by Otis R. Holmes
Every subject has a philosophy. It may not be spelled out, but it is there just the same — whether good or bad, right or wrong. Church planting has its own philosophy — godly or worldly. Of course, the true philosophy of church planting is to be Biblical. But what is the Biblical philosophy of church planting?
The Great Commission
The church’s Great Commission given by the Lord Jesus is found principally in Matthew 28:19–20. The proper balance of evangelism and edification is clearly set forth. Evangelism is displayed by the command to go, win (disciple), and baptize. Edification means to teach all that the Lord commands in the Word of God. A healthy balance between the two aspects must be practiced simultaneously. It is unlikely that any church planting situation will succeed or survive in God’s sight without pastor and people consistently winning people to Christ and instructing them in the truths of God’s Word—an overemphasis on either aspect will eventually prove fatal.
The Scriptural record of the first church ever planted indicates a proper balance between the two main elements of the Great Commission (Acts 2:41–47). There was a strong element of soul winning as well as doctrine and fellowship.
Holy Spirit Control
No Christian and certainly no church will succeed for God unless there is the presence, power, and control of the Holy Spirit. The prophet Zechariah declared, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). On that day of Pentecost when 3,000 souls were saved and then baptized as believers, it was the Holy Spirit who filled the disciples with witnessing power (Acts 2:4, 17). When Ananias and Sapphira kept back part of the price received from the sale of their land, they were guilty of lying to the Holy Ghost; they both died instantly at the hands of the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1–11). As Christians in the young church at Antioch ministered to the Lord and fasted, it was the Holy Spirit who declared, “Separate [unto] me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Saul and Barnabas were not only called but also sent forth by the Holy Spirit as missionaries (Acts 13:1–5).
The Holy Spirit still employs similar methods today in enduing the Lord’s people with power to serve the living God. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:4). As there are diversities of service there are also diversities of servants (Eph. 4:11–12).
The church planter who serves primarily in the power of the flesh is doomed to failure—at least as God measures success and failure. Dr. Bob Jones Sr. once said, “A man is a fool if he resorts to the energy of the flesh when he can be supported with the arm of omnipotence.” To have the true power of God, he must do as the apostles and “give [himself] continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4).
Paul emphasizes the necessity of unity among the church membership (1 Cor. 3:1–4). Later he also belabors the fact that church leaders must be especially united in their effort (1 Cor. 12:25). When Paul and Barnabas were in disagreement, they recognized that they had reached an impasse and must go their separate ways. Two teams were then formed, each man becoming a leader of his respective team (Acts 15:36–41). Later Apollos, an outstanding orator, came on the scene. The Corinthians revealed their carnality when they were divided in their loyalty to him or Paul. Paul rebuked them and sought to settle the issue by writing, “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one [united]. . . . For we are labourers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:4, 9).
It is imperative that there be only one head of any organization, especially the church. The Lord Jesus is the Head of the Body (organism). This should also be true with the local church (organization)—the plan of God is for Jesus Christ to be the Head of each local church also. Christ’s undershepherd, the pastor, is the one He charges on earth with leadership in His behalf.
Teaching and Preaching
The church planter who succeeds in building a solid ministry for the Lord must maintain a strong testimony in preaching (evangelism and heralding forth) and teaching the entire Word of God.
The Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul both demonstrated and evidently maintained a perfect balance between preaching and teaching in their respective ministries. Christ practiced both simultaneously in His ministry: “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel” (Matt. 4:23). Paul did likewise as recorded in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 and Acts 15:35.
The success of a church planter in reaching people will be a result of preaching. The success of holding people will be due to teaching. Both are vital and must be practiced consistently and simultaneously.
Each of the churches in the New Testament was strictly independent. There is no evidence of groups of churches known as an official denomination, association, or fellowship.
The churches to which most of the epistles were written were independent churches. The pastors (bishops and elders) and deacons were all officers in local churches. They were definitely not dictatorial leaders of church hierarchies. Manmade systems of church hierarchies are not found in Scripture. The New Testament churches were all composed of three groups of people—“saints in Christ Jesus . . . with the bishops [pastors] and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). Paul instructed Titus to “ordain elders [pastors] in every city” (Titus 1:5).
The incident recorded in Acts 15 has nothing to do with a hierarchical setup. The Lord’s apostles, along with the Jerusalem church elders (pastors) and brethren, verified to the church at Antioch that salvation was not found in keeping the law or observing circumcision, but through God’s grace and faith in Christ (Acts 15: 7, 9, 11). Simon Peter stated emphatically, “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we [Jewish Christians] shall be saved, even as they [Gentile Christians].” This matter was settled once and for all. No other such gathering is recorded in the New Testament. The congregation of each local church has been authorized to settle every issue within the confines of its own independent organization.
What is a Fundamentalist? “A Fundamentalist does not merely describe a man who is Biblically orthodox. Many New Evangelicals are Biblically orthodox in terms of the theology they preach, but they are New Evangelicals because of their lack of separation. Separation is a Biblical doctrine found from Genesis to Revelation. ‘Fundamentalist’ describes those who are anchored to the Book, who are biblicists” (Bob Jones III, What Is a Fundamentalist?, 1, 6).
Many voices are clamoring for attention today regarding Fundamentalism. The various camps of Fundamentalists spend much time arguing and vying for attention and followings. It will not do for anyone to stick his head in the sand and shy away from the battle. The Bible is clear in its teaching on the necessity of the believer’s separatism from the influence of the world (1 John 2:15–17; 2 Cor. 6:14–7:1; Eph. 5:11; 1 Thess. 1:9; James 4:4), from false teachers (Gal. 1:8–9; 2 John 9–11; Rom. 16:17–18; 1 Tim. 6:20–21; Rev. 2:2, 6, 14–16), and even from disobedient Christians (Matt. 18:15–17; 1 Cor. 5:1–13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14–15).
A God-called church planter must make up his mind that the Lord will be pleased only with a Biblically sound, separatist church ministry. He will find himself in a position “outside the camp,” but he will realize that he is in the blessed presence of the Son of God (Heb. 13:13).
The practice of discipline in modern churches is all but absent. Achurch today is the easiest thing to get into and the hardest to get out of. Sad to say, the names of many remain on the church roll regardless of the condition of their souls, habits, attitudes, or actions. No discipline is ever applied. This is not God’s intended practice for His churches.
The Bible gives all the instructions necessary for discipline in the church. First Corinthians 5 is a chapter that gives an example of the type of discipline God intends for the church to follow. Paul concludes by stating in verses 12 and 13, “For what have I to do to judge them that are without? Do not ye [church members] judge them that are within? But them that are without, God judgeth. Therefore, put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
Some churches, even in fundamental circles, will never remove any person from the roll unless so requested by the individual. People can commit almost any kind of sin and yet remain in good standing. This is not pleasing to God, healthy for the Body of Christ, or satisfactory to His cause. God intends that the local church follow His admonitions. When a member goes contrary to His clear teachings and the clear standards of the church, he is to be disciplined. If discipline does not suffice, then the offending person should be removed from the membership. When there is true repentance and he requests reinstatement, the church should consider the matter seriously and do as the Lord directs.
This is by no means a full account of the Biblical philosophy of church planting. It would require many more paragraphs to cover the subject adequately. However, if a church planter determines to carry out these given phases faithfully, he has great chance of success in planting and developing a church for the glory of the Lord and the good of His people.
This article first appeared in FrontLine • May/June 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.
Dr. Otis Holmes was a former pastor and Christian college professor living in Greenville, South Carolina.
- For an excellent treatment of these passages and the issue of separation, see Mark Sidwell, The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation, Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1998. [↩]