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1. Foundational Principles of Growth in the Kingdom of God

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Foundational Principles of Multiplication in the Kingdom of God

(Dietrich Schindler)

If you could compare your church to an animal, which animal would best describe your church? Think about that for a moment. On what basis did you choose the animal that you chose? A tiger is strong and fast. Perhaps your church exhibits those qualities. A turtle is tough and slow. Perhaps you are part of a turtle church.

I would like you to consider the analogy of an animal and the local church along the lines of gestation periods. How long does it take for your church to give birth to another new church? Animals have different gestation periods. It takes an elephant 616 days, almost two years, from the time of insemination to birth. A mouse on the other hand can give birth every 20 days. Whereas the elephant gives birth to one elephant at a time, a mouse births between five and ten mice babies with each litter. In the time it takes for an elephant to bear one elephant, a mouse mother can bear between three to six hundred mice in the same time period!

For animals the time between insemination and birth are vastly different. This goes for churches as well. Some churches grow old without ever giving birth. Some churches give birth to new churches frequently. Why the difference? The difference lies in both perspective and volition. Birth-giving churches see themselves as part of God’s design as mirrored in the Scriptures, leading them to want in their experience what they have seen in the Bible.

I would like to address foundational biblical principles concerning growth and multiplication.  What follows are four themes of multiplication that we find in the Bible.

 

I.          Four themes of multiplication in the Bible

1.1       Multiplication in Creation

The book of Genesis serves as the point of entrance to the subject of multiplication.  In that book, the term “blessing” (Heb. berak) noticeably includes multiplication.  The first topic addressed is multiplication or blessing in the creation.  Of the aquatic animals and birds, it is said, “God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth’” (Genesis 1:22).  The first humans are addressed similarly: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’” (Genesis 1:28).  After the earth-destroying deluge God makes a covenant with Noah. “God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth . . . multiply on the earth and increase upon it’ (Genesis 9:1.7). We notice in these verses the repeated intentional conjunctions of “blessing”, “fruitful” and “increase”.

 

1.2       Multiplication in God’s Covenants

In the creation accounts multiplication is the blessing that God wishes to extend to all of creation – fish, fowl, animals, human beings.  After the Fall the Bible links the multiplication blessing of God with His covenant people, beginning with Abraham and extending on through to the Church.  Biology becomes the cradle for soteriology.

The promise to Abraham is a word of blessing and multiplication. In the midst of godless tribes and nations, God singles out Abram and states clearly, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing . . . and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).  This promise is reiterated to Abraham on four other occasions, in each case with vivid multiplication attached to it.  Offspring are to become “like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted” (Genesis 13:16).  The descendants issuing forth from the barren womb of Sarai are to be like the uncountable stars of the heavens (Genesis 15:5).  To Abram God says, “I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” (Genesis 17:6).  After passing the test of his willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, the LORD says to Abram, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” (Genesis 22:17).  The promise of a great nation is also passed on by God to Ishmael: “I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.  He will be the father of twelve rules, and I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:20).

Because the LORD blessed him, Isaac “reaped a hundredfold” harvest (Genesis 26:12).  Jacob’s descendants were promised to be “like the sand of the sea” (Genesis 32:12).  Out of Jacob would spring forth “a community of nations” (Genesis 35:11).  And Joseph would become “like a fruitful vine” (Genesis 49:22).  Blessing and fruitful multiplication as blessing from God is stark and unmistakably raucous!  Beyer comments, “The blessing of Yahweh is the gracious divine gift which He dispenses in sovereign freedom, granting His favour to individuals or to a people and causing the work of their hands to succeed.”[1]

 

1.3       Multiplication through the Gospel

It is in the parables of Jesus that we discover the nature of Jesus’ messianic dynasty-building and that it has to do with multiplication.  Jesus depicts himself as the farmer in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-9; Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8).  His message of salvation is intended to produce a disciple who in turn produces other disciples in varying quantities, with the pinnacle being “one hundred-fold”.  His emphasis is high-yield.[2]

In the parable of the seed growing secretly, which is recorded only in Mark 4:26-29, Jesus speaks of the axiomatic (i.e. self-evident) growth of the seed or the Gospel:

A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself [automate] the soil produces grain: first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.

Although the farmer sows and can create conditions for growth to occur, he does not ultimately have the power to make the seed grow. However, the seed (the Gospel) has this power innately.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote that the Gospel was “the power of God [dynamis tou theou] for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).  Here we encounter the nature and power of multiplication.  It resides in God and in the message that God has given to the hearers.  Jesus said that this is a depiction of what the kingdom of God is like (Mark 4:26).  The same power to save (Romans 1:16) is the power to multiply (Mark 4:28).

Before leaving them, Jesus spoke to his disciples of his expectation that they produce more and better fruit and works.  “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).  Clearly Jesus had great expectations and knew that his disciples, in reliance on the Holy Spirit’s power and in petitioning him (14:13), would get more kingdom work done than he had accomplished.  That this was an incredible thought to his hearers is plain by his use of “amen, amen” before stating it, an introduction is always used by Jesus where he knows that his hearers will not believe him.

In John 15 he speaks to his disciples concerning “more” and “better” fruit that they will produce as they abide in him.  “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (15:8).  Indeed, Jesus had explicitly chosen them for this task of bearing greater fruit (15:16).  Surely the fruit to which he referred goes beyond the love that they were to display.  When Jesus said that they would do greater works than he had done, he was not referring to love (for who would have the capacity to love more than Jesus!), but to the expansion of the kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel.

 

1.4       Multiplication and church planting

Perhaps one of the most astounding passages in all of the New Testament is found in Acts 16:5 “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”  The grammar of this passage leads us to believe that it was the churches that grew daily in numbers, not the disciples in those churches. Every day in the early church new churches were planted.

 

II.         Biblical Principles that lead to multiplication growth

Having considered the biblical evidence for multiplication, we now offer a distillation of conclusions on multiplication that can act as guiding principles for reflection and behavior in relation to CPM.

 

2.1       Multiplication begins with God, not with man

A poignant contrast exists between Genesis chapter eleven and Genesis chapter twelve.  In Genesis eleven, people disregarded God and took their destiny into their own hands.  Their goal was to build an edifice unto themselves that would reach unto the heavens, “so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4).  God looked down in dismay upon their rebellion and confounded them and scattered them over the face of the earth.  This incident is contrasted with the call of God to Abraham, in which He says to him: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:3).  This contrast serves to point out an important lesson: human effort will never manufacture God’s blessing.  God will oppose such efforts.  A s has been shown, multiplication is the outcome of God’s blessing and his initiation.  His speaking, his revealing of vision, his promising, his empowering of his subjects leads to the unheard of and the undreamed.  Thus the leader who seeks such multiplication must necessarily seek God and His mind first and foremost.

Blessing is primarily a gift from God.  As such it cannot be earned, manufactured, engineered, but only received.  Blessing is the transference of the life of God to people that He favors.  God communicates this blessing in word pictures of His preferred future.

 

2.2       Multiplication is fuelled by an astounding vision

The picture of God’s preferred future is grand.  To the human agent, it is usually incomprehensible and leaves one with a sense of inadequacy and smallness.  To count sand granules on the seashore, to count the stars in the sky, measure the dust of the earth is to stand in awe of the humanly impossible.  And yet it is precisely its impossibility that gives the vision its divine quality and thus deeply moves the heart of man.

 

2.3       Multiplication presumes humility

Each person tapped by God to be a part of fulfilling His vision of multiplication expressed surprise.  The patriarchs, Moses, David, Peter all responded with a surprised gasp, as in the words of David: “Who am I, O sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?  . . . Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?” (2 Samuel 7:18-19).  This is the tension of multiplication. Although human agents are involved, ultimately it is God who makes growth possible (1 Corinthians 3:7).  The wonder and mystery of spiritual growth shall always remain with all who sow and harvest, keeping them humble.  The body of Christ “grows as God causes it to grow” (Colossians 2:19).

 

2.4       Multiplication is the activity of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work to which He called them

(Acts 13:2). Where men were called and empowered to do ministry in the name of Jesus, real power was evident.  “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).  The Lord’s hand was with them and as a result “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21).  These passages harken back to Jesus’ initial statement concerning the Holy Spirit and multiplication: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

 

2.5       Multiplication is rooted in worship and prayer

It was “while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting” that the Holy Spirit called the Apostles to the work of church planting multiplication (Acts 13:2).  The unleashing of the Gospel’s impact at Pentecost was predicated upon the disciples’ praying together in the upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14).  For the early followers of Jesus, prayer was not something they did, but a life they lived.

 

2.6       Multiplication flows from the fear of the Lord

As the early Church was strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit and grew in numbers, it lived in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31).  The growth of the church was directly related to the fear (awe) of the Church in the Lord.  “Everyone was filled with awe” was the ethos of the Church (Acts 2:43, cf. 5:5, 11; 19:17).  Needless to say, righteous living was an unmistakable and natural consequence of such awe (faith always manifests itself in faithfulness).

 

2.7       Multiplication involves dependent activity

With the overriding initiative for multiplication residing with God, is it appropriate for followers of Christ to seek a multiplication movement?  Is it not in the prerogative and sovereignty of God for Him to decide where multiplication occurs and where it does not?

Responding on the basis of our above study, we conclude that none of the human agents set out to seek a multiplication movement.  They sought the Lord, and having met them, the Lord gave them the vision and the empowerment to initiate multiplication.  We underscore: they sought the Lord and not a strategy.  Yet, there is no biblical evidence that Christians should not seek such a movement.  The only caution is that they emphasize the pre-eminence of Christ in their worship, petitions, and living, and only secondarily seek multiplication.

 

2.8       Multiplication feeds on the dissemination of the Gospel

It is the proclamation of the word of God that brings about increase.  This point is made by Luke six times in Acts: “So the word of God spread.  The numbers of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (6:7).  “But the word of God continued to increase and spread” (12:24).[3]  The only way the word of God could increase and spread is through its dissemination by its adherents.  The axiom holds: the more that is sown, the greater the harvest.

 

2.9       Multiplication varies in speed

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David did not realize in their lifetime the vision of multiplication that God had given them.  It took hundreds of years for it to unfold.  By contrast we read in Acts that the word of God and the churches grew rapidly.  While one person will realize multiplication in his lifetime, another follower of Christ might never see it this side of eternity. CPMs are taking place in South America today, while in Germany we are still waiting and believing to see them happen.

 

Conclusion:

Church planting multiplication is not a contemporary phenomenon in search of a biblical warrant.  Rather it is seminally described in Jesus’ growth parables, inherent in his command to disciple all nations, and operative in the church planting behavior of the early Church as reflected in the book of Acts.  Previous to the New Testament we see multiplication as God’s design in the creation motif as well as in the birth and development of the nation of Israel.  It is an outgrowth of blessing and part of the covenantal relationship between God and His people.

 



[1] Gerhard Kittel, gen. ed, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 11 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,), vol. 2 (1964): s.v. Eulogeo, by Hermann Wolfgang Beyer, p. 756.

[2] In Matthew and Mark there is a gradation of fruitfulness, thirty, sixty, hundred-fold.

[3] Other references in Acts are: 9:31; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31.