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The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: And the Causes That Hinder It Paperback – May 7, 1997
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He read this book in the late fifties and realized that he had to let go and instead provide an environment for his congregation to thrive and experiment. This set the scene for spontaneous growth.
Allen proposes that Christianity can expand spontaneously within individual communities if only organized religion can be restricted from entering an area and creating bureaucracy. He builds his case in the context of post colonial Asia but the lessons are applicable to the developed West.
The reader may be misled in thinking that this book is irrelevant because it was written in the 1920s and obviously to an audience of missionary minded readers. But I urge potential readers to persevere and to reflect on the principles that Allen is promoting. I put it to you, that these principles are universal and timeless.
Too many times organized church prevents growth in the name of maintaining order or discrediting little spurts of growth in various suburbs by either calling them hysteria or that the person involved was insufficiently qualified or something else.
Allen argues that the early church grew spontaneously and spectacularly because those who were touched by the gospel could share their experiences without being fettered by church bureaucrats or the taint of being employed by the church.
In making these claims Allen does not argue for a church with no organisation; just an organisation that provides sufficient arms-length resource to allow the hoi polloi to get on with the work of the church. For example, he suggests that learned teachers should not be sent to a community congregation. Instead a representative or two should be sent to seminary so that they can return and teach their peers. In this way Allen hopes that the congregation does not grow dependent on external agents.
This book resonates with my own experiences and I recommend it highly to those who are seeking to see humanity experience the touch of the Holy Spirit and the joy of salvation.
Allen begins his argument by defining spontaneous expansion. To him, it is "the expansion which follows the unexhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to others the Gospel which they have found for themselves" (p. 7). It is the natural outworking or unorganized, attractive church planting, free from the burden of professional missionaries who inadvertently place cultural restrictions on church development. Our problem, according to Allen, is the control western missionaries have exercised in church planting.
He defends his argument by referring to Christ's method of raising up leaders. Whereas Christ spent a couple of years with a potential leader and then released him for ministry, modern missionaries have tended to be long-term agents who do not release control. A healthy church is one which is self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating, but missionaries have tended to favor institutions and unions over the apostolic church.
Allen lists several barriers to this spontaneous expansion. Our fear for doctrinal purity has led some to extend the time for receiving baptism, to offer special training for national clergy, to ordain the best and give only them authority, to make extra-biblical requirements for being a Christian. Instead of furthering the pure gospel, a code of morals has been set that defines Sabbath observance, which meats to eat and how many wives a national might have. This, in Allen's opinion, is nothing more than the restricting attempts of Judaizers in the early church.
Missionaries themselves have contributed to the adversity to spontaneous expansion. They have set up foreign homes instead of being incarnational. They minister to third or fourth generation national Christians instead of reaching the lost. They build western hospitals and schools or identify with western philosophical ideas rather than pushing for indigenous expansion. They unwittingly set up standards for clothing styles that lead to syncretism. They establish missionary organizations that promote a professional few who may engage in missions. Even their converts become paid agents of that organization and further this destructive method.
Allen, on the contrary, calls for a different method. He believes that a newly constituted church should "find out for itself what being a church means in daily practice, to find out that it can do things as a church" (p. 150). Although much progress has been done in the area of world missions, Allen suggests much more needs to be done to push indigeneity. This, in turn, will produce more healthy churches that can reach the world for Christ.
Allen's book is a classic that should be read by any serious student of missiology as well as any practitioner. Much of what other missiologists have identified in studying church planting movements echoes what Allen suggested for indigeneity. His call for releasing control to individual national churches does not fall upon deaf ears. It is as applicable today to the modern missions field as it was at the turn of last century.