Paul begins in chapter 11 by saying that God had not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Yet, what “people” did He mean? They were that Israel within Israel who were the children of promise (9:6-8); those saved not based on works of merit (9:11, 16); those who had heeded the call of grace (9:24); those who pursued righteousness by faith and not by works of merit (9:30-32); those who called on the name of the Lord in faith (10:11-13); and those who believed the uncompromised apostolic message of those whom God sent which was the call of God (10:16ff). These people God foreknew were chosen out of the earth by the call of grace accessed through faith. Included in that number of the foreknown people of God were those who stumbled, but not as such to result in permanently falling (11:11a). In the foreknowledge of God, these people were spoken of metaphorically as the totality of the root and branches of the natural olive tree (11:16 – 25).
Those saved by the time the Romans Epistle was written were referred to as a remnant called by the election of grace (11:6). Yet, Paul will advance through various teachings in this chapter to his conclusion that all Israel will be saved (11:26). The “Israel” pointed to was none other than the people of God whom He foreknew and whom He had not rejected as described above (11:1ff). They were that Israel within Israel (9:6) whom God had foreknown.
Paul gives two illustrations early in this chapter to demonstrate that God had not rejected His people whom He had foreknown. First, he brings his own salvation center stage reminding that He was an Israelite of the Tribe of Benjamin. Second, he uses the story of Elijah’s discouragement under the persecution of wicked Queen Jezebel when God revealed that there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (11:2-4). Just as there was a remnant in the days of Elijah who were the real people of God demonstrated by their active faith, so there was a remnant according to the election of grace in Paul’s day (11:5).
Yet, make no mistake that nothing but the call of grace would or will ever draw the elect of God to salvation (cp. 2 Thess. 2:13, 14). Adding works of merit to grace destroys grace and perverts to gospel—the call of the Shepherd (11:6; cp. Galatians 1:6-10; John 10:1-18). The message of grace is uniquely suited to the very nature of God and resonates with those Jesus described as the poor in spirit, who mourn the severing of their relationship with God because of their sin, who meekly turn the management of their lives over to God, and who hunger and thirst for the whole of perfect righteousness that only comes as a free gift from heaven through Christ (cp. Matthew 5:3ff).
Israel sought righteousness, but did not obtain righteousness because they sought it not by faith but as though it were by works of merit (11:7; cp. 9:30-32; 10:3). Note the contrast between the fact that Israel was seeking (epizēteō meaning to search diligently for) that which she did not obtain, but those who were chosen (eklogē meaning the act of God's free will by which before the foundation of the world he decreed his blessings to certain persons) (11:7). The emphasis is on God’s choice, not man’s diligent search, human effort, and seeking. Yet, God’s choice of His people whom He had foreknown was done by the instrumentation of His divine call. The call underscores time and again God’s desire to save all, but the freedom of man to accept and obtain or reject and be hardened by the very message designed to save them (11:7; 9:19-24, *24; read the entire Gospel of John searching for this theme).
The hardening of the hearts of the hearers was illustrated by the Old Testament prophets’ and seers’ messages falling on the deaf ears of people in Isaiah’s day (Isaiah 29:10). That very message sent to them by God through those prophets designed to make them see only blinded their spiritual eyes and that which was sent to open their ears only made them spiritually deaf. To them, God’s rejected message was pictured either as housed in sealed book or given to those who could not read (cp. Isaiah 29:11f)—in short, rejection. Another illustration used by Paul is that of David—the shadow Christ (Paul quotes Psalm 69:22, 23 in 11:9). The context of Psalm 69 is a prayer in which David pleas with God to deliver him from his adversaries who “hate him without a cause” (Psalm 69:4a). The persecutions brought on David by his adversaries caused “dishonor to cover (his) face” (Psa.69:7b) & a severing of him from his brothers (69:8a). David had so closely identified with God by life and faith that he could say to God, “The reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me” (Psalm 69:9b). The gospel writers are moved by the Holy Spirit to use David as a shadow of Jesus, hence the unjust suffering of David serves as a shadow of the unjust suffering of Christ Jesus. The words first applied to David (“they gave me gall for my food and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”, Psalm 69:21) were literally fulfilled in Jesus as He hung on the cross in the midst of His enemies (cp. Matthew 27:34, 48; Mark 15:23, 36; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-30). Hence, the next verses in Psalm 69:22, 23 quoted by Paul in Romans 11:9 have David pleading for his adversaries to be blinded and to fall into a trap! This same net impact would be fulfilled by those in the Jewish nation who rejected the call of the gospel of grace. Those in Israel who were seeking (by their merit) righteousness did not obtain it, but those chosen (by the call of the gospel of grace, 9:23, 24; 11:7) obtained it.
Consistent with his theme that God had not rejected His people whom He foreknew (11:1), Paul asks, “They did not stumble so as to fall, did they?” His answer was, “May it never be!” (11:11a). In the great and sovereign workings of God, Gentile acceptance and obtaining of righteousness by faith impacted “some” of the Jews who initially rejected Christ by making them jealous (11:11b, 14). Hence, in relation to those of Jewish lineage who had been foreknown by God as part of the natural olive tree from eternity would come to fullness (pleroma, meaning that which fills or with which a thing is filled as a ship filled with freight, merchandise, sailors, oarsmen, or soldiers; or fullness) (11:12b). This viewpoint takes into account the foreknowledge, predestination, call, justification, and glorification of God (cp. Romans 8:28-30) while including the free moral agency of man who would either be chosen or hardened by the uncompromised gospel call (cp. 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).
Paul saw himself as a carrier of that gospel call to the Gentiles and held out hope that his echoing of that gospel call would move some of his Jewish countrymen to jealousy and a coming to coming to faith in Christ (11:13, 14).
Metaphorically, Paul spoke of the people God foreknew as a natural olive tree foreknown by God from eternity suffering the severing of some branches (Jews who initially rejected the gospel on first hearing) making room for the grafting in of Gentiles who would, ultimately, come to God in fullness (11:12). God never damned some from eternity and saved some from eternity with no reference to their heeding the call of grace (11:6; John 10; I Corinthians 1:26ff). Those Jews who had rejected Christ initially were cut off because of unbelief and those Gentiles saved were grafted into the natural olive tree from what was a wild olive tree because of one reason—they believed. Those circumstances could be reversed if the Jews who disbelieved came to faith and if the Gentiles who had believed lost their faith, respectively (11:17-24). Thus, the doctrine of once saved always saved is once again shown incorrect.
Paul speaks of a “partial hardening” that had happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in (11:25). That partial hardening is equal to the breaking off of branches from the foreknown natural olive tree and equal to the entire holy lump foreseen by God (11:1, 16, 17-24). Yet, that “partial hardening” and that initial remnant (11:25, 5) would come to totality in the eternal foreknowledge of God so that Paul wrote, “And so all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
Paul, then, quotes Isaiah 59:20, 21 writing, “A Deliverer (Redeemer) will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them when I take away their sins” (quoted by Paul in Romans 11:26, 27). This is the manner in which God through Isaiah (foreseeing the time of the Messiah) and Paul (preaching the Messiah) defined the “people God foreknew” (11:1a); the holy “lump” (11:16a); the foreknown “natural olive tree” (11:17-24); that “Israel within Israel” (9:6); and “all of Israel” who would be saved (11:25, 26). A careful reading of the entirety of Isaiah 59 foretold the repentant spiritual Israel of God coming out of the unrepentant physical Jewish nation in the times of the Messiah. The scene God painted through Isaiah was one where the people were dulled-eared, separated from God by iniquity, violent, full of falsehood and dishonesty, speakers of wickedness, practicing evil, preying on the innocent, unjust, spiritually dead, and multipliers of iniquity (Isaiah 59:1-15a). In the midst of this national and permeating evil in the land, God, Himself, acted. “Then his own arm brought salvation to Him, and His righteousness upheld Him. He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle” (Isaiah 59:16b-17). In short, God came to this wicked nation incarnate in flesh to become the Judge of the unrepentant wicked or the Redeemer and Deliverer of those whom He would “turn from transgression in Jacob” (Isaiah 5:20b) and to enter into “covenant” with those repentant believers (Isaiah 59:21a). This foretold the coming of Jesus to the world to judge the wicked and call the repentant believers into covenant with Him. The manner in which that separation occurred is vividly portrayed in the Gospel of John.
Hence, when Paul says, “All Israel will be saved” that he does not means the wicked filled people of physical Israel who rejected His call of grace and the quote of Isaiah 59 bears this out! By the time Paul wrote the Epistle of Romans, there had been a remnant called or chosen by grace out of the physical Jewish nation, but the rest were hardened. Those who were hardened became enemies of the gospel and enemies to the Gentile converts to Christ (11:28a). Yet, “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29). “Irrevocable” (ametameletos) means unregretted. Why would God not regret having foreknown this people (11:1a); this spiritual Israel (9:6); this holy lump (11:16); this natural olive tree (11:17-24) that would come sooner or later to salvation through the Shepherd’s gospel call? It is because those who had a heart for Him would, ultimately, be safe in the bosom of the Shepherd’s care and be saved. That place made for Gentiles with common hearts of faith and the place reserved for those branches initially broken off but who would come home was all the eternal plan of the mission God of heaven.
Such a truth caused the Apostle Paul to break forth in spontaneous praises of the God whose eternal plan needed no consultant or external funder.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! FOR WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and To Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (11:33-36).
Sunday Auditorium Class
Elmore Church of Christ
Don Myers, Teacher
Paul’s intense heartbrokenness over the failure of unbelieving Israel to arrive at imputed righteousness as a free gift from God through faith in Christ caused him to write that he would be willing to forfeit his soul if they could be saved. The failure of unbelieving Israel to attain righteousness was not because they failed to zealously seek to abide by God’s law, but because they did not understand the path through which righteousness is imputed as a free gift through faith in the perfectly righteous Christ (cp. Romans 2:17-3:20) and not by works of merit under law (cp. Romans 2:27 – 3;20; 3:21 – 5:21).
The Law of Moses was predicated on the axiom that if a man perfectly kept it, then he would LIVE—that is, he would not be separated from God (the Fountainhead of life) by his sin (Gal.3:12; cp. Lev.18:5). The law demanded righteous perfection (Gal.3:10; James 2:10). Yet, only the person who had been driven to the understanding that he could not earn his right standing with God through law-keeping (cp. Acts 13:38, 39) was moved to come to faith in Christ (cp. Romans 9:30-33). Thus, only the spiritual Israel of God (men and women of faith through time and including Christians of Paul’s day, cp. Romans 9:6ff) had been set free from the condemnation of law and brought under grace (Romans 10:4; cp. 9:30-33; 3:21; 2:17-29; 6:14; 3:27; 8:1-4). Since unbelieving Israel were had not come under grace, then under what would they have remained (cp. Romans 6:14)? If a Gentile Christian allowed false teachers to bind circumcision on them, what law would they be a debtor to keep in whole (cp. Gal.5:1-4)? In 56 A.D., what law was Paul saying the non-believing Jew broke by his sin (cp. Romans 2:17 – 29)? By what law did Paul quote to show the unbelieving Jew condemned in A.D. 56 (cp. Romans 3:9 - 20)? Christ is the end of the law to them that believe.
Paul, then, puts law and grace (cp. Romans 6:14; also called the law of works or the law faith in 3:27, or the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus in 8:1, 2) in sharp contrast. The former extended righteousness based on law and the latter extended righteousness based on faith—hence, righteousness was and is the issue (10:1-10).
Concerning the Law of Moses, earned righteousness could only be maintained by the person who perfectly practices the law (Gal.3:10) and would have rendered to him LIFE –that is, unbroken fellowship with God (Romans 10:5; cp. Gal.3:12). The other path to LIFE (fellowship with God) was through imputed righteousness (to be as one ought to be and have the approval of God) based on faith (Romans 10:6a). Faith must have an object—and the object of the Christian faith is the perfect Jesus whose righteousness is imputed, reckoned, or placed to the account of the believer (Romans 3:21 – 25a). Justification or right standing with God is not just some future blessing, but a present reality (cp. Romans 5:1f).
If man was to be able to attain righteousness through human power, it would require him to ascend into heaven to bring Christ down and to descend into the abyss to bring Christ from the dead—for the only one who could save the sinner was the Christ who came from heaven, lived a perfect life, died, and was resurrected to save the sinner. How utterly impossible for a finite sinner to perform these feats to save himself, yet this is exactly what it took for God to save the lost world—Christ coming, His perfect life, His death for the sinner, and resurrection from the dead. The only two paths for lost man to be saved are either to perform these impossible feats of salvation or to trust He who performed them—namely, Jesus Christ.
Setting in stark contrast (on the one hand) the impossibility of a man to perform these works of salvation with (on the other hand) his attaining them by faith, Paul continues his quote and adaptation of the words spoken by Moses (cp. Deut. 30:11-14) regarding the easy accessibility of the word of God comparing it with the easy accessibility to salvation by faith in Christ through the word of faith. He writes:
THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART—that is the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation (Romans 10:8-10).
In contrast with falsehood and lies, those who place their faith in the Lord (the unmovable, Chief Cornerstone) will not be disappointed (Romans 10:11; cp. Isa.28:16). Salvation is a universal offer from God through Christ with no discrimination based on race. Any and all who call on His name can be saved—Jew or Gentile. Yet, in order to call upon the Lord one has to believe; for one to believe in the Lord one has to hear the good news; for one to hear the good news a preacher must speak the word of God to them; and in order for a preacher to speak he must be sent. The path to faith is through hearing the word of God.
Did the preachers fail to proclaim the gospel in Paul’s day? No, the gospel was spreading worldwide. Had unbelieving Israel failed to know the nature of the gospel they heard? No, they had understood enough to be brought to jealousy over Gentile conversions. Was the gospel so difficult to understand, since unbelieving Israel had not come to faith after hearing the gospel? No, previously uninformed Gentiles without 1500 years of Jewish heritage (cp. Romans 9:1-5) had found faith in Christ while Israel had missed He who they had been waiting for generations!
Thus, what was the root cause of Israelite rejection of Paul’s gospel? It was because unbelieving Israel was disobedient (meaning not allowing themselves to believe) and obstinate (meaning contradicting and declining to obey).
 End means termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be (always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time), or the end to which all things relate, the aim, purpose.
 Righteousness (dikaiosynē) is the state of a man who is as he ought to be and concerns the doctrine of the way a man attains the approval of God—whether by works of law or by faith in Christ. But, mark this, it cannot be by both or a mixture of the two (cp. Romans 11:6; 7:1-4; 3:21f).
 A class discussion will take place as to how Paul quotes portions of the context of Deuteronomy 30:11-14 comparing the accessibility of the word of God in Deuteronomy 30: 11, 12 with the accessibility of faith in Christ through the word of the Apostles, Romans 10:6-10.
 Romans 10:9 – 13 seems to be the central passage causing many in the denominational world to deny baptism as an essential step of faith putting a believer into Christ, yet Paul has no such intention of teaching such a false idea (cp. Romans 6:1-6). On the other hand, any view that makes baptism a work of merit is a heresy (cp. Col.2:12; Romans 11:6; Gal.2:11-21 with Gal.3:26, 27).
 God through Isaiah spoke of the Messianic age when the Christ would be exalted and salvation would be revealed to the nations through the beautiful feet bringing the message of salvation (see Isaiah 52:7; 52:1 – 53:12).
 The universal spreading of the preached word is compared by Paul to the universal language of creation, itself, speaking worldwide the truth that there is a God and He is alive!!
 In Deuteronomy 32:21, God was moved to jealousy due to His people’s idolatry and foretold a day when the inclusion of Gentiles would make Israel jealousy. All of this was in His eternal plan to save all spiritual Israel (cp. Romans 11:11 – 36).
Elmore Church of Christ
Note: The class will begin by reading Romans 9 in its entirety and, then, this submission will be read following by class discussion.
Many in the Jewish nation had rejected Paul’s gospel by the time the Epistle of Romans was written and he was heartbroken over the lost condition of his unbelieving Jewish kinsmen. Paul is quick in underscoring the great privileges the Israelite nation had been given, yet would not allow the Jewish rejection of the gospel to reflect on the truthfulness of God’s promises through Old Testament prophecies. Those who were the true descendants of the promise of the inheritance of imputed righteousness (resulting in fellowship with God) were not the physical descendants of Abraham, but the children of promise. Hence, there was an Israel (spiritual) within Israel (physical). The children of promise (illustrated by Isaac) are those in contrast to Ishmael who was born according to the flesh (or, through normal human power and means). Isaac was born through the promise of God (cp. Galatians 4:11-21). Isaac was not born through human power or ability to bring his conception about for both Abraham and Sarah were sexually dead before God intervened to empower them (cp. Rom.4; Hebrews 11:11). Christians (Abraham’s true children of promise) are associated with Isaac and called “children of promise” (cp. Gal.4:28) because their spiritual birth (that which they were powerless to acquire or cause by their own power or works of merit) was brought about by the intervention of God in sending Christ to save them by His death, burial, and resurrection.
In answer to the Jewish complaint that God’s promises owed the physical Israelite the Messianic blessings, Paul shows that same Jewish objectors would not agree that the Ishmaelites (descendants of Abram and Hagar) or Edomites (descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Rebekah) were entitled to the same Messianic blessings even through both groups came from the body of Abraham.
Having destroyed the Jewish argument that physical tie to Abraham entitled them to the blessing of the Messiah, Paul moves to the subject of the sovereignty of God in the selection of Jacob and rejection of Esau regarding which would be the line through which His Son would come to the world. God’s sovereign selection of Jacob and rejection of Esau in this regard was not based on order of birth or works of merit, because God made His choice based on His sovereignty before the boys were born and before either had done good or evil. Why did God choose to make this choice before they were born or before they had done any good or evil? Paul explains, “. . .so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls . . .” (9:8b). God’s choice before the sons were born was an illustration of the nature of His call to the lost Jewish world and the lost Gentile world. The true gospel call is a call of grace—one not based on the merit of mankind’s works or man’s ability to earn any part of his salvation. Thus, to illustrate the nature of His call of grace through the gospel (cp. 2 Thess.2:13, 14), God chose Jacob and rejected Esau before they had done any good or evil in order to show that the gospel of grace would not stand on man’s works, but of Him who calls. Considering the call of the gospel, it is the message that Christ Jesus accomplished what man cannot accomplish by his works. To misunderstand this point is to believe a gospel foreign to the New Testament (cp. Rom.11:6; Gal.1:6ff).
Paul continues with two more Old Testament characters (Moses and Pharaoh) to illustrate that God had the sovereign right to have “. . . mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (9:18). Paul prefaces his teaching on the hardening of Pharaoh and the mercy shown to Moses by writing, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (9:16). This statement is, yet, another illustration of the gospel of grace that man does not create in his wisdom or a salvation he does not earn by his running (works).
Per Paul’s illustration, Moses was shown compassion in being permitted to see a manifestation of God’s back. No one else was shown such an act of compassion, as was Moses. Paul is using the compassion shown Moses to illustrate the compassion He has shown to a certain group (Christians) who He calls by the gospel of grace. Paul writes, “And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” (Rm.9:23, 24). Conversely, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is an illustration of the hardening of the hearts of a different group (those who reject Christ’s gospel of grace). By A.D. 56, the call of the gospel had drawn by God’s sovereignty a remnant of the Jewish nation and also those of similar broken heart from the Gentile nations. The very nature of the gospel call (a call of grace) had hardened some and called some—as it does today and until the end of time.
God chose Jacob and rejected Esau. God extended to Moses an act of compassion, but hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Both illustrations underscore that the gospel (God’s calling power) had one of two impacts—calling or hardening.
The potter making one vessel for honor and one for common use (cp. Jeremiah 18) is, yet, another illustration of God’s sovereign impact on the hearts of lost mankind by the call of the gospel of grace.
God’s calling those not His people His people (cp. Hosea 1:10ff) and referring to the Old Testament prophecy of only a remnant of the Israelite nation being saved (cp. Isaiah 10:22ff; 1:9ff) were in process of fulfillment because of the impact of the preaching of the message of the gospel of grace which was covering the earth during the ministry of Paul and his fellow Apostles. Paul confirms that the call of the gospel had resulted in the calling of the Gentiles who had a heart to believe and a remnant of the Jewish nation. He wrote, “. . . for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly” (Rm.9:28). The execution or the spreading of God’s word resulted in a calling of Gentiles and a remnant of the Jewish nation. On this point, Paul wrote:
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written,
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
Why did some Gentiles become Christians? It was because they responded to the message of grace in faith—meaning they added nothing to the work of Christ, but only trusted the work of Christ.
Why did many Jews fail to come to Christ when they heard the message and call of grace? Paul explains, “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works” (Rm.9:32b).
Don - My doctoral thesis will explore, hopefully, a representative sampling of churches of Christ to probe nuances of your question. That study will be done over the next year or so. One of the central issues regarding your question goes to our intentions. The issue is not whether we have planted churches, but if we ever intend to plant churches in the U.S.
Don - The elders of Elmore congregation in Elmore, AL oversee a church-planting vision called The Antioch Initiative (see aicoc.org). The slogan of the Antioch Initiative is "TAKING THE NATION BACK BY TAKING JESUS TO THE NATION" keying on planting churches domestically. The original vision was to plant four congregations in Northeastern Pennsylvania in four counties (Bradford, 63,000 residents; Susquehanna, 56,000 residents; Wyoming, 24,000 residents, and Sullivan, 6000 residents). Our research revealed no congregations the church of Christ in any of those four counties. On October 19, 2014, a church-plant was launched in Sayre, PA (Bradford County) with Arthur Barry of Dryden, NY as the evangelist. Over two years were expended in seeking and interviewing evangelists for this new plant in Sayre before launching took place. God blessed us with Arthur & Sandy Barry.
On June 5, 2016, a new congregation will be launched in Tunkhannock, PA (county seat of Wyoming County) with God’s blessings. The very interesting feature of this plant (and future plants) is that it will be done whether or not we are blessed with a permanent evangelist by the target date. Various campaigners will be coming and going during the entire Summer 2016 from Alabama, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky following up on World Bible School contacts, conducting a VBS, door-knocking, and, generally, meeting the residents of that beautiful county. If a permanent evangelist has not been located on or before the first Sunday of September 2016, then brother Bill Garrett (Lewistown, PA) will have recruited four to six rotational church leaders, Bible teachers, and/or preachers to revolve in and out of Tunkhannock until which time a permanent evangelist is located. Our group is aware that discipleship is the key to development of indigenous leadership; indigenous disciples are the key to evangelistic passion; and evangelistic passion and expertise are the keys to duplication of more plants; and, germinal plants will result in global evangelism.
Future demographic research of areas being considered for church planting will include the availability and willingness of regional church leaders and Bible teachers to do rotational preaching and evangelizing. When the Apostle Paul went into virgin areas, he, invariably, went into Jewish synagogues if one was present. Jewish people in those synagogues had been raised studying the Old Testament Scriptures, which foretold the coming of the eternal church kingdom, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the enthronement of the Messiah (Christ) on the throne of the eternal kingdom. Paul taught that the Jewish expectations of these things were correct being founded on inspired Scripture and, yet, he was able to announced and confirm by miracle that the kingdom had come, the Christ had been enthroned, and that the Spirit had been poured out. The conversion of such knowledgeable people coupled with the fact that Apostles could lay their hands on people and the Holy Spirit was imparting supernatural gifts, such as prophecy, to whom He willed account for the rapid rise and placement of men into the eldership of each autonomous congregation. As we plant churches today, we do not normally encounter men with such knowledge and maturity, yet, such men are, often, readily available in the regions where church plants are targeted—men who have grown to spiritual maturity over decades of their study and growth in the Lord. This is what might be referred to as a 21st Century parallel to the mature men Paul encountered in Jewish synagogues that were appointed as elders.
Seeking to emulate the non-paternalistic method of the Apostle Paul in preaching the gospel of grace, we have no intention of buying church property or building church buildings. Whatever those established church plants decide to do regarding church meeting places will be their autonomous choices. We are of the strict belief that paternalistic relations with a new church plant smothers indigenous leadership of congregations that need to become germinal in four categories--self-propagating; self-financed; self-led; and self-theologizing. We do not want to support a work, make their decisions for them, do all their evangelizing, or teach them proof-text answers to doctrinal questions. Such could later render them twenty-year-old spiritual babies who do not evangelize and who cannot interpret the Bible themselves. None of this is to undermine God’s plan for a congregation to be overseen by elders. Yet, elderships are to prepare God’s people for works of service, not to do the work for God’s people. Before elders are raised up, the key to assisting the church plants is to provide a man of God (evangelist) who is mighty in the word of God who can teach the whole counsel of God. When spiritual infants grow to spiritual maturity, they should be able to interpret God's word for themselves and, we trust, will remain true to the faith. That puts other elderships and planting churches outside the church plant in the position of teachers and those who can admonish, but not those who can interfere in the autonomous decisions of a church plant. We, for instance, are non-instrumental and that is the type evangelist that will be placed in those plants. But, who can predict the future? Will forces come to bear in the future that could turn some of those church plants in the instrumental direction? We know that is a possibility. What power would we have over an autonomous church plant with its own rising leadership? We have the power to choose whom we will support and the power to love and teach what we consider the right ways of the Lord to the extent the church plant is willing to listen. But, that is where it ends. (Bobby, this gets off on question #3.)
As a result of some contact with core leaders of the Antioch Initiative, brother Phillip Bailey of the Memorial Drive congregation in Houston, TX received the blessing of his elders in recently planting a congregation in a Houston suburb that has a greater population than Pittsburgh, PA. Philip and his fellow planters are seeking the planting of, yet, another congregation on a major thoroughfare in Houston that will, also, boom in population. Core leaders of the Antioch Initiative will fly to Houston to meet with those planters to expand fraternity and our network of partners.
The Antioch Initiative has the vision of recruiting visionary church leaders from around the nation to do multiple church planting in other parts of the U.S. The Elmore elders and the growing partners of the Antioch Initiative have no power over any other congregation or its leadership, but stand ready to pray and collude with any congregation true to the gospel of grace who would like to learn of our failures and successes enabling others to begin years ahead of where we began. What a joy it would be to meet annually in different mega cities of the U.S. with church leaders from around the nation who are multiple church planting in various places in the U.S. to pray, share ideas, fellowship, and gain new insights for expanding outreach?!
Don - Bobby, the central obstruction in the present state of our failure to plant churches in the U.S. is a need for the restoration of the missional priesthood of every believer. Every Christian possesses the essential spiritual DNA of Jesus to reproduce themselves. This is in evidence with every convert to Jesus recorded in the New Testament (e.g. the Ethiopian; Lydia, etc.) Unlike the metaphor of being a baby in Christ needing the milk of the word, that milk (fundamental knowledge of Jesus) is all it takes to produce another Christian. The Hebrew writer quoted Jeremiah in contrasting those under the old covenant to those under the new,"They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer.31:34; quoted in Heb.8:11). Alan Hirsch uses the illustration of the octopus and the starfish. If an octopus suffers the severing of one of its tentacles, God has given it the regenerative power to grow another arm. If a starfish suffers the loss of one of its arms, it, too, has the innate regenerative power to regrow a new arm, yet, the severed chunk of the starfish’s arm can produce an entirely new starfish! God has endowed each Christian and, hence, each congregation with the spiritual DNA of Jesus capable of reproducing themselves. If that is true, we can get a better handle on how Paul could write to the Colossian Christians in A.D. 62 indicating the gospel had been “proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col.1:23c). Paul had not, personally, seen every lost soul in the Western Roman Empire face-to-face, but his planting of germinal congregations in hub cities was done under the assumption that each Christian and each congregation would reproduce themselves. This is predicated on the fact, as Dave Browning underscores, that those saints believed Jesus really meant the “stuff” He said (cp. Mt.28:18-20). Yet, many of us have spent our lives climbing a ladder only to realize it has been leaning against the wrong wall evangelistically speaking, says Browning.
What does it take to plant churches? Must we be traditional or progressive to appeal to this millennial culture? Think of it this way. What would it take to plant a church where you live—property, a building, a paid professional, funding? All the things needed to plant churches already exist in the majority of regions in the U.S. The funds needed are already there—in the pockets of the new Christians who are about to be born again. The property and meeting places needed for the new congregations are already there—the homes in which the new converts live, or a free meeting place (e.g. a fire hall, room at the library, or use your imagination)! The evangelists needed are already there—those “chunks” that would be willing to be severed from regional congregations with the cooperation of their leaders/elders to replicate themselves in another part of the city or county. Further, if such is not possible in some instances, just imagine an eldership or evangelist in some region coordinating knowledgeable, mature men of the word to circulate on some kind of a schedule into the new church plant to evangelize and preach.
As far as the Antioch Initiative is concerned, we are dreaming of going to the next level of church planting. Instead of planting one congregation at a time, we ask, “What is stopping the church from being planted in multiple locations, simultaneously, all over the nation?" Although the elders of Elmore congregation (a group of scarcely over 140 people) have no power over any other congregation or leadership, we see the nation laying out before us. Hence, we are formulating a plan to seek out visionary elderships over the nation to take up the challenge to multiple church-plants, simultaneously, in their regions. The strategy of Jesus was not to go to the “uttermost parts” first, but to begin in “Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8). The resources of the mother church in our “Jerusalems” can radiate out to our “Judeas and Samarias” and, then, “into the uttermost parts.”
Any leadership who preaches and teaches the true gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ should be spreading the gospel leading to the planting of churches. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We can do nothing to improve on who Jesus is and what Jesus has done in His winning of our salvation. All we can do is trust who he is and what he has done. Certainly, saving faith includes repentance of sins, confession of that faith, and baptism identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and trusting the operation of God (Col.2:12; Rm.6:3-6). There is nothing we can do to merit our salvation, but true faith will surrender to the Lordship of Jesus and prove itself true by works of faith that grow toward maturity.
We, of the Elmore church and the Antioch Initiative, are "traditional" in regarding to women's role in the church, singing without instruments, etc. We are going to, with God's blessings, plant churches until Jesus returns. Although this may not fit here, it is my conviction that once persecutions hit the church in Jerusalem sometime after the Day of Pentecost, that Christians scattered and met in homes. It is estimated by some missiologists that the church grew from 20,000 in the First Century to 20,000,000 (million) by the Edict of Milan about 313 A.D. Constantine "converted" to Christianity, persecutions ceased, and the church, essentially, digressed to a state of evangelistic domestication. Cathedrals were built on "holy sites" by Constantine's mother "Helena". The simple man or peasant who had shared Christ with his neighbors was, certainly, not seen as worthy to teach or speak in one of the cathedrals. The joy to teaching (evangelism) was seen as the work of the professionals. This Constantine-model, as described, is killing the church in Europe and around the world. We are prayerful that God’s people will center our evangelistic aims on people--not properties; on discipleship--not spectatorship; on the concept that every Christian is a missionary and a priest of God. Jesus gave the great commission that mandated discipleship. It was not the great suggestion. The church must enter a restoration of evangelistic fervor on the discipleship model. Greg Ogden said, "Jesus had the wisdom to think small." He invested in and spent nigh 70 -90% of his time with the Twelve. Their transformation into obedient, evangelistic missionaries and disciple-makers lead to global evangelism in the First Century (cp. Col.1:23). The message of grace must not be compromised. The man of salvation must be at the center of our faith. And, yet, the method of the Master must be restored. The church was never intended to be a house full of consumers that have to be pandered, but a house full of proclaimers. Under this biblical paradigm, we will stop asking, “How will the gospel ever reach the world?” We will begin shouting, “How can you stop the gospel from spreading to the world in our lifetime!?"
The following is an abridged summary of various opportunities for engagement and partnership between the Westside church of Christ in Searcy, Arkansas and the Antioch Initiative overseen by the elders of Elmore church of Christ in Elmore, Alabama. Any item(s) herein broached may offer venues for future exploration and further discussion. Further, these opportunities are, essentially, the same prospects extended to any and all faithful congregations of the Lord’s church who are preaching the gospel of grace and who are obedient to the great commission mandate of Jesus Christ. Hence, these proposals and options are not reserved for the Westside congregation, but extended to all congregations.
Prayer. God is on mission and we are commanded to join Him. We are inspired and motivated by the fact that the Westside eldership of Searcy, Arkansas (both individually and collectively) has been engaged in Christ’s great commission for decades, yet, we, the leaders of the Antioch Initiative, humbly invite the eldership and congregation of Westside to prayerfully consider joining us in beseeching our Father to bring about a church-planting movement that will sweep the United States. This movement shall be and is founded upon Christ’s orders to disciple apprentices of Jesus who will be baptized into Christ as repentant believers, added to Christ’s eternal church-kingdom, and who will be taught to observe all things whatsoever Jesus has commanded. (Our view is that discipleship leads to conversions; conversions lead to church-plants; church-plants lead to continuing discipleship and germinal churches.) Join us in praying that those newly won disciples will become germinal children of God possessing the spiritual DNA of Jesus to reproduce themselves for the balance of their lives. Beg God that the disciples of those fully matured apprentices will, in turn, reproduce themselves again and again from generation to generation until the final trumpet. We urge the Westside elders and congregation to pray with us that germinal congregations of the Lord’s church be birthed all over the nation that will become self-led, self-financed, and self-propagating bodies of saints. Pray that these church-plants will, eventually, be shepherded by their own indigenous leaderships who will be raised up by God as a result of their own prayer lives, spiritual growth, walk with God, and sacrifices who will lead the ongoing planting of germinal churches that will, in turn, plant churches until Jesus’ return without our permission and assistance. We urge the Westside elders and congregation to join us in praying that the gospel of grace be preached to our nation employing the non-paternalistic methodology of the Apostle Paul targeting souls—not the buying of land and the constructing of buildings. (Whatever the autonomous church-plants elect to do in those regards will be their own personal business and should be underwritten by their own respective sacrifices and planning. We are convinced the evidence is overwhelming that such a non-paternalistic approach gives rise to indigenous leadership and conforms to the methodology of the Apostle Paul.) Finally, join us in a continuing unwavering faith acknowledging and trusting that the reigning Lord Jesus (who has all power in heaven and on earth) will bless our fervent efforts in discharging His orders as we act on his specific instructions and according to His will. Pray and join hands with us, our Westside brethren, to Take Our Nation Back by Taking Jesus to the Nation.
Option #1—Priority. Westside elders are being called upon to use their treasure-house of mission connections through Harding University and otherwise to recruit, oversee, and finance (in a significant way) a biblically sound evangelist, specifically, for Wyoming County PA (pop. 28,000), and for expanding evangelistic outreach into Bradford County (pop. 63,000), Susquehanna County (pop. 53,000), and Sullivan County (pop. 6,000) Pennsylvania with a congregation based in Tunkhannock, PA (county seat of Wyoming County). This evangelist can work in concert with evangelist Arthur Barry (his overseeing elders, Kittanning, PA) who serves in Sayre, PA at the Valley Cities’ congregation in Bradford County which was launched 10/19/14.
Other Levels of Prospective Participation and Involvement.
Option #2—Multiple Church-Planting. Westside elders and congregation are urged to consider accepting the challenge to select a region of the United States and to initiate a multiple church-planting vision in some fashion similar to the Elmore church’s efforts in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Although Westside would certainly not be dependent on Elmore’s Antioch Initiative, we would be joyful and honored to collude and work side-by-side with her in spiritual comradeship in church-planting in other states of the U.S. coming along side her with our network of experienced and gifted church-planters to whatever degree needed and requested. (See Partner tab on AICOC.ORG). The Antioch Initiative has no power over any other eldership, but welcomes the prospect of partnerships with all who are determined to carry out the great commission mandate of Jesus our Lord. The growing core leadership of the Antioch Initiative envisions multiple church-planting efforts being simultaneously ignited over the nation initiated by visionary elderships from faithful congregations of the Lord’s church. We acknowledge Westside elders as being long-term leaders on the cutting edge of missions over numbers of decades and, yet, submit that the Antioch Initiative is proposing a partnership in a multiple church-planting movement among churches of Christ that is not an idea, but an exciting and present reality underway! (We are prepared to dialogue with the mission committee and/or elders of Westside to demonstrate that said movement is underway by the blessing of God.)
Option #3—Boots on the Ground.
Short-Range Boots. Westside might consider joining the Antioch Initiative (overseen by elders of Elmore congregation in Elmore, AL) in campaigning in Tunkhannock, PA (Wyoming County) in the summer of 2016 leading to the launching and building up of a new congregation. (This will represent the only congregation of the church of Christ in Wyoming County PA.) Such participation would bring Westside members into fraternal partnership with brethren from Alabama, Tennessee, Alaska, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and, potentially, other states who will be coming and going into Tunkhannock during the entire summer of 2016 to door-knock, conduct a VBS, follow up on World Bible School contacts, and participate in worship with the newly launched Tunkhannock church of Christ in Tunkhannock, PA.
Long Range Boots. Westside eldership and congregation are invited to join any and/or all Antioch Initiative church planting efforts with short-term workers in the field to perpetuate the ongoing church plantings in various parts of the United States.
Option #4—Longer Term Middle-Reliever. The Antioch Initiative is seeking an evangelist who might rotate into newly established church-plants for a year to a year-and-a-half to evangelize the region and edify the new church plants while permanent evangelists are located for those new church plants. Dr. Dave Laton or Prattville, Alabama is committed to go in for one-month service in each new church plant.
Option #5—Fellowship in Giving.
Supporting an Evangelist. Should the Westside eldership not elect to oversee the evangelist in Tunkhannock, PA, they are urged to prayerfully consider working in concert with the future evangelist’s sponsoring eldership to participate in his financial support. If Westside will have funding available for the coming fiscal year, the Antioch Initiative would urge them to reserve said funding as part of the support package for the evangelist who is being sought for the new church plant. Westside’s participation in the support of any evangelist or work would be contingent on their interview and interaction with said candidate and work.
Supporting the Ongoing of the Antioch Initiative. Core leaders of the Antioch Initiative seek to raise the awareness in our brotherhood regarding the need for church planting in the U.S.; seek the recruitment of elderships who might want to multiple church-plant in some region of the U.S. or assume leadership in an un-evangelized area of the U.S.; initiate efforts to systematically church-plant in the U.S.; recruit evangelists; and, assist in the raising of financial support of evangelist moving to newly planted churches. Such efforts require administrative and travel expenses. (This is illustrated by the trip made to Searcy this weekend.) Jimmy Davis is providing a full financial disclosure to the Westside Mission Committee today, April 17, 2016.
May we close by expressing deepest appreciation to the mission committee and eldership of the Westside congregation for every prayerful consideration of our proposals and overtures. We stand ready to dialogue or attempt to answer any questions that may arise now or into the future. May God bless Westside and all our brotherhood to act on all elements of Jesus’ great commission mandate in submission to Jesus’ Lordship and in harmony with the love God has for a lost world.