The beginning and growth of the church in the New Testament is somewhat staggering. From such humble and seemingly ill-equipped beginnings it rapidly flourished and went on to impact the whole known world. Not far into it’s history it arrived at Antioch. Now from a human point of view the church at Antioch was an unintended church plant that came about as a result of the persecution that took place in Jerusalem, yet it became responsible for one of the greatest gospel expansions as the church moved into Europe.
Three notable things about the church in Acts:
The church was not institutional, it was organic.
The church was not static, but full of movement.
The church was not built on human wisdom and power, but on the wisdom and power of God.
A Problem Today
Today churches are frequently built around a person, a style or teaching, e.g. a charismatic personality, particular style of worship, evangelism, teaching, prophetic, healing, deliverance, spiritual warfare etc.. The problem with this is that it narrows down God’s purpose for the church and ultimately means it will only suit some people. It can also lead to a settling down, as people go to churches that give them what they want and suits their personalities and tastes rather than what they need.
10 things we can learn from the church at Antioch – 11:19-30; 13:1-4.
1. They were unexpected pioneers, thrust out by God. Not that they wanted to be! They had no choice, no time to pray, no time to weigh the options. They were thrust out by God who had a far greater purpose, and to fulfill it required them being moved out of their comfort zones (11:19 – 20).
2. They were not ashamed of the Gospel (11:19 – 21). They knew what Christ had done for them, and they had a passion to preach Jesus Christ wherever they could.
3. They were a grace impacted community – they lived in and out of the grace of God (11:22). Strong says it is, “the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflections in the life.” This wasn’t easy believism – what’s been termed cheap grace. It wasn’t simply a grace received, but a grace that empowers. A grace that not only saved but enabled them to live transformed lives.
4. They were willing to receive from others – Though they had pioneered the church (and it was doing very well), they hadn’t got it all and they were willing to receive input from outside (11:22 – 27). In the New Testament there was no such thing as an independent church, at the same time there was no such thing as the denominations we have today. Ministry wasn’t just located in the local body, however good that may be, but in the wider body and was looked for and welcomed – The One who had said he would build his church had given apostles, prophets,evangelists, pastors and teachers.
5. They were willing to be taught and trained – disciples (11:25b). A disciple is a willing learner, someone who chooses to follow a teacher and learn of them. They were taught for a whole year. “They continued in the apostles doctrine.” Teaching therefore played a major part.
6. They were open to the prophetic ministry (11:27). Not only did you find ‘the Word’ at Antioch, but the powerful activity of the Spirit. This kind of prophetic ministry brings ‘the now’ word of God. It cuts through. It opens up. It brings clarity. It calls to action.
7. They were concerned about the needs of the wider body of Christ (11:27-30). There was a famine predicted. Most didn’t know anyone in Judea, but they recognise them as part of the same body of Christ, and seek to help meet their needs.
8. They were led by prophets and teachers (13:1). This was no one-man ministry, or just expository, it was a balanced or broad ministry. Many churches only have one style of ministry. It’s possible for people to grow fat on the Word, but when there are prophets around that stops that happening. It keeps God’s purpose right up front.
9. They knew how to minister to the Lord and pray/fast (13:2). This is important and shouldn’t be glossed over. Much is said today about ‘worship’ the word that’s used here in some translations, but how many know how to truly minister to the Lord? And what about the place of fasting?
10. They were ready to hear God’s voice (13:2-5). Because they knew how to minister to the Lord they were ready to hear and respond to his voice, and when they heard they responded.