God is bringing us back to the biblical pattern for the Church. He is preparing a new wineskin for a new move of His Spirit which will bring many into the Kingdom. Some say, we are being prepared for the end-times harvest of souls for the Kingdom.
The Church has tried following man’s ideas, but man’s ways have not produced results and has resulted in a lot being done in the flesh. We have been faithful but somewhat fruitless. God is bring us into a new season when there was will be a return on His investment and much fruit will be seen. Following God’s plan the Early Church moved in a continuous time of harvest that reached the known world in one generation. We can learn from their example.
A key element in the success of the Early Church, as we have seen, was the establishment of apostolic regional centers. They were placed strategically by the Holy Spirit so they could have the greatest impact in spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom and in training, equipping, and releasing the saints to expand the Kingdom to the end of the then known world. Apostolic centers were not randomly placed. God planted them where they would have the greatest impact to penetrate the world for His Kingdom.
The first apostolic center was founded in JERUSALEM. None of the original apostles were from Jerusalem. They were all Galileans. It would have been easier for them to start the church in Capernaum. But Jerusalem was a strategic location. If the church was going to reach Jews, it had to start in Jerusalem.
The next apostolic regional church (center) was in ANTIOCH. Antioch was also strategic. Multicultural Antioch was the ideal place for the church to welcome people from all nations and cultures into one family, the family of God.
We then looked at the center in EPHESUS. Ephesus was a hub for occult activity in the Roman Empire. If the gospel was to confront the occult structures over the Roman world, Ephesus was the place to do it. In Ephesus the powers of darkness were overcome and the whole territory changed.
Then we saw the apostolic center (church) in CORINTH. Corinth was a hub of sin and depravity. It was a strategic place to reveal God’s power to transfer the hard core unsaved.
In each region, apostolic centers were established where they could have the greatest impact and influence on the territory. This is why Paul’s next goal was to visit ROME. No place in the Empire was more strategic than the city of Rome. It was the governmental hub of the Empire and the centre of the civilized world. In order to reach the world, the gospel had to reach and impact Rome.
Rome was the most important city in the ancient world. It was more than just the capital of the Roman Empire. It was the capital of the civilized world.
As the Roman Empire expanded into new territories, the Romans didn’t bring oppression; they brought civilization. Most people who were conquered by Rome saw their standard of living dramatically improve.
One example of this was the Roman system of aqueducts. Aqueducts brought the world running water, indoor plumbing, and a sewer system that was not surpassed until modern times. Two hundred and sixty miles of aqueducts supplied fresh water to the city of Rome.
But the Romans did not just build aqueducts for themselves; they built them everywhere the Empire spread. Aqueduct systems were built in more than three hundred cities around the Empire. Some of them are still in use today.
There were also Roman roads. The Romans built a system of paved roads extending into every part of the Empire. For the first time in history, you could travel to any part of the known world with relative ease. And because of the internal peace within the Empire, it was safe to travel.
The city of Rome itself was the greatest city the world had ever known. It is estimated that the population of Rome in Paul’s day was over a million people. Considering that the total world population at that time was only about 200 million, we see that one out of every 200 people on the planet lived in the city of Rome.
How did the Gospel of the Kingdom penetrate this huge, cosmopolitan city?
The truth is, we don’t know!
The New Testament never tells us when the church in Rome was started (founded). And, it never tells us who started the church.
Acts 2:10 tells us that on the Day of Pentecost, visitors from Rome were present in Jerusalem. Some of them may have been among the 3,000 who were saved that day
After being discipled in Jerusalem for a season, they would have returned to Rome and started a church. Following the pattern they learned in Jerusalem, they probably met together in a home, ate together, praised God together, prayer for each other, and exercised their spiritual gifts. All in a local house church.
As they ministered in the power of the Spirit, the house church would have grown and multiplied – meeting in two houses instead of one. From two it went to four and then to eight. Apostles and prophets and teachers (1 Corinthians 12:28) came in and began to equip the saints to minister. Soon there were house churches started all over the city of Rome. By the time Paul arrived, there were probably hundreds of them.
So, when we read about Paul going to Rome, we need to remember that Paul did not start the church at Rome. There was already a large population of Christians in the city when he arrived.
Paul was not even the first apostle in Rome. When he wrote the book of Romans several years earlier, he sent greetings to two apostles in Rome, Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). So the Roman church was already an apostolic center before Paul arrived to visit and encourage the saints. Rome had apostles before Paul’s first visit. They were already equipping the saints to minister. In Romans 1:8 Paul tells the Romans, “Your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” This is being an apostolic center.
If the church in Rome was already planted and already had apostles, why did Paul need to go to Rome?
In Romans 1, Paul tells the Romans, “I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you that you may be strengthened.” The Roman church already had at least two apostles. Andronicus was a man; Junia was a woman. They may have been married. In Romans 16 Paul describes them. He says that were his kinsman. They were Messianic Jews. They had grown up with the rich heritage of the Word.
Paul says that Andronicus and Junia had both been in the Lord longer than he. They knew Jesus before Paul was even saved. They may have even been part of the original three thousand added to the Church on the Day of Pentecost. Paul calls them “fellow prisoners.” They had both suffered for the Gospel.
Finally, Paul tells us that Andronicus and Junia were both outstanding among the apostles. They were well-known apostles in Paul’s day. They may have been the founders of the church in Rome.
But as good as Andronicus and Junia were, Paul knew that they could not give the Roman church everything it needed. No one minister or team has everything a church needs to be healthy. No one person can give you what you need to achieve your destiny in the Lord.
Paul knew that the people at Rome needed his gifts also. Paul told the Corinthian church that he planted, Apollos watered, and God caused the growth. In Rome just the opposite happened. Someone else had planted, but Paul wanted to come and water what was there. He believed that God would bring the increase. And, as we will see, God did!
He wanted to add his distinctive gifts to the mix, to help them to the next level. This is how apostolic centers work. Apostolic centers are places where the church can cross-pollinate. At an apostolic center, ministers from other locations can share their teaching, their resources and their impartation.
One of the big problems we have had in the modern church is that many pastors seem to want to build their own empire, instead of God’s Kingdom. They get possessive of their sheep and don’t allow others to come in to teach and minister. They see going to others for ministry as disloyal. This removes the ability for the church to cross-pollinate which is needed in every church for it to reach it’s full maturity (see Ephesians 4:11-16).
Paul writes to correct this wrong approach to ministry in 1 Corinthians 3:4-23. In Corinth, some of the Christians were dividing up, based on which apostle they liked best. One said, “I am of Paul.” One said, “I am of Apollos.” Someone else said, “I am of Peter.” And the super-religious said, “I am more spiritual than all of you! I am of Christ.” Paul rebukes them all. He told them, “All of the apostles belong to you. You need them all.”
So Paul came to Rome and added his gift. He taught the church and trained the saints in ministry. But Paul did more in Rome than just teach and minister. God used Paul tp penetrate a whole new strata of society. In Rome, Paul penetrated the capital of the world.
God’s ways are amazing. God arranged for Paul to have a unique entrance into the city of Rome. In Romans 1:9-11 Paul assured the Roman church that he has been trying to get to Rome. It was the desire of his heart to minister among them and he had asked God repeatedly to make a way, but God had not yet opened up the door.
Finally, God provided a way. Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem and the Jewish religious leaders wanted him killed. To escape their plot, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen and demanded a trial before Caesar. So Paul was sent to Rome as a prisoner, awaiting trial before Caesar. He won a “free, all-expense-paid trip to Rome,” courtesy of the Roman government.
He was taken to Rome as a prisoner, but he was not put in jail. He was allowed to rent his own house while he waited for his court date. He was in that house for at least two years. While he was there, he was free to minister and teach and “have church” in his home. The only stipulation was that, since he was a prisoner he had to be kept under guard continually. And it was not just any guard. Since he was awaiting a hearing before Caesar, the guards assigned to him were members of the elite Praetorian Guard, the same soldiers that guarded the imperial palace.
So, picture this: Paul was living in his own house in Rome. All the Jewish leaders from the city came and talked with him about the Messiah. Some of them received Jesus. Then for two years he used the house as a training center. He preached. He taught. He performed miracles. He healed the sick. And all the while members of the elite Praetorian Guard were assigned to watch him and listen to everything he said.
For two years the guards rotated through Paul’s house. They listened to the teachings and the discussions. They saw the miracles. They would go back to the barracks at night and tell the other guards what they had seen saying, “You wouldn’t believe what happened today!” The result was that the whole Praetorian Guard was evangelized. And through these same men, chosen as the best from every corner of the Empire, the Gospel penetrated both the imperial palace in Rome and every corner of the Empire.
And so the church in Rome continued to grow. We know from history that the early Church grew with incredible speed, but in most cities we can only guess at its size. But in Rome we have a way to measure the harvest.
The city of Rome has an estimated six hundred miles of catacombs burrowed under the city. From the first century to the third, these tunnels were the city’s cemeteries. Millions of people were buried in catacomb tombs during those years.
It is easy to identify which of the tombs were Christian tombs because the Christians tended to decorate their tombs with Christian symbols and pictures of biblical events. By studying the catacombs, archeologists are able to get a fairly accurate picture of the size of the church at any given time. Their studies reveal that by the end of the first century, the church in Rome numbered two hundred thousand people. That is a fifth of the population of the city!
Try to envision that kind of growth. The church in Rome would have begun near the middle of the century with a single house church of probably 20 people. As the saints were equipped to minister, that little church multiplied to two, and then to four, and then to eight. Through fifty years of sometimes severe persecution, the multiplication continued until by the end of the century, the church numbered 200,000. Assuming that an average house church numbered about 20 people, by the end of the first century there would have been more than ten thousand house churches scattered across the city of Rome!
That’s church growth! The Romans had no way to stop the growth of the church. As the church operated in fivefold ministry under the power of the Holy Spirit, the harvest came in.
From the apostolic center in Rome, teams went out to every part of the world. You have heard the saying, “All roads lead to Rome.” This also means that from Rome you can go anywhere in the Empire.
So teams went out and planted churches in every location. Tertullian, in the year 200, wrote to the pagans, “We have filled every place belonging to you: Your cities, islands, castles, towns, assemblies, your very camp, your tribes, your companies, your palace, your senate, your forum. We leave you your temples only. We can count your armies, but our numbers in a single province will be greater.” That’s called harvest.
The church historian Philip Schaff writes, “It may be fairly asserted that by the end of the third century the Name of Christ was known, revered, and persecuted in every province, and in every city in the Empire. In all probability at the close of the third century the church numbered ten million souls.” Some estimate that by the end of the third century, half of the population of the Empire had converted to Christianity.
Today: We are seeing the restoration of the ministry of the apostle to the Church in many nations. And, we are beginning to see the emergence of apostolic regional churches or apostolic centers where the fullness of the fivefold ministry can reside and then minister from there to house churches throughout their region.
These apostolic centers will enable the Church to once again grow and spread with incredible speed. God is preparing His Church to receive the great end-time harvest. God is changing His Church. He is changing the structure and basic foundation of the Church so that His life can once again be experienced and shared. He is doing it for one main purpose – that the harvest may come in.
Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
We will rise up powerful once again and, like the church in Rome, penetrate the structures of the world.
God is restoring the Church as His new wineskin, and He will pour in the new wine.