Saturday, May 23, 2020

Acts 13 and the Start of the Missionary Era

No matter how a person chooses to outline Acts, chapter 13 must begin a new section. It describes a third stage in the expansion of the Gospel and the beginning of what is rightly called “the missionary era.” Significantly, it begins with a church, the church of Antioch.

What kind of a church was it?

1. It was an established church. It had come into being some years before and had been authenticated by a delegation from the mother church in Jerusalem, as described in Acts 11. It was doing well. A church that is floundering is inadequate even for its own needs, and it certainly is not alert to the needs of others. Such a church is not likely to be of use in world missions.

2. It had been well-taught. Chapter 13 begins: “In the church of Antioch there were prophets and teachers.” The words are plural in each case—more than one prophet and more than one teacher—then there is a colon, and the text lists five names: “Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch), and Saul.”

3. It was an integrated church. The Christians in Antioch probably did not use the word integrated, but that is what they were, though in a far richer sense than we normally use the word today. When we talk about integration we usually think of an integration of black and white persons. That had occurred at Antioch, but the integration there was more than that. It also involved various levels of society and diverse nationalities. The five names we are given tell an enormous amount about this church.

Barnabas was a Levite, that is, a Jewish priest. He came from Cyprus, so he was a Jew of the Diaspora. He was in touch with Greek culture, perhaps even sympathetic to it. 

Niger means “black.” So Simeon called Niger was most probably a Negro.

There was Lucius of Cyrene. Acts 11:20 says that it was men from Cyprus and Cyrene who first went to Antioch and began to teach the Greeks.

Since Lucius was from Cyrene and appears here only a short time later, we can assume that he was one of those who went to Antioch to found the church. In other words, he was a missionary. Lucius is also a Latin name, so he was probably a Roman or at least a person brought up in a Roman culture.

Manaen is a Greek form of a Hebrew name, so this man was probably a Hellenistic Jew. The significant thing about him is that he had been raised with Herod the tetrarch. He was what we might call a prince—a man of high station who knew the ruling dynasty personally. He was important, but here he was associating with the other “normal” Christians in the church.

The last teacher mentioned is Saul, a former Pharisee who had been an enemy of the church, but who turned from persecution to build up the faith he had once tried to destroy.

Because this church was established, well-taught and integrated—thus demonstrating in the diversity of its membership the full unity of all people within the body of Christ—it was well-equipped to go into the pagan world with Christ’s Gospel. It was a powerful force in the missionary enterprise.

4. It had a multiple ministry. The early churches all had multiple ministries, and this was no exception. When Paul went to a place, he always took someone with him. And when he and his coworker or coworkers left the new church behind, they appointed a plurality of leaders in it. We have fallen away from that in our time, through a pattern of organization in which churches usually are in the hands of just one minister. Therefore, people think the minister should do all the work, and the churches are weaker as a result. Churches should have multiple ministries. At the very least, they should use the gifts of all the church members.

5. It was a worshipping and praying church. We see this in verse 2, where we are told while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them about sending Barnabas and Saul to establish churches elsewhere. Sometimes churches forget that power in ministry comes from God, and they lose contact with Him. That was not the case with this church. It knew that its vitality came from God and therefore they did not abandon their worship of Him.

If we try to serve God in our own strength, nothing will happen. Our efforts will be as fruitless as Peter’s efforts at Pentecost would have been if the Holy Spirit had not come upon him. Peter would have stood before those who had been instrumental in crucifying his Master, would have condemned their sin and called them to repentance, and not one would have repented. As a matter of fact, they would very likely have done to Peter what they did to Jesus earlier. When the Holy Spirit blessed Peter’s speaking, 3,000 people believed. At Antioch the Christians sought the will of God, the Holy Spirit led, Paul and Barnabas were set apart, and God eventually blessed their mission. We would have more such blessing today if our churches were more like the church at Antioch.