Cooperation in missions wherever possible and feasible

We live in a time in which Christian networks are all the rage. Various conferences, coalitions, and parachurch organizations are being formed in order to encourage evangelism and church planting across theological traditions.  Cooperation amongst Christians is an encouraging thing to see.  This is, in fact, one of the reasons NAPARC was formed, i.e., for the “propagation of the Reformed faith” (Constitution Art III.3) and to “promote cooperation wherever possible and feasible on the local and denominational level in such areas as missions…” (Constitution Art III.4).

It is important to note a difference between the “network model” and the “NAPARC model”, though.  While the NAPARC model seeks cooperation in missions, this cooperation is exercised within official ecclesiastical structures.  In other words, because these churches have an official relationship, they are able to hold their church plants and church planters accountable for their actions, methods, and message, even if the plant occurs across denominations.

While we would hope that networks and coalitions would move toward a more ecclesiastical expression of unity in missions (the ministry of the visible Church must be our primary means for fulfilling Christ’s Commission), there are things we must also learn from them.  These informal partnerships are leading to numerous church plants, sacrificial giving of time and resources, and deep commitments to evangelism and loving one’s neighbor.  Though there have surely been ways in which NAPARC churches have cooperated in missions, their boldness in the spread of the gospel is surely worth emulating.

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Why plant churches?

It is common in our day to associate the Great Commission solely with the witness of the individual Christian.  The reasoning goes something like this: “Instruction occurs during worship services, and evangelism takes place elsewhere.”  While the personal witness of the Christian is undoubtedly important, it’s a mistake to conclude that the worship of the local church is distinct from the Great Commission.

Consider that it was the Twelve Apostles that Jesus commissioned (Matt.
28:18-20).  It is clear that being an Apostle meant that they held a ministerial
office in Christ’s Church.
 Furthermore, they were given an ‘official’ method of making disciples, i.e., teaching and baptizing.  In other words, these officers were called to make disciples of Christ through Word and Sacrament ministry, the performance of which is not the calling of every single Christian.

Though the apostolic office ended with Paul (1 Cor. 15:7-9), the Commission to make disciples continues with Christ’s Church.  It is accomplished in an official capacity through the Word and Sacraments.  The witness of the believer is immensely important yet subservient to the official work.  Given that churches are formed and gathered around the Word and Sacraments, the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled without planting and growing local churches.

Photo credit to freefotouk