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The Holy Spirit and the process of church planting

I plan to write this article as recognition that without the work of the Holy Spirit, the theological knowledge and well applied principles will not make a church be born.  We depend on the Spirit to convert the heart, unite the people, lead them to worship Christ and inspire them to preach the Gospel.  And the wind blow where it wills.

If we consider the growth of the Church in a world panorama we see the Gospel has already reached 22,000 peoples in these last two millennia. We have already the Bible translated today in 2,220 languages.  The great nations that resisted the Gospel are being reached strongly by the Word, such as in India and China. Patrick Johnstone tells us that never have we had a growth so expansive of the Church as in our days.  

Two questions could arise given these facts: What is the relationship between the expansion of the Gospel and the Person of the Holy Spirit? Which are the criteria for a Church, full of the Spirit to involve itself with the expansion of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

In a broad summary we see that this relationship could be observed in three distinct, but inter-related areas. Firstly through the essence of the Person of the Spirit and His function in the Church of Christ.  Secondly by the essence of the Person of the spirit and His function in the conversion of the lost.  Finally by the clear connection between historic revivals and the missionary advance.  
The essence of the Person of the Spirit and His function in the Church of Christ

In Luke 24 Jesus promises to send us a Comforter, that is the Holy Spirit, and He would come over the Church in Acts 2 in a permanent manner.  There the Church would be clothed in power. The Greek term used for ‘Comforter’ is ‘parakletos’ and literally means ‘to be alongside’.   It is a term made up of two parts: The preposition ‘para’ - at the side of – and ‘kletos’ from the verb ‘kaleo’ which means to call. Therefore we see here that the Person of the Spirit, as the fulfillment of God’s promise, dwells with the Church, called to be alongside for the purpose of God.

According to John Knox the essence of the function of the Holy Spirit is to be at the side of the Church of Christ and to make her to be face to face with Christ and spread the name of Christ.   Accordingly, the Holy Spirit works to make the Church more like her Lord and to make the name of the Lord of the Church known in the world.
The essence of the Person of the Spirit and His function in the conversion of the Lost

We believe that it is the Holy Spirit Who convinces man of his sin.  The natural man knows that he is a sinner, but only with the intervention of the Spirit does he begin to feel lost.  Therefore in every presentation of the Gospel, if the Holy Spirit does not convince the man of sin and judgment our exposition of the truth of Christ will be no more than a human argument (1 Thess. 1:5).

Francis Schaeffer in his L’Abri taught the difference between the consciousness of sin and the conscience of redemption. Every human being has a moral consciousness of error.  He explained that the consciousness of imperfection does not err in man and is accepted by him.  However this does not lead him to feel lost and feel the need to be redeemed.  Without the intervention of the work of the Spirit the natural man does not seek God.  He does not feel the need of salvation or forgiveness.

All of us have had an evangelistic experience in which we have presented Christ to someone with a hardened heart, someone who sees Christianity in a critical way and mocks it.  And to whom we present the Gospel one, two or five times.  On the sixth time nothing new is said.  The same Gospel is presented.  However at this time this Word enters the mind, descends to the heart and creates brokenness, and the consciousness of being lost and a need of God.  There is then a personal giving to the Lord Jesus.  The Person of the Holy Spirit, His nature and mission is to make the difference between a familiar hearing of the Gospel and a thirst for God, brokenness and giving of oneself to Christ.
The clear connection between historical revivals and missionary movements

If we study the cycles of revivals we see that the proclamation of the Word becomes the natural consequence of this action of the Spirit.

As a result of a revival, from 1730, John Wesley during 50 years preached about 3 sermons a day, mostly in the open air, having covered some 175,000 km. on horseback, preaching 40,000 sermons throughout his life.

As a result of a revival in 1727 the Moravian Church began to send missionaries to every part of the world that was known at that time, sending a total of more than 3,600 missionaries in the next 100 years.

As a result of a revival in 1784, after reading the biography of the missionary David Brainerd, the student William Carey was called by God to reach the Indians.  After a lifetime of work he succeeded in translating the Word of God into more than 20 local languages.

As a result of a revival in 1806, Adoniran Judson has a powerful experience of God and proposed to serve Christ, going to Burma where he was imprisoned and persecuted for decades, but left 300 churches planted with 70 pastors in that country.

As a result of a revival in 1882 D. L. Moody preached at Cambridge University and seven men committed themselves to the Lord for missionary work and made an impact of the world at that time.  They were called the ‘Cambridge Seven’ who included Charles Studd.  He went to Africa, travelling through 17 countries and preached to more than half a million people.  He founded the World Evangelization Crusade (now WEC International) that today has over 2,000 missionaries in the world.

As a result of a revival in 1855 God spoke to the heart of a delicate rather sickly young man to give himself to cross-cultural work in an idolatrous and savage land.  Various brethren of his church tried to dissuade him saying:  Why go so far away when there is so much to do in North America?  He preferred to obey God and went.  His name was Ashbel Green Simonton that came and worked in Brazil in the second half of the 19th century being the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil.

As a result of a revival in 1950 in Wheaton College 500 young people were called to missionary work around the world from the preaching of the Word.  They obeyed.  Among these was Jim Eliot who was killed trying to reach the Auca tribe in Amazonia in 1956 and his martyrdom caused a great missionary advance in all the work among American Indians. Another of these young men was Dr Russel Shedd who has been a professor of theology, a leading Christian publisher and pastor in Brazil for many years.

Keeping in mind these three levels of the relationship of the Spirit to Missions, we are able to see some biblical values about this theme, revealed in Acts 2 at Pentecost.
Pentecost and proclamation

The Holy Spirit is the central person in chapter two of Acts and Luke is rightly the synoptic author that speaks most about Him, using expressions like ‘anointed’ by the Spirit, or ‘power’ of the Spirit or still more ‘led’ by the Spirit, demonstrating that in Lucian theology the Holy Spirit was really the ‘Parkletos’ that would come.

Pentecost, among all the Jewish festivals, was according to Julius; the event most attended by pilgrims and happened in an atmosphere of reunions of Jews who lived in distant lands and undertook at this time of year long journeys to be there on the 40th day after the Passover.

We arrive at the moment of Pentecost.  There happened at this moment a strange phenomena to outsiders and uncommon events to those inside the Church and the Word sums them up for us speaking of a sound like ‘strong wind’ (in Greek ‘echos’ is used for the sound of the sea).  And ‘tongues like fire’ that settled above each one.  The Word says that they ‘became full of the Holy Spirit’ and started to speak ‘in other languages.’ And Luke closes verse 4 with the expression ‘according to as the Spirit gave them.’

Other languages.  The text in verse 4 uses the terms ‘eterais glossais’ to declare that they spoke in other ‘glosse’, languages, an expression for human languages, idioms. But so as to not leave us in doubt in verse 8 the text tells us that each of them heard in their ‘own language’ using here the term ‘dialekto’ that refers to the dialects of those present. The languages spoken and heard at Pentecost, therefore, were human. But at what point did the miracle occur? In those that spoke or in those that heard?  It is possible that it was in the ears of those who heard the message, what was preached was understood in ‘idia dialekto’ in the own dialect of each one.  What is certain, however, it that God worked supernaturally in order that the message of the living Christ be understood, in a clear and detailed way, by all the hearers.

In the middle of this bewildering moment (wind, fire, sound and languages) the improbable happened.  The thing that would have been only an internal spiritual festival for 120 persons arrived even to the streets.  The missionary character of the Gospel is exposed.  The Lord with certainty wanted to show already right from the first minutes that the definite arrival of the Spirit over the Church, that this power – ‘dynamis’ of God – was not poured out only in a restricted church service, for the intimate joy of the saved, or as the confirmation of the faith of the martyrs.

The plan of God included the world both near and far and all its future generations and nothing better than that moment of Pentecost when 14 nations were present there, and in the middle of this hustle and bustle of the manifestation of God, each one – miraculously – began to hear the Gospel in their own language.  

It was the Holy Spirit showing already in His arrival what would happen. In only one moment God fulfilled not only the ‘you shall receive power’, but also the ‘you shall be my witnesses.’ The Church empowered was born with a mission:  To witness to Jesus.

From then on many were converted and the Church grew from 120 to 3,000 and then to 5,000.  We do not know the result of those representatives of 14 peoples returning to their countries with the clear and living Gospel ‘in their own language.’

After Peter’s sermon, in which He announce Christ, we read in verse 37 that ‘hearing these things, they were cut to the heart’ and the term used here to cut to the heart comes from ‘katanusso’ that according to Meyer is used for a ‘strong sting’ or ‘a profound pain that makes the soul weep’.  The Word states that ‘on that day were added almost three thousand souls.’ The Holy Spirit used the occasion of Pentecost to reach men from near and far.

We are able to take from this to draw some very clear conclusions.  One of them is that the presence of the Holy Spirit takes the message to the streets, outside the meeting place, and reaches persons outside.

There was in that place, hearing the Word of God through the means of a Church clothed with the Power of the Holy Spirit, men of various distant nations, God fearers, all beyond the nearby Jews, that lived on the other side of the street. From distant lands, the text registers that there were ‘Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; and those living in Mesopotamia, Judea  and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Egypt and parts of Libya and near to Cyrene, Roman pilgrims, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs’ and all heard them speak ‘of the marvelous works of God.’  

The action of the Holy Spirit does not produce a shut away Church

This Church full of the Holy Spirit begins to grow where it is and in Acts 8 the Lord disperses it to all the corners of the earth.    And the Word says that ‘those who were dispersed went everywhere preaching the Word.’

Vicedon teaches us that a Church full of the Spirit is a missionary church, proclaiming the Gospel, taking it to the streets.

The action of the Holy Spirit does not produce a segmented Church

After the Spirit’s action over the 120, and after 3,000, then 5,000, there was not fragmentation, division or little groups in the Church.

They were different.  Some liked to worship God in the Temple, others from house to house.  Some were Jews, others were gentiles interested in Judaism, still others were plain gentiles. Some had travelled with Jesus, other had never seen Him personally. But the Church had ‘only one heart and only one soul’ as the direct result of the action of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.

The action of the Holy Spirit did not produce a self-centered Church

Certainly a Church that had experienced the power of God, in a way so close and visible would be impacted by the supernatural.

However, when a supernatural action is conducted by the Holy Spirit the only Person that is highlighted is Jesus, the only Person exalted is Jesus, the Person that is seen is Jesus.  The result is that others begin to love Jesus more.

A planted church is not as the result of human ability or correct methodology but a fruit of the action of the Spirit that convinces man of sin and judgment.  The dependence on the action of the Spirit is, therefore, the necessary and fundamental condition for us to dream of seeing churches being born, in Christ and for God.