Evangelism and Church Extension

12. Evangelism is not the same as church extension.

The problem here is how does Bosch mean ‘church’? The New Testament and most Christian writers recognize two aspects of the church- the universal church and the local church. Anywhere that evangelism is successful, the universal church DOES extend. The New Testament shows that we don’t join the church; we are born into it through the gospel (1 Cor. 4:15; Heb. 2:10-12). But because of various understandings of how the universal church is manifested in time and space, WHICH church extends when the gospel is proclaimed is not clear.

Bosch is clearly talking about church extension in the sense of denomination extension. Frank C. Senn echos Bosch in identifying the problem with this understanding:

The problem with the concept of evangelism as church extension is denominationalism. Unless we accept the postulate that there is only one true and undivided church and that all heresy and schism is outside of it, we are faced with the problem of defining what church extension means. To speak of church extension today can only mean the extension of the Lutheran Church, or the Roman Catholic Church, or the Baptist Church. Unless we are blind to the existing state of denominationalism, evangelism as church extension can only mean perpetuating our divisions. We can only extend and plant denominations, each with its own confession, discipline, liturgy, polity, etc.

–The Witness of the Worshiping Community: Liturgy and the Practice of Evangelism, p. 55

The basis of church unity?

This may be a somewhat harsh sounding critique, but I think it illustrates what is such a huge and complex underlying issue in understanding the mission of the church today. A year ago, Kevin DeYoung brought up the discussion of church unity, which he said can take shape as “an admirable reminder, a necessary rebuke, or a blunt instrument with which to bludgeon conservatives who don’t share the same doctrinal latitudinarianism and ecumenical pipe dreams.” What should motivate our concern for the oneness of the church is the realization that the church is not an afterthought in God’s plan of redemption. The church is the very goal of His eternal purpose (it will of course manifest itself in new ways as the kingdom and as the New Jerusalem, but in all these the intrinsic reality is continuous).

Deep within, all Christians know that they should be one in a way beyond a spiritual bond or verbal acknowledgment. We know that all the bickering and competition is unnatural considering that we have been bought by the same blood and begotten by the same Spirit. We are members of the same family. The question then is HOW this oneness can be manifested and actualized locally.

An opportunity

Jaroslov Pelikan said that, “Every period of the church and of theology has its particular problem to solve and every doctrine has its classic age in which it first comes to be fully understood and appropriated by the consciousness of the Christian world.” And that, “Now the turn had come for ecclesiology, which had long been the principle point of division within all the denominations.”

Evangelism SHOULD be church extension in the twofold sense of the church, universal and local. But this depends on a proper basis and understanding on which we practice the oneness of the church. If we believe Pelikan is right, then this is an invitation to seek out this solution and pray for its realization, if not in full, at least in part.

3 thoughts on “Evangelism and Church Extension

  1. To fly in theological fog is dangerous, if you trust in emotions and not in the right instruments. The infinite coefficient of elasticity of words: their ability to be stretched and stretched so that they covered almost anything, but without breaking. Have we noticed the length to which “evangelical” or “evangelism” or “mission” has been stretched?

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  2. Pingback: The Heart of Christian Mission | life and building

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