Unity and Diversity: 10 Healthy Characteristics of the 1st Multiethnic Church

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by Dr. Michael Rackley

In all my years as a seminary student, I’ve never read, studied, or heard a lecture about the Antioch Church and its diversity in the Book of Acts until asked to teach at the chapel by the Chaplain at the Bible College where I received my Masters of Arts in Divinity and presently teach. The theme of the semester was “Unity & Diversity.”

It was then I recalled a book I was studying titled—A Many Colored Kingdom by Elizabeth Frazier, S. Kang, and Gary Parrett & discovered the 1st multiethnic church in the Bible was the Antioch church recorded in Acts 11 & 13.

The unifying factor & common denominator in this multiethnic church was Christ. In Antioch what we see in the pages of scriptures is racial diversity, unity, and so much more. Here are 10 characteristics of a healthy church that must be considered as you read Acts 11 and Acts 13:

  1. Great-Commission Church

The Antioch Church was outwardly focused on evangelizing both Jew and Greeks in Acts 11.  In Acts 13:3-4 the church leaders laid hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them off on Paul’s First Missionary Journey to the Island of Cyprus.

This is the mission of the church— Matthew 28:19, “make disciples” is a command. The church is commanded to “make disciples.”

  1. Making Disciples

In Acts 11:26 in the Antioch Church, “the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians.” It is in the book of Acts where we see the first mention of the term Christian ever used in the Bible. These were disciples in the church that were trained and had the character of Christ.

  1. Gifted & Competent Leaders

The Antioch Church had gifted, and competent leadership as described in Acts 13:1 as “prophets and teachers.” Included on this leadership team were two notable figures, Barnabas, and Saul.

Barnabas—who was called “Son of Encouragement”— was a man of integrity known for always encouraging others; for giving to the church; and so much more.

Saul— now called Apostle Paul—wrote about 1/3 of the New Testament scriptures, and an Apostle to the Gentiles, and so much more.

  1. Multiethnic Leadership

In Acts 13 there is evidence of multiethnic leadership.

-Simeon, “called Niger, meaning black or dark-complexioned.”

-Lucius of Cyrene, “the capital city of Libya in northern Africa.”

-Barnabas is Jewish, a Levite, who accompanied the Apostle Paul on his First Missionary Journey.

-Manaen is considered to be the “foster brother of Herod Antipas” who was possibly from high society.

-Saul is the Hebrew name of the Apostle Paul the great missionary who is Jewish.

  1. Obeying Church

The Antioch Church was an obeying church. They obeyed Jesus’ command to “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19-20. Secondly, they obeyed the Holy Spirit in Acts 13:2-3.

  1. Serving Church

Antioch was a serving church in Acts 13:2. The Greek verb for ministering or serving is λειτουργέω –a present tense verb. What’s unique about the Greek present tense is its continuous action in the present (ongoing). Ministering to the Lord, each other, and their community.

  1. Praying Church

Antioch was a praying Church. The word Pray in Acts 13 is the same word is used in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing.” This is a continuous prayer to the Lord. It is here we see prayer is a necessity to be effective as the church.

  1. Teaching Church

Antioch was a Teaching Church; the Bible says in Acts 11:26 Barnabas and Saul (Paul), taught for a year, and afterward, disciples were called Christians. Their teaching was transformational.

  1. Fasting Church

Antioch was a Fasting Church in Acts 13:2. The Greek verb for fasting is νηστεύω (nēsteúō), again this is a present tense verb indicating the church fasted constantly.

  1. Unifying Church

When a church has synergy, all its functions working together, as it obeys Christ, the Head of the Church, the church becomes unified.

The Book of Acts is abounding in examples of Antioch being a multiethnic church unified in Christ. Detailed above are healthy characteristics identified in Acts that are still relevant to the body of Christ today. Let us continue to find truth in God’s word.

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