You cannot talk about the local church or global mission apart from the book of Acts, simply because it was written to inform us on the global mission and movement of the church. Setting the tone at the outset, Jesus tells his disciples, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). It is these words that define the mission of the apostles in the book of Acts, and continue to direct the church’s mission today.
The Grammar of Global Mission
But language doesn’t merely describe reality; it creates it. And in this instance we need to be careful to notice the mood of the verb: will be my witnesses.
- It’s the indicative mood, which is the mood of assertion.
- It portrays something as actual.
This is significant because Jesus wasn’t suggesting “global mission” as a career option for his apostles. He wasn’t raising the mere possibility of it happening. He was saying that it would be the direct consequence of the Holy Spirit coming upon them in power.
The Holy Spirit creates missionaries.
As soon the Spirit calls someone and regenerates them into the life of Jesus, a missionary is born. The power of the Holy Spirit is evident in Jesus’ followers as they bear witness to him to the ends of the earth. Creating missionaries is what he does.
We see the veracity of this truth demonstrated throughout the rest of Luke’s narrative. Jesus’ followers really did bear bold, clear, brave testimony to Christ—in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.
The Gospel’s Ambition
We often talk about ambition in relation to the gospel and global mission. This is an altogether good thing. But what Luke does is detail for us the gospel’s ambition. And this is an altogether better thing. In fact, our ambition is only feasible and meaningful because the gospel itself has an ambition! And the gospel’s ambition is insatiable. It will never be satisfied until the “knowledge of the glory of the Lord fills the earth as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
Have you ever wondered why the Bible begins with the creation of the the world? It begins there for the simple reason that God’s plans have always been global. He made the world because he was always intent on blessing the world. And the statement by Jesus demonstrated that (Acts 1:8), as did the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
In God’s purposes the command to ‘be fruitful & multiply (and so) fill the earth & subdue it’ in Genesis 1:28 was going to be fulfilled by the followers of Jesus going to the ends of the earth and making disciples.
Seven times in the book of Acts we read “the word of God continued to increase”. The word “increased” in its simple form is translated elsewhere as “to make fruitful.” It has the idea of organic growth and multiplication.
There’s a lovely illustration of this in Matthew 13 and the parable of the sower. Like Adam, the sower has gardening to do. He scatters the seed, the word. Some falls in unproductive places. But the vast majority of his seed falls on the good soil, which he has prepared. And we know this because he has a record harvest. The point Jesus is making is that the sower, the second Adam, will have his harvest. This should encourage us as he invites us to spread the word with him!
But the word is not simply something to be declared, it is also something to be demonstrated. And we demonstrate this as churches are planted and rooted in the gospel.
The church is the fruit of Christ’s death, the object of his affection and the means by which he will secure his kingdom.
When Paul was writing to the church in Colossae, he wrote about the gospel bearing fruit all over the world. What was that fruit? New churches springing up, just like the church at Colossae, planted by Epaphras. Communities of light invading the darkness. Dispelling the oppressive gloom of chaos & disorder. That’s how it happens.
Yet church planting isn’t merely starting a new congregation or beginning a new meeting. Much less is it opening a new building. It is the very work of filling & subduing! It’s the work of pushing back the thorns and thistles of sin’s tyranny, of undoing all of satan’s evil deeds. It’s the work of extending Eden for which we were made, which the first Adam forfeited and the Last Adam secured. That is how it has always been in the kingdom of God.
We see this in that before his death and resurrection, Jesus assured his disciples of his determination to build his church (Matthew 16:18). It is clear that from the beginning, the means of fulfilling the Great Commission was the presentation of the Good News about Jesus, by a wide range of means. The story of the church is, therefore, inevitably the story of the seeding, germination, and growth of groups of Christians worshipping, learning, and witnessing together.
If you study church history long enough you may come across an Englishman by the name of John Bale who found his way to Geneva as a refugee of the spiritual upheaval occurring in Europe during the mid-sixteenth century. This is what he found: “Geneva seems to me to be the wonderful miracle of the whole world. For so many from all countries come here, as it were, to a sanctuary. Is it not wonderful that Spaniards, Italians, Scots, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, disagreeing in manners, speech, and apparel, should live so lovingly and friendly, and dwell together like a … Christian congregation?”
This is an impactful Christian community! So much so that in 1555, there were just five underground Protestant churches in France. By 1559, the number of jumped to more than one hundred. By 1562, it is estimated that there were more than 2000 churches with approximately three-million in attendance. And all because Calvin understood the gospel and had a heart for and a commitment to its progress in France.
It is difficult to fathom the extraordinary success of these Genevan-sponsored missionaries, but if God’s purpose have always been to have a people for himself—that he reveals his glory to and displays his glory through—then the multiplication of churches is the inevitable and necessary outcome and direct consequence of that purpose.
And when we fast forward to the last two chapters of Revelation what we see is that the church is not something trivial or incidental. In fact, in the purposes of God and in the economy of the Kingdom, the church is the beautifully adorned bride of Christ—she is the ‘end of history’.
So planting local churches with a global mission is the noble endeavour we’ve all been invited to join. Can’t you imagine it? Every man, every woman, every church, all armed with the promise of Jesus to build his church, extend his kingdom and ensure that the “knowledge of the glory of the Lord” really does “fill the earth as the waters cover the sea”!
Steve Timmis – Global Director, Acts 29