Does the Bible Encourage People-Group Church Planting?
Pentecost has a number of theological implications for missions that cannot be ignored. The ethno-linguistic-geographical division that resulted at Babel was obliterated at Pentecost; and the pouring of the Holy Spirit entailed not only the transcending of linguistic barriers but also the ingathering of both Jews and Gentiles into one. "If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?"(Acts 11:17). Of course, though this doesn't mean that barriers and divisions are no more, it does certainly mean that missionary methods must honestly conform to the biblical picture of the Church.
Theologically, we can recognize at least four distinctions in God’s ordering of the history of humanity: the original ordering, the divisive ordering, the in-gathering ordering, and the final ordering.When Jesus talked about preaching of the Gospel among every nations and making disciples of every nation, the spirit of the commandment was to break through the Jewish privileged mentality and break across to every nation. It was the commission to be ethnically impartial and universal in the communication of the Gospel. The Gospel was for all nations. However, it is important to understand that this command was in no sense a command to go and plant ethnic churches. At any cost, Jesus never meant the planting of separate Greek and Hebrew (linguistic or community/caste based) churches in the same region. That is not a biblical ideal or goal at all. While vernacular language (the language spoken by the majority of people in an area) has its role, neither language nor people-group division determines the nature of biblical mission. Mass community/caste movements in history are not Spirit given examples for doing mission in the world.
1. The Original Ordering. In the original ordering, humanity is one. Nationalities didn’t exist because plurality of language and culture was unknown. This original ordering began to break down after sin when man first understood the sense of shame and guilt as the man and the woman hid behind trees to hide their nakedness. Later, jealousy, murder, and lustful imagination employed the original ordering to infect the entire humanity to the extent that God desired to wipe off the entire human race. A global flood became the only resolution.
2. The Divisive Ordering [Babel, Gen.11]. After the Flood, humanity was given a divisive ordering. ‘Confusion’ was the word used to describe this division because humanity was ordered in such a way that each nationality wasn’t able to so much understand another. Division should have prevented any religious epidemic to be globalized irresistibly. The divisive factor was language and the barrier helped develop cultural variety. On Mars Hill, Paul understood this divisive ordering to have a singular purpose: that mankind would seek God and haply find Him (Acts 17:27).....
3. The In-gathering Ordering. ...The New Testament declares Christ as the Mediator – the one in whom all walls of division between God and man, and man and man, are broken. Man is no longer an enemy of God and the Jew has no advantage over the non-Jew. This was announced on the Day of Pentecost through the outpouring of the Spirit with the manifestation of tongues (understandable to everyone trans-linguistically). The Body of Christ was not based on a political covenant like Israel was based upon; the new covenant transcended all linguistic and cultural barriers. Interestingly, Paul describes praying in tongues as praying with the Spirit (non-understandable to anyone except God). The Great Commission calls forth the church to preach the Gospel to all nations and make disciples of them because the new covenant was no longer the property of a particular race or nation. The New Testament was written in Greek because God was not just the God of the Hebrews. The Gospel had to get global because God was global and His new covenant was global. The church at Jerusalem was not divided into a Greek Church and a Hebrew Church, despite their disagreements. The in-gathering ordering is captured in this statement of Jesus: ‘And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.’ (John 10:16 NKJ) Spiritually, this comes to be through the Holy Spirit; consequently, all bias, division, and hierarchization among believers is carnal (1Corinthians 3:1-4). It is not from the Spirit.
4. The Final Ordering will happen at the end of times when all things, in heaven and on earth, will be gathered together in Jesus Christ (Eph.1:10). Then, one will say that the Kingdom of Heaven had fully come. [Gospelization and Globalization....]
On the other hand, we have more region-based church planting strategies encouraged in the Bible:
"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."(Acts 1:8)
And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation [ethnos] under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.(Acts 2:5-6)
Now in the church that was at Antioch [not the Greek or Hebrew Church of Antioch] there were certain prophets and teachers....(Acts 13:1 )
"For so the Lord has commanded us: 'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.' "(Acts 13:47)
And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.(Acts 13:49)
...to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's sphere of accomplishment.(2Cor 10:16)
"To the angel of the church of Ephesus [not Roman Church of Ephesus or Greek Church of Ephesus]...(Rev 2:1) [all emphatics above mine]Of course, with regard to easing of communication barrier, one can speak in matters of grammatical-conformity without doctrinal compromise (whether related to cultural semantics of verbal). Thus Paul says: "and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (1Cor 9:20-22). Similarly, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.(1Cor 10:31-33) Obviously, Paul is not talking about people-group church planting; but, doing whatever was lawfully right and necessary to save some. In fact, he asserts to the Church at Colosse that they must put on the new man (created in Christ) and not walk according to or in order to celebrate or idolize the ways of Adamic humanity (to idolize culture or tradition above the new man). "Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.(Col 3:9-11).