Recently, our pastor stated, “Antioch was a great church. I wish our church could be like the church in Antioch.” Of course, he meant the church in Antioch of Syria. (The other one was in Antioch of Pisidia.) His statement caused me to ask myself: What made Antioch such a good church?
Clearly, Luke considered the church in Antioch quite important. The first seven chapters of Acts focus on the Jerusalem church, but the following chapters emphasize the ministry of the Antioch church. Antioch became a great church for several reasons.
1. First, it was a multicultural church. Acts 11:19-23 tells how the church began:
19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. (NKJV)
As far as we know, Antioch was the first church that included both Jewish and Gentile members. We see this later in other churches, like the one in Rome, but Antioch was the first.
2. Second, its members followed the Lord. The believers in Antioch sought to follow the Lord Jesus closely. They must have succeeded in this. Acts 11:26 reads, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (NKJV). Bible commentators tell us that the citizens of Antioch meant “Christian” as a slur, but the believers considered it a praise rather than a criticism.
3. Third, it had great leadership. Acts 13:1-3 lists the leaders of the church. Among the leaders were Saul and Barnabas. Any church would be blessed to have two leaders like them. Beyond that, the leaders sought the Lord’s guidance for their church. Acts 13 describes how the leaders gathered for a prayer meeting. During this time of worship, God called Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to serve as missionaries.
4. Fourth, it engaged in foreign missions. As Acts 13 indicates that when the Holy Spirit called Barnabas and Saul to serve as missionaries, the church quickly commissioned them and sent them on the first missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after their missionary journey to report to the church (Acts 14:26-28). The church sent Paul and Silas on Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 15:40).
5. Fifth, it was a teachable church. Acts 15 explains how some men from Jerusalem troubled the believers in Antioch:
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question (Acts 15:1-2, NKJV).
After considerable debate, the council in Jerusalem rendered a judgment about the requirements for Gentile believers. Acts 15:30-31 narrates how the Antioch church received the judgment:
30 So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. (NKJV)
So, the Christians in Antioch accepted the teaching of the elders in Jerusalem with rejoicing. This shows their teachable attitude.
I agree with my pastor. I wish our church could become more like the church in Antioch: accepting of all persons, led by spiritual men, committed to missions, and receptive to teaching.