By Greg Simmons
The early church at Antioch is an original New Testament model or prototype for the local church. It has all the forms and functions, which model a solid foundation for establishing or renewing a local church today. The roots of the church’s expansion throughout the world can be traced directly to the establishment of the church at Antioch.
Antioch owes its beginnings to the sovereign work of God in causing persecution to scatter believers, especially gifted leaders, out of the geographic confines of Judea. (Acts11:19-21) After the stoning of Stephen the believers were pushed north into Syria. This is where we see a shift in the biblical narrative in Acts away from Jerusalem and the ministry of Peter and to the gentiles and the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas was sent by the church at Jerusalem to report on what was taking place among the new converts in Antioch. When he arrived he took a leadership role by encouraging them and proclaiming the gospel that added many people to the church. (Acts 11:24) Shortly afterwards he went and got Paul and brought him to Antioch where they taught the new community for over a year. Although there seemed to be a general proclamation of the gospel that increased the number of believers before Barnabas and Paul, there doesn’t appear to be a leadership structure until they arrive and start their teaching ministry. In this we see several prototypal models, which must be indicative of any fully functioning church. A local church must have gifted leaders and teachers as well as a team approach to ministry. The church at Antioch clearly did not have an organic or leaderless structure. From the very first mention of the church there we see God bringing in leaders to teach and oversee the affairs of the community.
Another key element to a fully functioning church is the team approach to ministry and the plurality of leaders that God appoints. This plurality of leadership started with Jesus and his disciples. This is evident in Luke as the Lord sent out his ministry teams by two to go and proclaim the coming kingdom. (Lk:10:1) It is interesting to note that he did not give
authority to the masses that followed him, but to seventy-two specific men whom he gifted to proclaim the kingdom, heal the sick and cast out demons. So, there is both a gifting by Christ of certain men for leadership and the bringing together of these men in teams for the work of the gospel. Antioch is no exception to this pattern. The Jerusalem church sent their
gifted men to establish and teach this new community of believers.
That brings us to the pattern of church networks or partnerships. The church at Jerusalem first sent Barnabas to see if a true work of God was being done at Antioch and then to help established it. This begins the relationship of the two churches and the bringing together of two diverse communities. This is an important paradigm that should not be overlooked in
our twenty first century churches. The church in Jerusalem was characterized by a Jewish ethnicity that God was challenging. We see this in Peter’s declaration and defense of God’s grace to the gentiles. (Acts 11:1-18) The Lord continued this process through the church in Antioch with its growing gentile community. These two very different churches began a relationship of mutual support and cooperation that was founded on their common bond in Christ. Leaders and physical support were sent between the churches. (Acts 11:19-30) I see in this a clear implication that churches, just like individual believers, are not meant to
exist as solitary islands. The early church councils also bear witness of churches coming together for the defense and preservation of the true gospel of Christ. These mutual bonds between churches are just as necessary today for a united defense against error and heresy.
Antioch is a prototypical New Testament church. It bears the following features necessary
for the church in any age.
1. Gospel proclamation (Acts11:20)
2. Leaders and teachers (Acts11:25,26; 13:1)
3. Contended for true doctrine (Acts15:1)
4. Was a base for gospel expansion and church multiplication (Acts14:24-28)
5. Supported and sent gifted men (Acts13:2-4)
6. Partnered with other churches (Acts11:29-30; 15:23)