Church Planting – Spiritual Rebellion or Strategic Necessity

7 02 2009

pic22It seems odd to me that someone would go into a city that has hundreds of spiritually mature elders and plant a new independent church alongside countless others.  Was this commonplace in the New Testament?  Where did this practice come from?  Let’s take a look back.

New Testament Church Planting – Paul would never plant a second church in a city where a city church with city elders already existed (although house churches naturally multiplied underneath the authority of the city church).  He would work within that structure (examples: Jerusalem, Ephesus and Rome).  It would have been seen as the height of arrogance and divisiveness for him to go into one of these cities, ignore the spiritual leadership of the city, and plant his own brand of church, placing himself as the head.

The 2nd Century Church – Then a man named Ignatius came on the scene during the 2nd century and, being frustrated with all the fighting over heresy, wrote that each city should submit to a single “bishop” (instead of elders) and that the bishop should be regarded as “Christ himself”.

The 3rd-5th Century Church – As these bishops started to gain more and more power the bishop of Rome exalted himself as the chief of all bishops compounding the problem and replacing the local elders forever with a pyramid hierarchy beginning at Rome and trickling down from archbishops to bishop to priest to lowly you and me.  Eastern Orthodox developed a slightly flatter hierarchy while still functioning according to the structure dictated by Ignatius.

The Reformation – Luther, Calvin and other reformers still believed in one united city church except with a reformed theology.  And because they did not eliminate the oneness of church and state, theological issues and ecclesiological structures were matters of national security.  Thus the state would enforce unity of theology and structure at the city church level according to the brand of church chosen by the rulers of that nation.

Democracy and the Separation of Church and State – Once the state wisely ceased to enforce theological unity, each brand of church from various cities came and planted their brand in every other major city.  Each brand imported its own authority structure which was autonomous from the other brands within that city and city unity disintegrated entirely.  Afterward people began to plant separate churches for every conceivable reason from desiring different musical styles to choosing to follow one particular leader.

Today – Now a person going into a city has two options when it comes to submitting to spiritual authority:  1) He can plant his own church establishing or importing his own authority (or that of an outside structure) or 2) he can join a tiny segment of the city church and submit to that one pastor, priest or group of elders completely excluding any responsibility to the shepherding of the other 100+ pastors, priests, bishops and elders in that city.

Wow, what a mess.

Most ignore this dilemma, pick one of these two options, and go off on their merry way.  I reject these options because both are unbiblical, both lead to further divisions and both spread the diseases infesting the church in new and increasingly destructive ways.

There is a third option – begin to reconstitute the city church.

We have an authority problem incased in a structural problem and the structural problem must be fixed first.  As long as everyone functions on the “my brand of church” level no one is structured around the spiritual needs of the city as a whole.

I know we’ll never unify 100% of the Christians in a major city but does that mean we should only identify with one segment of one brand?  Why not begin a reunification movement?  Why not work as one with those who you agree with on the theological essentials?  Why not demonstrate our unity through ever growing city-wide worship?  Why not join with the spiritual leaders across the city to disciple the whole city?

Side note: One city church does NOT mean we all go to the same building on Sunday morning to worship to the same music and listen to the same sermon.  In Jerusalem they had city-wide worship and prayer every day of the week.  In Ephesus they had city-wide daily training courses at the School of Tyrannus.  There would still be hundreds of places to worship, pray and learn but we would function as one.

This will take vision, time, perseverance, and deep love for our other brothers and sisters but more than anything it will take commitment to the prayer of our Lord who asked the Father to make his disciples one as He and the Father are one.