Summary: What does it mean when we say we want to be a part of a New Testament Church?
A Study of the Book of Acts
“I Want A Church Like That”
It is not unusual to hear someone say that they want to be a part of a New Testament church. By that they probably intend to convey the desire to be a part of a vibrant church in which the Bible is preached, that is evangelistic in outreach and doctrinally sound. But if we take the time to examine the local churches found in the New Testament they were hardly idyllic.
The church at Corinth for example had so many problems that the Apostle Paul wrote two lengthy letters to address the problems. The church had a member that was having an incestuous relationship with his stepmother (1 Cor. 5). They were suing one another in the pagan courts (1 Cor. 6). Their worship services were chaotic and at times irreverent (1 Cor. 11-12). And they were divided into factions following various leaders (1 Cor. 1, 3).
The seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1, 2) were not much different. While some escaped criticism, most were called out for some shortcoming. Even the church at Ephesus which Paul praised in Ephesians 3 was just thirty years later warned that they had lost their first love (Rev. 2:4). However there is one church that stands out as a model of what a New Testament church should be - the church at Antioch. And yet the city of Antioch was a most unlikely place to plant a successful church. Let’s consider what ancient Antioch was like for a moment.
The ancient city of Antioch.
Antioch was considered by many to be the third greatest city in the Roman Empire, behind Rome and Alexandria. The city of Antioch with a population of perhaps 500,000 was known for its sophistication and culture but also for it immorality. It is noteworthy that when God picked a city that would become the birth place of foreign missions, He picked a cosmopolitan, morally corrupt city like Antioch.
The first eighteen verses of chapter eleven is a retelling of the story of the conversion of Cornelius and the reaction of the church at Jerusalem to that news. Basically Peter is called on the carpet by the church in Jerusalem because of his association with Gentiles (vv. 1-3), believers or not. Peter gives an admirable defense (vv. 4-18) that so satisfied the church that verse eighteen says, “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”
Then in verse nineteen we begin to hear the story of what happened when after the death of Stephen persecution pushed Christians into carrying out the Great Commission of carrying the gospel to the utter-most parts of the Earth. Some of those Christians made their way to Antioch.
Notice with me four factors that made Antioch a Great Church.
First, They Declared God’s Word. (11:19-20)
“Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. (20) But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.”
The Greek word for “speak” (11:19, 20) is the word for normal conversation. As the believers were scattered by the persecution they “spoke the word,” sharing Christ in their ordinary conversation. Antioch was evangelized not by Apostles but by average members of the body of Christ who were willing to share their faith. They did not preach as we understand the word but rather, in their everyday contacts, they told others about Jesus Christ. They were not behind pulpits, preaching to people. They were behind their work counters, in their market places, in their shops, their social gathering talking about Jesus Christ who was the Lord of their lives.
At first it seems that they confined themselves to people like themselves. This could have been the result of a cultural block or it may have been as simple as a language barrier. But others came, perhaps who spoke the language, or were not constrained by cultural inhibitions, who took the Gospel to the Gentiles as well. This met with resounding success.
Not Only Did They Declared God’s Word But…
Second, They Were Enabled by God’s Power. (11: 21)
“And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.”
First, “the hand of the Lord was upon them, is to be understood in the sense that God had empowered their preaching so that many were saved. It can also be understood in the sense that it was because “the hand of the Lord was upon them,” that they were moved to do as they had.