Thursday, March 13, 2014

THE CHURCH AT ITS BEST - THE FIRST GREAT COMMISSION CHURCH


Church at Antioch as described in Acts 11:19-29 and 13:1-3, was at that time, a church at its best during the initial years after Christ’s resurrection! It was truly a great Commission church! 

The church started on Pentecost after the Holy Spirit moved greatly at Peter’s sermon. Three thousands were converted on that day at Jerusalem (Acts 2). It comprised of all Jewish believers. They were fulfilling what Jesus said by going to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Since the Christians were all Jewish converts, there were two problems - one external and the other, internal. The external problem was that the believers were looked upon as traitors to Moses’ Laws. This gave the religious authority the reason for persecuting the disciples of Christ. They were sure the Romans would side them as the majority to win over their favours. Meanwhile the internal problem had to deal with cliques of  all things Jewish. This would eventually lead to inwardness of the Church at Jerusalem, thus curtailing the expansion of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Then came the stoning of Stephen to death and igniting widespread persecution on the believers. This led to the migration of believers to other cities across the region except the apostles and some leaders who stayed at Jerusalem. Some Jewish believers went to Antioch, the first city outside of Israel! These did not go there only to escape imprisonment and torture but they shared the Gospel! Thus, the first Great Commission Church - began. The first multi-racial, multi-cultural church. 

There are few ingredients that make the Antioch church the first Great Commission church and leave a benchmark for any church today.

1. It was a witnessing Church  (Acts 11:19-21).

The church was started not by a famous preacher or a great church strategist. There were no big names like Paul, Peter or Barnabas in its initial months. It all began when some unnamed and unsung believers believed in the call of the Great Commission. They were persecuted yet they did not give up! They were not ashamed of the gospel for they believed it was the power of God unto salvation! They shared not only to the own native race, but also to the Gentiles. Their passion rested upon Jesus’ very words, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

If we are not witnessing to the lost and not winning them to Christ, then the church loses its purpose of existence. Church becomes a club and Christianity becomes a religion with 'dos' and 'donts'!

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news...(Isaiah 52:7). This prophecy concerns the future of Israel under captivity to the Babylonians. It'll last for 70 years. When that judgment is over, God will send a messenger of goodnews that Israel is no longer bound. They are free to go. This messenger will be passionate about the message and will run across treacherous terrains to deliver the goodnews. Those in exiles who long to return see the messenger's beautiful feet! The feet of the runner of hope is beautiful! 

Do we have the passion to run with the Gospel message telling the lost that they are set free by the cross of Christ?

2. It was a Discipling Church (Acts 11:22-26).

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he saw something that probably never entered his mind before. The Gentiles were expressing their adoration and worship for Jesus Christ the same way that the Jewish believers did! This caused him to be overflowed with joy seeing what Jesus Christ had commanded come to pass. He immediately began to disciple the growing church. He knew he needed to disciple these believers for even greater days ahead! He couldn’t do this alone and so he recruited Saul. Saul had been in Tarsus for four years now, preaching and teaching in the churches throughout the region, and growing in the grace of God. Together, they taught and discipled the new believers in Christ! 

Barnabas and Saul are so called functional leaders - they came for a need! Barnabas did not settle down in Antioch as the ‘POPE’. Saul did not set up an office to be the ‘BISHOP’. 

Do we need prophets today? Sure, if there is a need. Do we need teachers and pastors and evangelists? Of course, if there are needs for them. But more importantly, the church today needs disciplers! Every believer is not only to be followers of Christ but also to teach others to become followers of Christ! Making disciples of all nations, and in Greek, ‘nations’ means all people groups.

Antioch church could go either way. Either it could explode to a great revival or it may implode with racial issues! The church at Antioch was multiracial with a tinge of uneasiness. On one hand, the Jews with their own culture and practices and on the other, Gentiles with their own traditions. Also, in Jerusalem church itself, there were Jewish believers who were skeptical that the Gospel be preached to the Gentiles.

Making disciplers out of the church in Antioch was pivotal. It was a turning point in history of the church of Jesus Christ. It turned out to be the catalyst to fulfill Jesus’ commands to make disciples to the ends of the earth.

Is your church a discipling church? A church without strong disciples of Christ is easy target for Satan. If we do not disciple believers by God’s Word, then the world will disciple them. Satan is a great discipler of evil! 

The believers in Antioch were the first to call Christians It was a sarcastic remark by those on the outside the church who heard them always talking about Christ. In today’s context, these are Christ fanatics, the holy Joes! 

Remember they were disciples first, then called Christians! Today, we have many Christians who are not disciples of Christ! 

John Welsey (1703 - 1791) aptly put it, “My fear is not that our great movement, known as the methodists, will eventually cease to exist or one day die from the earth. But my fear is that our people will become content to live without the fire, the power, the excitement, the supernatural element that makes us great. 

Later William Booth (1829 - 1912) warned, “I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without regenaration, politics without God and heaven without hell. 

3. It was a sharing Church (Acts 11:27-30).

The multiracial church at Antioch was practising what the Jerusalem church practiced - giving their best for the community of believers. In Antioch, it went one notch higher where the Gentiles were giving to the Jews in Judea! This was a goodwill that would go a long way in promoting peace between the Jewish and Gentile  It prompted Paul in his letter later to the Galatian Christians. 

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

‘Konoinia’ in Greek for ‘fellowship’ literally means to have in common or to share. It was a breakthrough word for the early church where everyone helped each other. The Jerusalem church led the way for the Antioch church to follow. 

Is your church a sharing church? In other words, “Is it a loving church?” Today we are talking more on prosperity than on generosity. We come to church to take and not so much to give. Perhaps in this generation of so much lies and deceits, we are also much more careful to help one another. We are questioning and justifying everything. The Good Samaritan in the parable Jesus gave never asked when he chanced upon the badly injured guy, “Maybe he deserves it because of some sins in his life” or “Maybe someone else would come and help” or  “If I help, I may be accused of hurting him”.

4. It was a worshipping Church  (Acts 13:2-3). 

In Antioch church, the believers came corporately together before God in submitting to His Lordship. They surrendered themselves as instruments in the hands of the Master. The word ‘worshipping’ in NIV here literally means ministering to God. They were waiting before God to hear from Him and were ever ready to obey the Holy Spirit! Fasting and devotion to God speak of their seriousness of doing the will of God. With this attitude, God was ready to speak to them!

Is your church a worshipping church? Author Joshua Harris wrote a book entitled, “Stop dating the church” and he wrote how in our consumer-driven church market we’ve developed the practice of hopping from one church to the next, attending this church or that church based on how we feel on that particular Sunday morning. We have too many CEO Christians today. Christmas Easter Only. Not those who are seriously wanting to hear from God and ready to obey His commandments. Let us be a church that seriously yearn to hear from God and obey His voice!

5. It was a Sending Church (Acts 13:2-3)

Because of their readiness to hear God and to obey Him, they obediently sent off Barnabas and Saul when the Holy Spirit called! Mind you, these two were the best of the lot! Someone said, ‘The church is not an institution to be protected but a Movement to be expanded’. The real Church is like an army, ready and alert. They are always on the move to gain territories for Jesus! Jesus is our Lord and He is on a mission! And He is using the church for His mission and no gates of hell shall prevail against it!

Is your church a sending church? 

The Antioch church began with some unnamed believers and it turned up to be the first Great Commission Church. From Antioch, the apostle Paul started his missionary journeys, all the way Asia Minor and Rome, creating a wide regional Church later on. Thus Jesus’ commands to reach the ends of the earth was obeyed even though not all fulfilled during the Antioch days! However, the effects of that church in Antioch had gone global! It was a local church with a global mission!

Let us learn from the Antioch Church these five ingredients that make up of a Great Commission Church and shine forth Jesus for God’s glory!