Antioch Revisited. Reuniting the Church with Her Mission

It is a widely held sentiment that the Antioch church laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them out as missionaries from the Antioch church. Tom Julien, author of Antioch Revisited, holds this opinion. He writes:

The Antioch church laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, a sign both of their recognition of God’s anointing and of their responsibility as a church. In Antioch, mission grew out of the local church. The first missionaries received their call in their church. The Antioch church claimed responsibility for mission by laying hands on the missionaries before releasing them. For the church at Antioch, there was no divorce between the church and her mission to the world.[1]

Blincoe: Tom Julien does not get it right. The Antioch church did nothing of the sort. Here is what happened:

“Now in the church in Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord [2] and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” After fasting and praying they laid hands on them and sent them off. [3] So, being sent by the Holy Spirit,[4] they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.” Acts 13:3-4

Tom Julien wrote Antioch Revisited to encourage churches to send missionaries, as though this is what happened in Antioch. There is not a single story in the Bible in which a church sends missionaries, (no, not one). We had a go at explaining the Antioch story here. Here is a summary:

  1. Five worthy men were worshiping and fasting when the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Three men laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and released them (ἀπέλυσαν) to go and begin their mission.
  2. None of the five was a pastor, none an elder. None of them said, “Should we tell the pastor or the elders what we are doing?” None asked, “Do we have permission to obey the Holy Spirit?”
  3. The Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas and sent them. The Bible says, “Paul and Barnabas went down to Seleucia, sent out by the Holy Spirit.” (ἐκπεμφθέντες ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἁγίου Πνεύματος). The Holy Spirit is the One who sends missionaries.
  4. Never in the New Testament does a church send missionaries.
  5. Can churches send missionaries? Yes! Churches do send missionaries. But can a church say, “We want to be a sending church like Antioch?” Let the reader study the matter to know for himself or herself.

Blincoe: There are two structures of God’s redemptive mission, the church and the mission teams. All Christians should take part in church worship. Jan and I worship with a Native American congregation on Sundays. Jan and I are also members of a mission agency dedicated to sending missionaries to “the regions beyond.” The Holy Spirit established the Native American church to brighten the corner where God had established it. And that is not all: the Holy Spirit established mission teams to send missionaries to the non-Christians of the world. The second structure is organized like Paul and Barnabas’ missionary band. The Holy Spirit sends missionaries to establish churches among non-Christians. This happened in Antioch. And thank you very much for reading Acts 13. and studying the Bible, rather than accepting when people say about the Bible.

References Cited

[1] Tom Julien, Antioch Revisited: Reuniting the Church with Her Mission (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 2006). 15-16

[2] worshipping the Lord: Λειτουργούντων τῷ Κυρίῳ

[3] “released them” ἀπέλυσαν

[4] “Being sent out by the Holy Spirit,” ἐκπεμφθέντες ὑπὸ τοῦ Ἁγίου ΠνεύματοςThis is the only use of ἐκπεμφθέντες in the New Testament.