In the last post we looked at the first church we know anything about in the Bible – the church in the city of Antioch. We looked at the importance of the fact that this was the first place where people came together across ethnic, tribal, and cultural lines. It was the first place where those who followed Jesus were called Christians. It was the church that every other church in the New Testament patterned itself after.
When I line those all up next to each other, it causes me to make a couple of really important observations:
First, isn’t it interesting that reconciliation was the first and clearest sign that the energy of Heaven had been unleashed in the city of Antioch?
To ensure that the authenticity of the ministry of reconciliation at the church of Antioch was not missed, Luke gives a detailed description of the leadership team of this church. We do not have an account like this for any other church in the Bible so it is important for a variety of reasons:
“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers:Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.” (Acts 13.1)
First we have Barnabas, who was from Cyprus (Asia). Next is Simeon called Niger. This is both the Greek and Latin word for black, meaning he was from somewhere in Africa. Next is Lucius of Cyrene, a brown man from the North Coast of Africa. Fourth is Manaen, who interestingly came from the backroom power politics of Rome. And last is Saul, a European trained Jew. The first city church we know anything about had 5 pastors from 3 continents on the pastoral leadership team.
One of the tragic omissions of the Christian church today (particularly within the Evangelical swath, of which I am part) is the ministry of reconciliation. I believe there should be a lot of grace and liberty how each group of Jesus followers plays this ministry out in their context, but to not have it central to your theology and expression is Biblically criminal (in my humble opinion of course).
This was where Paul was trained as a leader, and he took this ministry to every church he planted after Antioch. He would communicate this message in a variety of ways, but reconciliation was always at the center. Consider a few examples:
- To the church in Ephesus he said: “The blood of Christ breaks down the dividing wall of hostility. Jesus is creating one new humanity, making peace, reconciling all people to himself and to each other through the Cross.”
- To the church in Colossi he said: “Jesus is the invisible image of God and is the ruler over everything on earth and in Heaven. Jesus is working to reconcile all things to himself on earth and in heaven through his shed blood on the cross.”
- To the church in Galatia he said: “Through Jesus we are all reconciled to God through faith, so therefore there is now no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male nor female. We are one with God now.”
- To the church in Corinth he said: “The love of Christ compels us to pursue reconciliation. God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and we have now been called to carry that message of reconciliation to the world. We are ambassadors of reconciliation.”
The second observation is linked to the first. Reconciliation was not just the first sign of the energy of Heaven being set loose. Reconciliation was also the environment that God chose to develop some of the finest leaders in the New Testament.
The Church in Antioch is where some of the best, thoughtful, and most powerful global leaders were formed. Some of them stayed in Antioch and helped transform that city and strengthen the church there. Some were called by God to leave Antioch and influence cities across the Roman empire (and eventually across the world).
I find this quite interesting, because on one hand there is no environment more draining and chaotic than an atmosphere that has a focus on reconciliation. It can be exhausting, embarrassing, confusing, disorienting, and chaotic.
Yet it was this kind of a chaotic, difficult, stretching environment that God used to develop the premier leaders of the NT. What does that tell us? What does that remind us?
Have you ever heard one of those stories where a mom hears her child cry out in need and somehow summons the strength to move a car to rescue him? How did she do that? The situation brought something out of her that she did not know she had.
If you want to become a person of great influence in this generation, I would commend you to be diligent to the ministry of reconciliation. Never tire of learning what it means to be reconciled to God, and grow in intimacy and vitality in your relationship with God. Never tire of the ministry of reconciliation, which has been commissioned to us by the ultimate Reconciler – Jesus Christ.
Not only will you be doing the will of God, but you will be submitting to a leadership development process that is as precise and impactful as anything you will find.