by Ruth Siemens
How Well Did Paul’s Strategy Work?
Many of his lay evangelists were from unsavory, uneducated, pagan backgrounds. Most were slaves. None had anthropological or missiological training. It cost Paul dearly to bring them the gospel, and they risked their lives without pay to take it to others. Paul had provided a model of suffering.
In ten years (the three journeys took a decade) Paul and his friends (a small team without financial support) evangelized six Roman provinces! They did it by winning and mobilizing their largely uneducated, unpaid converts.
Paul writes to the Roman Christians (there probably weren’t many) about his past twenty years of missionary work. He says, “From Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum (modern Albania) I have
“fully preached the gospel of Christ. . . I no longer have room for work in these regions” (Rom. 15:19-24)
He had finished evangelizing the Greek-speaking half of the Empire and now turned to the more Latin half, including Rome, Italy and Spain.
But how can he claim to have finished the Greek half of the Mediterranean when he seems never to have worked outside the major cities. Yet he wrote the Romans that he was debtor to the barbarians as well as to Jews and educated Greeks. (Rom. 1:14-16). Paul must have believed that the gospel had sufficiently taken root in the hinterlands, so it would continue to grow.
We have seen how his strategy included the evangelization of the rural and tribal people who came to the big city, and they were the ones who ran home with the gospel. Neither Paul nor his team members had to learn the many local languages spoken in the hinterlands. Remember the trouble he and Barnabas barely averted in Lystra because they did not understand the Lycaonian language and didn’t realize the local people had mistaken them for Hermes and Zeus! (Acts 14)
Paul reproduced himself in these multilingual, lower class converts, and they guaranteed the evangelization of the hinterlands. Furthermore, it was truly contextualized evangelism, since they took the gospel clothed in their own language and culture! The gospel did not come to the people as a foreign religion. No wonder the church spread so quickly.
Macedonia. After a few months in Philippi, Paul speaks of Macedonian churches, in the plural. In his first follow-up letter to the Thessalonians he says the gospel had already sounded out from them into the whole region!
Achaia. Corinth spread the gospel through Achaia, and we soon read of a church in Cenchrae.
Asia. But our best example is the Roman province of Asia. Paul stayed in Ephesus for three years, but Luke writes in Acts 19:19 that in just two years “all Asia had already heard!” (Not the continent, but the province.)
Is Luke exaggerating? Maybe he means only the province’s major cities (the seven of Rev. 2, 3). Paul seems not to have left Ephesus. Does Luke mean also the rural and tribal areas?
We have strong corroborating testimony from an unlikely source. It is Demetrius, the silversmith, who started the riot that nearly cost Paul his life, who inadvertently confirms Luke’s report! He cried out publicly from the platform of the amphitheater—
“Not only at Ephesus but almost throughout all Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable company of people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. . .”
Neither Luke nor Demetrius mean that all were converted, but so many believed that the silversmiths and coppersmiths were almost out of business and the worship of Artemis was in danger of extinction! (Acts 19:24-26) In under three years!
Paul evangelized the hinterlands. But he could not have gone to them all, nor learned all their languages. But he takes the gospel to them through his converts, and the new converts immediately reproduce themselves! It is exponential growth! The gospel spread so quickly that by the time the opposition had geared up, it was too late to put out the fire! Today we give non-Christian religious leaders decades to mobilize their opposition as we win occasional, often marginal, converts.
Not only was Paul’s strategy successful, but he has never been equaled! How can it be useful to us 21 centuries later?
Part Five will be published tomorrow.
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