The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church by Roland Allen is a rather short but very thought provoking book. In it, he somewhat implicitly asks the question, Who builds the Church? Leading to that thought, he critiques our method of Evangelization, are we doing it right? Do we need to organize the expansion of the church? Do we need to establish mission stations, do we need missionaries who depend upon appeals for money for their support. Will the Gospel spread if we don't purposefully come up with a plan to spread it?
Allen warns that what we are trying to do in our methods is to organize the work of God, to dictate where people will get saved and a time period in which their salvation must happen. But as Allen points out, "For spiritual work spiritual organization is necessary; but can we create a spiritual organization of spiritual forces? Only a divine intelligence can do that. But we attempt to do the work of that divine intelligence; by fixing our stations and immobilizing our men….But to be God's agents in spiritual movements we must follow, not lead. We want to lead, and, in trying to lead, we are simply left behind. We say: 'Here we will have our buildings,' but the spiritual movements may be growing unseen by us in another place and by other means….The organization is always too late. For we can organize the external results of a spiritual movement, but we cannot organize a spiritual movement. "
One of the main points of the book is that we don't need professional missionaries or Christian organizations dedicated to evangelism in order to spread the Gospel. The Church is the only Christian organization promoted by the Bible and therefore we should assume that the Gospel will be spread by means of its members working within that organization rather than in a parachurch organization. How will the Gospel be spread in other countries? Well, Allen points out that God can use any way He wants. He can use a member of a local church in Lansing, Michigan going on a business trip to Ethiopia to spread the Gospel to an Ethiopian he meets in the process of doing whatever work he does there. Let's say he talks to Ethiopian about the Gospel, the Ethiopian believes, and the American Christian gives him a Bible and goes back to America, as his business is done. But even though that American Christian leaves, the Ethiopian studies the Bible given to him, and spreads the Gospel to his fellow Ethiopians and thus a church can springs up, without there being any money having ever been particularly dedicated to spreading the Gospel in that area of Ethiopia. Christ will build His church.
Interestingly, Allen points out that the "great commission" is not repeated in the epistles, and the Apostles did not make evangelistic appeals to the churches, they didn't give out calls for people volunteer to go into far away countries to spread the Gospel. They apparently assumed that the Holy Spirit would bring individual church members to the right people and to the right places without their needing to organize the work or plan it out. This may sound absurd today, but we don't need "Professional Missionaries", all Christians are missionaries. He points out that people "have been obsessed with the idea that a man to express his missionary zeal properly must be a member of some other body within the Church and that church membership is not sufficient."
Oh, and by the way, this guy was writing in the 1920s! It is still so applicable to today, perhaps more so than even in his day.
Another thing that Allen critiques that really seems to be prominent in our day is the "Social Gospel"; warning that feeding the poor and helping the sick is not the Gospel itself. You really can't preach the Gospel without "using words". "'Seek ye first,' said Christ, 'the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.' Putting intellectual enlightenment and social reform first in time, we have, by deeds which speak louder than words, taught men to seek 'all these things' first, and some today justify their action by identifying intellectual enlightenment and social and political reform with the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness. To identify the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness with social and political doctrines always has led, and always must lead, to disaster. The Kingdom of God and His Righteousness are founded in Christ, but these doctrines and reforms can easily be divorced from Christ, and are pursued by many who won no allegiance to Christ." To apply this today, ending world slavery, creating democracies and republics, is not the Gospel of Christ. Somewhere in the book Allen says something along the lines of: A person can become a vibrant Christian and remain a slave, a person can be a dedicated, enthusiastic Christian and live in a country ruled by a dictator, a Christian can be a joyful Christian and be malnourished. A change of outward circumstances is not the Gospel. Christ is All-Sufficient, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in. Point to Him first, and anything else that He thinks is needed for the convert will come after their acceptance of Him.
Lastly, Allen greatly laments Christian organizations reliance upon money. He notices that anytime missionaries see an opportunity for the further spread of the Gospel they make it seem as though it cannot take place without money. Christian organizations unconsciously teach their converts that money is the power of God unto salvation. "They continually bemoan the fact that their greatest difficulty, their most serious anxiety, their most bitter disappointment, arises from the lack of support from home.", lacking the support either of money or of more paid recruits, they assume that the work of God won't get done, not considering that perhaps God doesn't want it to happen their way, perhaps God wants that particular organization to close. That's one of the questions he asks, would a Christian organization be willing to close in order to further its cause if that's what it would take?
There are other things Allen addresses that are quite interesting and intriguing thoughts. But, to sum up Allen's book:
He warns us that we are trying to make people into New Creations ourselves, essentially taking the job of the Holy Spirit into our own hands. We don't need to make people moral before they can come to Christ, that will come afterward, we don't need to change people's surrounding circumstances before they can be a vibrant Christian. We don't need money to spread the Gospel. We don't need professional missionaries and Christian organizations to spread the Gospel. We don't need money to create a church. Christ will build His church.
I highly recommend this book.
Many thanks to Wipf and Stock Publishers for sending me a free review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)
This book may be purchased at Amazon.com
My Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars