the weblog of Alan Knox

The propagation of the church…

Posted by on Jul 1, 2007 in definition, scripture | 8 comments

In their discussion of the book of Acts in An Introduction to the New Testament, Carson and Moo say:

In Acts, Luke conducts the reader on a whirlwind tour of three decades of church history. We visit Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Syria, Cyprus, many cities in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, and, finally, Rome. We witness everything from preaching and miracles to jailbreaks and shipwrecks. And, while many individuals accompany us on our tour, two are rather constant companions: Peter, who is often with us in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria; and Paul, who is our almost constant companion from Syria to Rome. We can, in fact, divide our tour into two major parts based on the prominence of these two individuals: chapter 1-12 and chapters 13-28. Each of these major sections can be subdivided further into three parts, which are marked off by key summary statements. In these brief notes, Luke sums up a series of events by telling us that they have led to the growth of the Word of God or of the church (6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20). Each section carries us to a new geographic and/or cultural stage in the itinerary of the gospel, as Luke portrays the fulfillment of Jesus’ command to the apostles that they be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8).

Have you ever thought about how the church propagated in those early years? Over the past few days I’ve been reading the Book of Acts again. I’ve been specifically trying to pay attention to how the word of God… the church… the gospel… propagated from person to person, place to place, city to city, region to region.

So far, I have seen very little indication that structures or organizations played a part in the propagation of the church. In fact, at times, organizations and structures actually seemed to work against the propagation of the gospel and the church. It was when the organization gave in to the work of the Holy Spirit that the word of God progressed.

How did the church and gospel propagate? Simply through the direction of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit led men and women – and as those men and women obeyed – the word of God spread and the church grew. At times, these men and women followed the Holy Spirit to increased influence in the community and the world. At times, these men and women followed the Holy Spirit to their death. At times, the believers seemed to be victorious as they followed the Spirit. At times, the believers seemed to be defeated as they followed the Spirit. But, in all cases, as men and women followed the divine direction of the Holy Spirit – regardless of what happened to the men and women themselves – the word of God spread and the church was edified.

I think we have become too safe… too planned… too predictable… too organized… in our understanding of the spread of the gospel and the church. I think we have spent too much time listening to strategists and planners and not enough time listening to the voice of the only One who can grow the church and transform people’s lives. I think we have expended too many resources trying to create a successful church instead of following the only One who can and does make us victorious.

Of course, listening to the Spirit is subjective… and we can’t guarantee that we will hear him or that we will follow when we do hear him. But, is any other answer really an answer at all? Is any path other than a step-by-step obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit worth any expenditure of time or resources?

Perhaps it is time to stop trying to build a successful church, and start living as believers who attempt to walk each day, make each decision, and approach each person in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 7-1-2007

    I thoroughly agree with your thoughts in this post, even though I am often troubled by the subjective nature of what people say or write.

    Hearing what the Spirit says is subjective, as you say, but given the safeguard of measuring what we believe the Spirit has said against Scripture and the counsel of other mature believers, there is safety.

    I am reminded of something which happened years ago when a group of eight deacons needed to make a decision which required unanimity.

    One deacon could not agree with the rest and voted against the decision, even after much coercion from the other deacons, was steadfast in his decision. His decision was motivated by “the still small voice”.

    He received rude phone calls from the secretary of the church, and pressuring calls from others, but held out for some four months, finally sensing freedom to go with the flow of opinion.

    As it was later discovered an early decision would have created disaster. His later acquiescence allowed everything to turn out right.

  2. 7-1-2007

    Our church has elders who operate on a consensus as well. We just went 7 months without a senior pastor because there was not a consensus. Of course, many members got antsy, and some left. But it’s pretty clear at the end of it that the Holy Spirit was at work through these men.

    This is why Paul went to so much trouble to delineate what makes a good church leader. Elders cannot be figureheads or yes-men to an executive. They need to be tested men who clearly hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.

  3. 7-1-2007

    Aussie John,

    Thank you for the testimony. Many people ask if I am for congregational-rule or elder-rule. I’m for neither. I’m for Holy Spirit-rule. Unfortunately, I do not think elder-rule (decisions made by a few) nor congregational-rule (decisions made by a majority) truly represent what we see in Scripture.

    I’ve been think about my statement “listening to the Spirit is subjective”. There are times when God has spoken to me more clearly than anything that can be called “objective”. I think I will continue to trust the Spirit more than anything else – even my own ability to plan and rationalize.


    Thanks for your comment and testimony. I agree that leaders should be able to hear the voice of the Spirit. I would also say (based on John 10 among other passages of Scripture) that all believers should be able to hear the voice of their Shepherd.


  4. 7-2-2007


    And again,I agree, IF every subjective thought or decision is itself subject to Scripture. For many years I struggled with the decision making processes of both congregational and elder led congregations. Most decisions, in both, were purely pragmatic.

    Congregational churches regarded themselves (the members)as the final authority, and the elder’s (in elder ruled churches) regarded themselves likewise.

  5. 7-2-2007

    The difficulty I have with your view, Alan, is that it seems to be an amorphous collection of believers, with no admission of any authority other than the Holy Spirit. Am I mistaken in this understanding?

    Does a leader (elder, deacon, shepherd/pastor, etc.) have any function in the gathering you describe? If so, please give some concrete description. If not, what do you do with the counsel of scripture that sets up these offices?

    I’m asking for the sake of understanding, because I’d like to know how this translates in the world of the church. You are a student/professor, if I’m reading this correctly. I’m a worship pastor in a congregation that operates fairly traditionally, but does so in a beautiful expression of the body of Christ united under its head.

  6. 7-2-2007

    Aussie John,

    I agree. God does not contradict himself. Therefore, anything that the Spirit directs us to do or say will not contradict what God has already said in Scripture.


    I appreciate your questions. Depending on your definition of “amorphous”, I might agree with what you say. I think that the church has form based on the working of the Spirit. And, yes, I believe that only God has authority over believers – individually or corporate.

    I have been gradually studying and posting on the functioning of leaders and the functioning of other believers. So far, I have not found the distinction that you suggest. Can you show me in Scripture where leaders are given instructions that are not also given to all believers? Also, can you show me in Scripture where leaders are told to exercise authority over other believers?



  7. 7-2-2007

    As I read Acts and the Epistles, I see on the part of Paul what appears to be a balance between strategic planning and “going with the flow of the Spirit.” Probably today, in most traditional churches, the balance is skewed in favor of strategic planning. But, I think there can be a danger of going to the other extreme, as well. I believe God gave us our minds in order for us to use them. They are also to be transformed by the truth of Scripture. And open and moldable to the on-going direction of the Holy Spirit.

  8. 7-2-2007

    David Rogers,

    I agree completely. As I said in the comment above, God does not contradict himself. We can trust Him to communicate his will to us in a variety of means, and we can be certain that none of those means will contradict the others. “The one who promised is faithful”.