Some Important Things to Learn from the Antioch Church
May 10, 2010 by Alex Mekonnen | 0 Comments
Antioch was a great city. It was the capital of Syria, Queen of the East, and was situated as a most important sea port at the mouth of the rive Orontes. There were only two cities larger than Antioch in the entire ancient world, Rome and Alexandria. It was a military stronghold. It housed an extraordinary number of Jews, who had full citizens’ rights alongside the Gentile Antiochenes. It was devoted to business and commerce. It was dedicated to sex. It was swathed in superstition. All in all, Antioch was a very modern city.
And this is the place that became the springboard for Christian evangelism in Asia, Europe, and eventually worldwide. Had it not been for Antioch, Christianity might have shriveled to become only a small sect in Judaism. It was in Antioch that Christianity, the world faith, was born (Acts 11:26). It was from here that missionary journeys went out in ever-widening arcs (Michael Green, 2004).
There are so many good things that the modern church can learn from the Antioch church and emulate their theology of ministry and missions’ strategy. For several months to come, I’ll try to point out my observations on the mission strategy of the Antioch church.
The church in Antioch was not established by the apostles or evangelists like Philip. Ordinary Christians, who were moving out of Jerusalem in search of a respite from persecution after the death of Stephen, started the church through conversational evangelism. As the Scripture puts it, “Some of them…men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20). The Lord blessed these early missionaries and “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21). I wonder how many of us today have the courage and commitment to “tell the good news about Jesus” to our unbelieving neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and roommates? What percentages of our members have experienced genuine conversion through the evangelistic ministry of the local church we attend?
There are wide varieties of understanding and definitions of evangelism. Let me state the following essential things about evangelism:
- Mission is not evangelism, it is wider than evangelism
- Evangelism is integral to mission “sufficiently distinct and yet not separate from mission” (Loffler 1977a :341)
- Evangelism may never be given a life of its own, in isolation from the rest of the life and ministry of the church
- Evangelism involves witnessing to what God has done, is doing, and will do
- Evangelism does aim at response
- Evangelism is always invitation
- The one who evangelizes is a witness not a judge
- Even though we ought to be modest about the character and effectiveness of our witness, evangelism remains an indispensible ministry
- Evangelism is only possible when the community that evangelizes—the church—is a radiant manifestation of the Christian faith and exhibits and attractive lifestyle
- Evangelism offers people salvation as a present gift and with assurance of eternal bliss
- Evangelism is not proselytism
- Evangelism is not the same as church extension
- To distinguish between evangelism and membership recruitment is not to suggest, though, that they are disconnected
- In evangelism only people can be addressed and only people can respond
- Authentic evangelism is always contextual
- Because of this, evangelism cannot be divorced from the preaching and practicing of justice
- Evangelism is not a mechanism to hasten the return of Christ, as some suggest
- Evangelism is not only verbal proclamation (David Bosch 1991: 411-420)
In the light of the above information from Bosch, it is good to evaluate our theological and biblical convictions individually and as congregation. If our verbal proclamation is not backed by our deeds and life style, we’ll be hardening the hearts of sinners to resist God than to come to him with repentance. In humility, by speaking the truth in love, by setting exemplary life to those who watch us, by being asked and challenged, through patience and perseverance, Christians need to be committed to evangelism. That is one of the important things we learn from the Antioch church. The church that does not evangelize will fossilize.