Daniel K. Darko, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Gordon College, Wenham, MA
A key passage for renewal is Acts 13:1-3. The outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost marked the birth of the church. However, Pentecost fell short of the scope of the vision of the Kingdom of God. It was a Jewish movement within Jewish geographical borders until the death of Stephen. Later, Luke’s account in Acts 13 redirects the center of Christianity to Antioch. Unlike individual encounters with Gentiles (Peter & Philip), another group encounter with the Holy Spirit would take Christianity into uncharted territories. Antioch would not only become the place where the believers would first be called Christians (Acts 11:23), but also the headquarters for the pioneers of Gentile Missions. Five hallmarks of the ‘Antioch renewal movement’ are noteworthy and commendable to twenty-first century Christian communities desiring to participate in the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
Giftedness: The leaders in Antioch recognized and celebrated the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their membership. The language suggests that these were not offices, but the functions of prophets and teachers. True spiritual renewal looks beyond status to recognize the work of God in individuals. We need to recognize spiritual gifts and allow clergy and laity to serve according to their giftedness.
Openness: The leaders in Antioch were open to whatever God chose to do in response to their prayers. Spiritual-awakening often does not come until people are ready and willing to be open to new things that God is doing. In Antioch, they were ready to let Paul and Barnabas go, and these two were also prepared to yield to God’s direction. From Martin Luther to the Wesley brothers, from Wales’ Ivan Roberts to Azusa Street in Los Angeles, from Asia to Africa, the church has been re-awakened or re-energized only when prayer and openness to transcendent realities were not deemed infantile or burdensome. What will happen in a mega church today if God were to call the lead pastor to an unspecified mission field? How many would leave their powerful positions for a more humble calling?
Fasting and Prayer: The leadership at Antioch was devoted to fasting and prayer. Modern trends and ancient precedence are consistent in the fact that prayer precedes great revivals. Jesus began with prayer. The Jerusalem church was born in prayer and so was the renewal in Antioch. Luke recounts the occasion when five leaders met in worship. These men were ‘waiting’ on God through fasting and prayer. There is no indication that they anticipated the selection of Paul and Barnabas for a mission. It appears that this was a customary practice to set aside a time for prayer and fasting. Think about this! What if our churches stopped the arguments about what God can and cannot do, and devoted themselves more to prayer and fasting?
Unity or Oneness: The church in Antioch was a community that transcended ethno-racial boundaries and economic status to embrace unity in the body of Christ. Simon called Niger (black) and Lucius of Cyrene were natives of North Africa. Manaen was raised with Herod Antipas, suggesting a privileged background. Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew. We know that Saul of Tarsus was highly educated and belonged to the religious elite of his time (Phil. 3). All these differences did not matter in the community that God would use as the launch pad for Gentile missions. What if race, status or gender did not matter and our individual and collective pursuits were geared towards seeking the Kingdom of God and his righteousness (Mt. 6:33)? From Pentecost to Antioch, God worked in powerful ways when Christians were united.
Spiritual Encounter: This new venture in ministry came from the Holy Spirit. There was a spiritual encounter of some sort, and the Holy Spirit was heard in a manner that all parties found agreeable. The tradition of the ‘laying on of hands’ was understood as a form of impartation. Here, Acts 13:4a indicates that they were ‘sent out by the Holy Spirit.’ The Spirit that set them apart is also the Spirit that empowered them for the task. It soon became evident that their spiritual empowerment had equipped them to deal with the influence of evil spiritual forces (Acts 13:6-12).
Let me conclude with the words of Ivan Roberts, written at the beginning of the twentieth century,
For the sake of the bruised and dying, and the lost in darkness lying, we must get the flame. For the sake of Christ in glory, and the spreading of the story, we must get the flame. Oh my soul, for thy refining, and thy clearer, brighter shining, do not miss the flame. On the Holy Ghost relying, simply trusting and not trying, you will get the flame.
This site is a resource for church renewal offered by United Theological Seminary.