“Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.”– Acts 13:1-3
At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus “appointed twelve [Apostles], so that they would be with Him and that He could send them out to preach.”1 To these men, he also gave great authority by which they laid the very foundation of the church2 and left the church the infallible record of the New Testament.3 However, as the years unfold on each page of the book of Acts, we see the churches and their leaders coming to the forefront.
In Acts 13:1-4 we have Luke’s account of the first missionary journey of the Apostle Paul and Barnabas. The text states:
“Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
There are two key elements to be noted and understood in this passage. First, this historic missionary endeavor was initiated and directed by the Holy Spirit within the context of a local church—the church of Antioch. Second, although Paul was an apostle with full apostolic authority, he and Barnabas were sent out with the approval of the local church, which was manifested by the laying on of hands. It is also extremely meaningful that when Paul and Barnabas had completed their first missionary journey, they returned to Antioch to give a full report to the church and leaders that had sent them and to whom they were accountable. In Acts 14:26-27, Luke writes:
“From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.”
This relationship between the local church and the missionary that is evident in Paul’s first missionary journey was not a unique occurrence but appears again at the beginning of his second missionary journey. In Acts 15:40, Luke writes, “But Paul chose Silas and left, being committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.” The word “committed” is translated from the Greek verb paradídomi, which means to give over, entrust, or commend. Although he was an Apostle, Paul did not “venture out” on his own but was “sent out” with the approval and prayers of the leaders and congregation in Antioch.
The rise of the local congregations in giving leadership to the Great Commission is also seen in Luke’s account of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. From the text, we learn that some men from Judea had arrived in Antioch and began to teach that the Gentile converts could not be saved unless they observed the Law of Moses and its rituals.4 This resulted in “great dissension and debate” between Paul’s company and the men from Judea. To decide the matter, the church at Antioch sent Paul, Barnabas, and others to the “apostles and elders” in the church in Jerusalem.5 Once Paul and company had arrived, they were “received by the church, the apostles, and the elders.”6 After both sides gave their arguments, Luke states that “the apostles and the elders came together to look into the matter.”7 At that time, the Apostle Peter stood up and gave his judgment regarding the matter,8 and James, the brother of our Lord, gave the final verdict.9 The matter was finally brought to a close by “the apostles and the elders, with the whole church” deciding to send a letter of direction to the gentiles. The greeting in the letter was from “the apostles and the brethren who are elders.”10
It is significant that the church in Antioch “sent out” the Apostle Paul and that he reported his work to them when he returned. It is equally significant that in the Jerusalem Council, the church and its elders are given such a prominent role even alongside the Apostles. Since there are no biblical directives to add another governing body after the passing of the generation of the Apostles, it is evident that the responsibility for the Great Commission remains with the local churches and their leadership. Our purpose in making this statement is NOT to deny the viability of churches working together in cooperation or through entities that assist in their cooperation. Our purpose is to show that the responsibility of the Great Commission belongs to each local congregation and its leadership, and they cannot (except in disobedience) neglect their duty or turn their responsibility over to another, no matter how capable they may believe them to be.
- Mark 3:14
- Ephesians 2:20
- II Timothy 3:15-17; I Peter 1:21
- Acts 15:1
- Acts 15:2
- Acts 15:4
- Acts 15:6
- Acts 15:7-11
- Acts 15:13-21 – It is difficult to determine the exact nature of James’ calling. He is numbered with the Apostles (Galatians 1:19) and with the elders in Jerusalem (Acts 21:18). In any case, he was a recognized “pillar” or leader in the church of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9).
- Acts 15:23
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer