Acts 13:1: “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” (NKJV)
John Stott helpfully reveals that the list of prophets and teachers described in Acts 13:1 “symbolized the ethnic and cultural diversity of Antioch”. Barnabas was a Jew from Jerusalem, but originally from Cyprus (Acts 4:36). Simeon is a Jewish name, but being called Niger (which means black) possibly indicating his African ethnicity. Lucius was from Cyrene (North Africa). Manaen is another Jewish name (but from ‘high society’, being brought up in royal courts alongside Herod). Finally there was Saul, the well educated Jew from Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia.
Whatever Luke’s reasoning for mentioning the prophets’ and teachers’ names, it paints a picture of a leadership team which is culturally and ethnically diverse and more importantly, representative of the city in which they are ministering. Put simply, people in the city could look at the church as a whole and the leadership team in particular, and say “this good news they are talking about seems to be for everyone, because I can see people who look and sound like me and many people who look and sound very different.”
This passage should be a profound provocation to us today. In the UK there are traditionally black churches and white churches with very little integration. However, the church is meant to be different! The church is the ‘body of Christ’, ‘one new man in Christ’, ‘Jew and Gentile united’, every dividing barrier between people pulled down as they come into Christ’s body. If we are not actively encouraging this in our own church environment then we are mutating the image of Christ to those who look on!
Racial or social prejudices should be actively rooted out from within our churches! Like in the church in Antioch, this united body should also be modelled in the makeup of our leadership teams.
So my question for us is very simple. If we were to take a trip into the marketplace of Great Yarmouth on a post-pandemic Saturday and take a photo and then come back to Kingsgate the day after and take another photo, could we overlay them and then struggle to work out which was taken in the marketplace and which was taken here? If not, we’ve got some praying, learning and growing to do so that this unchanging gospel that we love, can be seen to be good news for all people (and not just one thin slice of the community).
Dear Father, I pray that my heart would be Antioch-church-like! I pray that you would pull down any dividing walls that I’ve erected and help me see your church as one-new-man-in-Christ-like. Help me to build, through prayer and action, unity and reconciliation. Amen