THE FIRST CHURCH PLANTER
by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) Kingston, Ontario February 2008
Paul is rightly honored as the greatest of all church planters. But Christians forget Philip who was the first pioneer church planter who showed how it could be done. Without his work Christians would have remained a sect confined within the Church of Jerusalem.
Philip was one of the seven chosen to be elders (wrongly called deacons) of the Hellenist (Greek speaking) synagogue in the Church of
Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-6). He did not stay there for long. Soon we find him going to plant the Church of Samaria (8:5- 8, 14-17). He went back
to Jerusalem, but an angel told him to go south on the road to Gaza. On the way he met and baptized the eunuch who was the treasurer of
Queen Candace. He must have been tempted to go on with him to plant a church in Ethiopia, but the Holy Spirit had other plans for him (8:26-39).
He moved north up the coast and planted churches in "all the towns" all the way to Caesarea (8:39). Among them there was the thriving
Church of Lydda, now the site of Israel's international airport (9:32-35). Philip also planted the Church of Joppa where Dorcas was
raised from the dead, and Peter later made his home there (9:36-43; 10:5-8).
When Philip had planted the Church of Caesarea, Simon Peter was called there to organize the synagogue of Greek speaking Christians who met
at the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius (10:1-48). This caused much discussion in the Church of Jerusalem, but Peter was able to use
this development as evidence that Gentiles (non-Jews) were now to be baptized and become church members.
This made it possible for non-Jews to be welcomed in the new churches including the Church of Antioch (11:19-21) which later became the base
for Paul's church planting work.
Paul described his church planting work in this astonishing statement. "By the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far
around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of the Messiah" (Romans 15:49). This does not mean he spoke to every person
in the 1500 mile area all the way to present-day Bosnia. What he had done was to plant a church in every city and large town of the eastern
In a large city there were house churches in different areas and comprising various groupings. A list of these probably in the city of
Ephesus is given in the next chapter. But throughout the New Testament there is only one church in each city, as in the case of the churches
he wrote to : Rome, Corinth, Galatia (Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium), Ephesus, Colossae, Thessalonica. See also the churches in Crete (Titus 1:5).
As we compare their work it is evident that Paul's work was based on the previous church planting work of Philip as he planted the first
churches in the cities and towns along Israel's western coast.