Why does CPC plant churches? (Why Mission Anabaino?)
More Than A Strategic Plan, Mission Anabaino Is A Theological Vision In The Simplicity and Purity of Devotion to Christ Applied!
In strategic terms, “mission anabaino” is “mission church planting!” As a practical plan, those who have studied the issue of church growth and church revitalization have concluded with Tim Keller that
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of existing churches. Nothing else--not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes--will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.1
Again in strategic terms, Keller’s conclusion is based on studies supporting the simple conclusion that new churches best reach new generations, new residents, new socio-cultural people groups and the unchurched. The reasons often noted are understandable if not always obvious to those who attend existing churches. It takes no more than five or so years before “cultural hegemony” begins to set in to the life of a church—when a particular kind of socio-cultural “flesh” becomes the unspoken, if not always discerned, dominant and unchallenged culture of a church. This can be expressed in all sorts of ways: in time of worship, worship length, the way a congregation responds to emotionalism or intellectualism (as feeling manipulated or enlivened by one or the other), degrees of scriptedness in worship, leadership styles, aesthetic surroundings, location, what life experiences and illustrations are expressed in otherwise expositional sermons, strategies for Christian discipleship and on it goes—thousands of tiny customs and mores that reflect the natural “flesh” of one or another cultural expression that makes the gospel more or less accessible to a given people group. Church planting is good strategy if by the very fact that it is a new “flesh” whose viability is dependent on becoming more accessible and responsive to an under-reached group that feels alienated and perhaps even manipulated or oppressed by the cultural hegemony of an existing church.
Perhaps less obvious to some, it can also be shown in strategic terms that church planting is one of the very best ways to revitalize an established “mother” church. To be sure, new churches stimulate new and progressive ideas and strategies, serve as a breeding ground for leadership development, create contexts for critical self-examination in discriminating between the truly sacred “first things” of Christian faith and practice and the “second things” that can too easily overshadow the first things to the demise of spiritual vitality in a church. Churches, like all associations, are prone to stagnation and self-absorption once the fear of foreclosure is no longer an issue. A church committed to church planting, like all birth ordeals, require a loss of some comforts and preferences as part of giving life to another in ways that are commensurate with sanctification and spiritual renewal. To be sure, it would be a great mistake to pit church planting against church renewal or concern for existing churches. The kind of spiritual DNA that makes a church into a church planting movement is the same kind of Christ-centered and mission-minded DNA that breeds healthy Christians and churches.
And so “mission anabaino” in strategic terms is “mission church planting” and can easily be argued as the best thing to do for all practical purposes. But here is the thing: even if there was absolutely no evidence as to the practical advantages of church planting, we would do it anyway and with a wholehearted passion fit only for a devotion to Christ himself in the most personal of terms. This is because Mission Anabaino is mission “I am ascending” (the meaning of the Greek word “anabaino”) and in theological terms it is to participate in the real and personal advent of Christ vis-à-vis church planting! It is the way we make Christ first in everything, even in our mission strategy regardless of its perceived practical advantages or disadvantages! Mission Anabaino is just an extension of simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ applied to mission! A bold statement, to be sure, which awaits some Biblical justification—so here it is:
To be sure, a Christological foundation for Mission Anabaino as applied to church planting can readily be illustrated with a simple reading of Matthew’s version of the great commission (Mt. 28:18-20) in context with Matthew’s description of Christ’s ascension ministry (16:18-19). We see for instance how the missional call to “make disciples” is not just a call to share faith and make learners by “teaching them,” but by “baptizing them” into the “binding and loosing” ministry of Christ “on earth as in heaven.” Baptism in Acts and throughout the apostolic ministry is clearly portrayed as an entrance into a carefully designed community that is defined by faith formation (Christ’s presence as Prophet), sacramental worship (Christ’s presence as Priest) and shepherding care (Christ’s presence as King) all based on the apostolic foundation with Christ as the cornerstone such as to serve the mission and grace of the gospel. But with respect to the meaning of the Greek word “anabaino” specifically (“I am ascending) and our theology of Christ applied to mission, it is John’s version of the great commission in context with Christ’s teaching concerning his ascension ministry that is perhaps most instructive.
In John’s gospel, the great commission reads like this: “Just as the father has sent me, so also I am sending you [plural]” (John 20:21). The “just as…so” way of framing the commission was, of course, meant to remember how the Father sent Christ. This was made perfectly clear in John’s introduction:
“the Word [Christ’s Divinity] became “flesh” [Christ’s humanity] and templed among us”
This passage loomed large in the counsel of Chalcedon’s understanding of the mystery concerning Christ’s divinity in relation to Christ’s humanity and resulted in its ancient formula that the two natures are at once “distinct but never separate!” But for the present purposes, the issue here is how the same mystery in biblical Christology is applied by Christ himself to OUR mandate today as a mission in “temple planting” as it were. It will inform even our theological understanding of the church as “temple” in so far as Christ’s divinity is at once distinct, but never separate from the human socio-cultural flesh of Christ’s body which is now located in every place and time that a temple- church exists as patterned after the apostolic foundation with Christ as the cornerstone! More specifically:
John was writing to Jewish Christians who were suffering under growing persecution and a sense of homelessness with the demise of the temple in around AD 70. John’s message to them was clear: you are not without the temple. Christ is your temple and Christ is still with you – not abstractly as an idea but actually as the Word fleshed out today after the pattern of Christ’s first advent even! Following then his introduction to Christ as our temple in John 1:14, John continues this theme throughout his narrative. In just the second chapter, we hear Jesus say such things as destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. (John 2:19-20 speaking of the resurrection). But the real climax for John’s gospel was not the death and resurrection of Christ, but His ascension!
Almost a third of John’s gospel (starting in John 14) focuses on Christ preparing the disciples for his ascension ministry as related to Christ’s temple advent today! His ministry is described as being still present on earth albeit spiritually by the Holy Spirit being incorporated into temple churches. For instance, about the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus in the mystery of Trinity can speak in the first person that I will not leave you as orphans for I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and [also] you[pl] in me, and I in you [pl]. This is extraordinary language that speaks to the mystery of Christology itself applied to Christ’s present ministry on earth by the Holy Spirit even as he is with the Father in heaven! And Jesus further explains how in this coming, I will make my home with you (14:18-23, language that is clearly reminiscent of their temple home or the Old Testament concept of the “House of God”).
About then his ascension ministry, Christ told his disciples that they could expect to see "greater things even… because I am going to the Father" (John 14:12). Clearly, the “greater things” pertains to the great commission with respect to Christ’s now temple presences throughout the world in myriads of socio-geographical contexts and at the same time. To this point, a poignant moment was when Mary is tempted to cling to Christ’s resurrected body as if unwilling to let go of Christ’s first advent. In light of Christ’s forthcoming or Pentecostal advent, Christ gently rebukes her saying, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended… go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father" (John 20:17) This then was the context for Christ’s great commission in vs. 21! In other words, don’t revert to a kind of memorial-only kind of spirituality with respect to just remembering the “good ole days” of my first advent. It is as if Christ were saying, “I am not really leaving you but am in fact preparing for the greater things of multiplying my temple presence on earth wherever you (plural) are sent after the same pattern that I was sent by the father—as temple presence! As such, the same power that raised Christ’s first temple advent from the dead is here being applied to Christ’s spiritual presence in the temple church during his ascension ministry! Again, in the mystery of Christology applied, it is proclaimed that there would be a kind of spiritual cause and effect relation between the outward signs (as organized after the apostolic foundation) and the things signified (the saving, vivifying union with Christ) even if still in a now and not yet kind of fallible and infallible tension.
And so to state it simply: The reason why we embark upon “mission anabaino” is because we believe in “mission greater things” with respect to the advent of Christ today through temple (church) formation. Paul made it his ambition to plant churches wherever the church was not accessible to a given people group—albeit defined geographically or culturally (Rom. 15). We can say that every time a church designed upon the apostolic foundation with Christ as the cornerstone is planted, Christ is, in the mystery of Christology applied, “re-templed” among us as to again and again and again make the one Christ who is with the Father in heaven accessible to (or “at home with”) the myriads of “flesh” on earth! If Christ’s first incarnational coming was in the mystery of supernatural conception, his present coming after Pentecost is in the mystery of supernatural incorporation via His advent by the Holy Spirit built church. The church is according to Paul nothing short of “the body of Christ, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” It is the “household of God . . . a holy temple . . . a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” but only in so far as it is a community carefully designed, (yes, organized) upon the architectural pattern of the “apostolic foundation with Christ as the cornerstone” (cf. Eph. 1:22-23, 2:19-21, 1 Tim. 3:14-15). To plant a church is to participate in Christ’s advent today! And wherever there is the advent of Christ, there is a great manifestation of transformative grace unequaled in power in comparison to any other! From the vantage of Christology applied, I believe there really is no greater legacy that a Christian could desire than to participate in Christ’s advent today both through his continued advent in existing churches but most especially in church planting. This is why we embark on an ambitious vision called “Mission Anabaino!” I hope then you have or will read the stories of Mission Anabaino that are contained in this our inaugural publication. And I also ask that you would dare to consider “A Shameless Pitch For Mission Anabaino” that is also included in the back that will in more concrete terms explain the ambitious legacy that you could have in Mission Anabaino going forward.