Key Features of the Missionary Church in Antioch

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In Acts 11:19–21, we are introduced to the church of Antioch, planted by those unnamed disciples from Cyprus and Cyrene. Let’s explore some of the features of the church in Antioch which make it a model for the rest of us to emulate.

Antioch is a church that exercises spiritual gifts.

In Acts 13, the church has matured and they are exercising spiritual gifts. In this passage, we meet prophets, pastors, and teachers in this church. If you look at the four lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament found in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and the two lists found in Ephesians, we see that only one gift is found on all four lists: the gift of prophecy. Right in the book of Acts we see that this young church already has prophets present. Now in the Scriptures a prophet is not limited to those who foretell the future. That, of course, does happen. But more often, a prophet is someone who forth-tells—which means someone is gifted to explain or proclaim God’s Word, and give guidance and direction for the church. In other words, prophets are crucial to knowing God’s will. The gift of prophecy is one of God’s provisions designed to help the church understand and know his will.

Antioch is a church with diversity.

The second thing we notice about the church in Antioch is that it is very diverse. There are three kinds of diversities in this church that I want to highlight. First of all, we have ethnic diversity represented by Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, who grew up in Herod’s household. By examining the names and the few clues in the opening verses, we know that this group includes Jews and Gentiles in leadership, with diversity in economics and education. We also see geographic and cultural diversity. Not one of the leaders mentioned in Acts 13 is even from the same country. None of them are from Antioch. In fact, they are from five different countries that include Cyrene, Cyprus, North Africa, Turkey, and Jerusalem. This provides a glimpse of the global vision of the church.

Antioch is a Spirit-directed church.

Third, the church of Antioch is a Spirit-directed church. While they are worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit gives guidance to the church gathered together. Now we often think about discerning God’s will as a personal struggle. Here, we see the Spirit of God speaking corporately to the church with a prophetic gift. The Holy Spirit instructs the church to set apart Saul and Barnabas for the work to which God was calling them.

Think about how challenging this must have been for the church at Antioch. They are the fastest-growing church in the world, and by the close of the second century, the Christians in this region will number a quarter of a million believers, making it the one of the leading hubs in the growing Christian movement. Antioch is also important because it was here that the first Gentiles who had no prior connection to Judaism as proselytes or God-fearers had come to faith in Jesus Christ. Antioch also had a kind of “dream team” pastoral staff. Their lead pastors were the apostle Paul, the greatest theologian the church has ever known, and Barnabus, who had such strong pastoral skills that he was known as “the son of encouragement.”

Yet, one night at their prayer meeting, the Holy Spirit speaks and says, “Send out Saul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them to.” They were being led to send both of their pastors out to plant new churches. That had to have been challenging for them. But, we are discovering that the nature of the church is always to be pressing out to new places and among new peoples as we plant the church afresh in every community.

Did you enjoy this entry? It is part of a book by Timothy Tennent titled, The Spirit-Filled Life. In its pages, Tennent studies acts of the Spirit in the Old and New Testament, historic conversion stories, as well as modern examples from around the world, exploring the three great channels through which the Holy Spirit works in our lives:

  • power for global witness
  • holiness for sanctified purity
  • discernment for faithful living

Are you ready to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Pentecost wasn’t just a one-time event but is an ongoing process—the knot that ties the church to its holy, empowered mission in the world.

Are you looking for the fire of God to fall upon your life? Be ready. You, too, can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and it will change your life and the life of your church forever.

Get it from our store here.

[WATCH] What Happened at Pentecost Must Always Happen in the Church by Steve Seamands; [WATCH] The Meaning of Acts 2 and Pentecost by Craig Keener; [WATCH] John Wesley and Spirit Baptism by Laurence Wood.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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