GOD MADE IT GROW.
We are number conscious. We judge success by numbers. We regard churches as growing by their constant increase in numbers. We gather around people with distinction and appeal. Paul the Apostle faced a similar situation. He posed this question, “I follow Paul and another, I follow Apollos, are you not mere men?” He added, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow” (I Cor.3: 4,6). Israel, as a nation, was regarded as God’s people and this is what Elijah the Prophet was told, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all those who have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him” (I Ki.19: 18).
Man’s job is to seed and to water but not take credit for the growth. Large numbers do not mean that God added them to the churches. Paul wrote, “A man is not a Jew (Christian) if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew (Christian) if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from man, but from God” (Ro.2: 28-29). Lip service does not qualify a Christian for God’s kingdom (Mt.7: 21-23). It has to be the work of God as Spirit (Jn.4: 23-24). Luke wrote this note to Peter’s tremendous sermon, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Ac.2: 47). Peter was urged to go to the home of Cornelius. Luke saw what was happening and reported it as follows: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (Ac.10: 44-45). Peter was merely a brick God used to build with. The same is true of every one of us. It should not surprise us that God may reject human eloquence in favor of some humble Joe with faulty grammar.
Our final authority on Church growth is Jesus and what did He have to say about the subject? Before we get any idea what we can accomplish for God, Jesus declared, after Peter recognized who Jesus was, ” Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not stop it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loose in heaven” (Mt.16: 17-19). Jesus made it absolutely clear that He would build the house or the Church or kingdom and Peter would be his first stone to build on. Then, Peter would have a set of keys to open the door for people to get in and he would also be allowed to lock some out. Peter would be a brick to build with and a key to admit or reject those that want to become part of the Church. In case there was any misunderstand in the role the disciples would play in the growth of the Church, the Risen Christ gave specific instructions to Peter as being the leader and not the builder of the group (Jn.21: 15-23). Before that final event, the Risen Lord had breathed the Holy Spirit on all the disciples. All were sent out and told that forgiveness was the key to let people into Jesus’ Church (Jn.20: 21-23).
What did Jesus mean by “My Church?” Generally, we think of an assembly. That is misleading. Jesus, during His last Passover meal, said, “Take it, this is my body” and again, “This is my blood of the covenant” (Mk.14: 22, 24). Jesus explained this in relationship to being the bread and water of life. “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one that feeds on me will live because of me” (Jn.6: 53, 56-57). It is a mystical union Jesus was referring to and that He was that “body” or “covenant” that was the real Church or kingdom. Paul, the Gentile messenger, called it the “Body of Christ” (Eph.4: 12). The believer is merely a member of that Body (Eph.5: 30). Paul also speaks of Christ being the “Head” that makes all the members function harmoniously (Col.1: 18). Yet, while Christ is holding it all together, it is God that causes the Body or the Church to grow (Col.2: 19).
Who then fills this mystical and heavenly body with members? Jesus shed light on this subject in His last prayer in John 17. Large crowds followed Jesus but they did not become members of his Body because they did not accept his conditions (Jn.6: 60-66). Jesus ended up with eleven men, a few women and some secret followers. It was for these that He prayed to the Father for safekeeping them in the world. Repeatedly Jesus reminded His Father audibly for them to hear God had chosen them out of the world and given them to Jesus. Of course, Jesus had asked them to follow Him; but it was the Father that chose and added the disciples to Jesus’ Body or Church. Jesus prayed that God the Father would use the disciples as He used Him to spread the message of love. Love itself is of God. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Ps.127: 1). James suggested that we say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (4: 13-17). Would God grow what we are planting?