Monday, April 15, 2019

Strong Church/Antioch

Strong Church/Weak Church 4

          We move on now to the second church in our series examining what we can learn from local churches in the Bible. Today we will be discussing the strengths of the church at Antioch.
          The ruins of Antioch sit about 300 miles north of Jerusalem, sixteen miles inland
The theater at Antioch
from the Mediterranean Sea, in modern day Turkey. No city other than Jerusalem is more closely connected with the history of the Early Church. One of the first seven deacons was from Antioch (Acts 6.5). Some of the Christians who left Jerusalem during persecution traveled to Antioch and preached there (Acts 11.19). Barnabas and Saul (Paul) were sent from this church to Jerusalem with charity as a result (Acts 11.30). Early false teachers went from Jerusalem to Antioch asserting that you had to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15.1). It was at Antioch that Paul confronted Peter publicly for being hypocritical in the matter of eating with the Gentiles (Galatians 1.11-12). Antioch was the first majority Gentile church (Acts 11.20-21). It was here the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11.26), and here Paul preached his first sermon (Acts 11.26). In fact, both of Paul’s first and second missionary journeys began and ended in this church, and his third missionary church launched from here before ending in his imprisonment in Rome.
          Antioch’s culture was heavily influenced by Greece, being founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals in 300 BC. By the time of the book of Acts, it had grown to be a very prosperous city. Situated along a deep river slightly inland of the Mediterranean, trade flourished. Nestled beneath the mountains and partly on the shore and partly on an island, it was by this time a typical Roman city – aqueducts, fountains, columns, baths, excellent roads, etc. It was probably the third most important Roman city in Paul’s lifetime ranking just behind Rome and Alexandria. It contained approximately 500,000 people. Chrysostom, one of the Early Church fathers, died there in AD 407. His testimony was that in his day Antioch contained about 100,000 Christians. The geographical location, however, was prone to earthquakes and prey to raiders with the dissolution of the Roman Empire. It gradually declined through the early Dark Ages. By the high Middle Ages, the river had so filled with silt, ships could no longer navigate it. It thus declined even further. The early Crusades wreaked additional havoc on it with a nine-month siege. Today, it exists as an archaeological ruin.
          As I traced the story through the Word of God I found six specific strengths. The first, and most obvious one that jumps out at you, is that they were a Christ-like group of peopleAnd the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch (Acts 11.26).
In the original language Christian is Χριστιανός (Christianos), a follower of Christ. Notice here they did not call themselves followers of Christ; this was not a self-appointed complimentary appellation. It was foisted upon them by outsiders. There is only one reason for such a thing, namely, they had visibly and genuinely patterned themselves after their God.
I have noticed over the years that my enemies, few that they are, have little care for my hurt feelings, and even less worry that they might damage our relationship. Because of that, I have discovered that unless they are out and out-lying, their characterizations of me often have a brutal truth to them. They do not hold back to spare me. In so doing, they do me a marvelous good turn. They tell me the truth about myself. In this instance, the unvarnished truth was that this church was full of people who were rather similar to Jesus. What a wonderful compliment they thus accidentally engendered.
Harriet Myers
In October of 2005, President George W. Bush nominated his White House counsel, a lady named Harriet Myers, to replace Sandra Day O’Conner on the Supreme Court. She ended up withdrawing herself from nomination after bipartisan opposition, but in the course of the discussion I read a write-up on her in some magazine or other. In that write-up, the journalist was reporting on his interviews with her associates, including some of her coworkers in a Texas law firm. Reportedly, Harriet Myers was a born again Christian and the journalist wanted to explore how such a radical creature was received by her coworkers. I will never forget their response. To a man, they denied knowing she was a Christian at all. In other words, Harriet Myers coworkers of nearly two decades standing had no idea she was a follower of Christ. May I be so bold as to say that she was not, then? The people that surround us should have no hesitation in labeling us Christ followers. It should flow from our dress, our speech, our choices, and our priorities. It should seep from our very pores. We are to be followers of Jesus. Antioch was, to their everlasting credit.
The second strength I see is that the church at Antioch was ethnically diverse. Now 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, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul (Acts 13.1). Simeon was a black man from Africa. Lucius was a Greek from Libya. In addition, they had the normal compliment of Jews and numerous other species of Gentiles.
We saw this as a weakness in the Jerusalem church. Here, it has become a strength. And it should be a strength. God loves the entire world. If our Christianity is to truly reflect Him, we too, will love the entire world. Beloved, a prejudiced, segregated Christianity is a high-jacked Christianity unworthy of the name it bears.
The third strength I see in Antioch was that they were a missions minded church.

Acts 13:1–4
1 Now 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, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
2 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.
3 And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.  

          The early missions’ movement was not started in Jerusalem. That church wanted to stay put, and had to be hassled out via persecution before it would send out laborers. No, the idea of launching out and planting churches was birthed in Antioch, not Jerusalem. As I mentioned above, all three of Paul’s missionary journeys started there, and the first two ended there.
          Earlier in Acts we find this wondrous passage: But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Loosely defined, that is city, region, region close by everyone avoided, and world. A church that is only reaching its own area is an unscriptural church. A church that is neglecting the uncomfortable neighborhoods around it is an unscriptural church. A church that only gives to missions but does practically zero local evangelism is an unscriptural church. All of these are required. And we find all of these wondrously in Antioch.
          Fourth, we notice that they were a giving church.

Acts 11:27–30
27 And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
28 And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
29 Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:
30 Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
          When they heard of the need, they gave to meet it. This is the pattern already established by the Jerusalem church, giving what you have to meet others’ needs. The typical church does not have the capability to entirely meet every financial need that comes across its path, but it can certainly be a part of the solution. At our church we routinely give to the saints’ needs via a benevolence fund, the occasional disaster relief offering, a yearly hunger offering for those less fortunate, offerings to support pregnancy centers and adoption agencies, and a Future Fund to provide capital improvements for the needs of the next generation. Giving is not a spiritual gift but it is a spiritual grace, and one every Christian, and thus every church should be growing in.
          Fifth, the Antioch church loved preaching.
          They were birthed in preaching.

Acts 11:19–20
19 Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
20 And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.

          They welcomed preaching and teaching.

Acts 11:26
26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

          Their assembly included numerous preachers.

Acts 13:1
1 Now 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, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

          They heard numerous preachers.

Acts 15:35
35 Paul also and Barnabas continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

          All other things being equal, the stronger a church is the greater the appetite it will have for preaching. It will schedule more services rather than less, and they will be better attended than a weaker church. In those services, there will be a great emphasis placed on preaching, and they will often run longer compared to the length of the services in the average church. Guest preachers will constantly be brought in. Extra services will be scheduled now and again. Most importantly, the people will be able to handle hard preaching with the gracious humility of self-examination. In short, the strong Christian views preaching like a delicious meal – he wants as much of it as often and in as large of portions as he can get it.
          Lastly, we notice this: they were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. 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 (Acts 13.2).
          God leads each church like He leads each person – individually. That individual leading is always kept within the bounds of Scripture, but it is still individual. Your church is different than mine, and rightly so. Your ministries reflect a different emphasis. Your budget is allocated according to differing priorities. Your worker training program looks different. Your vision for the future is different. God has some things He desires every church to do and to be but there are also some things that He desires for each individual church uniquely. As a church, learning to develop a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit in such matters is a true strength.
          Without a doubt, Antioch was a strong church, but it was not a perfect church. It did not have many weaknesses, but it did have at least one that I can find. We will look at it next week. See you then.


  1. I am enjoying this series greatly. Your Future Fund has peaked my interest. would you mind sharing exactly what that is and how you use it? Thanks for your investment in others.

    1. Sure. Basically, we are nearing max capacity in our current building. We are not sure whether the next steps involve starting another church, building a building, or purchasing a building. In any event, we will need a healthy chunk of change for what comes next so we are beginning the process of raising it. It isn't general fund money; it is set aside for this transition, whatever that transition will be and whenever it will come.

  2. I am curious about your statement that giving is not a spiritual gift. The gift of helps mentioned in 1 Cor. 12:28 is related to giving aid generally and the Greek word is specifically related to giving "to support the weak" as mentioned in Acts 20:35: "I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive."

    I believe giving is a spiritual gift *and* a spiritual grace. All are commanded to give, but some excel at it because it is their gift. Thoughts?

    1. I've never seen that connection of 'helps' before. I have not done an in-depth study of spiritual gifts, to be honest with you. My primary point is a pushback against the idea that something that is in fact commanded for all of us in only the responsibility of a specially favored few. Obviously, you agree with that in calling giving both a gift and a grace. And I'm ok with that.

      I do probably need to study spiritual gifts, but I've run into more than a few people who have taken such a study into the weeds that I have basically avoided looking at it too closely. Perhaps that is an error on my part.