Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
February 7, 2016
God still calls and sends people out
Recently our church called seven men and women to the altar. We laid hands on them and commissioned them to go to Africa. Their mission was to share the love of Jesus with the people of Siansowa Village in the southern region of Zambia. The team came back fired up and eager to motivate our congregation to find creative ways to partner with the three thousand people in that poor village.
This act of “sending forth” people in the name of Jesus reminded me of a story Doctor Luke tells in the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples in the little church in Antioch were worshiping and fasting when they heard the Holy Spirit say, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
This was the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Paul. The two of them, having found new life in Christ, were sent to tell others the good news of salvation. Luke says that, “after fasting and praying,” the church elders “laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
While Barnabas and Paul were sent out by their fellow disciples in the church at Antioch, Luke emphasizes that they were actually “sent out by the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit called them. The Spirit equipped them. The Spirit sent them out. But the Spirit sent them through the church with the encouragement and prayers of the church.
It is interesting that the Holy Spirit spoke to the disciples while they were “worshiping the Lord and fasting.” The focus of their worship was “the Lord,” Jesus Christ. It was not on butterflies and caterpillars or the birds and the bees. While the beauty of nature is a precious gift of God, Christian worship must always be centered in the greatest gift – His Son Jesus Christ. The life, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus constitute the inexhaustible subject of authentic worship.
In the Antioch church fasting is connected to worship. Though fasting is not commanded by the New Testament, Christians have found that fasting helps them discern the will of God. Jesus fasted. The early disciples fasted. Christians through the ages have fasted.
We need not assume that the words of the Holy Spirit were audible. When the Spirit “said” to the worshipers, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them,” we may assume they heard the Spirit’s voice as we do – in their minds and hearts. However the Spirit spoke, his command was persuasive. The worshipers were moved to fast and pray, then obey the Spirit.
The definition of the word “holy” is to be “set apart,” as in set apart for the work of God. All Christians are called to be holy, set apart for the work of Christ. It was not the “laying on of hands” that empowered Barnabas and Paul for their mission. Then and today the laying on of hands is simply a traditional practice of inviting the Spirit to fill the recipients with the grace to do the will of God. The power belongs to the Spirit, not to the hands of those praying.
Thriving churches still “send forth disciples” into their communities – and across the world. Weak and dying churches set up camp and invite people to come to them. They invite but do not send. The attitude, “We are here if you need us,” will do little to win the world to Christ.
Clearly the church today needs to find new ways to send out believers to share the gospel with their neighbors. We have all received the mandate to “be his witnesses” and to “go into all the world.” The Great Commission applies to all believers, not a select few.
The Lord’s command, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” applies to us all. Unfortunately some of us have perceived this as the Lord’s instructions to missionaries, not ordinary disciples. We need to re-think this passage. Some commentators suggest that the Lord was actually saying, “As you go about, living your daily life, do your best to make disciples of everyone you meet.”
Instead of saying to worshipers as they leave church, “Depart in peace,” we could say, “Go forth as disciples sent out to share the good news of Christ in the place where you work, in your neighborhood, in your school and in all the places where your witness can make a difference.”
The Spirit who sent out Barnabas and Paul can send us out and release in us the same power that birthed the church in the first century. + + +