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:

We offer the following study of this text. Please notice how this passage relates to the subject at hand.

Some Observations

  1. 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.

     

  2. 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.

     

  3. 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 either church.

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.

Conclusion

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 styvas@mindspring.com

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