Today we read about Paul sent out on his first journey to evangelize the known world. Paul is in Antioch at a Church there. The Holy Spirit appears to their leadership and gives Paul and Barnabas the mission to begin evangelizing the far reaches of the world. (Note, this is when Saul starts being referred to a Paul, which is the gentile version of his name).
Notice what the Church does before sending Paul out:
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
We have seen the laying on of hands before. First when Peter and the Apostles commissioned the deacons or official helpers. And next when Peter confirmed the new converts in Samaria. Remember the text says that in laying on his hands Peter conferred the Holy Spirit on the new converts. Consider that in the context here. All the leaders of the Church in Antioch were praying together. They all heard the Holy Spirit say to set Paul and Barnabas apart. Clearly this mission is already blessed by the Holy Spirit. Why did they have to lay hands on Paul and Barnabas before they set off?
It has to be more than that they were just praying for them and the success of their mission. They could have done that without the laying on of hands. Every time we see the laying on of hands it comes with a conveying of office or authority. Peter did it to give authority and office to the deacons. When the converts of Samaria receive the laying on of hands they directly receive the Holy Spirit again and they become part of the priesthood of all believers. I remember that when I received the laying on of hand the bishop told us that it was now our mission to spread the Gospel. As we have seen, in the Old Testament the laying on of hands confers the Levitical priesthood.
So even though Paul and Barnabas are directly commissioned by the Holy Spirit for this journey of evangelization they still receive the laying on of hands from the Church at Antioch. This is because, as Paul will later teach, the Church IS the body of Christ in the world, the fullness of Him who is all in all. It is reflected at Paul’s conversion when Jesus says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME”. The Church and the Lord are so closely related that Paul and Barnabas CANNOT go on this mission UNLESS they have the blessing of the Church.
This goes back to what we read yesterday in the Old Testament when Aaron and Miriam that that they too spoke for the Holy Spirit. God may it very clear that despite their subjective feelings that only Moses spoke for Him. The same thing is happening here. The Church CONFIRMS the work of the Holy Spirit. This double check protects the Gospel from corruption. It insures that the plan of God unfolds as He wills it. It shows the cooperation and unity of the Triune God. The Father wills it, the Holy Spirit conveys that will, the Church which is the Body of Christ in the World, enacts it.