Over the past few weeks, we have been examining the values of one of the most influential churches in the history of the Christian movement – the church at Antioch. We find the beginning of their story in Acts 11:
“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Acts 11:19-21
We have discussed the way the embraced their “scattering” and saw it as a means of widening the reach of the Gospel. We also discussed how, rather than seeking to isolate themselves from the world, they “engaged” their world.
Diversity in Outreach
The Christians in Antioch also demonstrated the value of diversity. Up until this point in history (and outside of Peter’s visit to Cornelius in Acts 10), the Church was primarily made up of just those who were Jewish in background. Even in the text above, the point is made that, until these Christians came to Antioch, the message was only being spread among the Jews. This was never God’s vision.
You don’t have to read far in Scripture (Genesis 12:3) to see that God’s vision has always been that all of the nations of the world would be blessed through his people and to come to worship him. And when we read the descriptions of heaven (Revelation 7:9), we see that multitude from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” gathered before God’s throne in worship.
Though our world and the Church have made some progress, you don’t have to look too closely to see that our campuses – and most of our Christian organizations – are still segregated to a large extent. What a testimony it would be to our world and our campuses if they saw among God’s people the beautiful diversity that will be the reality in heaven! Our ministry is not the largest on our campus, but I love the diversity that God has brought about.
We have American students from several ethnic backgrounds, as well as international students from several different nations, who gather in small groups and in our weekly worship service. It brings richness to our ministry that we all benefit from and provides a testimony to the seekers among us about how Jesus can unite people in love and purpose.
But the truth is that diversity does not usually happen by accident, but by intentionally entering into the worlds and lives of those who are different than we are culturally. As leaders, we need to model this for our students and help them to see their calling to cross cultural barriers and build relationships that bless others and point to Jesus.
Diversity in Leadership
The church in Antioch also sets an example for us through the diversity of their leadership. In Acts 13 we are told:
“Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.” Acts 13:1
The backgrounds of the leaders of this church show its diverse nature. Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus and Saul was a highly educated former Pharisee. Most Biblical historians think that Simeon was a Jew but probably of dark complexion because of his nickname while Lucius was from Cyrene in North Africa. And Manaen had contacts in high places as he had been brought up with a king!
For the first time, the church in Antioch was beginning to demonstrate the diversity that God had always intended for his Kingdom. Walls built by race, economics, and social status came down and the church began to model the type of love, acceptance, and community that pointed them to Jesus.
Mike Armstrong (@_mikearmstrong_) is in his 32nd year of ministry to college students at the University of Arkansas with Christ on Campus and is a past president of the Association of College Ministries. He has been married to Gina for 34 years and they have two grown and married daughters. He has also been a track and field official for over 20 years and is a fan of classic rock, jazz, and the blues. You can read his blog at michaelarmstrong.net or find him on Facebook at THEMikeArmstrong.