Reading Luke and Acts in 2020
Week 37 | Acts 13
Acts 13 Reflections and Questions
By Rev. Dr. Rodrigo Cruz
In all honesty, I don’t like to be overdramatic, but I may suggest that Acts 13:1-3 is perhaps one of the most critical, vital, and important bible verses in the New Testament when it comes down to church praxis.
Therefore, I strongly believe that every church should be paying close attention to the dynamics that happened in those 3 verses as well as the rest of the chapter.
Acts 13:1-3 - The church at Antioch included prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon (nicknamed Niger), Lucius from Cyrene, Manaen (a childhood friend of Herod the ruler), and Saul. As they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to the work I have called them to undertake.” After they fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on these two and sent them off.
The first insight that we can get out of the church in Antioch was the diversity represented in their leadership team, since it became the makeup of those who the church was trying to serve. As we read in the first verse, there were five individuals in that leadership team:
1) Barnabas; 2) Simeon; 3) Lucius; 4) Manaen; and 5) Saul.
There are several important dynamics to mention in the list of people that we should not oversee and that we actually should consider for our current settings:
It is composed of people from different financial status and social backgrounds, such as Lucius, who was from a city that was prosperous, and it is no surprise that merchants would turn up in Antioch, and it assumes that Lucius was among these scattered by the persecution against the Hellenist believers according to Acts 6-7; Barnabas owned property according to Acts 4; Manaen who was a close associate to Herod Antipas; and Saul had some wealth as well according to scripture.
It consists of people from different religious and geographical backgrounds. Saul was a Hebraic Jew from Jerusalem. Barnabas was a Levite and Hellenistic Jew. Manaen was an Essene and from Judea.
It incorporates people from different nationalities and different skin colors. Simeon called Niger was from Northern Africa. Lucius of Cyrene was from the capital of the Roman province of Cyrenaica (modern day Libya). Manaen was an Asian Palestinian. Saul was a Hebraic Jew from Tarsus/Jerusalem, Asia Minor.
As you can see this five-man leadership team symbolized the ethnic and cultural diversity of Antioch and was vital for unity and the effective functioning of the church serving in a multiethnic context. It is important to notice that each name of these individuals has a Greek and Hebrew form, which can reflect the fact that God was gifting the church without ethnic distinction. If there is one thing that I personally would have change, would have been to have some women on the leadership team.
The reality is that a broad array of people could be reached because of the diversity of this leadership team. Simeon could speak to the blacks; Saul could debate in the synagogues; Manaen could deal with the wealthy politicians; Lucius could minister to the immigrants. Furthermore because of the diversity represented in the leadership, this church would be more likely to avert the kind of racial division that impacted the young church of Jerusalem between Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews.
Antioch was the first major hub for the emerging network of the early churches. It was the place where Paul returned to again and again. It was also the strategic placement for the missionary journeys that took place in Acts 13:5–52. Antioch not only helped the church to reach the world within them, but also the one around them.
Therefore, what can our churches learn from the church in Antioch and perhaps try to model in our current settings:
1 - The Antioch church was committed to contextualize its entire ministry and administrative structures to represent and involve each ethnic group in the very life of the body of Christ. What would that look like in your church?
2 - The Antioch church was committed to reaching out to the world around them by reflecting that world from within their leadership team. What would that look like in your church?
3 - The Antioch church became a cultural creator, not merely a countercultural movement. They developed ministries directed to each community and while it may be defined as a culturally and ethnically diverse body, they gathered as one congregation. What would that look like in your church?
4 - The Antioch church cultivated an intentional choice to mix, accept, represent, and manifest racial, cultural, and ethnic differences, while at the same time boost the oneness of believers in Christ. What would that look like in your church?
5 - The Antioch church became a church filled with a diverse group of people that were not only a field ‘ripe for harvesting’, but they were also the answer to the church’s prayer for ‘the Lord of the Harvest’ sending out laborers into his harvest. What would that look like in your church?
Rev. Dr. Rodrigo Cruz is Superintendent of the new Central East District.