By Max Strange
Leaders & The Early Church
Let’s begin our explanation in Antioch. After Stephen’s death, God scattered His church and it became the Christian capital of the early church. It seems as if overnight, Antioch became the recognized hub for Christian expansion (1). In Antioch, a plurality of leaders, elders, prophets, and teachers had gathered and began to transfer their authority to good Christian men. Just as Jesus appointed the 70 to go out with authority, this plurality of godly leaders, through the Spirit, began to move the new creation along by appointing elders to go out and expand the church (2). One of the first teams approved by the Antioch church was the Pauline Team that consisted of Barnabas and Paul (3). They were commissioned by teachers and prophets with a significant gesture-the laying on of hands. For the Jew, the laying on of hands had not been a mere symbolic sign but one that had rich meaning. It indicated the transfer of sin to a scapegoat substitute.
In the like manner, the elders at Antioch repeated this practice because they knew it symbolized the reality that an actual transfer of delegation and authority takes place and that his authority had been given to Paul and Barnabas. The were charter members of Antioch who became true representative of those that sent them. They were Antioch’s best men who went out with the hands of Antioch approval on their head and thus became ambassadors for a mobile Antioch. They were going outward to be an Antioch extension with the authority to preach the Gospel, gather believers into community, instruct and train ministers of the Gospel, appoint elders and deacons, and transfer their authority to qualified others. Acts 13:1-3 give us strong evidence that the church sent and approved this export team consisting of two solid men of God whom God had given to the church as a gift. The Pauline team went out and continued to see themselves under the umbrella of Antioch and operate under its auspices.
Paul’s team spread across Asia and the Mediterranean after having received delegated authority and yet they were not autonomous field agents. As a wing to the Antioch church, Paul continued to “report” back after each missionary trip (4). He and Barnabas did not isolate themselves or become rogue missionaries. Paul acted as an Antioch arm that reached out across various cities and seaports with the Gospel (5). They did have “in-the-field” decisions to make, liberties to exercise their office and strategize, and yet the Pauline team continued to see their selves as vitally connected. Paul could appoint elders and gave orders for elders to do so (6). Paul gave orders to Titus to set in order what remained, establish churches, ordain Timothy, and train new leaders (7). Paul also gave clear instructions for the offices of elder and deacon so that the Word and service ministry could maximize Word expansion. Paul knew to do all this because it was modeled to him at Antioch and by direction of the Holy Spirit. All the while, Paul and his coworkers understood that they were forming chips off the old Antioch block as they preached the Gospel and gathered believers into community. Paul wove all his churches together into one interdependent community of new covenant people that reflected his home base at Antioch. Unfortunately, mission is not viewed from a Biblical perspective.
The church is often seen by most mission organizations as a financial-needs outposts by which disconnected missionaries tap on the window for monetary support. Missionaries see themselves as separate entity, away from all the red tape of church business and politics. Nonetheless, the Biblical model for mission is found in Scripture. Paul and his team are the template for mission. They most certainly viewed themselves as a vital component directly fastened to the local church. The leadership, the transfer of authority, the extension of Antioch by qualified men, the rule of Christ’s body by gifted undershepherds, is the Biblical thrust in Scripture by which God builds His Church and brings everything under the headship Christ.
1. Acts 11:19 2. Luke 10:1; Ephesians 4:13 3. Acts 13:1-3 4. Acts 14:26-28; 18:22-23 5. Acts 14:12
6. Acts 16:1-5; Titus 1:5 7. 2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 1:5, 1 Timothy