White Unto Harvest
They Sent Him
Churches are sending preachers to many places these days and some
questions have arisen concerning the propriety of this in certain
situations. It has been contended by some that it is not right for a
church to send a preacher to a place or churches to support a
preacher going to a place where a church already exists without first
getting the consent of the church in that place. Often times church
autonomy is advanced as a reason against sending a preacher to such a
place. While this writer has no problem with the practice of seeking
the consent of a church before sending it a preacher, he believes
that this is not always necessary.Acts 11 reads:
19 Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. 20 And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. 22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch. 23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. 25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: 26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
We offer the following study of this text. Please notice how this
passage relates to the subject at hand.
One church sent a preacher to another church. There was a "church" in Antioch (v. 26). The "church...in Jerusalem" decided to send Barnabas there (v. 22). Some brethren make arguments (wrongly) in our day to the effect that we cannot do today what the apostles did. However, we do not have to stop to consider such arguments here because it says the "church" sent Barnabas. Hence, we can see that it is scriptural for one church to send forth a preacher to another church.
What was Barnabas' mission at Antioch? Barnabas' mission must be inferred from what he did upon his arrival at the church in Antioch. We are told that he "exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord....and much people was added unto the Lord" (vs. 23-24). Hence, his mission must have been to preach the gospel to establish the brethren in the faith and win more souls to Christ.
Bringing Saul to Antioch. In harmony with his mission was Barnabas' bringing Saul to Antioch. We see this from the results of his and Saul's time there. We are told "a whole year they assembled themselves with the church (in Antioch), and taught much people" (v. 26). From what we can draw from the text it seems right to conclude that it was Barnabas' decision to bring Saul there. We must note, in light of present (false) arguments, that Barnabas was not an apostle. Yet, he made a decision to bring Saul to this church in Antioch.
Applying These Facts to the Present Discussion
With all the studies we have done and stands we have taken, we do not
understand church autonomy more perfectly than did the inspired men
of the first century. These brethren had as much respect for church
autonomy as we do. However, we still find that (1) The church at
Jerusalem sent Barnabas to the church at Antioch and (2) Barnabas
brought Saul to Antioch. Therefore, we must conclude that one can
have respect for church autonomy and still send a preacher to church
that is deemed to be in need of one. Let us remember that this same
church in Antioch would later send Paul and Barnabas back to this
same church in Jerusalem about the question of Christians keeping the
Law of Moses and circumcision (Acts 15:1ff). All this was done in
keeping within the bounds of congregational autonomy. We infer from
the nature of autonomy that, if the church at Antioch had not needed
the services of Barnabas, they could have told the church at
Jerusalem as much and no wrong would have been done on the part of
Some limitations to the above actions naturally suggest themselves. Stewardship of resources and time should prevent a church from sending a preacher to a place where there is no real need (1 Cor. 4:2). Feasibility would likewise restrict a church in such sending. For example, there are a good number of churches that would benefit from having a sound man sent to them in the spirit of Acts 15. However, few if any of these churches would allow such a man opportunity to speak. Hence, the opportunities for a church to send forth a man as first century churches did are somewhat limited.
Certainly churches should carefully consider who they support and where they send those they do support. However, the argument that a church can not send a preacher to a church in some place, especially in a mission field, is clearly not in harmony with the New Testament. We should beware lest false arguments hinder us in carrying out the great commission in our day (Mk. 16:15-16).
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For comments to the author, or to contribute news, reports, and information regarding preaching efforts in foreign lands, please contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org
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