When Paul was writing to the Galatians and defending his gospel and apostleship, he made sure that the Galatian church knew that he was no lone ranger. While he had independent attestation of his apostolic call and gospel, Paul was very concerned to stand before the other apostles in submission to them. Galatians 2:1-2 “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”
After seeing that Paul had the same gospel and calling as them, Paul also tells us that they extended to him the “right hand of fellowship” and sent him and Barnabas out on mission to the Gentiles.
We need to take stock of this important scenario. The Apostle Paul who was so instrumental in establishing churches and the spread of the gospel to the gentiles went out on this mission in submission to and with the endorsement of the Jerusalem apostles. He was commissioned to the gentiles by Christ and while he couldn’t get any higher commissioning than this, Paul ensured that he would not do such mission in isolation of the other apostles. He was accepted, endorsed and sent with blessing in the unity of the gospel. Galatians 2:9 “and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
We live in a culture today that has a low view of submission and authority and a high view of individualism. Coupled with this, many Christians have been impacted by the speech of bloggers and Christian leaders who tend to speak lowly of the church. This has created an unhealthy environment of people isolating themselves from established local churches to do their own thing in their own home or start a church (or parachurch ministry) somewhere on their own initiative. This is not the biblical model and it has one huge flaw – accountability for the gospel.
When Paul and Barnabas were sent on mission by the Jerusalem apostles, they were sent out with checks and balances based on the one true gospel and a legitimate call of Christ. This was recognized and acted upon in a right hand of fellowship and a commission to go. Many may say that God’s Word is all they need. It is true that there is no higher authority than God and the truth in his word. Yet, while our direction ultimately comes from God, his word also teaches that accountability to those sending us ultimately keeps us on track and shows a credibility to be kept accountable to the gospel call.
You might not want that sort of accountability because perhaps you think you can do it better. Can you do it better than Paul? Basically, if it’s good for the apostle Paul, it’s good for us. There are no lone rangers in gospel ministry. Isolation is simply dangerous, especially in initiating a new ministry.
When people tell me that they are going to a new start up church, my question is always, “Who commissioned it?” If I don’t hear that the work has an accountability to a biblical gospel preaching church, I am immediately dubious both about their leadership and ability to hold fast to the gospel. Any leader that has not been willing to consistently come under the submission of other local church elders will unlikely be a leader that will tolerate any deviation from his own teaching and direction. He is a man who has put himself above the gospel and is unlikely a leader to follow. Paul’s submission and fellowship with the other apostles is a great model for accountability and support in the mission of the gospel.