Click here to download this page as a Word document


Which Model for Church Planting, “Pyramid” or “Tower”?

Men have always been fascinated with high places and many of these held religious significance for them. The men of Babylon determined to build a tower which would reach into heaven, but their work was foiled through God’s intervention. Later Babylonians built ziggurats and native Americans built mounds. Mosques have minarets and churches are adorned with steeples. The shrines of materialism are exemplified in skyscrapers.

Special mention should be made here of the pyramids of Egypt and those built by the Incas and Mayas in South America. These were built to last! Millenniums of inclement weather and lack of care have scratched their surfaces, but these structures still stand as monuments to human creativity and ingenuity.

Not all references to high places have a negative significance, however. Moses received the ten commandments on Mount Sinai and Elisha faced down 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Jerusalem is called God's Holy Mountain or Mount Zion. In the New Testament the Mount of Transfiguration, Calvary or Golgatha and Mt. Olivet hold special significance.

I want to discus two basic models for what is called "church planting".

Missions and Missionaries
These terms do not appear in the Bible, so we must rely on human definitions. Missions and missionaries have changed much over the past few centuries, so I will reference the current situation in those churches most familiar to me.

Few missionaries come from mainline denominations or mega churches today. Most are from small to mid-sized evangelical churches called Independent Baptists, Bible Churches, Community Churches or something similar. These churches are normally loosely aligned with other churches, perhaps in a regional conference, or they send kids to the same camps and Bible colleges or support missionaries from a select group of mission organizations. And these churches embrace a more or less "standardized mission culture."

In the above context, missionaries can be defined as Christians who sense a call of the Lord to get involved in the "great commission," preaching the gospel to all people and nations, forming them into churches, and teaching them "all things which Christ commanded us." The missionary is generally prepared for ministry in a Christian College or Bible Institute, joins a mission society and seeks churches or individuals who pledge support for ministry. They may or may not receive advice or assistance in choosing a geographical area or type of ministry.

It usually takes five to seven years to prepare for a missionary career, pay off school debts and raise support. Once on his field of service, the average missionary needs a couple of years for language acquisition. Because every fourth or fifth year is "home ministry assignment" (furlough), there are perhaps two years left of the first term to get involved in ministry.

There are basically two types of missionaries in this context. The "church planter" is involved directly or indirectly with starting and building churches. The ministry may be in evangelism, children and youth ministry, teaching, or in some other capacity related to the church. The other type missionary is a "supportive or service missionary." These may work in a radio station or print shop, teach in a school for missionary children, serve in a field hospital, provide missionary transportation and other services.

Consider all that is involved in a sending mission organization, which provides leadership, member care, controls and paper work to satisfy the government, insurance companies, churches and supporters.

The Tower
Church planters usually have a goal of producing "three-self" churches, self support, self administration and self propagation (also called indigenous churches). Because these steps are taken sequentially, the church plant tends to take on the form of a tower, which offers the shortest distance to the desired goal. When one considers the monetary cost of all this, it is easy to see why missionaries and missions are eager to show concrete results. It seems crucial to get the church established as quickly as possible.

Another argument for the tower method has been proposed by some missiologists, that "we are living in the last days." They say that we need to get the job done quicker because the Lord is returning soon. They base this on Revelation 3:11 and 22 where our Lord says three times, Behold I come quickly! They also use Luke 14:21-23 to support this conjecture. In the "parable of a great banquet," the master of the house instructed his servants, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind. And the servant said, Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room. Then the master said to the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

Missionary "church planting" is usually more like "church transplanting." The new church plant becomes a miniature of the missionary's home church. The missionary's experience and concept of church is transplanted into the new cultural situation and adjusted to fit the mission organization's rules and structures. A pyramid is more difficult to transplant!

The Pyramid
I prefer the pyramid model. In the tower method, the missionary works to establish a church that is then presented to the national believers. In the pyramid model, national believers are closely involved in the entire process on all levels as soon as possible. I call it "Indigenous from Day One." The national believers become (they don't receive) the church. And the church will automatically be a national church.

In the tower model, work progresses in linear fashion, sequentially. One first concentrates on evangelism, then constructing a building, teaching, leadership training, and finally, installation of a national pastor. Sequential processes take longer not just because they follow each other, but also because there are unexpected or undesirable “glitches and gaps” that slow the process.

Earlier, I wrote that we must always be prepared for "divine serendipity." In the mid-1700s, there was a fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip in which the main characters were constantly making fascinating discoveries quite by accident. Today, "serendipity" generally means a coincidental discovery or unexpected intrusion that at first may frustrate, but proves to be favorable.

In missions, we must also expect and be prepared for negative interruptions or intrusions. Satan does not like missions! We can always claim God's promise that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28), but we must nevertheless be prepared.

Working by the pyramid model, we don’t need to learn the culture and language perfectly and building a physical church need not be our priority. We encourage nationals to assume positions of responsibility sooner and they have no expectation of us staying indefinitely or paying all the bills.

Teaching and training is of course needed before a person can assume some leadership roles, but even new believers can be given responsibilities and should have a voice in church matters. Contrary to popular opinion, Evangelism, teaching and training can function simultaneously in a new or small group. The "three self" principles need not be done sequentially if local believers are viewed as team members.

In the pyramid model, proportionately more time and effort is invested in evangelism. Here too, the missionary and national believer work together. The broader the base of evangelism, the easier it is to expand later.

Explanations
I personally feel that it is not wise to take our marching orders from parables. Parables can have more than one interpretation unless the Bible gives a clear explanation. Furthermore, we should always consider the passage that we are studying in its full context.

Three special dinners are mentioned in Luke 14. In the first verses, we discover that Jesus is a dinner-guest in the home of a leading Pharisee. It is the Sabbath and the host Pharisee has also invited a number of his colleagues.

These were possibly the same Pharisees who advised Jesus in the previous chapter, to get out of town because King Herod the Great wanted to kill him (Luke 13:31). Jesus answered, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected [finished].

If you are wondering why the host had invited Jesus, here is a clue: A man suffering from dropsy was also present, probably not by chance.

The lawyers and Pharisees had also been invited to his dinner for a reason. I am convinced that this was planned to be a showdown – an embarrassing exposure of "terrible sin" on the part of Jesus. They knew of his reputation, that he healed all who came to him (Matthew 4:24; 8:16; 12:15; Luke 4:40; 6:19), even on the Sabbath. So far, those who had been healed on the Sabbath were only known from the testimony of others, but Jewish law required two or three witnesses to convict a person of a serious offense. These influential Jews were obviously present in order to be witnesses of the "crime." In the previous chapter, Jesus indicated that he would be crucified in three day's time. The Jewish leaders were frantically looking for legal reasons to convict him and time was running out. Pilate later said that he could find no fault in Jesus.

Jesus was aware of the situation and turned the tables on the Pharisees. He asked them if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. They refused to answer and Jesus immediately healed the man of his dropsy. In verse 5, Jesus asked the Pharisees a second question which they also refused to answer. He asked which of them would not rescue his donkey or ox on the Sabbath if it fell into a ditch.

At first all eyes were upon Jesus to see if he would heal the man suffering from dropsy before so many witnesses. Verse 7 tells us that Jesus was also watching and took note of how the guests arrived and sought out the best places for themselves. This was why Jesus shared the "parable of the wedding feast."

I cannot imagine Jesus doing what he said that other guests should not do. I think that both Jesus and the man with dropsy had been sitting at the lower end of the table. But the host would have wanted them sitting near the lawyers and Pharisees (important witnesses), so a couple of guests were removed from their good seats to make room for Jesus and the sick man.

Now Jesus turns his attention to the host.
Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.


This prompted Jesus to tell the "parable of the great banquet."
Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. Luke 14:12-24

What is God telling US in this parable? Jesus told the parable in response to the comment of a dinner guest who eulogized the kingdom of God as a wonderful place. To me it seems that Jesus was showing the reality of the situation among his chosen people. They paid lip service to the kingdom of God but nearly everything in this world held priority over that which pertained to God's kingdom. They all gave excuses why they couldn't have fellowship with their Father in Heaven.

The servant was sent to every imaginable place to find those who were open to God's invitation, but there is not a hint of anyone being allowed in who was unclean or improperly prepared. As I see it, this parable shows that the mercy and grace of God is more readily accepted by the poor, maimed and rejected than by the wealthy, healthy and privileged.

In the tower model, little time and energy is invested in evangelism. As soon as there are a few believers, teaching and building begin.

Jesus said that he would build his church, but he involves his followers in the task. The "Great Commission" is entrusted to us and we do well to study God's blueprints carefully before we try to build HIS church. In the 28th verse of Luke 14 there is a verse that church planting missionaries should commit to memory.

For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?

It doesn't take much time, money or energy to start building, but we should carefully consider what it will take to finish the job. Jesus said that he would build HIS church and only he knows when that goal will have been attained. The question for us is, "What are we doing?"

I think the commonly used term "church planting" answers that question. We plant seed and cultivate young plants. First we go and preach the gospel, and then we baptize those who believe. Finally, we teach "all things that Christ commanded us" to those who belong to Christ and his church. In doing these things, we are obeying the Lord's "great commission" and "planting" his church.

The concept of church that most American Christians know is either a building or religious denomination. There are of course those who know that Christians make up the body of Christ and that Christ is the head of his church, but many of these have a false concept of the church. They try to draw unsaved people into the church in hopes that they will get saved, for example. This is contrary to New Testament teaching about the church.

I find no verses that command us to break fellowship with other believers just because they have sinned or because we disagree on some interpretation of scripture. But there are passages that warn us about forming associations with unsaved or wicked persons. We should openly oppose false teachers. Those members who continue in sin after personal and collective admonishment are to be excluded from the fellowship (not just have their name removed from a membership list)!

If we study scriptures carefully, it becomes clear that we should strive for unity in the fellowship of believers but exclude unbelievers from that fellowship. I am appalled at how narrow some “separated Christians” can be towards fellow believers who have a different understanding of a certain scripture, yet at the same time invite godless people into their fellowship in hopes that they get saved! The Bible warns of wolves disguised as sheep who attempt to sneak into the church, but many professing Christians willingly and knowingly welcome them to join their fellowship without the disguise.

If our goal is to build a house, a skyscraper or a bridge, everything that we do will have that goal in mind. We will check the blueprints carefully to make sure that we don’t get off course. Humans have limited sight, energy and time, so we naturally do all in our power to attain goals as quickly as possible. If our goal is finishing the church, we will build a tower. If, however, we are obeying the great commission, we will keep busy in evangelism and making disciples. We are building a pyramid that is soon complete but not yet finished. Matthew 18:20 says, For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. With the body and the head, the church is complete, but it can continue to grow until Jesus returns and it is finally finished.

*  The "pyramid" model involves national Christians in building “their” church of Christ.
*  Rather than seeking completion (“concluding or perfecting” - American Heritage Dictionary), we aim for completeness (“having all necessary or normal components”). Not the size, but content is important.
*  Components: At least two or three believers, God's Word, prayer, trust/faith and power of the Holy Spirit working in, through and sometimes in spite of us. We must also be prepared for "divine serendipity." We work in harmony with other members of the body, but all serve the "Head." Plans for discipleship and leadership training can be made even before the first conversions.
*  Using the “tower method” a missionary seeks to lead people to Christ and build the church to completion as fast as possible, so he can leave and say, "I finished my task."
*  The “pyramid" model can attain completeness quickly and continues growing healthily and strong after the missionary departs. Success is enjoyed in serving and in fellowship, not just looking back.

Lofty Churches
Jesus said that he would build HIS church and we could expect that it would be at least as durable and magnificent as that which is built by humans and dedicated to pagan gods.

Christians have done exactly that in past centuries and they are still doing it today. Consider all those basilicas and cathedrals of Europe and the Haggia Sophia, the architectural wonder of Istanbul. Many large, ornate and breathtaking churches have been built in America. There is the Crystal Cathedral that Rev. Robert Schuller built in Garden Grove, California, the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City and numerous mega churches packed with the latest high tech and which seat thousands.

I will only say two things about "houses of worship." First, no church building was ever mandated or even mentioned in the New Testament. Secondly, human beings built (finished) the above structures and most of them are now serving Satan's purposes.

In 2002, we visited numerous biblical sites in Turkey (called Asia in the New Testament), including the seven churches Christ addressed in Revelation two and three.

Thousands of tourists a day visit the extensive ruins of Ephesus with its well-preserved library and equally impressive theatre seating 24,000. This is where the silversmith Demetrius and his colleagues gathered a mob demanding the Apostle Paul’s death. One can also visit the ruins of an early Christian church dedicated to Mary. Tradition says that after the crucifixion, the beloved Apostle John brought the mother of Jesus to live with him in Ephesus. A large plaque fastened to the remains of a wall tells visitors that Pope Paul VI was here on July 26, 1967 and pronounced it a holy place of pilgrimage. A few feet away, one can inspect a large eight-sided baptistery, obviously designed for the immersion of adults! But there is no Christian Church in Ephesus today.

Laodicea too lies in ruins, but one can recognize the remains of two large theatres, a stadium and portions of an aqueduct. The wealth of the city at the time of John’s writing must have been mind-boggling! The accusation of the Lord that Laodicea was “neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm” takes on new meaning when one inspects what is left of the city’s sophisticated water distribution system. By the time water from the hot springs of Hierapolis reached this city, it was not only lukewarm, but full of harmful bacteria and unfit for bathing, let alone drinking! Not a single trace of Christianity can be found in Laodicea.

There is a tiny excavated plot in the center of Thyratira (now called Akhisr) and three pillars of a Christian basilica from the 6th century can be viewed in Philadelphia. There are no signs of Christian Churches in Smyrna (Izmir), Sardis or Pergamon today.

Sheep graze on a grass-covered hill where Colossae once stood. A badly deformed sign riddled by gunshot points visitors to the place made famous by Paul’s letter to the Colossians.

Antioch in Pisidia, Miletus, Lystra, Galatia and other places share similar fates. The Roman Emporer, Constantine, moved the headquarters of the Christian Church to Instanbul, but the elaborate Basilicas are all destroyed, in ruins or they have been converted into Mosques and museums (Haggia Sophia for example).

The Lowly Christ Chooses Lowly People to Build His Lowly Church

The Lowly Christ

The Son of God left his eternal home in heaven to become a helpless baby. He wasn't born in the king's palace in Jerusalem, as the wise men assumed. The almighty Creator of the universe was born in the little town of Bethlehem, in a stable. He was given a then common name, "Jesus" and wrapped in "swaddling clothes," strips of cloth used to wrap newborn lambs. He was laid in a manger where animals were fed.

An unlikely story, wouldn't you say? It is all part of what we call "the gospel" and it gets even more confusing to those who don't know Christ.

As that baby boy grew, at least six siblings were added to the family (Mark 6:3). Jesus appears again briefly in the Bible narrative at twelve years of age. The family travels to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. When the family departs for home, Jesus stays behind, enters the temple and joins a group of distinguished theologians. He is soon asking questions and then being questioned himself. These highly educated and respected men are astonished at his wisdom and answers. His parents found him after three days of searching and are understandably upset. After that incident, Jesus seems to have "gone underground" for about ten years.

The next time we read of Jesus is when he came to John the Baptist, who was preaching by the Jordan River. As he baptized those who came forward, Jesus also asked to be baptized. John introduced Jesus as "the Lamb of God" and " the Son of God" (John 1:29-36) and then baptized him by immersion in the Jordan River.

Immediately after this, Jesus called twelve men to become his disciples. There were several rough fishermen, a tax collector and a couple of lesser-known individuals. Only one of these men seemed to have much respectability and talent. As one might expect, he, and not the tax collector, was made treasurer.

The Lowly Church
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus told his followers that he would build his church. He chose 70 more disciples and sent them out to places where he himself planned to go. The Bible says that he sent them "two by two, as lambs among wolves."

After three years of preaching to great multitudes and performing many miracles that everyone in Israel was talking about, Jesus was betrayed by the very disciple who seemed most trustworthy! The disciple to whom Jesus was speaking when he spoke of building his church, denied with cursing that he even knew him. Jesus was tried as a criminal, tortured all night, crucified and buried in a borrowed tomb.

Can't Get Much Lower!
Two followers of Jesus, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithaea, placed the mutilated body of Jesus in a tomb and rolled a heavy stone across the opening. Two female disciples watched the hurried embalming process from a short distance.

The enemies of Christ were smelling victory but they didn't take any risks. They convinced the Governor to put a seal on the heavy stone that had been rolled before the tomb and to dispatch Roman soldiers to guard it. The High Priests also sent a watch from the Temple Guard. These measures were not taken to prevent the resurrection of Jesus, but to keep the disciples from stealing his body and then claiming that he was alive.

If the disciples had planned to steal the body, they would have done so the evening before – or not have buried him in the first place!

While High Priests and Jewish leaders were worried about the disciples stealing a corpse, the disciples were hiding in a room with bolted doors and shuttered windows for fear of being captured and killed!

Where was that church that Jesus said he would build, that the gates of hell could not prevail against?

He Arose!
Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior; waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord. Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph oer his foes; He arose a victor oer the dark domain and he lives forever, with his saints to reign, He arose! He arose! Halelujah, Christ arose!

Sunday morning as it was dawning, the soldiers heard footsteps and turned to see two women approaching, talking and carrying packages. Before the soldiers could ask any questions, there was a great earthquake, similar to the one that occurred three days earlier at the crucifixion. Now all the soldiers were wide awake and saw a brilliant flash of light. As their eyes adjusted, they saw a figure in snow-white garments sitting on the stone. The seal had been broken and the tomb was empty!

The soldiers were first to see the open tomb and began to shake all over. They then fell to the ground and “became as dead men.”

Our son read these words when he was about ten years old. He came to me and asked, “Is there a difference between “as dead men” and “like dead men?” I thought for a minute and gave an answer that has since become a family joke. I said, “ If you smell as a dead man, you can’t smell, but if you smell like a dead man, you stink!”

While the soldiers were lying on the ground “as dead men,” the angel ignored them and spoke to the women. He instructed them to go tell the disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead and wanted to meet them in Galilee.

The women departed and the soldiers gradually came to their senses, staring at the empty tomb. Not only was the Roman seal broken and the stone rolled away, but the body they had been charged with protecting was gone. They looked at each other with horror-filled eyes and then looked back at the tomb. The Roman soldiers realized that they would likely face execution for failing to fulfill their responsibility.

Most of them fled for their very lives, but Jesus had not yet left the area. Mary saw him and assumed that he was the gardener. He was probably bending down to straighten flowers that were trampled during the soldiers' hasty exit.

A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. (Matthew 12:20)

Some of the soldiers, probably those of the Temple Guard, went to the High Priests and unintentionally became the first post-resurrection evangelists. And the High Priests became the first to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. They called a special meeting of the Sanhedrin to discuss what should be done about it—not to determine if it had happened!

The High Priests and members of the Sanhedrin obviously believed the soldiers’ story, but it certainly didn’t sound like the gospel (good news) in their ears. The Sanhedrin decided to bribe the soldiers to go into all the world and preach another gospel!

Instead of receiving due punishment, the religious leaders of Israel paid the guards generous bribes to lie about what happened! Can you imagine them dutifully spreading the word throughout the land?

“We were charged with watching a tomb sealed with a Roman seal. We were to keep the corpse from being stolen. But while we slept on our watch, the disciples were able to break the seal and move the heavy stone without waking us. They got away with the body and we don’t know where they put it. Even though we were sleeping, we know exactly what happened. Believe us!”

Why did the Jewish leaders believe the soldier’s story? I personally think that the combined events of the passion week, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and commotion in the temple when Jesus threw out the money changers and sellers of animals; the great darkness, the earthquake and the rent temple veil, all left an indelible impression upon them. This was just one more unusual happening in a long chain of uncanny events which they had to deal with.

If the disciples had really attempted to steal the body, the armed and trained soldiers could easily have overpowered them. Historians tell us that the wrappings used to embalm a body weighed about 100 pounds. Even if all eleven disciples had been present, who for the most part were tough fishermen, it would have taken several of them to move the stone and extract the body while the others held the soldiers at bay. The soldiers would have been handsomely rewarded had they prevented the disciples from stealing the body but sleeping while on watch was punishable by death.

People who heard this tale must have asked themselves why a search party had not been sent out to find the body and capture the disciples. The disciples could not have made very rapid progress carrying a corpse! Their capture would have been the best proof that the resurrection had not taken place. Even while the story of the soldiers was circulating, the disciples were preaching openly, and although they were arrested for preaching that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, they were never accused of stealing his body!

The "religious" leaders not only paid bribes to the soldiers for telling a lie, they also promised to bribe the Governor if he should get wind of the matter (Matthew 28:14). Both the soldiers and Jewish leaders could have faced execution for giving or receiving bribes.

The Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection and the Pharisees did, but together they demanded the worst possible form of death for a man who was totally innocent even by Pilate’s standards. And when their own paid temple guards gave testimony to his miraculous resurrection from the dead and reported seeing an angel, both Sadducees and Pharisees collaborated to generously bribe the soldiers to tell a blatant lie!

When I stop to think about it, the followers of Jesus present the best case against the resurrection of Christ. Consider the following facts: • Mary Magdalene knew Jesus very well, yet she didn’t recognize him at all. She thought he was the gardener.
• Two of his disciples spoke with their resurrected Lord for hours while walking with him to Emmaus. They assumed he was a stranger!
• The disciples who wrote the gospel accounts admitted to their own fearfulness. They were hiding in a locked room and when Jesus appeared, they thought they were seeing a ghost!

The religious leaders, however, present the disciples as bold, brave and courageous fighters who managed to steal a corpse that the soldiers were guarding and they got away with it!

At least one of the soldiers must have become a Christian, but there were likely several. From the time Jesus was taken captive in Gethsemane until his resurrection, he was constantly surrounded by soldiers. Many details would not be known to us if at least one soldier had not been converted and told the disciples (Mark 15:16-20 for example). We do know that a centurion and others recognized Jesus to be the Son of God (Matthew 27:54).

A Lowly Three-Point Plan
Jesus was now alive and it was time to build that church that he spoke of. He called his group of followers together and presented his plan. We call it "The Great Commission."

Jesus gave his followers three commands.

1) Preach (proclaim) the gospel to everyone in the world.
2) Make disciples (apprentices) in every nation, teaching them everything that I have taught you.
3) Before you do the above, however, wait in Jerusalem until I send you the Holy Spirit!

The Greek word translated "church" is ekklesia, which denotes a select gathering of people for a singular purpose.

The basic ingredients in the church of Jesus Christ are God's Word, the Holy Spirit and believers. After the resurrection, there seemed to be few of the latter.

Although Jesus preached to great multitudes and performed many miracles, we are aware of relatively few committed converts at the time of his death. Of ten lepers that Jesus healed, only one returned to give thanks. It is quite likely that some who shouted "Hosianna" at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem also shouted "crucify him!" a few days later.

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared a number of times to his followers, often without prior notice. Once, he appeared to about 500 at one time, but he never appeared to those who were not his followers that we are aware of. His final meeting with the disciples was traumatic.

The disciples were with their Master on Mount Olivet when Jesus unexpectedly ascended into the sky until he was hid by a cloud. The disciples stood gazing into the sky until two angels appeared and promised them that Jesus would return.

There were only 120 persons in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. There is no indication of there being more than 500 true believers prior to Pentecost. Without Jesus, the disciples must have felt very helpless and weak, but they obeyed their Lord's command and went to Jerusalem to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It is difficult for us to imagine what it must have been like in the upper room. They had no idea how long they might have to wait. How would they know that the Holy Spirit had come? Spirits are invisible. They had witnessed the Holy Spirit's working in the miracles of Christ, but he was no longer with them. They likely expected Jesus to return with the Holy Spirit. Had the angels not told them that he would return as they had seen him go? We know that they waited ten days, because Pentecost was fifty days after the Passover and Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after the resurrection (Acts 1:3). We must give them credit for obeying Christ. During those ten days, they spent much time in prayer.

The upper room played an important role before the crucifixion. The disciples had their last supper with the Master in that room. Some Bible scholars believe that it belonged to one of the believers and served as a regular meeting place for the disciples after his resurrection. The people of Jerusalem apparently knew about the place and jested about these poor deluded people whose leader had been crucified. Now they were claiming that he was alive, but no one other than the disciples had seen him.

Jesus kept his word and sent the Holy Spirit in a manner that was unmistakable. The Spirit came audibly and visibly as a powerful storm-wind and flames of fire. People in the street below heard the turbulence and came to see what was going on. The news spread quickly that something unusual was happening in the upper room. Around 8:00 a.m. a crowd gathered. When the disciples opened their mouths, the Holy Spirit took control. People from many nations heard and understood them in their own native dialects. Someone claimed that the followers of Jesus were drunk. Peter heard that and reacted spontaneously.

Lowly Church Builders
The LORD doesn't build as men do. He uses imperfect servants that he rescued from the trash! We were once hell-bound sinners, but Jesus saved us and uses us to build his church!

1) We are his laborers, who need not be ashamed if we follow his blueprints (II Timothy 2:15).
2) We are the tools and vessels that he uses (Romans 6:13 and I Corinthians 3:10).
3) We are also building materials, God's "living stones" (I Peter 2:5).
4) We are the church. We are fruit and branches on the Vine, which is Christ (John 14). We are members of the body, and Christ is the head (Ephesians 5:23).
5) We are the promised bride of Christ, the Bridegroom (Revelation 19:7).

The disciples wasted no time following their Lord's commands. They began exactly as he had instructed them, proclaiming the gospel to everyone, beginning in Jerusalem. On the very first day, 3,000 were saved, baptized and added to the church! The following day, there were 5,000 (Acts 4:4). Within two centuries, there were vibrant, growing churches on three continents and the Christian's enemies claimed that they had turned the world upside down!

When Christians are persecuted, they often go underground. Most people have heard of the catacombs of Rome, but Christians also met in underground graveyards and built underground cities in several countries. We visited some of these places in Austria, Greece and Turkey. The underground church has not only survived, but often thrived during times of persecution, most recently, behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains.

Jesus died the horrible death of a criminal, but he didn't have to die. According to his own words, he could have summoned twelve legions of angels to rescue him from that cruel death (Matthew 26:53). A Roman legion was at least 6,000 soldiers and 12 legions would be 72,000. Jesus chose rather to die for the wicked; for criminals, murderers and immoral people. He died so their sins could be forgiven and so they could receive eternal life. And he gives them – us- the privilege of helping him build his church.

Christians have been hated, persecuted and martyred for two millenniums. No one can count the number of Christians who have died for their faith. In the first centuries, Christians were burned as torches in Nero's coliseum. In the middle ages The Roman Catholic Church abandoned God's Word and began persecuting those who dared to protest. Anabaptists, Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish, Bretheren, Hussites, Quakers, Waldensians, Calvinists, Armenians and Huguenots were nearly wiped off the face of this earth! Many modern theologians pick fault with the above groups, but two identifying factors of these Christians set them apart from their modern day critics.

1) They suffered for their faith. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (II Timothy 3:12).
2) They believed and sought to obey the Holy Spirit and God's Word at great cost.
Even today, millions around the world are suffering for their faith in Christ, and they would only need to deny God's Word to avoid persecution.

I operated a print shop in Austria and printed nearly all evangelistic materials used in Austria. I also secretly printed tons of literature and Bible portions in the languages of Eastern Europe that were smuggled through the Iron Curtain.

An unsaved Austrian from the main city of our district took a carload of clothing and food supplies to his relatives in Romania. When he stopped at the border, armed soldiers began to literally take his car apart. The man asked, "What are you searching for? I have no weapons or drugs." A border guard smirked and told him, "You probably have Bibles hidden here somewhere." That Austrian told reporters afterward, that he purchased a Bible as soon as he got home. He wanted to know why the Communists were so afraid of a book that they claimed was just a bunch of fairy tales!

Indestructible Church
When one considers all this persecution of believers, a person might be tempted to ask what Jesus meant, when he said that the very “gates of hell can not prevail against his church" (Matthew 16:18).

The answer is quite apparent to any serious student of the Bible. Buildings can be destroyed, but not one individual who placed his trust in Jesus has ever been lost! And the church thrives today in spite of millenniums of bitter persecution. In fact, churches have grown in number and strength during times of severe persecution!

Jesus placed little value on physical structures. A scribe once said that he wanted to become a disciple of Jesus. The Lord replied, saying that foxes live in dens and birds have nests, but he had no place to lay his head. The scribe decided that this was not his kind of life.

Jesus was a carpenter, but he never used his skills to build church buildings. When the disciples stood in awe of the magnificent architecture of the temple which godless King Herod had built for the Jews (more for his own glorification than God’s), Jesus shocked them with his response. “Not one stone will remain on top of another!” That prophesy was fulfilled when the Roman General, Titus, destroyed Jerusalem 40 years later.

On the other hand, Jesus said in John 2:19, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. He spoke of his own body. The same is true of all who place their trust in Christ. Men can destroy our physical churches and even our bodies, but not our souls. Man could not hinder the resurrection of Christ and he cannot prevent the resurrection of those who believe in Christ and follow his teachings. Man can destroy structures that we call churches, but not the body of Christ as defined in the New Testament.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's. I Corinthians 3:9-23

Paul seems to elevate foolishness above wisdom in this text. Is wisdom really inferior to foolishness? What Paul is teaching here is the most important aspect of education, science and faith. The moment a person thinks he knows it all, he ceases to learn. As soon as a scientist stops testing his discoveries, he ceases to be a scientist. Anyone who says, "I have my religion" slams the door on truth. The key to knowledge, science and faith is our admission of possible error and willingness to be corrected and forgiven.

In the last verses above, we find a warning and a wonderful truth. Paul warns us not to glory or boast in human accomplishments or possessions. All things are ours, we are Christ's and Christ is God's. It's all about relationships! The church is people, not buildings! Those of us who believe and are redeemed by his blood ARE the church. And WE are indestructible!

The Church in Missions Today
A biblical understanding of the church of Jesus Christ is of prime importance for effective missionary work. Missionaries are sent to carry out the Great Commission, which is building the Lord's church, but many are ignorant or at best confused about the scriptural definition of the church.

If you were to ask many pastors to define the biblical church, they might give an answer that is somewhat close to Bible usage, but when you hear them use the word in conversation or in sermons, "church" seems to take on a different meaning. For most Christians the church is where you go on Sunday, or a building, or it is a particular religious denomination.

Many missionaries who describe themselves as "church planters" export their own concept or brand of church. There is little difference between “That’s the way we've always done it” and “This is how it’s done today” mentalities. True Christians have always been innovative, and they have always had traditions. There is nothing inherently wrong with old-fashioned ways, nor is there anything wrong with trying new things, like state-of-the art technology. All have their place, but they should not distract from the effectiveness of the church for which Jesus died and which we are hopefully building. God's Word and the Holy Spirit must have priority!

Ralph V. Harvey, Easter, 2019