White Unto Harvest

The Great Commission: Times of Consolidation


Jesus told his disciples to go "into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk. 16:15). The book of Acts gives an account of the apostles and early preachers executing this commission. Indeed, their examples give impetus for our efforts in preaching today. We sing song like "The Gospel is for All" and "Send the Light" in the spirit of such work. However, in light of this emphasis on "going," we must not forget another and just as important part of our efforts to teach the gospel, consolidation.

Among other things, consolidation means: "The act of making, or process of becoming, solid; the act of forming into a firm, compact mass, body, or system..." (Webster's New Univ. Unabr. Dict., p. 390). With reference to the spread of the gospel it has to do with the firm establishment of a church in a given place. By this we mean grounding converts and getting a church functioning. We see an example of this beginning in Acts 11.

A Case in Point: The Work in Antioch of Syria

The gospel was first taken to Antioch by brethren who were scattered abroad after the persecution that arose surrounding the death of Stephen (Acts 11:19). As a result of their and, later, Barnabas' efforts, many people were "added unto the Lord" in Antioch (v. 24). Barnabas then left, found Saul of Tarsus, and returned with him to the city where they both worked with the church for a whole year. During this time the church obviously grew not only in number but spiritually before God. The church in Antioch itself then became a center of further efforts to spread the gospel. Indeed, Paul's first two missionary journeys began there (Acts 13:1-3; 15:30-41). Let it be noted that consolidation is a part of executing the great commission.

Barnabas and Saul were both committed to taking the gospel everywhere possible. However, they were not always involved in converting the lost. They very obviously worked with the church at Antioch to the point where the brethren knew their benevolent responsibilities (Acts 11:27-30), understood their own responsibilities in evangelism (Acts 13:1-3) as well as their responsibilities to support such efforts. (Paul and Barnabas' return to report to Antioch after their first missionary journey in Acts 14:26-27 and their "being brought on their way by the church" in Acts 15:3 imply in the first case and teach in the latter such support.) The church came to understand the difference between the Old and New Testaments, and the importance of discussing important doctrinal issues (Acts 15:1-3). From what we can read of the church in Antioch in the bible, we infer that they were grounded in the truths of the gospel in a comprehensive sense. One reason that Antioch came to be such a strong church is the work Barnabas and Saul did to make it "solid." (cf. above definition of consolidation). In light of this, one might wonder what the results might have been for Antioch had Barnabas and Saul not spent so much time there. Let us now draw some lessons from all this.

Some Areas Where Consolidation is Presently Needed

  1. In converting the lost. Missionaries need to do more than simply preach first principles. Either they or someone working with them will have to spend some time working with new converts to ground them in the truth. Paul was concerned for his new-born brethren at Thessalonica when he unexpectedly had to flee that city and sent Timothy back to them to "establish" them (1 Thes. 3:1-2). This word's definition is "to fix, make fast, to set" (Vines, p. 41) and calls to mind the definition of consolidation. It was not enough that someone go to Thessalonica and preach first principles. Those brethren had to be grounded in the faith if they were to go on to eternal salvation (Eph. 4:14-16).

    In our day, we have witnessed many efforts to take the gospel to various parts of the world. Many, if not most, of the ones that have taken place in the former Soviet Union have been short-term endeavors to make contacts and study with them. From what I understand of most, if not all, such places where souls were converted, it was only where the new converts were grounded in the faith that they actually stood the test of time. First principles converted them, but the teaching done to ground them in the faith kept them.

  2. In the use of our collective energies. Care should be taken to not bite off more work than can be done by the workers available. The work at Antioch and Thessalonica testify to this truth. We cannot neglect new converts we make. In our work in Lithuania we have witnessed the effects of "zeal without knowledge" in this area. Myself and others have tried to evangelize other cities and/or towns while trying to continue working with the brethren in Kaunas and Vilnius. The results have been that we have found ourselves spread to thin to effectively teach all the converts we made. I now try to encourage brethren who come there to not go to new towns and cities to preach the gospel. Once we have sufficiently established the churches with which we are presently working or when more workers come to Lithuania than have heretofore come we can then go on to such efforts. What we have learned there is a microcosm of the East European work.

    For years now, brethren have been striking out into some new city or country to preach the gospel. All of us admire and uphold such zeal. However, I would like to suggest that brethren consider whether or not we may have come to a point where consolidation of existing works is needed. While we are finding men willing to come and work with existing works, anyone familiar with the overall situation knows that it is difficult to find even these men. It seems to this writer that we need to ask if it is wise for brethren today to strike out into some new area where to our knowledge the gospel has never gone. Rather, such time, money, and effort would be better spent working with the churches we have already established in Eastern Europe. In short, we need men willing to work where other men have already labored like Apollos did at Corinth (1 Cor. 3:5-9). Please remember, the cities wherein Paul would later preach the gospel in Acts 13-19 waited while he and Barnabas worked in Antioch of Syria. After they had grounded the church there they were able to go elsewhere. Paul was concerned that his labor of initially establishing a church not be in vain (Gal. 4:11). We should have such concern today.

  3. In dealing with doctrinal matters. Handling doctrinal matters is part of consolidation. Such things were just as important to Paul and Barnabas as trying to reach the lost. We are facing some serious issues today, issues which basically revolve around weather the sexual sin of adultery can ever be acceptable in any church (Many are tacitly saying that it can.). It is common to hear the complaint that we need to quit arguing about these things, and go out and reach the lost. Some will say or imply that they have no time for such discussion as they are trying to "take the gospel to a lost and dying world." Paul and Barnabas -- spirit-led men whose examples of executing the great commission stand as examples for us to follow -- knew nothing of this kind of attitude. When doctrinal issues arose they dealt with them. This is seen not only in Acts 15; it is also seen in Paul's revisiting churches he had established with (as near as can be known) copies of the letter the church at Jerusalem had written regarding its alleged part in the matter of the Judaizing teachers of Acts 15 (cp. Acts 16:4-5). Paul paused in his efforts to reach the lost to write several epistles wherein he dealt with doctrinal issues (Galatians, 1&2 Corinthians, 1&2 Thessalonians, etc.). He called the elders of the church at Ephesus to warn them about future doctrinal problems there (Acts 20:28-32). Brethren who "have no time to discuss differences" today are, to say it kindly, found wanting in light of Paul's example. When doctrinal issues are splitting churches and dividing brethren a time of consolidation is needed.

Conclusion

Times of consolidation should not be seen as a halt in our work of teaching the gospel, but rather as a change in what and who we are teaching. It is admitted that we will always be trying to reach the lost no matter what else we might be doing. However, time must be taken and emphasis given to making sure that existing brethren are strengthened and established in the faith. All of these things are part of executing the great commission (cp. Matt. 28:19-20).


This month's report summaries:

Bulgaria
Edward W. Pagan (edwpagan@mail.online.bg) tells of a young Christian's visit with the saints there in Sofia. She was converted there but is from another part of the country and cannot visit the church very often. In light of her situation she is doing remarkably well. Some brethren who had been away from the church and Sofia for over a year suddenly showed up at services recently. These brethren had caused some problems in the church when they were there and, therefore, were given a cautious welcome. Brother Pagan is Eddie also writes of some new prospects with whom they are meeting. They have placed ads in newspapers there to advertise a Bible correspondence course. It is still too early to measure the response.

Czech Republic
Steven Baxley (baxley@serverhk.czcom.cz) reports the restoration of a sister in the work there. Another sister who had fallen away and was withdrawn from has started showing some interest in spiritual things again. The church in Hradec Kralove is planning a lecture for September probably on the theme "Who is Jesus of Nazareth." They have 3 students enrolled in their correspondence course there. Brother Baxley has several studies going with both Christians and non-Christians. Some with non-Christians have come to a necessary end due to attitudes of those with whom he was studying. Steven writes, "On June 8, the church (in Litomyls, sw) had scheduled a lecture on `Divorce and Remarriage'. Unfortunately, no one from the community chose to visit. The men of the congregation decided to hold off on any other lectures until September, when people generally return to a normal routine after the summer holidays." A lady who had been taking their correspondence course visited services with a friend. She declined private study but they hope for more contact with her in the future. Two others continue to study via the course. Brother Baxley further details a family seminar: " Once last thing I would like to mention in this report is the Family Seminar that took place in the town of Janske Lazne during the week of July 4. Darryl Smelser from Ceske Budejovice (south Bohemia) planned this seminar, with the aid of his father and mother Dale and Marlene Smelser, his brother Jeff, and other brother and sister-in-law Scott and Bertina. Monday through Friday, from morning until before dinner, there were lectures on the family, raising children, and marriage. Some sessions were just for the men, some were just for the women. I don't know the exact number, but I heard that including children, there were some 60 people present."

Lithuania
As mentioned in last report, with Jay Horsley and Ron Lloyd's departure in mid July, no one was scheduled to be in this country to carry on the work there until Jerry Fite and Mark Legendre arrived in early September. We hope report on their work next month. In the mean time, Kestutis Subacius, preacher for the church in Vilnius, has been filling in for us in Kaunas.

Hungary
Hugh Walton (skooks@mail.datanet.hu) tells of the encouraging growth of a brother in Budapest who is doing some of the preaching there: "Janos has continued to grow as a preacher of the gospel. He has grown in Bible knowledge immensely. He is preparing his own lessons and is not relying on someone else's prepared sermons. He looks at the needs of the church and prepares his lessons accordingly. He is not afraid to approach the problems of the church and address them with the word of GOD." Other brethren there have also shown such growth and Hugh had 5 studies going with non-Christians as of his late July report. Things are well with the little church in Szekesfehervar. Studies are proceding with two contacts they have found there. Hugh and his wife, Ginny, continue to be at both this church and the one in Budapest on the Lord's day. On September 9 a new couple was due to arrive in Budapest, Evan and Lydia Casey. They will join brother and sister Walton in the work there.

Philippines
Rickley Padilla Lumapay (rickleylumapay@eudoramail.com) writes from the Philippines: "Last month we are not able to go to Indonesia because of the war going on.What we did we go to Malaysia because of the invitation we have recieve.we have conduct a siminar in Kota kinabalu. The attendance is good and the people are very interested to listen the word of God. By this coming December we are planning again to conduct bible lecture in the said place.

"Bro.Steve, it is better that there is a preacher that will stay in Malaysia for a few months so that we can see a great result. If you know any individual christian who is willing to help us financially maybe we could volunter to open a work in Malaysia and stay there for a year."

Slovakia
Fred Newman, who followed Ed Brand and Keith Barclay in the work in Bratislava, reports 3 baptisms there. Concerning his last two months in Slovakia, Ed Brand (edbrand@mindspring.com) wrote: "These two months were busy ones. We had 43 private studies in March and 27 in April. In addition, I taught the group study on Wednesday evening, while Keith taught the Sunday morning study. The best news is that Milan Hronsky, Dasa's husband, was baptized March 28. We are elated with his response

"...After this newsletter was already written, I learned from Mike Morrow that Peter Kandra was baptized. Mike had come down to Bratislava to assist the brethren for a few days. He continued the study with Peter, which Keith and I had begun several months ago. I had previously written about this study with him, that he is a bright and energetic student of Scripture. We are overjoyed at his conversion."

Song books needed:
Rickley Lumapay (rickleylumapay@eudoramail.com) also asked: "Can you help me find a congregation who has used songbooks we need it very badly for the newly congregation established.Thank you."


For comments to the author, or to contribute news, reports, and information regarding preaching efforts in foreign lands, please contact Steve at styvas@mindspring.com

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