Barnabas and Saul Commissioned
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
There were a number of cities in the Greco-Roman era called Antioch; this Antioch is a regional capital of the provinces of Eastern Cilicia and Syria, and was called Syrian Antioch. It was a populous city, and had a large Jewish population. When refugees from the persecuted church in Jerusalem fled to the region, they began to preach among the Jewish inhabitants of Antioch. Soon, however, they also began to preach among the Gentiles, winning many converts. As we read earlier, Barnabas was sent to Antioch from Jerusalem, and he went to Tarsus to find Saul, who assisted him in the ministry there.
Barnabas and Saul ministered and taught at Antioch for a couple of years, as that church continued to grow. And the people in Antioch worshipped with prayer and fasting. One day, during such a time of prayer and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, saying, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” They then prayed and fasted again, listening for the prompting of the Spirit, and they laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them off.
Luke’s story in Acts is that of the early church, as it develops and grows. But more precisely, it is the story of the actions of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men and women making that possible, making it happen! And so, it is no surprise that the mission of Barnabas and Saul is initiated, not by some committee deciding “we need to establish a mission”, or by someone seeking to make a name for himself, but by the Holy Spirit himself. Barnabas and Saul are not free agents deciding on their own to do something daring – they would never have succeeded! Bishop Willimon (“Interpretation Bible Commentary:Acts”) says this, “This new step in outreach has been declared by the Spirit and confirmed by the church through fasting, praying, and laying-on-of-hands. The Spirit and the community work together to set apart some Christians for leadership.
And so it is today. A person can feel the call of God on their lives, through the action of the Spirit, can actually hear God’s call to them. But we confirm, support, and commission that call through the church community. In the United Methodist Church, that call is first confirmed through the local church Staff-Pastor-Parish Committee, then through the candidacy process with the District Committee on Ministry, and finally through the process leading to licensing or ordination through the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (not so affectionately known to candidates as BOOM). It is important to have these checks and balances, for it is possible for the whole thing to go wrong, for us to perceive a call that is ego speaking rather than the Spirit; and it is possible for politics to mess up the process from the other end. Thus, it is critical that the Spirit and the Church community work together, to further the Kingdom of God!