Saturday, September 17, 2011

Unity in Church Planting

I've heard it said that churches from different denominations can and should partner together to evangelize the world, but cannot plant churches together. What's the reason for this? Answer: they agree on the gospel message, but disagree on what the church is and should look like. For example, the thinking is that those who hold to infant baptism cannot plant churches with those who hold to believer's baptism because they disagree on the meaning of the church.

I used to agree with this line of thinking. Then we moved to South Asia.

When we arrived, we immediately craved interaction with other Christians. We soon met both South Asian Christians and foreign missionaries (the missionaries came from various countries, various sending agencies, and various denominations). We found that we wanted to work with all Christians, not just in evangelism but also in church planting.

There was one particular Christian Indian man who loved the Lord a great deal. We began talking about working closely together to spread the gospel in various places in India. Now that I think back on it, I have no idea what he believed about secondary issues.

How would this have worked? How can Christians of differing secondary beliefs also plant churches together? If we keep a few things in mind, it is no problem at all. First, we must remember that it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who plants churches, not us. We must follow His lead. Second, we should avoid trying to plant specific denominational churches that are defined by certain secondary beliefs. Third, we ought to sit with the new believers, open our bibles together, and trust the Spirit to guide the group decision making.

The Holy Spirit can be trusted. He will lead the new Christians to make right decisions about the church. Once they are indwelt by the Spirit, they can understand what God wants from His church as He has stated in the pages of the bible. It is the local believers who must make important decisions about church life.

As foreigners, we can give small amounts of guidance here and there, but we must avoid taking leadership roles. The decisions must come from the group. They need to decide how to carry out the one anothers, how to meet together, where to meet, how to celebrate the Lord's Supper, how to care for the poor in and out of the church, who and how to baptize, etc. It's very possible that they may make some decisions that we disagree with. So be it.

We can be united in church planting. We must simply let the Spirit lead, get out of the way, and encourage new Christians to let the scriptures inform their decision making. If we follow this pattern, we can work together with any other Christians


David Rogers said...


I agree with much of what you say here. What about those, however, who want to push a certain denominational agenda from the ground up? Is it possible to partner with them?

I posted on this same topic a couple of year ago:

Eric said...


You have much more experience in this area than I do, so I'm looking forward to reading your article. I've wondered about the question you ask. If the church planters are determined to plant a specific denominational church, then I'm not sure how to work together. One of the reasons I say this is that this puts the church planters in leadership positions for the decision making of the church - at least at the beginning. The nice thing for us in South Asia was that we didn't meet any church planters with that type of agenda.

Jeffrey said...

Before we began home schooling, Our oldest son attended a christian school. It was a wonderful school with open, caring teachers and a student body that made a parent very comfortable about their kid spending time there. It was run by an alliance of two churches: one, a very straight-laced baptist church and the other, a "swing from the chandeliers" Pentecostal church.

Some wondered how they managed to do such a great job, given their differences. I came to the conclusion that it was precisely because of their juxtaposition that they succeeded. They could not teach doctrinal opinion; they had to teach the Christ of the Bible.

I think your instinct is right on. Having multiple denominations involved in church planting would go a long way toward avoiding doctrinal inbreeding.

Eric said...


That's a great point.

The interesting thing that I've seen is that some Christians within denominations are very willing to work with other denominations, while other Christians are not. This is a big debate, for example, within the SBC.

We can hope that eyes will be opened by the Lord to the bigger picture of the need for the gospel as opposed to denominational purity.