Ellen G. White Writings

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The Review and Herald

May 11, 1911

Separated Unto the Gospel

Mrs. E. G. White

“There were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, ... and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”

God had abundantly blessed the labors of Paul and Barnabas during the year they remained with the believers in Antioch; but neither of them had as yet been formally ordained to the gospel ministry. They had now reached a point in their Christian experience where God was about to entrust them with the carrying forward of a difficult missionary enterprise, in the prosecution of which they would need every advantage that could be obtained through the agency of the church. Therefore, before being sent forth as missionaries to the heathen world, these apostles were solemnly dedicated to God by fasting and prayer and the laying on of hands. Thus they were authorized by the church not only to teach the truth, but to perform the rite of baptism, and to organize churches, being invested with full ecclesiastical authority.

The Christian church was at this time entering upon an important era. The work of proclaiming the gospel message was now to be prosecuted with vigor among the Gentiles; and the church, as a result, was to be strengthened by a great ingathering of souls. The apostles who had been appointed to lead out in this special work, would be exposed to suspicion, prejudice, and jealousy. Their teachings concerning the breaking down of the middle wall of partition that had so long been maintained between the Jewish and the Gentile world, would naturally subject them to the charge of heresy; and their credentials as ministers of the gospel would be questioned by many zealous, believing Jews. God foresaw the difficulties that his servants would be called upon to meet; and in order that their work should be above challenge, he caused them to be invested with unquestionable authority from his established church. Their ordination was a public recognition of their divine appointment to bear to the Gentiles the glad tidings of the gospel.

Both Paul and Barnabas had already received their commission from God himself, and the ceremony of the laying on of hands added no new grace nor virtual qualification. It was merely setting the seal of the church upon the work of God—an acknowledged form of designation to an appointed office, and a recognition of one's authority in that office.

To the Jews, this form was a significant one. When a Jewish father blessed his children, he laid his hands reverently upon their heads. When an animal was devoted to sacrifice, the hand of the one invested with priestly authority was laid upon the head of the victim. Therefore, when the ministers of the church of believers in Antioch laid their hands upon Paul and Barnabas, they, by that action, asked God to bestow his blessing upon the chosen apostles, in their devotion to the specific work to which they had been appointed.

At a later date, the rite of ordination by the laying on of hands was greatly abused; unwarrantable importance was attached to the act, as if a power came at once upon those who received such ordination, which immediately qualified them for any and all ministerial work. But in the setting apart of these two apostles, there is no record indicating that any virtue was imparted by the mere act of laying on of hands. There is only the simple record of their ordination, and of the bearing that it had on their future work.

The circumstances connected with the separation of Paul and Barnabas by the Holy Spirit to a definite line of service, show clearly that the Lord works through appointed agencies in his organized church, as well as through individuals. Years before, when the divine purpose concerning Paul was first revealed to him by the Saviour himself, Paul was immediately afterward brought into contact with members of the newly organized church at Damascus. Furthermore, the church at that place was not long left in darkness as to the personal experience of the converted Pharisee. And now, when the divine commission given at that time was to be more fully carried out, the Holy Spirit, in a special manner, again bore witness concerning Paul as a chosen vessel to bear the gospel to the Gentiles. As the leaders of the church in Antioch “ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.”

God has made his church on the earth a channel of light, and through it he communicates his purposes and his will. He does not give to one of his servants an experience independent of, and contrary to, the experience of the church itself. Neither does he give one man a knowledge of his will for the entire church, while the church, Christ's body, is left in darkness. In his providence, he places his servants in close connection with his church, in order that they may have less confidence in themselves, and greater confidence in others whom he is leading out to advance his work.

There have ever been in the church those who are constantly inclined toward individual independence. These seem unable to realize that independence of spirit is liable to lead the human agent to have too much confidence in himself, and to trust in his own judgment rather than to respect the counsel and highly estimate the judgment of his brethren, especially of those in the offices that God has appointed for the saving of his people. God has invested his church with special authority and power that no one can be justified in disregarding and despising; for he who does this despises the voice of God.

Those who are inclined to regard their individual judgment as supreme are in grave peril. It is Satan's studied effort to separate such ones from those who are as channels of light, through whom God has communicated his will, and through whom he has wrought in building up and extending his work in the earth. To neglect or despise those whom God has appointed to bear the responsibilities of leadership in connection with the advancement and spread of the truth, is to reject the means that he has ordained for the help, encouragement, and strength of his people. For any worker in the Lord's cause to pass these by, and to think that his light must come through no other channel than directly from God, is to place himself in a position where he is liable to be deceived by the enemy, and overthrown. The Lord in his wisdom has arranged that by means of the close relationship that should be maintained by all believers in Christian fellowship, Christian shall be united to Christian, and church to church. Thus the human instrumentality will be enabled to co-operate with the divine. Every agency will be subordinate to the Holy Spirit, and all the believers will be united in an organized and well-directed effort to give to the world the glad tidings of the grace of God.

Paul regarded the occasion of his formal ordination as marking the beginning of a new and important epoch in his life-work. It was from the time of this solemn ceremony, when, just before he was to depart on his first missionary journey, he was “separated unto the gospel of God,” that he afterward dated the beginning of his apostleship in the Christian church.

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