This post is an introduction to our theological distinctives; over the next few weeks we will be looking more closely at each of our distinctives and their application to church planting. Use the links at the bottom of the page for more posts in this series.
Have you ever wondered if the five distinctives of Acts 29 have anything that unifies them – any underlying logic?
It is the beauty of these ideas that they find their deep unity in the character of the Triune God and his gospel of grace worked out in his missionary strategy of the local church.
- The sovereignty of God in saving sinners
- Gospel centrality in all of life
- The work of the Holy Spirit for life and ministry
- The local church as God’s primary mission strategy
- The equality of male and female and the principle of male servant leadership
God’s sovereignty in saving sinners
Every aspect of salvation, from conception to accomplishment to application to full realisation is in God’s domain
God’s sovereign control of all that is fundamental in the Bible. “For from him, and through him and to him are all things” is how Paul summarizes it in Romans 11.36. The application of this truth to world events and individual lives, in the big picture and in the tiny details, is to be seen everywhere in the Bible. In particular, we see that this doctrine of God’s free choice and utter liberty is applied to the salvation of sinners. Jonah 2.10 states unequivocally that salvation belongs to the LORD. Every aspect of salvation, from conception, to accomplishment, to application, to full realisation is in God’s domain. Oliver Donovan expresses it beautifully in Resurrection and Moral Order: the gospel is the good news that “God has taken responsibility for humanity.” Divine initiative and divine responsibility lie at the heart of our knowledge of God.
The application of this to church-planting is clear. If it were not so – if the Lord did not build the church, if he did not have many people in this city, if he did not add to the church all those who were being saved, who were destined to eternal life – then which of us would dare proclaim the gospel?
Gospel centrality in all of life
The gospel of Jesus Christ is where we see divine initiative and responsibility most clearly and wonderfully displayed. Jesus’ incarnation, life, teaching, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession and return display at the same time the condescension and mercy of the God who takes the initiative, and the grace and compassion of the God who takes responsibility. This is overwhelming, transforming good news. This is sufficient for all our ills, for all our sins, and for all our aspirations, because it speaks of God doing for us and the cosmos what he did for Jesus at the resurrection.
In the gospel of Jesus Christ we see divine initiative and responsibility most clearly and wonderfully displayed
That is why all our church planting, all our preaching, all our discipleship, all our counselling, all our planning, all our parenting, all our discipline, training, dreaming and activity is an attempt to answer the question: what is the impact of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, reign and return of Jesus on this aspect of my daily life as a believer, and on our daily life as a church?
The Spirit’s presence and power for life and ministry
Once we have established, as a governing principle, God’s initiative and responsibility, we understand that all that we have flows from the Spirit’s presence in us. In all the debates about the Spirit, his role and activity, we should all agree on the main thing that the Spirit does. He unites us vitally to the living Christ, and by establishing this union, which is the chief blessing, he gives us access to all the spiritual blessings that are to be found in him. This includes the ability to speak and act in Jesus’ mission, on Jesus’ behalf, in Jesus’ world. The Holy Spirit unites us to the divine Head, who leads us, guides us, empowers us, rules us.
The local church as God’s primary mission strategy
The expression of this principle in church planting is to be found in the humble simplicity of depending on God in prayer, expressing our praise and thanks in song and listening to him in his word. Anything else is a practical expression of our revolt, and a refusal of his gracious offer to take the initiative and the responsibility right down into the details of our church plants. He offers to work in us both to will and do his good pleasure. He offers to build our church plants as expressions of the Church which he will certainly build.
In our church plants we’re deeply involved in our communities because we are emissaries of our initiative-taking God
The Father expresses his loving initiative and comforting taking of responsibility for us by sending his Son. The Father and the Son take the initiative and send the Spirit to take responsibility for all our work for him. The Tri-une God takes the initiative and the responsibility for the world he created by sending his people, the church, into the world to be a missional family, reflecting God’s glory and grace to the world, proclaiming the gospel to all. This makes us intentional in all that we do. Our intentionality is our way of expressing, at our level, the divine initiative and responsibility of God in the world.
And so in our church-plants, we are deeply involved in our communities in imaginative and proactive ways because we are emissaries of our initiative-taking, responsibility-taking God and we want human society to flourish in glad obedience to the universal Lordship of Jesus-Christ.
The equality of male and female and the principle of male servant leadership
In this context, complementarian relationships are neither an unimportant detail or an embarrassing dogma. They reflect the Triune God and the posture of the church to the world in the contexts of marriage, parenting and servant leadership. The Bible has nothing to say on marriage if the roles that Paul talks about in Ephesians 5 are interchangeable. But more than that, the Bible has nothing to say about the gospel if the roles are interchangeable (Ephesians 5.32). If there is no asymmetry, then Paul’s main criteria for assessing and selecting leaders in the church disappears. Jesus’ radical redefinition of authority and power in Mark 10.42-45 is woven through what the Bible says about God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, the church and the family. If only we knew what we do when we hack and hew the Bible in its seemingly awkward places!
In our church plants we will ensure that we provide an environment where men and women flourish under God
So in our church plants, and in the complementarian teams that work so hard to get them off the ground, we will ensure that we provide an environment where men and women flourish under God, basking in the fact that he has taken the initiative and the responsibility for his people. We will take the initiative and the responsibility for our world through the Spirit. And in our churches and families, men will take the initiative and the responsibility for the sacrificial leadership that shows and tells the gospel.
So we see that these core theological values are linked directly to the character of God and the beauty of the gospel. As we go about the task of church planting, these distinctives will shape how we do this and the types of churches we will seek to plant – all for the glory of God.