To establish the historical contest for our study, I need to go back to the fall of 1957 when I took an evangelism class under Dr. Roland Q. Leavell at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We used as a text book his Evangelism: Christ’s Imperative Commission. In that book he traced God’s changing the centers of outreach from Jerusalem to the present. Throughout the study, a haunting evaluation occurs. As I remember, it went something like this. God raised up Jerusalem as the base of outreach until Judaism’s teachings gained control. The refrain was, “Their evangelistic zeal was killed. Their soul-winning fervor was chilled. God moved on. He established the new base of operations at Antioch in Syria and worked through them until worldliness consumed the church. “Their evangelistic zeal was killed. Their soul-winning fervor was chilled. God moved on.” He worked through Antioch until about 100 A.D. We leave off Dr. Leavell’s analysis at this point.
In the declining impact of the Jerusalem church, God chose a new base (Acts 13:1-4). In reading about the people involved at Antioch, we sense the drama of the moment. The men in attendance were outstanding as they represented key leaders in their roles. The prophets would know the historical acts and teaching of Jesus, thus qualifying them to identify false teachings. The teachers were to communicate the truths to others. One man, Manaen, had been reared as a foster brother to Herod the tetrarch. Saul’s name closed the list.
They had focused their attention on the Lord, fasting and praying. The Bible does not explain how they ministered to the Lord, but surely adoration and praise would be a part of it. However, the most startling aspect is found in the words, “the Holy Ghost said.” These words point to the importance of the gathering as the Holy Spirit directed the next step. They were to separate Barnabas and Saul for the work “whereunto” He had “called them.”
After further fasting and prayer, the group “laid their hands on them.” The Greek word for “laid” is the one from which we get our word liturgy. We may infer they were observing an ordination service.
After this moving rite was performed, the group sent the two on the first missionary journey recorded in the Bible. By laying their hands on the two, the church was pledging its support for the evangelists as they went away. The church stood behind them as the sending organization.
The next group of verses introduces a new strategy (14:21-24). By the time we read of the events in Iconium, Saul’s name is dropped in favor of Paul, the name by which the world came to know him (see 14:9). Recounting the cities Paul and Barnabas visited on the first missionary journey makes exciting reading but the report to the church at Antioch provides insight about their ministry.
They were evangelists sharing the Good News but they also confirmed the souls of the disciples, warning them that “we must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God.”
Theirs was no easy believism message.
To preserve the integrity of the message, the men “ordained them elders in every church.” Our Baptist forebears followed the same strategy. As they won converts in different communities, they set aside promising men, elders, to pastor the churches. Our evangelists called them licentiates, that is, licensed men.
As the evangelists traveled across the country, they set aside their proxies to continue in the work.
One of the most exciting and rewarding parts of the work is the thrilling testimonies (vv. 25-28). Arriving back at Antioch, the church sending them out, the Apostles gathered the believers together to share the Good News of how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. The Holy Spirit was telling the believers of the continuing expansion of the Gospel. The goal? The ends of the earth to hasten the time when Jesus would return. Opening the door to the Gentiles was a basic strategy.
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