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Antioch Series: When Worship Prayer And Missions Collide // A Heavenly Family


#4- A Heavenly Family


By Acts chapter 6, the Apostles are so overwhelmed with the work that comes with revival that they call a meeting to figure out how to raise up and train “second tier” leaders to help carry the load of administration that comes with thousands of people under your pastoral care. They were in desperate need to return to the things they did at first anddevote themselves to the word of God and prayer.”  It is now about a decade since the day of Pentecost and they still haven’t left Jerusalem and there are no indicators that they were even considering the possibility of sending out laborers for the task that was given to them by the resurrected Lord Himself.


Something else was beginning to rear its ugly head in Acts 6 that was subtly going unnoticed in the Jerusalem movement. There was a deep undercurrent that was causing an ambivalence, yea even an aversion to the mandate to disciple all nations.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. – Acts 6:1


Yes, the busyness of revival was real, but something even more real was lurking in the shadows. We see the first glimpse of it in Acts 6 but it doesn’t come to the forefront until about another decade later in Acts 15. It finally comes to a head in ANTIOCH with a rebuke of an Apostle by another Apostle in front of the whole church.

Antioch becomes the flash point where God deals with the sin of racism in the global church in the first century. Antioch is the first place we see a multi-ethnic leadership over a multi-ethnic community. God was doing something unique in this community that was preparing them to be the sending center to the ends of the earth. God was tearing down strongholds that were preventing the church from fulfilling her destiny.

RACISM IS ANTI-GOSPEL AND THE ENEMY OF MISSIONS

 

As Gentiles begin to come into the kingdom and Antioch rises to prominence in the first century Christian movement, some teachers from Jerusalem, feel it’s their duty to visit these “barbarians” and bring some theological correction to their movement that was clearly “out of order”. Paul and Barnabas, who have been a part of this new multi-ethnic leadership team take issue with these racist ideas parading around as inspired words.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” – Acts 15:1

Paul and Barnabas, who then were based in Antioch, challenge these ethnocentric, anti-gospel teachings and the debate makes its way to the very top. The Jerusalem council (Acts 15) was the first church council recorded and its purpose was to tear down cultural ideas that were masking themselves as theological truths and obstructing the advancement of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” – Acts 15:6-11

As the council reached its’ conclusion, those present penned a letter recognizing the legitimacy of these Gentile believers and exhorting them continue in the faith. The sent this letter to Antioch with a team of prophets accompanying Paul and Barnabas. This marks a significant transition in the Book of Acts where the church and leadership in Jerusalem no longer remain the central component to the Holy Spirit record of the God’s activity in the first century. From this point on Antioch and its multi-ethnic leadership team become the “central hub” of New Testament Christianity.

Even though Peter had the correct theological stance of “inclusion of the Gentiles through the gospel” at the Jerusalem council, we soon find out that having the right theological stance can be much different than acknowledging your own ethnocentricity and allowing God, by the power of the Spirit, to search you and fully deliver you from the culture that nurtured your fallen mindset.

When Peter finally makes it down to Antioch to see what is transpiring in this new apostolic center, he comes face to face with his own racism.

For before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Galatians 2:12-14

Paul’s rebuke to Peter’s conduct in Antioch is simple yet profound. I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live but Christ in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

In other words…

 

The cross is the end of racism.

 

Paul says that his confrontation with Peter was over the truth of the gospel itself. Christ not only died for us, but died with us and as us. Now if you became one with Jesus on the cross and joined with Him in the grave, then it is impossible for you not to be raised with Him with a new nature. You died with Christ so that He could raise you with Him and justify you as righteous, holy, and blameless. God raised Jesus, vindicating His life of obedience, and in the same moment destroyed the power of death and the curse of the fall over you, having been raised with him. When he came out of the grave, you were reborn and now have a new nature inherited from the Second Adam.

You now are altogether different than who you once were. You no longer are identified with the nature you inherited from the first Adam. The finished work of the cross makes you a new creation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.Colossians 3:10-11 

This new nature you have inherited is Christ’s nature within you. You in Him and Him in you. This nature is shared by all who believe in Him.

Something finally clicked with Peter in Antioch. Maybe it took a public rebuke for his racist attitudes and actions to finally be purged. Later he writes, near the end of his life to the church dispersed all over Asia minor, You are a chosen race [genos], a holy nation [ethnos]…once you were not a people [laos], but now you are God’s people [laos]…”. 1 Peter 2:9-10

These words from Peter take aim at any remnant of ethnocentrism that may have been lingering in the dispersed believers throughout the Roman empire. The same Peter that pulled back from fellowship with brothers from different races is now declaring that through the body and blood of Jesus, God has created a whole new genos, ethnos, and laos. This new family, race, and nation is made up of believers from every ethnic group on the planet. The Blood of Jesus has freed us from every earthly, Adamic, unspiritual, means of separation. We no longer are defined by our Socio-Economic status, Politics, or cultural preferences. Jesus is the end of Ageism, Sexism, Nationalism and most of all Jesus is the end of racism. The church is a global family of affection and the ruling aristocracy in the earth. You have more in common with the brethren in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia, and Indonesia than you do with your closest unbelieving friend that has the same political, cultural, and social views as you. You share the same spirit, blood, and nature.

Jesus displays this on his leadership first leadership team. The Lord handpicked men from polar opposite sides of the spectrum and turned them into something altogether new. He takes them through such a magnificent transformative journey that their former political allegiances, passions, paradigms, all melt under the power of the leadership and love of Christ and they in turn begin love each other in the same manner.

Racism denies the power of the cross and clings to the nature that we inherited from Adam. Racism and the Gospel are mutually exclusive. One cannot “deny himself, pick up his cross and follow Jesus” and at the same time attach themselves to ethnocentristic mindsets and racist attitudes. As Russell Moore so eloquently states, “You can’t serve Jesus Christ and Jim Crow at the same time.

We learn to love beyond ourselves when we embrace those that are ethnically and cultural different than us. The comfort of the homogenous bubble of Jerusalem Christianity was robbing the apostolic church from entering into the John 17 “glory” of being united in Jesus Christ across the diving wall of hostility that separated races. When we are surrounded by people who look like us, think like us, talk like us, and dress like us, our love is fenced in by our own comfort and self-importance. We are not loving like the cross teaches us to love, we are loving our self-reflection.

Racism makes us irrelevant because it refuses self-sacrificial love. Racism strips us of our authority as peacemakers standing between two parties at odds because it attaches itself to one side of the argument.  

Racism makes us deaf because we cannot hear the wounded groan of our brothers and sisters while our ears are clogged with cultural narratives. Therefore, we cannot “weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15)

Racism makes us blind because we cannot see glaring injustices through the fog of political rhetoric. Like the lawyer in Luke 10, desiring to justify ourselves, we smugly ask Jesus, “WELL WHO IS MY NEIGHBOR?!?!”

Racism is the enemy of missions because true missions is born out of a vision of the worth of Jesus that produces a self-sacrificing love for peoples and nations. These nations we would have nothing in common with on our own. Now the commonality we have with the unreached of the earth is the compassion of the Lamb that compels us towards and not away from our “enemies”. 

Here in Antioch they began to call themselves not by their ethnic identities, not by their national allegiances but simply by one word that described what they now were together, “Christians”. (Acts 11:26) Little Christs… crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised with Him in the newness of life where there is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

What is the indicating marker in your life that tells everyone you are have been so radically transformed by the gospel and ripped out of your former passions, former mindsets, former allegiances? Is it not that we love what we formerly hated? And what does that love look like except to lay our lives down to serve those that could never repay us? Is it not that we care for our brother in his need?

 

Then we can truly call ourselves, “Christians”.

 

Sunday morning remains one of the most segregated hours in American life, with more than 8 in 10 congregations made up of one predominant racial group. Jesus is calling the church to stare its racism in the face and repent. The current conversation about racial tension in America is an opportunity to do just that. Somewhere along the way we lost the biblical command to be “slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to angerand in its place we have inserted “categorize the opponent, attack with counterpoints, win the argument”. Make no mistake, God is using the discussions around police brutality, institutional racism, criminal justice reform, income disparity, educational inequality, southern strategy politics, privilege, ect… to refine us in love and humility. What’s at stake here is more than losing an argument, it might be losing our soul. The church in America divided over social, political, and economic issues says to the world that the gospel is weak, the kingdom is fractured, and Christ is an inadequate leader.

What we don’t realize is, by ignoring, dismissing or worse, actively emboldening one side of the conversation, we could actually be forfeiting our destiny as the church in this nation to become an Antioch at the end of the age. I believe that the church in America is called to be a sending nation that participates with the Lord of the Harvest in praying, training and sending laborers to the ends of the earth. We are throwing away our destiny with every dismissive, apathetic or argumentative attitude when it comes to race in America. The current racial climate is a training ground to teach us to love like never before and to cleanse us of our ethnocentrism so that we can actually look up and see the white fields ready for harvest in the nations of the earth.

 

R.A. Martinez

 

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