Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I'm really excited about you hearing this episode of Missions on Point. It's episode 147, the Centrality of the Local Church and Missions in Paul's View. This is number six in a series on the centrality of the local church in missions. If you've been following along, you'll know that this series is a synopsis of a book I'm working on on this subject. The working title is The Centrality of the Local Church in Missions, so please pray along with me as I work on the book and look for it coming. Let others know about this podcast series, because it is a game changer in the enterprise of missions for the Western world, particularly for North America.

There is just too much biblical detail to deal with in a 15-minute podcast about Paul's view on this topic, so I'm going to rely on my macrocontextual view, that is seeing the forest instead of all the detail of the trees, but I'll refer to a lot of the path and the trees as we go along. From the earliest part of Paul's ministry, even pre-Christian, he was aware of the significance of local assemblies of believers meeting together as local churches. It says in Acts 8 that, "Paul ravaged the church". He was very aware, right after his conversion in Acts 9 of churches in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Doesn't that sound like the outline of the author of Acts, Dr. Luke, in describing the outline of the progress of the gospel through local churches in all of these regions?

We see, from the very beginning of Paul's life as a Christian, from his conversion and entrance into Damascus, he had deference to local church leadership. He was instructed by God, and the church helped him escape threats to his life in Damascus. After three years of being in the wilderness in Arabia, it says, he came back to Damascus and fellowshipped with the church again. One of the key questions you have to ask is what happened to Paul between the time he left Damascus fleeing for his life, and return to Damascus approximately three years later? The short answer to that question is Paul became an apostle.

What does that mean? It means that he had personal contact with Jesus Christ Himself. In fact, the passage in Galatians 1, together with other data from the Book of Acts and Paul's statements in Ephesians 3, as well as several statements to churches in his letters about instruction directly from Christ, shows that he had direct contact with Jesus. And Paul maintains that he, although he was the last, and he calls himself the least of the apostles, he was never less than a full apostle. When he went to Jerusalem and had a couple of weeks with Peter and with James after that second visit in Damascus, he came as a peer, as a colleague, as a fellow apostle, and that was never questioned. His status as an apostle was key to his ministry, and it becomes a key to our understanding of Paul's view of the local church.

So let's just visit what Paul says about himself as an apostle. In Romans 1, he starts with, "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." Romans 11. "Now, I'm speaking to you Gentiles, in so much then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles." 1 Corinthians 1, "Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus." 1 Corinthians 9, "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" 1 Corinthians 9:2, "If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 15:9, "For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."

2 Corinthians 1, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the church of God that is at Corinth..." 2 Corinthians 12, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience." Galatians 1, "Paul, an apostle, not from men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead." Ephesians 1, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God..." Colossians 1, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God..." 1 Timothy 1, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus, our hope." 1 Timothy 2, "For this, I was appointed a preacher and an apostle, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth." 2 Timothy 1, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God..." 2 Timothy 1:11, "For which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and teacher." Titus 1, "Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God's elect in their knowledge of the truth."

Paul was an apostle because, like the other apostles, he was called, appointed, and sent out by Jesus Christ personally as one of His apostles. He spent time with Jesus Christ. In fact, you could easily make the argument that Paul was a resident in Jerusalem contemporaneously with the ministry of Jesus Christ, and knew of Jesus' ministry even to other parts of Israel, but particularly in Jerusalem. Paul's conversion came through a post resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ to him on the road to Damascus, and a later encounter, perhaps extended tutelage encounter, with Jesus in the wilderness during that three-year time period.

Years later, Paul was asked to help with the establishment of the church in Antioch. In fact, it is extremely notable that Paul, almost 12 years after his conversion, when he knew he was supposed to be a missionary, waited until the church leaders of Antioch agreed to send him and Barnabas out as missionaries from the church. He was under submission to the Antioch Church elders in his going out and his missionary sending. We see throughout his ministry his relentless priority on the local church; church planting, church leader training, and mentoring in all aspects of the church life, worship, order, and liturgy. One of the things I muse about in heaven is asking Paul to show me his minister's manual, the training manual for how ministers were to conduct services in the order of the church. Some would call it the Book of Church Order.

Here's what he did through his writings. He said, in order, church corporate worship meetings; the content of church worship meetings; qualifications and selection or appointment of church leaders, specifically elders and deacons; church member roles and interaction as a body; church organizational structure; prayer in corporate meetings; the roles of men and women in the church and in life; the authority of the church; the primacy of Bible reading, teaching, and exhortation in the church; details about church ordinances, the Lord's table, and baptism; spiritual growth and mutual accountability in the church; importance of unity, fellowship and forgiveness in the local church; spiritual discipline, exercised in and by the local church; the dynamics of church members' interaction in the church; the centrality of the church to Christian life, worship, and maturity; the headship of Christ over the church and its leaders; the role and tasks of church leaders, feeding, guarding, and leading the flock.

Financial support for vocational church leaders; giving in and through the local church to both internal and external causes; missions through the church; the sending role of the local church for missions; the leader's role in equipping the saints for the ministries of the church; Sunday as the normal day of corporate worship and gathering of the saints; use of music in corporate worship; and, by extension, the centrality of the local church as God's means for Christian teaching, gospel transformation and witness, worship, fellowship, mutual growth, and accountability.

Paul makes multiple references to the church's role in sending out gospel workers, including himself. He asks the church in Rome to send him to the unreached area of Spain, and he uses that word, which we use for our own organization, Propempo. It means to send forward, to send out. Toward the end of Paul's life, while he is in prison in Rome, he's reflecting over his ministry as he writes this letter to the Ephesians, and in chapter three, he tells us that he was charged to do two things. 3:8 and following, "To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."

These two things are his calling. He's been consistent throughout his whole life's ministry in preaching "the unsearchable riches of Christ" and teaching the administration of the local church. Somehow, in our reading that passage, time and time again, we focus on his gospel ministry that is preaching "to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ", and fail to look at his administrative pastoral ministry of planting and organizing local churches according to God's instruction. How do we know this is true? It's pretty obvious. It's the forest. Look at all the letters he wrote.

All the letters he wrote were to local churches and local church leaders, and those letters are filled with specific information about Paul reminding them, "I told you about this, I told you about that," with regard to the worship manual of the church. Paul's legacy of these letters to churches closes with the pastoral letters in his final words of encouragement, strategy, and training for the local church, for pastoral ministry, both in a well-established urban church setting with Timothy at Ephesus, and in a more pioneering setting in Crete, and eventually, for Titus, into the area called Dalmatia, as well as his call to action prior to his arriving in Rome for the Roman church to send him forward, to propempo him to the unreached area of Spain.

So in Paul's view, it was clear that God intended that it's through the church, and we can say through local churches, that's where the action is. Not just this anonymous universal church, but through local churches, "the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." Verse 11. "This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord." Paul understood, his commission was to preach the gospel, to plant churches, and strengthen churches for the preaching of the gospel, and the planting of churches, and strengthening of local churches. How do we know that?

Look at the end of Ephesians 3. He has this great benediction. "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." And if our hermeneutic is correct, we can say to him, "Be glory in the local churches everywhere in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." Paul saw that the local church was God's plan forever for magnifying His wisdom and the glory of Jesus Christ, forever and ever. That's what Paul did. The local church was the means of missions, and it was the result or the fruit of missions for Paul.

I think it's amusing to think about Paul in today's missions world. For Paul, a missionary wasn't somebody who said that they had some special call to do something in a cross-cultural context. For Paul, a missionary was a person who was recognized and commended by local church leaders, just like he had to wait for at least 12 years to get that commendation, so that they are experienced, godly, mature Christians going out with a purpose of seeing local churches raised up that are indigenous, reproducing local churches in their own context. Understanding this changes the way we do missions in its implementation for the local church, for the church mission's leader, for the candidate, and the missionary, for the mission's agency, even the mission's donor, and the missionary training institution. We must revise our prescription glasses to focus on the biblical centrality of the local church in missions, and it'll change the way we do missions for the better. Please pray for me as I work through this series and write the book. You can send comments or questions to That's an email address,

Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites, at and We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast. Now, to God, be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever. Amen.

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