A Review of Roland Allen’s The Ministry of Expansion

At its last convention, the Missouri Synod ended the licensed deacon’s program, which previously had authorized lay people, without a seminary education, to administer the Lord’s Supper in smaller congregations when an ordained pastor was unable to be present. Addressing that issue from a Biblical perspective is almost a voice from the grave in a new, previously unpublished book by Roland Allen. 

Rev. Charles Brehmer was a missionary to Nigeria from 1963 to 1976. During this time, he helped to put the Bokyi language into writing, he produced literacy materials in that language, and also translated the New Testament into it. Currently among the Bokyi people there are now sixteen congregations that are served by three pastors and three evangelists.


A Review of Roland Allen’s, The Ministry of Expansion, The Priesthood of the Laity, ed. J. D. Payne (William Carey Library, 2017)

Charles Behmer

Cover to cover the book brings to life the author Roland Allen’s unswerving commitment to sharing the Good News of Jesus. Allen’s most famous books are Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes which Hinder it.

In this book one can turn to almost any of the 150 pages to gain an understanding of Allen’s emphasis that beyond the habit and relatively recent traditions of the established church lies freedom with promise and expectation that where “two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

The practicality of carrying out God’s mission in places outside the “settled” communion of the church recognizes the place for lay ministers. In the introduction to the manuscript itself Hubert Allen, his grandson, reports that Roland Allen came to the realization that …the New Testament requires two very different forms of Christian leadership.

On the one hand, there was need for evangelists and preachers to spread the Word In order to guard against error, these people needed to be thoroughly instructed in the faith either by persons trained by the apostles, or subsequently by persons trained by them and their direct successors (e.g., as Paul taught Timothy and Titus). But alongside these learned evangelists there was a need in every locality for competent persons to provide the sacraments, which Jesus commanded for all his followers to observe. Such people needed to be elders, respected by the whole community. They did not need detailed understanding of abstruse theological doctrines but rather were required by Paul simply to have the qualities set out in his letters to Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9).

The book is divided into Part 1 (68 pages ) and Part 2, (82 pages). In Part 1 Reverend Payne wisely provides the reader with additional introductory comments from three contemporary devotees who are “among the best Roland Allen scholars in the world”: Robert Schmidt, Steven Rutt and Robert Banks.

The focus of Schmidt is particularly of interest. He was a missionary in Nigeria for the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod in the 1960s. In a bare 14 pages he takes the reader into the wider blessings of lay ministry. He focuses on four present day crises which can benefit from Allen’s emphasis on lay ministry the cultural crisis, the financial crisis, the generational crisis and the ecclesiastical crisis.

Steven Rutt, comments on each chapter of Allen’s manuscript. “The Ministry of Expansion, The Priesthood of The Laity”. In doing so Rutt includes historical markers of Allen’s personal growth and understanding of spirit led outreach. The review of the leaders of his lifetime, who expressed the settled position of the Anglican Church in contrast to Allen’s brings out a contextual background not unlike today’s hesitancy on the part of some within the church to embrace the concept but stop short of its practical application. He refers to Allen as a missionary analyst who, “interpreted his context as similar to the early stages of the younger churches of Samaria, Lyyda, Joppa, Phoenicia, Cyprus, Antioch, Galatia, and Rome.”

Turning to Part 2, Allen’s manuscript leaves no doubt as to his purpose for writing the manuscript. His opening words are clear.

This little book is not a theoretical treatise on the Ministry; it is an attempt to show a way of release to men and women who are bound in a cruel bondage, and hindered by it for stretching out their hands to receive what Christ Himself offers to them…. As I look out over the world I see Christians scattered as sheep having no shepherd, where I might see small Churches springing up and increasing in number, filling the whole world with joy and gladness.

In the seven chapters that follow we read of the debate that existed between Allen and the Anglican church scholars of his day. In chapter one Allen lays the groundwork for the reader’s attention. He expects the reader to be in agreement with three fundamental principles, 1) Christ ordained two sacraments for all his children, 2) Christ explicitly directed us to observe His Last Supper, 3) Obedience to Christ and observance of His sacraments has been a means of grace to us.

In chapter two Allen answers the reluctance to celebrate Holy Communion in the absence of ordained clergy by clarifying how habit and custom were the drivers behind the statement, “We’ve always done it this way.”

In chapter three Allen finds validity in the ministry of one who is “spirit led” to tell others of the blessings received. He uses the term “charismatic ministry” inclusively of individuals who are “…exercising their ministry, undirected, uncommissioned, unordained by any ecclesiastical authority,” a ministry familiar to the Church of the apostolic age.

In chapter four Allen asserts that evidence exists in the New Testament which is further supported by the early church fathers that celebrating the Lord’s Supper in the absence of an ecclesiastical authority was the normal practice.

In chapter five Allen responds to…”the objection that we are no longer living in the days of the early Christians and that consequently we cannot act now as they did then.” Allen’s answer to this is that we very much do live in like conditions and illustrates his point.

Chapter six answers the challenge of defining the priesthood of the laity not in general but specifically as it applies to being God’s mouthpiece in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Without taking away any validity of ordained ministers Allen cautions limiting the definition of ministry to ordination alone. Allen titles the seventh chapter with the word “presumption.” Here Allen questions the widely held opinion that any exercise of the universal priesthood except through the ordained clergy is a presumptive invasion of the functions of the ordained clergy. He answers this opinion partly by turning the argument around. He suggests that dwelling on the fact of ordination as the only qualification for ministry may lead to a very false notion that in fact limits the grace of God.

It is in the “postscript” that the reader meets Robert Banks. Banks advances Allen’s deep concern for making available the Lord’s Supper to Christians who are outside of the geographical boundaries of a Bishop or Priest. Banks offers another unpublished manuscript by Allen which is titled, “The Family Rite.” As one might gather from the title it is here where Allen links his conclusions regarding the celebration of the Sacrament with the additional aspect of the place where this rite originally took place was in the houses of believers ( Acts 2, Acts 20, 1 Cor 11).

MY OBSERVATIONS include the opinion that for the person who enjoys forensics (formal debating) will appreciate the manner in which Allen refutes the established pronouncements of two of his contemporary Anglican scholars. His style is like the use of a lariat which is thrown to encircle the target and slowly draw it tight.

For any who favor the Ministry of Deacons serving Christians in the absence of an ordained pastor Allen provides plenty of support. Given the contemporary challenges to The Ministry of Care and Outreach it is not difficult to see how the crises mentioned by Robert Schmidt find aspects of hope in Allen’s manuscript.

Although Roland Allen served as a missionary in foreign contexts missing from his words are any reference to the critical need for ordained or unordained ministers to use Scripture in the language of the hearer. This principle avoids unpredictable confusing spontaneous theological constructs.

The book is available at Amazon or at the William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth

St., Pasadena, CA. 91104. <www.missionbooks.org>

Charles A. Brehmer

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