Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. This is episode 107 of Missions on Point. This is number six of 14 in a series on contemporary issues in missions. In this episode, we are revisiting biblical ecclesiology because it is such a subtle but actually very current and widespread problem in missions on the field. I'd like to help you see as a friend of missions, perhaps a friend of missionaries, a supporter, a church leader, or someone who is interested in missions or becoming a missionary. I'd like to help you see why this is an issue on the field and perhaps some perspectives to help us recognize it and know how to deal with it so that we are aiming in the right direction with the right vision, with the right biblical standard for measurement of biblical ecclesiology. We have already gone deep into biblical ecclesiology and the centrality of the role of the local church in missions in a number of different episodes. Start at the beginning because that's where we start.

We're not going to talk about deep biblical support. We've already done that. We're not going to talk about deep theology of ecclesiology. We've already done that in part, but I'm going to talk about in this episode some very practical things that we need to have in our toolbox to understand what the issue is and perhaps how to correct it. This is a sort of follow up to the previous contemporary issue on missions on DMMs, that is disciple making movements and CPMs, in which we stated why their definition of a church or lack of a definition of a church is a problem. Let's start from a good biblical definition of a local church. A local church is a mutually committed indigenous body of local believers worshiping regularly together around the teaching of the word of God and prayer, observing the ordinances of baptism and communion under the leadership of biblically qualified shepherds, while being active witnesses of the gospel.

In just a bit, we'll work through that definition and show why every element of it is important. I just recently read again, the biography of Jim Elliot in Shadow of the Almighty by Elizabeth Elliot. He was constantly being distressed, even with the church in North America and some missionary ideas of church in foreign lands who didn't seem to understand that God has given us something of the structure and definition of how a local church should be and operate through the New Testament. He says that certainly God delivered to men His model of what should be of things that were important to Him through all of human history. Noah had a model and dimensions for the arc. Moses laid out intricate details of everything having to do with the tabernacle, all the law for the people of Israel. David and Solomon had delivered by God, in some form or fashion, the plan for the temple and all the temple area, and Paul was given the plan or administration of the plan for local churches.

So Paul scattered throughout his letters all kinds of information about how the church Is to operate, how it is to be ordered, what are the qualifications of leaders, and the types of leaders, and the plurality of leaders. What the church is supposed to do with ordinances like baptism and communion. How the worship service is to be conducted and what kinds of things are allowed and not allowed. So why don't our churches understand this? And in particular, why don't church planters who are establishing churches on new mission fields understand this? This problem of the futility and fallacy of trying to do church planting without a good, valid biblical definition of local church is the basis for an article by Mark Collins that was first published in a 9Marks Journal in the fall of 2015. It is very important. The title of his article is Your Bad Ecclesiology is Hurting Us.

What he's saying, writing to American church pastors is, please don't send us missionaries that don't understand what comprises a local church. What is a local church? What is the definition of a local church? Because the current trends out there in missions have them so confused. They don't even know what is the basis for determining or understanding what a local church is. Mark Collins says this, "Every missionary on the field aims to do good work. They share their faith, try to disciple new believers, and pray that God will bless the work. It's a good start, but it's not the same as having a clear picture of a planted church functioning in a biblical manner and raising up its own resources for further ministry." It would be pretty frustrating as a church to support a missionary on the field for decades who has never raised up a local church because they don't know what it is, or they've raised up a church and claim that it is a missions indigenous local church when it is not.

Let's go back to the definition. A biblical local church is a mutually committed indigenous body of local believers. Notice that they are believers. It's not just a group of people committed to getting together and reading the Bible together. These are people who have understood the gospel, repented of their sin, and trusted Christ alone for salvation. They are believers and it is an indigenous body or group. That means that they speak their language, they worship in their language, they read the Bible in their language or the closest trade language to their language, and they're mutually committed together. This is not an age homogeneous group. That is, it's not just a group of college students. It is a group that includes children, young adults, older adults, mature adults. It includes the whole spectrum if that is reflective of the whole community. They are a mutually committed body of local believers.

They're committed to getting together regularly, and encouraging one another, and hearing God's word, worshiping together and all of these other things in the definition. So it's this group of believers worshiping regularly together. How regularly? The scripture says weekly. In fact, Paul says that we meet on the first day of the week, the Lord's day as it were, because that is celebratory in itself of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Different times and places and cultures may dictate that believers meet at different times than the typical Sunday morning we're used to in the West, however, they're committed to worshiping regularly together around the teaching of the word of God and prayer. These are elements that are essential and important. It was essential in the first church in Acts chapter two, and it is essential to our church in 2022, the teaching of the word of God is essential to fulfilling the great commission, and so it is naturally a centerpiece of the meaning of the church together.

They are observing the ordinances of baptism and communion. That doesn't mean that they do that every Sunday or every day, but with some regularity they're seeing people coming to Christ, seeing them baptized, and regularly having communion. Some fellowships that we know of have communion every week. That seems to be the tendency of churches in the New Testament, but there's no dictated time schedule for that, and some churches may observe the ordinance of communion once a quarter or once a quarter, plus some other special times like Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmastime, whatever. Other churches have it a little more regularly like once a month, but the point is that they do it because Jesus commanded us to do it, and in so doing to remember his death till he comes, these things are done under the leadership of biblically qualified shepherds, elders, pastors, these terms are somewhat mutually interchangeable, both in practice and in our Bible.

So biblically qualified shepherds is plural on purpose. The plurality of eldership in First Timothy three and Titus one, as well as in practice in Acts 14 and other references in other places is very clear that the leadership of a church is not dependent on one kingpin man, one strong man, one super leader, and the rest just do his bidding. The biblical standard is a group of men who have a unified leadership of the church. Last but not least in the definition is while being active witnesses of the gospel. That is the church itself is not inwardly focused only, but it has an outward focus. It has an outward witness, and it is actively and intentionally sharing the gospel with their community around them. As they develop, perhaps then also planting churches or seeking to participate in planting churches beyond their normal reach. A solid church is a reproducing church.

So the old standard for this kind of church is one that is self-supporting, that is they're not dependent on outside resources or funding. They're self-governing, that is people from within their own indigenous group are the leaders. And they're self-propagating, that means they do have a vision and a witness that helps them continue to grow and ultimately to produce other similar local churches. So when you think about that, some of the terms of the DMM and CPM kind of movements, the DBS, T4T movements and trends don't have anywhere near that kind of definition for a local church. They can't deal with it because it takes too much time to develop that kind of local church. They're not interested in the pragmatism of having a solid biblical, well-defined local church. There is another aspect though that you need to be aware of, and some missionaries go and they actually plant a church that is dependent upon them. That is, they've created a church that may be a model or a copy of the church they had back home.

The local church that they've started with local believers very much looks to the missionary for everything, for resources, for leadership, for command and control, if you will. So even if they've planted a church in a foreign country, it's not truly a biblically qualified indigenous local church because there's still under the umbrella authority auspices of the missionary. It also means that an international church on foreign soil is not actually a biblical indigenous church plant. So you may have a group of believers from a wide variety of backgrounds that are internationals, and maybe they have an English speaking church in a large metropolitan city in a foreign country, but that's not exactly indigenous church planting. They may be influential toward indigenous church planting, they may take seriously an underground role in a hard situation in other fields, but the actual church itself is not an indigenous local church.

This focus on biblical ecclesiology and a good definition of the local church, also disqualifies groups that get together and say they're a church because they meet as a camp, or a conference, or a youth group, or a campus ministry. None of those actually fulfill that definition of a biblical local church, and they weekly employ aspects of ecclesiology to look like a local church, even though they are probably not a local church. So how do we wrestle with this? What do we do about it? Well, first of all, don't send missionaries overseas to plant churches unless they are mature enough and have enough experience to understand biblical ecclesiology. What does a healthy, biblical indigenous local church actually look like? What does the definition of that? Also be a little more inquisitive about your missionaries and the missions and ministries you support to find out what is their ecclesiology? What is their standard for what comprises a local church plant on the foreign fields in which they work?

Ask your long-term missionaries if they're planting local churches, or are they just becoming the pastor of a church with local believers? There is a difference. They need to understand that, they need to raise up leaders in the local church and move on and let that local church actually function as a vibrant indigenous local church that is self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. To this end, we pray that God would raise up vibrant, healthy, biblical local churches for every people group on the planet. Amen. Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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