|The Barnabas Ministry
Matter of Personal Choice
It seems almost silly to have to mention this reason, but in the face of control-based leadership that often denies individual Christians' their choices, this must be mentioned. Christians are free to associate with other believers-- whoever they like, wherever they like, whenever they like.
The New Testament is loaded with examples of Christians who
and went at their pleasure, on their own initiative and choosing. There
is no evidence of "permission" necessary from any other person. For
example, Aquila moved from Rome to Corinth (Acts 18:1-2), then went to
with Paul (Acts 18:18). Later he is found in Rome again (Romans 16:3)
Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19). Apollos was asked
to Corinth from Ephesus, and clearly was free to
decide if and when he would make such a move (1 Corinthians 16:12). Even
Paul wanted to visit Rome simply because he ran out of places
in his immediate area and wanted to visit Rome (Romans 15:23).
A particularly noteworthy example of this is Barnabas returning to Cyprus, his native land (Acts 4:36). After many years of service in Jerusalem, Antioch, and the mission fields of Eastern Europe, he returned with his relative John Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).
Similarly, the apostle Paul returned to Tarsus for many years
his initial ministry in Damascus (Acts 9:30, 11:25).
In James 4:13, James makes reference to Christians who might plan to go to this or that city for business. James does not oppose the idea of traveling to another city for business. He takes issue with the boasting and leaving God's will out of the picture, a passage that gives all of us pause about planning for the future as though we know what it holds. Clearly, James has no problem with anybody making plans or traveling to another place for business purposes--provided it is the will of God and the people consider God in their choice.
Healing from Difficult or
Sometimes first-century Christians went to congregations where they were able to heal from hardships. For example, John Mark went on a mission journey and decided to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Later on we learn that John Mark was considered a "deserter" (Acts 15:38). The fact remains, he was still faithful in the Lord throughout all of this and that he decided to leave a mission trip on his own. While this may have cast questions upon his suitability for future work of that sort (Paul and Barnabas were divided on the matter, and clearly there was legitimate basis for each position), it had no effect on his faithfulness in the Lord. Later on in life, Paul had kind words for Mark (2 Timothy 4:11), as did Peter (1 Peter 5:13). The same apostles who abandoned Jesus in the Garden knew that sometimes, everybody needs a break or a second chance.
Paul also addressed this preference for appearance over
("a form of godliness but denying its power") and
commanded Timothy to not have anything to do with it (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Paul gave a similar command to the Ephesians to have nothing to do with
deeds of darkness, but rather to expose them (Ephesians 5:11). Paul
Titus to have nothing to do with divisive individuals who persist in
teachings or advancing foolish controversies after attempts to bring
a correction (Titus 3:9-10).
Even Paul himself chose to avoid an unhealthy situation in
to make "another painful visit" to Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4).
unhealthy situations develop, there should at least be attempts to
rectify these things. But sometimes the wiser and more appropriate move
is to step back
from painful and unhealthy circumstances, rather than feeling compelled
to insist that such situations be "resolved" immediately. Time
and space can bring about quite a bit of perspective and healing; they
can also minimize the amount of damage these situations cause.
Sometimes the person who sees the problem, or the person at the core of
the problem, isn't the one to "fix" it.
Certainly no leadership or church is flawless today. Our
show us that grace is a necessary component of any fellowship. Yet,
there are some instances where congregations or
leadership have such serious spiritual problems that leaving for a
healthier situation is indeed
authorized by the Scriptures.
The early church had some "sharp disagreements" of their own. In the conflict between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15, both brothers had legitimate positions on an issue and yet clearly the positions were mutually exclusive. It was not possible to remain "together" and show respect for each legitimate position. In this case, a parting was necessary and served to benefit all involved. Two mission teams went out instead of one; in the end more people were impacted as a result.
Christians often left areas as persecution scattered the church. The most prominent example of this is discussed in Acts 8:1. This appears to be in direct response to the command of Jesus: "But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes" (Matthew 10:23).
Is it possible for a Christian to be persecuted in his own
My Webster's dictionary defines persecute as: "1. to harass in a manner
designed to injure, grieve or afflict 2: to annoy with persistent or
urgent approaches (as attacks, pleas, or importunities): PESTER."
Sadly, yes-- Christians can be persecuted in their own congregations.
Paul certainly endured a good bit of this and discussed it in his
letters to the Corinthians. Fleeing or distancing one's self from such
persecution is a legitimate Scriptural option. (It is
astonishing that Christians persecute other Christians and then
criticize them for leaving.)
The sad history of the Christian church over the last 2000
shows numerous examples of Christians persecuting other Christians.
Often, it is the larger, more established church opposing remnants that
seek to bring change or revival to the church. Western Protestantism
itself is the result of such persecution. Yet, it is utterly
hypocritical that any
Protestant group, whose very existence has been created by separating
from another group and promoting revival, would then turn around and
persecute a group of its own seeking to do the very same thing. It is
the worst advertisement for Christianity in the world today.
"The Triumphal Procession"
One might consider that Christians often left places to go on "mission trips." This is part of the Great Commission and more or less goes without saying. Interestingly, when Christians leave a congregation for whatever reason, they basically embark on another "mission trip." The world is a big place, and every place is a place to do God's will.
Even in the examples cited throughout this article, there are many ways to look at these situations. For example, did Paul go to Antioch to be with a friend (Barnabas), or to help strengthen the ministry in Antioch? Did he go to deliberately prepare for future missionary journeys? Was he leaving a situation in Tarsus that had perhaps become unhealthy or stagnant? Or did God work through the situation so that his will might be accomplished in numerous ways? Only God knows the answer for certain. But no wonder Paul could later say, "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him (2 Corinthians 2:14)."
A Double Standard Between
Often, congregations relocate ministers to congregations in other cities for many of the reasons I've discussed here, to provide a "new start" or a sense of healing after difficult circumstances. Yet, this is not a practical solution for most members-- especially those with families and secular jobs. Someone in a large metropolitan area shouldn't have to leave town in order to "move" to a healthier situation. It is a double-standard to allow leaders to move for many of these reasons discussed in this article (and to even pay them to do it!), but to deny members that same benefit, freedom and opportunity.
We have seen numerous Scriptural reasons why Christians moved
one congregation to another in the
first century church. Certainly there should be no more questioning
whether there are ever Scriptural reasons to leave a congregation and
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