The Legacy of Antioch
Partnering with the Church of the Global South for the Sake of the Gospel
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Meet the Global South
Let’s review the situation of the world today in regard to the spread of Christianity, and what this new term Global South means. The Global South refers to the astonishing growth of the Christian church in Africa, Latin America, and Asia while the formerly dominant centers of Christian influence in Europe and America are weakening. For example:
At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 71 percent of professing Christians in the world lived in Europe. By the end of the twentieth century, that number had shrunk to 28 percent. 43 percent of the Christians now lived in Latin America and Africa (“Shifting Southward,” 50).
In 1900, Africa had ten million Christians, which was about ten percent of the population. By 2000, the number of Christians was 360 million, about half the population of the continent. This is probably the largest shift in religious affiliation that has ever occurred, anywhere ( “Believing in the Global South”).
There are 17 million baptized members of the Anglican church in Nigeria, compared with 2.8 million in the United States ( “Shifting Southward,” 53).
“This past Sunday more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the United States combined.”
“The number of practicing Christians in China is approaching the number in the United States” (The New Shape of World Christianity, 10. The remainder of these statistics are from Noll’s book.).
“Last Sunday . . . more Christian believers attended church in China than in all of so-called ‘Christian Europe.’”
Kenya has more people in Christian churches on Sunday than Canada.
“More believers worship together in Nagaland than in Norway.”
“More Christian workers from Brazil are active in cross cultural ministry outside their homelands than from Britain or from Canada.” In other words, the churches of the Global South are increasingly sending churches.
Last Sunday “more Presbyterians were in church in Ghana than in Scotland” (Ibid., 20).
“This past week in Great Britain, at least fifteen thousand Christian foreign missionaries were hard at work evangelizing the locals. Most of these missionaries are from Africa and Asia” (Ibid., 21).
“In a word,” Mark Noll says, “the Christian church has experienced a larger geographical redistribution in the last fifty years than in any comparable period in its history, with the exception of the very earliest years of church history (Ibid.).
The West Is Not Done Sending Missionaries
This is a great cause for Christians to rejoice in the sovereign grace of God. But what it does not mean is that the day of sending missionaries from our churches in the West is over. That would be a tragic misunderstanding of the situation. Partnership in mission with the Global South does not mean that all the unreached peoples of the world can be reached by people who are in the Global South. Don’t buy into the idea that we should send our money, not our people. That would sound very much like: “Let them shed their blood, not ours; we’ll just send money.”
Many people have embraced the uninformed notion that it is always more efficient and culturally effective to support ministries in the Global South to do the work of missions rather than pay tens of thousands of dollars each year to send Western workers.
But it is both-and, not either-or. It is uninformed, indeed misinformed, to assume that local churches or nearby missionaries in the Global South can always reach an unreached people better than Western workers can.
It is uninformed, first of all, because in pioneer, frontier missionary situations, there are no local churches to do the work. That’s the meaning of being an unreached people.
No Assurance That Proximity Means Effectiveness
And secondly, there is no assurance that being within five hundred miles of an unreached people makes you more effective in learning their language, and crossing their culture, and loving them, and teaching the truth. This is especially true if there are old tribal hostilities to be overcome in the local region. Such a strategy may sometimes be best; other times not.
The day of Western missions is not over. It never will be over until Jesus comes. There are many ways to partner with believers around the world, besides simply sending money. And we will be servants, not masters, in those relationships.
According to the Joshua Project, today there are 6,552 unreached people groups in the world out of a total of 16,309 ethno-linguistic peoples. And of these, the Joshua Project lists 1,540 of these as unengaged. You can find out the ever-changing, current statistics by checking www.JoshuaProject.net. There is a huge and glorious work yet to be done, and it will take the whole church, not just part of it to get it done.
Eight Implications for Partnering with the Global South
Now, with that background, let’s turn our attention to Acts 11:19–26. This is the story of how the gospel of Jesus came to the Gentles in Antioch of Syria and how that city became a sending base for missions.
What I would like to do with this text is to draw out eight implications for the global challenge we face in partnership with the Global South. I have asked the Lord to help me choose words so that one or more of these eight implications will penetrate hundreds of hearts that he has been preparing for this work. Some of you are ready and only need guidance. Others of you are sensing a change of life on the horizon, and you need God to push you over the edge of your dream. And some you will be awakened to a new calling from the Lord for the first time today. And the rest will, I pray, rededicate yourselves to aggressive involvement in sending. There are only three kinds of people in relation to missions: goers, senders, and disobedient.
1. Someone must cross the cultural barriers that separate unreached peoples from the gospel.
Some of you are being called to this hardest of all work. Look at Acts 11:19–20.
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.
The Hellenists in this context means Greek-speaking Gentiles. Till now the gospel was spreading mostly along the mono-cultural lines of Judaism from synagogue to synagogue (with the exception of Cornelius in Acts 10). But in Antioch, someone broke through the barriers of language and culture and spoke the gospel to the Gentiles.
Is that you? Is God stirring you, moving you? Would you consider giving your life to this? There is no other way for the church to fulfill her mission in the world. God will raise up the workers and send them out. What an honor we have to send them. And what an honor it would be if you were one of them.
2. Don’t wait to be forced out by persecution.
Look at Acts 11:19: “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled.” The believers in Jerusalem were not leaving on mission voluntarily. It took a persecution to force them into mission.
Little did Stephen know that one of the great effects of his death would be the mission of the church outside Jerusalem because people were driven away. So my point is simply this: Don’t wait till someone has to die to move out of America — or across the street to the Somalis or the Native Americans. God has his ways to loosen our roots and move us. Some of them are gentle — like a still small voice — and some are severe — like the death of a great man. Tune your heart, and discern how God is leading. Do it before you have to do it.
3. The hand of the Lord will be with you, when you follow him into his mission.
Acts 11:21: “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”
When Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20, he closed with a promise, one of the sweetest in the Bible — one that has sustained many missionaries in the darkest hours. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus gave us this promise so that as you sit there and ponder how he may be changing your whole life-course, you will have ringing in your ears: Don’t be afraid. I am going to be with you. I am going to be with you.
4. Be willing to serve a work that God has already begun.
Acts 11:22–23: “The report of this [pioneer breakthrough in Antioch] came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.”
Barnabas was not the first on the ground in Antioch. He did not begin the work. He was sent to serve what someone else began. He was building where someone else had laid the foundation. Some of you are called to do this. It is a noble work.
It means that dozens of jobs that are done here at home in the midst of thousands of churches and tens of thousands of Christians could be done in a place where the church is younger and smaller. Many of you are being loosened from your roots these days to make such a move.
5. The main prerequisite for this work is not great gifts but great grace.
Acts 11:23–24: “When he [Barnabas] came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”
There is no reference here to Barnabas’s gifts, but only to his graces — that is, his spiritual and moral qualities, not his skills. Verse 24: He was good. He was full of the Holy Spirit. And he was full of faith. The effect was that God worked. He added people to the Lord. God is not mainly looking for great gifts. He is looking for great faith that is willing to be filled with the Holy Spirit and then does good. God may be calling you not because you have great gifts, but because he has taught you to trust him implicitly. I don’t mean there are no qualifications. I mean they may not be as insurmountable as you think.
6. When you sense God’s leading, recruit others to go with you.
Acts 11:24–25: “So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.”
Acts doesn’t tell us that God told Barnabas to do this. It just says he did it. He needed help and he knew someone who would be a good helper. So he recruited him. And Saul came. Don’t be afraid of saying to a friend, “Would you consider going with me?” — or to a couple, “Would you consider going with us?” Many times in history God has called a person through the forthright requests of others.
7. In all your evangelism and church planting, don’t neglect to teach the converts and to take them deep into the gospel and build them up so they are stable and strong.
Acts 11:23 says that Barnabas “exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose.” And in verse 26, it says that Barnabas and Saul together focused on teaching. “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people.”
What if God sends a great awakening? What if he gives a great harvest and grows the church with a great response the way he did in Antioch? Verse 21: “A great number who believed turned to the Lord.” Verse 24: “A great many people were added to the Lord.” What will you do if God sends such blessing?
Don Carson tells of talking to woman who had been converted during the Welsh Revival of 1904–1905. That conversation was, he says, “an inexpressibly glorious half hour.” But then he commented on how sad it is that so little of the revival was preserved. “Almost nothing was done to capture or develop theological schools, multiply Bible teaching, or train a new generation of preachers.” So Carson makes this amazing pledge, and I turn it into an exhortation to some of you:
Should the Lord in his mercy ever pour out large-scale revival on any part of the world where I have influence, I shall devote all my energy to teaching the Word, to training a new generation of godly pastors, to channeling all of this God-given fervor toward doctrinal maturity, multiplication of Christian leaders, evangelistic zeal, maturity in Christ, genuine Christian “fellowship.”
In other words, he would do what Barnabas and Saul did. They saw a great ingathering, and they taught and taught and taught. They strengthened the believers. They sank the roots of the people down deep. They brought stability. They built a foundation for missions.
All over the world (you read this in all the literature), the cry is for trained, strong, Bible-saturated leaders. What will your part be in raising them up?
8. Be open to a significant change in your life.
Some of you know that God is making you restless where you are. You sense deeply that what you are doing now is not what you will be doing for long. Others of you need to think seriously about whether your present secure and established position maybe is not a path to security or an exit ramp to retirement, but a runway for taking off into something new in missions.
Here’s what happened to Saul and Barnabas. They are faithfully ministering to the church in Antioch. It is a fruitful ministry of teaching. Look at Acts 13:1–3.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
So much for secure, stable, established life in Antioch. Barnabas and Saul are now thrust into global missions. They will blaze the trail into uncharted territory. This is not why either of them had gone to the church in Antioch. But God spoke, and they went.
This is not why most of you came to Bethlehem either. But God may have plans you never dreamed of. This last point is simply: Be open and prayerful about a significant change in your life.
Many Antiochs to Come
The Legacy of Antioch is that it was a mission church that became a sending church through the partnership of Barnabas and Saul, who in the end were sent out by the church to which they were sent. Once Bethlehem was a young, newly founded, Swedish Antioch. But now she is a 138-year-old passionate, sending, strengthening Jerusalem.
And Oh how many Antiochs there are around the world yet to be created and yet to be strengthened, where we can send our Global Partners — our Barnabases and our Sauls and our unnamed men and women of Cyprus and Cyrene who cross the cultural chasms to reach the lost? Will you be one of them? Will you rededicate yourself to support those who go and to hold the ropes with rock-solid faithfulness?
The people I would like to call forward for special prayer and to make a public statement are those who are seriously planning or praying toward cross-cultural missions longer term (longer than two years).