Monday, February 22, 2010

The Authority of the Local Church in Commending Ministers of the Gospel

By Ben Zemmer

The human eye is of no use if it is separated from the body and the ear is of no use if it is by itself. This is essentially what Paul said when he wrote to the believers in Corinth about the importance of unity and functions within the Church (1 Cor. 12:12-31). All believers have need of each other. Community and unity in Truth compose a large part of what the Church is. This is no less the case with the mission of the Church. No part of the body can truly and ultimately operate independent of the rest of the body. So often in American evangelicalism today individual believers “feel a sense of calling” for gospel ministry at home or abroad, and they rush to join a para-church organization they feel fits their ministry focus. Yet, they often fail to see the need for the commendation and sending of the local church preceding and guiding their desire for ministry (Griffiths, p.12). Portrayed in the book of Acts is not an image of a mindless mad-dash for the front lines of ministry, but rather a careful, calculated work of the local church selecting believers from within their midst to be sent out, supported by, and accountable to the local church (Griffiths, p.13).

Two prominent examples recorded in the book of Acts are Barnabas and Paul. Durring the early stages of the church in Antioch, the church in Jerusalem sent out Barnabas to minister in Antioch (Acts 11:22). While the work was underway and many people were coming to Christ, Barnabas went to Tarsus to seek out Paul to help him teach and disciple the people (Acts 11:25-26). Later on these very two who played such a pivotal role in the growth of the church in Antioch were set apart and sent out by the church for the work of the gospel in other areas (Acts 13:1-3). In no part of the book of Acts can one find individuals who on their own accord and apart from the local church went out for the work of the gospel. The repetition of this pattern of the church selecting sending out its members for the work of the ministry by itself is evidence enough of its normative nature. Yet, this example is supported by other portions of Scripture as well. Timothy was encouraged to hold fast in the work of the gospel remembering that he had been commended by the church and commissioned by Paul for the ministry (2 Timothy 1:6, Acts 16:1-5). Also, Paul gave instructions to Titus to appoint elders from the midst of the churches in Crete (Titus 1:5). That is, the leaders within the Certain churches were not self-appointed or distinct from the local church.

It is clear from Scripture where the primary authority lies: in the local church, not in the individual. This is important in understanding not only the relationship between individuals interested in gospel ministry and the local church, but also between the church and para-church organizations. The point is clear from the Scriptures mentioned above that the weight and emphasis must rest on the local church and not on para-church organizations. This does not preclude the existence of para-church institutions or proclaim their very existence as unbiblical, but it does mean that whatever role they play, it must be a subservient one to the local church. It was not of para-church institutions of which Jesus spoke, but his chosen bride the Church when he said, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The local church is both the primary authority and the primary emphasis of the Scriptures especially as it relates to the ministry of the gospel.

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