Lesson 30: Structure & Expansion of the Church | Biblical Foundations for Living

Lesson 30: Structure and Expansion of the Church

So far, we have learned that the first two objectives of the church are the edification of the saved and the evangelization of the lost. Whereas edification produces evangelism, evangelism requires expansion .

The following lessons do not use the word “expansion” to describe numerical growth; that is accomplished through evangelism. Expansion refers to the development of new ministries within the church and the organization needed to carry them out. Sunday Schools, junior churches, choirs, Vacation Bible Schools, and youth groups are examples of ministries which may be started to meet congregational needs. Although not found in Scripture, these ministries are legitimate in that they help local churches accomplish the objectives of edification and evangelism.

[We must strive to make sure that everything we are doing fits into the overall purpose and goals of the church. Whatever doesn’t fit should be eliminated. Also, there’s a difference between extra-biblical things and unbiblical things. E.g., Sunday school is extra-biblical, i.e., there is no direct biblical support for it. Infant baptism is unbiblical, i.e., it goes against the Bible.]

We can learn several principles of expansion from the early church:

1. Expansion requires fidelity . [loyalty, faithfulness]

2. Expansion requires planning .

3. Expansion requires creativity .

4. Expansion requires cooperation .

5. Expansion requires accountability .

I. Expansion Requires Fidelity.

The early church expanded in a way that was true to the Word of God.

A. The early church was true to the commands of the Word of God.

When the church began on the Day of Pentecost, there were no New Testament Scriptures in existence to govern their ministry. The early believers sought to consistently apply the teachings of Christ concerning the church. Then, as God provided more revelation through the apostles, they faithfully applied those truths as well.

1. They proclaimed a God given message .

The early church understood that a pure message was essential. The truths of Scripture, with the person and work of Christ as the focal point, was the message of the early church. Deviation from this was not tolerated.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!   Galatians 1:8

2. They practiced God given methods .

Some methods used by the early church are universal , that is, they apply to all churches of every era. These methods are standard, not only because the early church practiced them (in the book of Acts), but also because they are commanded in the Epistles . For example, the church is to authoritatively proclaim the truth (2 Timothy 4:2), organize converts into local assemblies (see Lesson Twenty Nine), and discipline its members (1 Corinthians 5).

[It is sometimes difficult to tell whether a certain practice was universal or temporary. A passage may be descriptive or normative. For example, we say that tongues was a temporary sign-gift. Others claim speaking in tongues was normal and that the church should do it today.]

B. The early church was true to the principles of the Word of God.

There were times when the early church encountered situations that were not directly addressed in Scripture. If there was no specific command concerning a particular issue, they dealt with it in a manner consistent with the truth that they already knew. For example, a controversy arose in Acts 6 concerning the care of widows. The apostles had no biblical instructions concerning this issue at that time. Thus, they began with what they did know (their own responsibilities) and devised a plan which was true to Scripture and met the need at hand.

[This is exactly how many ministries start: someone senses a need and fills it by applying biblical principles.]

II. Expansion Requires Planning.

Lesson Twenty Four pointed out that the organizational expansion of the early church did not just happen. Rather, it was the result of careful planning. For example, a controversy arose in Acts 15 concerning saved Gentiles. The problem had to do with the inclusion of Gentiles into the church along with Jews. Should the Gentiles be required to obey the Law of Moses? Did they have to be circumcised? After much debate, the issue was resolved, and a letter was written to the Gentile churches explaining the resolution.

Another example is found in Acts 16:6-10, where Paul’s plans to go to Asia and Bithynia were changed by the Holy Spirit. Paul apparently had a planned itinerary for each of his missionary journeys.

A church properly expands as a result of careful planning, not haphazardly.

[Unless you’re involved in planning an event, you probably don’t realize how much work goes into it. Even a morning service is planned out for ahead of time. The point is that we should plan and organize, not “do ministry” haphazardly.]

III. Expansion Requires Creativity.

The ministry of a church must respond to changes in society . In other words, a church must apply the unchanging Word of God to an ever changing culture. This means that as new needs and issues arise, local churches need to respond with relevant and timely applications of eternal truth. Such creative expansion prepares the way for further edification and evangelism, as the following two examples show.

[Principles stay the same; methods may change. Evangelism is a universal command. How we do it may vary depending on time, place, culture, etc. This is why we should not be method-oriented.]

The distribution of the letter explaining the decisions of the Jerusalem Council had the following effect:

As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.   Acts 16:4 5

The selection of the first deacons in Acts 6 had the same effect:

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.   Acts 6:7

[The problem here is determining how and if culture/society should change how we do things. Some churches adapt their services totally to the popular culture. They include rock or country music, skits, humor, short, needs-centered messages, etc. As separatists, we want to speak to modern man without advocating what we see as sinful elements of culture.]

IV. Expansion Requires Cooperation.

Churches often make the mistake of isolating themselves, even from other congregations of like faith and practice. Isolationism is detrimental to the body of Christ. Pastors and their congregations need the encouragement and assistance of like minded churches.

The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is a good example of cooperation between local assemblies. Several congregations were represented at the Council. Together, they discussed various options and decided on a biblical solution to the problem.

Churches of like faith and practice can and should cooperate in a variety of ways, such as:

A. Missions support

B. Educational institutions

C. Ordination councils [explain what an ordination is all about.]

D. Church planting

Many opportunities exist for cooperative efforts. Such cooperation is especially beneficial when churches work together on projects that are beyond their individual means.

[For example, churches may cooperate for evangelistic meetings or service projects. But these churches would be of similar faith and practice. We are against ecumenism, which is the cooperation of churches not of like faith and/or practice.]

V. Expansion Requires Accountability.

Accountability is a crucial aspect of biblical ministry and functions on two levels:

A. Accountability within the local church

As mentioned previously, expansion adds to the administrative structure of a local church. Leaders within that structure (such as Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, etc.) are accountable to the local church.

1. Leaders are accountable for what they teach .

If a leader willfully begins teaching something that is contrary to the church’s published doctrinal statement, he should immediately be asked to resign.

2. Leaders are accountable for what they do .

If a leader willfully begins doing something that is contrary to the church’s published standards of conduct for leadership, he should immediately be asked to resign.

[Most churches have a higher set of standards for leaders.]

B. Accountability between local churches

Accountability is a valuable benefit of cooperation between churches. Every ministry occasionally needs to have its weaknesses identified and priorities clarified through interaction with other churches.

Note: Because every church is independent, accountability between churches is voluntary .

[Often such accountability takes the form of an association or fellowship organization. These often become more of a liability than a benefit. Part of the problem with various parachurch organizations is that they have no or little accountability outside the organization. This is one reason we insist that ministry should be done under the auspices of a church.]

Learning to Live It

1. A friend of yours comes to a youth activity and afterwards comments, “Why do you have youth activities? You can’t find them in the Bible.” How should you respond?

True, you can’t find youth activities in the Bible. Other things not mentioned in the Bible: Sunday schools, carpet, electricity, light bulbs, pianos, pulpits, auditoriums, etc. Though extrabiblical, they are acceptable because they help youth ministries accomplish the objectives of the church. Thus, something is not wrong just because the Bible doesn’t mention it.

2. After visiting a church for a few Sundays with your family, you realize that the pastor has very little knowledge of the Bible and cannot adequately communicate what he does know. There is little doubt that this man does not belong in the ministry. Who was responsible for placing this man in the pastorate?

The man himself; one or several local churches; perhaps a mentor, teacher, parent, etc.

How could this error have been avoided?

the convening of an ordination council to examine his fitness for the ministry

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