In Antioch of Syria, we see a great thing. We see Saul and Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, and other believers involved in fasting and worship of the Lord. The Scripture tells us that “as they ministered to the Lord and fasted…” This word which is rendered here “ministered” is the Greek word “Leitourgounton,” which literally means “performed liturgical acts.” It is the root word from which the Church derives the word liturgy. Congregational worship, all acting of one accord. Thus, this could easily be more rightly translated, “as they performed the liturgy to the Lord and fasted.” And to what end was the liturgy and fasting done? What was the result of this? The Holy Spirit spoke to them, declaring that Saul and Barnabas were to be separated from them.
It’s this idea that liturgical worship and fasting are paramount to our Christian faith. To our very way of life. Jesus constantly told His disciples of the importance and power of prayer and of fasting. It’s this complete idea that every aspect of our life be devoted to God. That we fully draw ourselves into obedience to Him, His Church, His Scriptures. We can never wear Jesus as an accessory, “whoever loves His life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Jesus is very plain that to be His follower means that we no longer seek after our own personal gain, our own personal influence; but rather that we surrender everything fully to His will. “Whoever loves father or mother; or brother or sister; wife, son, or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” So many of us verbally acknowledge His command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might,” but so often it’s easy to allow the love of the world to be more prevalent in our lives. To chase after financial gain, to seek more possessions, to find comfort in this world. To make this world our home.
But when the Holy Spirit speaks these words to the disciples, they respond in obedience. The Scripture goes on to state that after they had receive this command, they entered into another period of prayer and fasting. And, “after having prayed and fasted, they laid hands on them, and sent them away.” This laying on of hands refers to the sacrament of ordination. If Saul and Barnabas were to go out preaching, spreading the word, building churches; then they had to be ordained by the Church to do so. Now consider this for a moment, Saul of Tarsus, the man who had been led to the faith by Jesus Himself on the Damascus road; Saul, who had just received a command directly from the voice of the Holy Spirit; Saul who ultimately became the author of over half of what we have now canonized in the Holy Scriptures, still obediently bowed to the authority of the Church. After having been led to faith by Jesus after the resurrection still bowed to the demand of the Church to be baptized, and here, after having been called by the Holy Spirit, still bows to the doctrine of the Church concerning ordination.
We hate authority. Our generation more than any since perhaps the Roman Empire itself despise having someone else tell us what we can and can not do, what is right and wrong. In our culture, there are polemic political agendas which serve to keep us divided. There’s nationalism and humanism, moralism, etc. We have an entire philosophical movement based on the concept that truth itself is relative; that what is right for you is right for you and what is right for me is right for me; but that there is no true right and wrong. But, there is Truth. There is one Truth. A six painted on the ground may appear to be a nine if you stand at a different perspective, but it doesn’t change that fact that it is a six, it just means that the perspective of the one who sees a nine is wrong. Yet, somehow, in our warped human wisdom, we have determined that the six can be either a six or a nine, and it’s up to each individual person to decide which it is to them.
Even more dangerously, however, is that this concept has infected our theology as well. I may see a six, and you may see a nine, and how can one argue with the other over which it truly is? That’s why it’s so important that we cling to the traditions of the Church. The very traditions which tell us if it is a six or a nine painted on the ground, rather than leaving it up to our own fancy. Eternity is to important to allow ourselves room for our own logic to interfere with the Truth, to allow our own opinion to distort the truth that we have been given. If my car breaks, I trust a mechanic to fix it much more than my own ability to read a book and try to figure it out on my own. If I have chest pains, I never try to diagnose it and treat it myself, I go to a doctor. Why would I entrust my own wisdom to err on something far more important than either of those things, when there stand before us thousands of years of holy anointed men of God who dedicated their entire earthly lives to protecting the “traditions handed down, by word or by epistle?”
We so often seek to demonize the idea of “the Church,” claiming that our relationship and our walk with God is our own business; that receiving the Holy Spirit means that we no longer need the Church or her traditions. But, in this passage, we see Saul of Tarsus, called by an incarnation of the Resurrected Christ and receiving his mission verbally, before others, from the Holy Spirit Himself, still clinging to the traditions of the Church. If anyone ever to walk the earth had the right to say that his walk with Christ was a personal one, it was him. And what do we see him doing? Baptism, liturgical worship, prayer, laying on of hands, fasting; all traditions and doctrines handed down by the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And this is the example given to us by God the Father, in His Holy Scripture.
And it lies on each of us to decide. Do we obey Jesus Christ as our King and our Lord; or do we follow the example of Israel, of whom it was written, “In those days, there was no king in Israel. A man did what was right according to his own vision.” (Judges 21:25 LXX). When I look at our culture, I grievously see much more Israel than I see Jesus.
Christ is in our midst.