Success in any endeavor attracts our admiration.  One highly regarded book among those pursuing excellence and success is Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Steven Covey.  In 1998 George Barna released a book entitled Habits of Highly Successful Churches. It also deserves wide reading by those who pursue excellence and success in church ministry.

In the Scriptural record of the Apostolic church age there is one church that stands out as a pattern of a highly successful church­­­---the church of Antioch.

“Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.  But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenist, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.  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.  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.  For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul.  And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.  So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”  Acts 11:19-26

 The Church in Jerusalem was the mother church of all other churches.
This was the church of the apostles, taught and commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ.  It had in its membership the first believers to be baptized into the spiritual body of Christ.  It was the church looked to for many years by all other churches for guidance in difficult problems of belief and practice. 

The church founded at Antioch, however, had some special qualities that earned it a place of highest honor among all the churches of history.  We speak of the church of Antioch in Syria. 

Antioch Was An Important City
When the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great was divided into four parts, the area of Syria was assigned to Selucas Nicanor.  He built the city of Antioch on the Orontes River ten miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea.  He made it the capital of Syria, and it became a great commercial city of some 500,000 people.  It became the 3rd largest city of the Roman Empire behind Rome and Alexandria, Egypt. 

The Church at Antioch Became The First Integrated Church 

The church at Jerusalem did not integrate (accept Gentile believers), and after many years had only Jews in its membership. It is true that Philip had gone to Samaria and preached the gospel resulting in many Samaritans placing faith in Jesus as Savior.  (Acts 8)  We must remember that the Samaritans were half Jews. Their ancestors had intermarried with the gentiles (non Jews) who had been imported by the nation of Assyria.  Philip witnessed to the Ethiopian eunuch, but that eunuch went back to Ethiopia after his conversion.  Peter went to the house of Cornelius at Caesarea.  That family became believer, but not members of the church of Jerusalem. 

The Jewish Christians who came to Antioch were fleeing from great persecution in Jerusalem.  Among them were “men of Cyprus and Cyrene”.  Cyprus was an island in the Mediterranean Sea and Cyrene was a province of northern Egypt.  Most Jews living in these places had come to accept the gentiles of the Greek culture.  These Jewish believers preached the gospel to the gentiles as well as the Jews.  “The hand of the Lord was with them”,---meaning that they enjoyed the evident favor of God as they shared the gospel of Christ with these gentiles.  We can only imagine what it was like for believers who were personally knowledgeable of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to share that message with gentiles who had never even heard of Christ.  We probably cannot imagine the joy that these gentiles experienced when they realized that this sacrifice of Jesus Christ made possible their salvation from the curse of sin.   “. . .And a great number believed and turned to the Lord.”  Verse 21.   

Although we are not told in specific words, we can assume that these new believers publicly confessed their faith in Christ and were baptized as Jesus commanded in His “Great Commission”.  We do note that they were referred to collectively as “the church” in verse26.  Believers were only added to the church membership after public confession of faith and believer’s baptism. (Acts 2:41). 

The Antioch Church Experienced Significant Growth Without Ordained Ministers. 
We are told that this large number of believers came as ”news” to the church in Jerusalem.  Without an apostle, prophet, evangelist, or pastor-teacher, a church had been raised up in a predominately gentile city. 

Barnabas Chosen To Minister To the Believers at Antioch. 
The leaders of the church in Jerusalem knew that these new believers would be facing distractions, temptations, and pressures to turn away from their faith in Jesus Christ.  They chose Barnabas, “the encourager” to go and minister to them.  Barnabas turned out to be an excellent choice.   

When Barnabas came he saw the grace of God at work in the lives of these formerly pagan gentiles.  The people of Antioch were known throughout the Roman world for their sensual, carnal, and immoral lifestyles. Barnabas saw people whose lives had been dramatically changed.  They had not only received Jesus Christ as Savior, but it was also evident that God had done a miraculous work in their hearts.  They had renounced the drunken and raucous revelry of their former lives and were now living godly and wholesome lives that pleased God and bore powerful testimony to their families and associates.   

The message of Barnabas was an infusion of spiritual strength that added to their invigoration.  He encouraged them to “purpose in their heart that they cling tight to the Lord Jesus”.  The kind of person Barnabas was gave validation to what he spoke with his lips.  The Scripture tells us, “…He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” (vs 24)These qualities of Barnabas continue to serve as an example to all in church leadership. 

Barnabas Enlisted the Teaching Ministry of Saul
Barnabas knew that even though he was gifted to motivate and encourage that the believers needed to grow in knowledge and understanding.  This was a gift that he did not have, but he knew someone who did.  That someone was Saul of Tarsus who had returned to the region of his boyhood where the effect of his ministry continued to reach the ears of the Jerusalem church.  (Galatians 1:21-24). 

For a full year Barnabas, the encourager, and Saul, the teacher, ministered to the church at Antioch.  During this year the church was referred to as “a multitude”. 

Believers Were First Called Christians in Antioch
The language indicates that they were not the ones who began calling themselves Christians but those who were unbelievers began to refer to them as “Christians”.Previous to Antioch, believers were referred to as

“the brethren” (Acts 1:16; 6:3),
“the church” (Acts 2:47; 5:11; 8:1,3; 11:22),
“the multitude” or “congregation” (Acts 4:32; 6:5);
“believers in the Lord” (Acts 5:14, and
“this way” (Acts 9:2). 

Antioch was the place believers first began to be called “Christians”. 

Some have thought that unbelievers called believers Christians as a name of reproach.  This has certainly been true down through the centuries.  But what has been a name of reproach to some has been a name of honor to true believers.  Informed believers know that “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (Philippians 2:9-11). 

Others believe that “Christian” was simply coined to designate those people who are followers of Christ.  In the Greek language the word “Christian” is “Christianos”.  The suffix “Ianos” added to a proper name designated “followers of or partisans of”.  It was given to religious sects, political parties, etc.  We note that the first preaching the believers in Antioch ever heard was about “the LORD Jesus”.  (11:20)  Those “who believed turned to the LORD”  (ll:21).  Barnabas reinforced this when he exhorted them to remain true to the LORD.  (11:23).  We can assume with much confidence that the conversations of these new believers were filled with references to “the LORD Jesus Christ.”  It would have been the natural things for unsaved observers to refer to them as “Christianos”,---followers or partisans of Christ”.  The cause of Christ would be sell served if unsaved observers received the same impression of believers in our day. 

The Church At Antioch Was The First To Send Missionaries To The Gentile World.
Acts, chapter 12 is an interlude that catches us up on what is happening at the Jerusalem church.  When the story resumes Barnabas and Saul (Paul) are praying with some prophets in the church at Antioch and ministering to the Lord.  “The Holy Spirit spoke through one of those prophets and said, “…Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  (Acts 13:2).  We then see the church fasting, praying, and laying hands on Barnabas and Saul and sending them forth to the Gentile world. We are also informed in verse 4 that they were sent forth by the Holy Spirit.  This reveals the intimate harmony that existed between the believers of the church in Antioch and the Holy Spirit of God.  Believers should aspire to have this intimate relationship with the  Holy Spirit 

The entire last half of the book of Acts is the story of the missionary ministry of the Apostle Paul.  His name was changed to Paul at Cyprus, the first stop on their first missionary journey.  This mission journey took Paul and Barnabas up into Asia Minor which is the land of Turkey today.  The 2nd mission journey took them through Asia and over into Macedonia which is Eastern Europe.  After these mission journeys Paul returned to the church at Antioch to give his report.  The 3rd mission journey was primarily an expansion of the gospel outreach established in the first two journeys. 

The gospel ultimately made its way throughout Europe and into Britain, the islands of the Atlantic and Pacific and on to the Americas.   

Each of us who have become a believer owe a certain amount of debt to the church at Antioch and all who were faithful in proclaiming the gospel in many places down through the centuries.  There is a sense in which there is a river of blood that brought the gospel to us.  We can only repay that debt by personally sharing the message of Christ to others.  We can also repay that debt by sending others where we cannot go with our prayers and financial support. 

Down through the years I have known of several churches with “Antioch” in its name.  I felt that I would have been pleased to have been a pastor of one of these churches.  Though a church with the name Antioch would be taken as a challenge by Satan and his hosts of demons to see if they are worthy of that noble name, I would count it the highest honor to serve in the most lowly areas of that church.  It is my prayer and vision that churches of today will follow the pattern of the church of Antioch.  May believers today be so Christ-like in their behavior that they will be called “Christians” by others, and that we will have a vision to win our friends and family to Christ.  And should the Lord tarry His coming may future generations look back and admire the churches of this generation.

Copyright © 2005 Thomas E Berry
Scripture quotations from NKJV unless otherwise noted

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