Well, maybe you think Noah and the ark and the flood are stretching the truth of what happened? Well, Jesus didn’t:
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” (Luke 17:26-27)
Maybe you think Noah’s story is just a nice bed-time story for your children? Well, the NT writers sure didn’t:
“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7)
Let’s look again at this marvelous story…
Noah first appears on the pages of Scriptures as a 500 year old man. His father, Lamech, was 50 years old when Adam died. (Think of the stories Noah heard on his father’s knee.) Noah was a farmer. He planted vineyards. He had three sons. He lived around 2300 B.C. What’s more, He had never seen anything even remotely similar to what God asked him to build! Finally, this “boat” was not built to sail but just to float. It had no rudder that we know of! What a strange “thing “ to build…
I find something wonderfully comforting when I think of Noah and his three sons laboring in the hot sun building this huge, never before seen, ship of wood and covering it inside and out with pitch: the dimensions. Thankfully it was not 293 ½ x 49 ¼ x 31 1/8. Incredibly, God’s “blueprint” was easy to read, His directions were easy to follow and His Divine Design thorough enough to last for 4 millennium!
You see, mankind, in all his God-given talent and effort, has never built a better, more perfect wooden sea-going vessel than Noah and his sons did. History tells us that we have tried but have never succeeded in building a bigger boat out of wood! Mariners the world over will tell you its “length to width ratio of 6 to 1” (300 cu. x 50 cu.) provided excellent stability on the high seas.
In fact, modern shipbuilders say the Ark would have been almost impossible to turn over. In every way, it was admirably suited for riding out the tremendous storms in the year of the flood. Moreover, the ark is 13 times as stable as the ABS (American Bureau of Shipping) Rules require for a passenger vessel. (Taken from ChristianAnswers.Net)
Noah didn’t know all that – he was a farmer remember – but God did!
The Modern Ark: The church of God
God’s vessel on earth today to rescue His people from certain death is His church, the “gathering together of called out ones”. Mark this my dear brothers and sisters, “God’s blueprint for the church is just as “other worldly” as was His blueprint for Noah’s ark!”
> When Jesus called God “Daddy” and expected His disciples to do the same, He forever turned a relationship with God “right-side up”. Previously, the name of God was so Holy that the Jews never even uttered it but simply referred to God as YHWH – fearful to say his full Name!
> When Jesus directed His disciples to shun the large temples, filled with ritual and pomp, and, in its place, to meet and eat together simply in homes with small fellowships of tightly-knitted believers, He purposefully set 1000’s of years of church tradition on its head.
Here are two of the most revolutionary acts the world has ever witnessed! May we experience them again in our day.
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,
1. “In the beginning the Church was a missionary society: it added to its numbers mainly by the life and speech of its members attracting to it those who were outside.” Roland Allen
2. “In part, it seems to have resulted from an awareness that mission was the task of ordinary Christians and of congregations acting together. Professional agents and special boards did not yet exist. Unconsciously these early Christians grasped that mission was a total activity involving preaching, teaching, baptism, personal witness and service to humanity.” James Scherer
3. Harry Boer believes that the early church was propelled into action based upon the work of the Holy Spirit. He argues that it was not the Great Commission that motivated people to witness; rather, it was the Pentecost event.
In fact, Boer maintains that the early church leaders were reluctant to share the Gospel with non-Jewish people. He states that, as a result of the Spirit’s work, the church became, by nature, a witnessing community. “Witnessing is not one among many functions or activities of the Church; it is of her essence to witness,” Boer says, “and it is out of this witness that all her other activities take their rise.” Harry R. Boer
4. “The Book of Acts opens with 120 timid disciples meeting secretly in an upper room in Jerusalem for fear of their enemies. A generation later, when the Book of Acts closes, the gospel had been preached as far west as Rome; and there was a thriving Christian church in almost every city of significance in the Eastern part of the empire. What began as a Jewish sect in AD 30 had grown into a world religion by AD 60.” J. Herbert Kane
5. Adolf Harnack believes that apostles, prophets, and teachers were all called to have a ministry to the church as a whole but not to have a permanent ministry like that of elders and deacons.
Harnack says: “We cannot hesitate to believe that the great mission of Christianity was in reality accomplished by means of informal missionaries.”
6. “The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession or a major part of their occupation, but men and women who earned their livelihood in some purely secular manner and spoke of their faith to those whom they met in this natural fashion.” Latourette
7. To provide an overview of this epoch, Bavinck summarizes this period of spontaneous expansion as follows:
(1) Outreach was spontaneous, and there was little reflection on the motive for missions.
(2) Missionary work was primarily mono-cultural.
(3) Political aims were not attached to missions.
(4) Missionary work was not comprehensive, but rather, ministries developed out of a sense of Christian compassion in specific situations.
8. John Gager maintains that while many external and internal factors contributed to the growth of Christianity, the single overriding internal factor was “the radical sense of Christian community,” which was open to all but required absolute and exclusive loyalty and involved every aspect of a believer’s life.
9. “Global evangelism was prompted by the Holy Spirit and was not the result of a developed theology of missions. Mission agency structures had not yet come on the scene. Missions was the duty of every Christian. But what was accomplished so well by individual missionaries in the first few centuries was carried on by the state during the next fourteen centuries.
During the 1,350-year-plus period of AD 311–1700, the vehicle of expansion changed from ordinary believers to governments. No longer were individuals primarily responsible for declaring the gospel message; rather, it became the duty of the political hierarchy.” Bruce K. Camp
Taken from: Bruce K. Camp, “Scripturally Considered, the Local Church Has Primary Responsibility for World Evangelization” (D.Miss. diss., School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University, 1992).
Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hinder It
James A. Scherer, Missionary, Go Home! (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1964), p. 43.
Harry R. Boer, Pentecost and Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), p. 100.
J. Herbert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission
Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity
Henry Chadwick, The Early Church
Adolf Harnack, The Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries
J. H. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions
John H. Gager, Kingdom and Community
When Paul went to Corinth in 50 A.D., he said: “I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Please notice: into a Greek culture, which worshipped “knowledge”, Paul sought only to know Jesus! By divine direction, he preached a message void of “persuasive words of wisdom” but instead clearly demonstrated the Holy Spirit and the power of God. (I Cor. 2)
Paul prevailed in Corinth by coming in the opposite spirit: instead of preaching wisdom with clever words, he preached the “foolishness of the cross”- convinced that the foolishness of God is wiser than men.
From Jerusalem to Athens
As the gospel spread from Jerusalem to Greece, we now notice a new battleground: the mind! Where before the battleground was legalism, Mosaic tradition and “religion”, now we face a new arena: “intellectualism”.
As Edwin Hatch points out in his insightful book The Influence of Greek Ideas on Christianity:
“They were a nation of talkers. They were almost the slaves of cultivated expression…. Like children playing at ‘make-believe’…It was impossible for Greeks, educated as they were with an education which penetrated their whole nature, to receive or to retain Christianity in its primitive simplicity. It necessarily gave to Christianity something of its own form.”
In this vein, the book of Acts records that the Athenians “used to spend their time in nothing other than telling stories or hearing something new!” (Acts 17:21)
Whether we see the battleground as intellectual versus unlearned misses the point.
The point I am trying to get at is how the educated Greek culture, in its search for wisdom, quenched and despised the Holy Spirit through the years. When Roman soldiers demolished the temple in Jerusalem and levelled the city in 70 A.D. and the Jews were forced to disperse (never to reunite again as a nation until 1948), the church took on a decidedly Greek form and expression. About this addition to the church, I think we can be unmistakably clear:
“That Christianity has been in large degree smothered by Greco-Roman humanism cannot be doubted by any student of the Scriptures or church history.” (G. T. Purves, 1888)
We need, therefore, to be especially sensitive to the presence of non-Biblical thinking in what passes as modern Christianity. The reformation of the church needs to be an on-going process.
When Paul wrote his beautiful discourse to the Corinthians on the “assembling” of the body in 1 Cor. 14, he yearned that “When you come together, each one should have a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, an interpretation, a prophecy” and so on. The whole body was to be “being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies” (Eph 4) under the direct illumination and leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Little did Paul realise that 100 years later, not only would speaking in tongues be forbidden, but also, along with prophesying, it would be silenced completely.
Again from Hatch:
“In the course of the second century, this original spontaneity of utterance [tongues, prophecy, revelation, etc.] died almost entirely away. It may almost be said to have died a violent death. The dominant parties in the Church set their faces against it. In the place of prophesying came preaching. We consequently find that with the growth of organization there grew up also…the gradual restriction of the liberty to address the community to the official class.”
Of course, teaching and preaching are Biblical gifts to the church. Paul said he was “appointed a preacher, an apostle and a teacher”. (II Tim 1:11). Paul wanted someone to teach when the church gathered (1 Cor. 14) but not the same one every time! What is at stake here is the Spirit-directed contribution of each member in the body when they came together under the Headship of Jesus: a functioning priesthood of all believers who edify, exhort and encourage each other!
True to the nature of God, in every generation we can find those who don’t submit to the spirit of the age. In the 2nd Century, we find the Montanists, which was founded by Montanus in Phrygia (c. 172). Tertullian -“The blood of the martyr has become the seed of the church”- was the most famous Montanist and was involved in canonizing most of the New Testament.
The Montanists “maintained that the revelation of Christ through the Spirit was not a temporary phenomenon of Apostolic days, but a constant fact of Christian life. It was the first, though not the last, rebellion of the religious sentiment against official religion… Little by little those members of the Christian Churches who did not hold office were excluded from the performance of almost all ecclesiastical functions. At first a layman might not preach if a bishop were present, then not if any Church officer was present, and finally not at all.” (Hatch, emphasis added)
Where the “Church Fathers” judged the Montanists most severely is in “speaking of ecstatic utterances (tongues) and prophecy deemed to be divine revelations”. Nevertheless, as this “heresy” was cast out of the church, along with it went the last “original spontaneity of utterance” that Paul pleaded for among the Corinthians. Unfortunately, ever since, what has been handed down to us from our forefathers is a copy of a copy of a copy… each succeeding generation a little less clear than the one before it! I am more then ever stirred in my heart to say that we deviate from the New Testament pattern and norm at our own peril!
There are voices calling in the wilderness, however, just like in the 2nd Century: a call to return to the early church dynamics in both spirit and truth, form and function, with no spectators but every one playing their part!
“The hope of Christianity is, that the class [clergy] which was artificially created may ultimately disappear, and that the sophisticated element in Christian preaching will melt, as a transient mist, before the preaching of the prophets of the ages to come, who, like the prophets of the ages that are long gone by, will speak only ‘as the Spirit gives them utterance’”. (Hatch, emphasis added)
Yours for the Kingdom,