Posted on April 29, 2016 by Aaron Kauffman
In the world of Christian mission, the term multiplication is often associated with the numerical growth of the church. The basics of biology teach us that healthy organisms multiply. If the church is healthy, we should see an increase both in the number of believers and the number of believing communities. That’s a constant refrain we hear in the book of Acts: “Then the church … increased in numbers” (9:31, NIV).
Sometimes, however, multiplication gets reduced to a business model. If we get more people gathered into more churches, we’ll have more money for the religious goods and services we hope to provide. I am certainly in favor of increasing our membership rolls. But church growth is not the primary aim of God’s multiplying mission.
God’s first command to human beings is this: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28, NLT). The point is not simply to encourage biological reproduction (as if that needs a lot of encouragement!). The Creator goes on to say, “Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground” (italics mine). In other words, God has crafted a marvelous planet teeming with life, and God wants us—human partners created in God’s own image—to help take care of it all. Multiplication is about the proliferation of God’s reign on earth.
Of course, sin enters the picture through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, and it soon infects the whole world. Instead of ever-widening circles of God’s shalom, we see a downward spiral of violence, domination and death. The rest of the Old Testament narrates God’s patient and often painful partnership with Israel to restore our damaged planet. The image of God is not lost in humanity, but because it is marred by sin, we catch only glimpses of God’s glory.
Enter Jesus into this story. As the Son of God, Jesus flawlessly displays God’s character as “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1:3, NRSV). Yet as the son of Mary he shares perfectly in our humanity as “one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin” (Heb. 4:15, CEB).
Ironically, as a single man Jesus becomes the most fruitful human being in history. From his mouth flow words of healing, forgiveness and liberation. In his hands, a basket of fish and bread becomes a meal for thousands. In his broken body, the curse of sin is finally undone. And with the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit, he sends a band of ordinary disciples to spark a movement that continues to change the world today.
In Jesus, God’s kingdom of life and peace invades the world once and for all. It spreads not through force, but through lives surrendered to the Lord and communities committed to worship, friendship and outreach. Of course, not everyone has yielded to God’s reign yet, and not all of our efforts succeed. “But we do see Jesus” (Heb. 2:9, NIV), risen and soon to return, and because of him, we know the end of the story. May Christ use our lives and our churches to multiply his reign on earth!