What is “Scriptural” Church Growth ?

Years ago as I was just entering the gospel ministry, I was drawn to the principles of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in relation to the world mission task facing the churches. One of those principles insisted on by Dr. A.B. Simpson from the very begining, was that of “doing God’s work, in God’s way”. This seems to be a perennial lesson the churches must constantly strive to maintain as their priority if their work is to be found pleasing to God and of eternal value (see I Cor.3:8-14).

The New Temple, which Christ himself builds calling us to be co-workers with him, must be done God’s way just as the temporary temple of the Old Covenant was erected in all it’s details “according to the pattern shown in the Mount”. The two most obvious reasons why this is so, seems to be in order that God alone receives the glory, and, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ have it’s God ordained fruit in the lives of His redeemed ones.

J.I. Packer, writing an introductory essay almost fifty years ago, warned evangelicalism of the source of many of the perceived problems in the churches already manifesting themselves. “Without realising it”, he said, “we have during the past century bartered the true gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similiar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing”. This he insisted was the source of our troubles, “for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in the past days proved itself so mighty” (Rom.1:17). “The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church”. When asked why this was so, Dr. Packer with prophetic simplicity replied: “We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do”. (From John Owen’s Death of Death in The Death of Christ,1959)

For much of that same time-frame, a battle was being waged to persuade the churches that God did indeed desire for His Church to grow and that it was a serious sign of disobedience and unbelief when that was neglected. Thankfully, it seems that many local churches have finally embraced growth as a healthy and desirable purpose of being the Church. For those that have done so, there now enters the critical element Packer was addressing relating to how we grow and with what gospel we depend upon to produce that growth if it is to be “Scriptural”. Another prophetic voice recently speaking directly to the dangers from modernity already influencing much of the church-growth methodology issues this urgent directive :

“The Church of God. . .is the church only when she lives and thrives finally by God’s truths and resources. If the church makes anything else the decisive principle of her existence, christians risk living unauthorized lives of faith, exercising unauthorized ministries, and proclaiming an unauthorized gospel”.  (Os Guiness, Dining With The Devil, p.35)

The “unity of the Spirit” that we insist is foundational to the Church Christ builds and for the purpose of growing His Church, is not a unity based on our natural understanding but rather one that is revealed in Scripture; a unity which includes truth as well as love on God’s terms and not ours. This is what we believe is the very function of the voice of God speaking into His congregation and the reason for those gifts named in Ephesians chapter 4, and referred to as the “equiping” gifts. They are each one related to proclaiming God’s Word for the equiping of the saints of God for their work of ministering. The Word of God itself is sufficient for that which God sends it to accomplish on earth. Herein lies the critical calling of the evangelist, the pastor-teacher, and the prophet. And these, as you know, are spiritual gifts sent down from the exalted King himself to his flock here on earth.
8/11 UPDATE- To see how this is playing out right before our eyes in America, see this thoughtful essay recently in TOUCHSTONE Magazine and the tribute to Robert Webber prophetic ministry at SAINTS GALLERY