The late great African American Southern Baptist pastor, Dr. George McCalep often stated that “the church at her birth was the church at her best.” In the book of Acts we see the church at her birth and at her best. The book of Acts records the history of the Christian church from the ascension of Jesus through the missionary journeys of Paul. There is much that the 21st century church can learn from the 1st century church – the first Gentile church, the mother of all others that was named after an ancient Syrian city called Antioch.
The first lesson that we learn from the church at Antioch is the fact that this church was birthed by a multi-ethnic church planting team. “Men from Cyprus [a southern European country] and Cyrene [a northeast African country] when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists [Greeks], preaching the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:19,20). In the book of Acts sometimes we see Greek men witnessing to Africans and Asians (Acts 6:8-15, 8:26-40) and we also see African men witnessing to Greek men (Acts 11:19,20). In Acts 8:26-40, God used a Greek speaking man (Phillip) to share the gospel with an unnamed African man who was reading from a Jewish Bible while riding in a Roman province. God wants those of us who know Christ to witness and birth churches that witness to those who do not know Christ irrespective of their color or ethnic identity. The African and European men who planted the church at Antioch were probably Jewish believers who were converted to Christ at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11) and “scattered” to Antioch from Jerusalem during the time of great persecution inflicted upon believers in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). Many of the Jews at Pentecost and at Antioch were proselytes (Acts 2:10, 6:5). Jewish people usually share in common the same physical features the natives of that country have. The church at Antioch was planted by African Christian men and European Christian men from a Jewish background. Again, the church at Antioch was birth by a multi-ethnic church planting team, “men from Cyprus and Cyrene” (Acts 11:20,21).
Antioch was a multi-ethnic city. It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire (after Rome and Alexandria) with a population in the first century of about 500,000. A cosmopolitan and commercial city from its foundations, its inhabitants or citizens included many Jews, Africans, Europeans and Asians. Situated on the left bank of the Orantes River, about 15 miles from the Mediterranean and with caravan roads emerging upon it from the East, Antioch was accessible by boats and caravans to and from Africa, Europe and Asia. The church planting team and the city of Antioch was multi-ethnic. Consequently, the church at Antioch became a multi-ethnic congregation.
The second lesson we learn from the church at Antioch, is that it was led by a multi-ethnic leadership team. This mother congregation was led by Barnabas (European-Cyprus) (Acts 13:1), Simeon who was called Niger (African), Lucius of Cyrene (African) Manean (believed to have been Roman-European), friend of Herod Antipas (Roman) and Saul (Tarsus-Southwest Asia). This multi-ethnic leadership team led the congregation to practice cross cultural evangelism (Acts 11:20-26). A married couple comprised of two different races doesn’t have to try and produce a multi-racial child. As a natural by product of their “fellowship” a child conceived from this union will be multiracial.
The Antioch Network of Churches aspires to return to our biblical roots – the 1st century model and reflect multi-ethnic leadership and produce multi-ethnic church plants and send out multi-ethnic missionary/leadership teams that reflect the biblical church at Antioch. We believe that it’s God’s perfect will for the churches on earth to look like the multi-ethnic make up of Heaven (Rev. 5:9, 7:9). Our network will pray and labor to plant and develop churches that look like Heaven.
The Bible provides a prophetic portrait of an eschatological (end times) spiritual awakening among God’s people that specifically includes people of every nation (Acts 2:5, 2:17; Hosea 6:3; Isaiah 66:19-23; Daniel 7:14; Malachi 1:11). The ANC will avail ourselves to the sovereign God of Heaven to be used (if He so chooses) as a conduit of revival and spiritual awakening that He wants to pour out on His people.
The third and most important lesson that we learn from the church at Antioch is that they majored in missions, ministry, worship, fasting, evangelism, benevolence, church planting and spiritually gifted leadership (Acts 11:19-30; 13:1-4). They were effective as the church at Jerusalem with the doctrine of Christ (Acts 5:28). The church at Antioch was Spirit led, Spirit filled, spiritually gifted, spiritually blessed and worshipped God in Spirit and in truth.
The church at Antioch gave rise to a school of thought distinguished by literal interpretation of the scriptures. Like the church at Antioch, the ANC believe that the Bible is God’s pure (Prov. 30:5), perfect (Psalm 19:7), powerful and inspired (II Tim. 3:16) absolutely without error in the original manuscript and reliable translations are authoritative, accurate, authentic and “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Tim. 3:16,17).
The biblical basis, philosophy, mission, vision and purpose of the ANC is inextricably correlated with and modeled after the New Testament church of Antioch. Our reason for being is to provide a conduit for the sovereign God of the Universe to glorify Himself through His people of every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation cooperating together to plant local churches, serve and revitalize local churches and to expand the witness of the church to the ends of the earth so that all men would be drawn unto Him (John 12:32).
The Psalmist declared, “one generation shall praise your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). What are lessons today’s Baptists and evangelicals can learn from our Baptist and evangelical heritage that would speak to our generation?
The Charlestonian Baptist Tradition
The Charlestonian Baptists were also known as the Regular or Particular Baptists. They were known for their Reformed, or Calvinistic theology, a commitment to doctrinal purity and precision, structure, formal worship, theological training and dialogue, and social and spiritual sophistication. Today they would be referred to as “high church” or “silk stocking” Baptists in White and Black church settings, respectively. The Regular Baptist churches (Charlestonian Baptist) were mostly in urban areas and they shied away from the revival emotions that accompanied the First and Second Great Awakenings. The Charleston tradition believed in providing education and organization for Baptists in the South. Their worship and preaching were more formal and less emotional. Walter B. Shurden described the “Charleston Tradition” with its grace and dignity as emphasizing theological order in their confession of faith, ecclesiological order in their “Summary of Church Discipline”… their liturgical order with their dignified worship and stately hymns and their ministerial order in their emphasis upon a trained minister.”
The Sandy Creek Baptist Tradition
Sandy Creek Baptists were also known as Separate Baptists, and they were known for their devotion to fervent and free worship, evangelism, and church planting. The Separate Baptists were dedicated to the “old time religion.” They preached a “whosoever will” gospel with strong gestures, tears, and altar calls during which the preachers left the platform and went through the congregation exhorting sinners to come forward to be saved. The entire congregation sang the gospel in folk tunes. Songs such as Amazing Grace were set to these folk tunes. They rattled the rafters with their songs and were free to testify in church, say “amen” or “glory,” and run or shout if they were moved by the Holy Spirit. The Separate Baptists most distinctive feature was their emotional style preaching and worship. Outcries, epilepsies and ecstasies attended their meetings. Shouting, weeping, and falling down in a faint were not uncommon. They often danced in the spirit during worship. Women assumed a more prominent role among the Separate Baptists. There were elderesses and deaconesses, and some women also preached and prayed in public. The role of women at Sandy Creek was initially problematic for the Charlestonian Baptists. Walter B. Shurden described the Sandy Creek tradition as people of “Ardor”. He writes, “their worship was revivalistic: Faith was feeling and every Sunday was a camp meeting. Their ministry was charismatic; preaching was a calling and never a profession, and their ecclesiology was independent; their theological approach Biblicist” Walter Shurden said that they were “semi-pentecostal.
The Silver Bluff Baptist Church Tradition
The Silver Bluff Baptist Church tradition was comprised of free and enslaved Blacks who fellowshipped with and were constituted by leaders in the Sandy Creek tradition. They shared with Sandy Creek Baptists a devotion to exaltation, evangelism, and church planting. The emotional worship style of the Sandy Creek Baptists resonated with the Silver Bluff Baptist and they often enjoyed joint worship and fellowship. This Black Baptist church can trace her roots back to Sandy Creek. Plantation slave preacher George Liele, the first Black Baptist in Georgia, founded the Silver Bluff Baptist Church in Silver Bluff, South Carolina in 1773. Sandy Creek Baptists strongly opposed slavery, while many Charlestonian Baptists passionately supported slavery. This may also explain why the Silver Bluff Baptists had a strong relationship with Sandy Creek Baptists. Although today all Baptists would agree that slavery is a horrible sin and shame on the legacy of Baptist and American history, the slavery issue initially served as a barrier to Sandy Creek Baptists and Charlestonian Baptists uniting. The religious expression of the Great Awakening, particularly that of the Separate Baptists, proved to be congenial to the needs of African-Americans and as a threshold to the merging of African and American cultural traditions. One of these itinerants, Waitt Palmer, a White preacher from Connecticut, (the same man involved in Sandy Creek) found willing listeners in two men named David George and Jesse Peters. Waitt Palmer formed eight residents of Silver Bluff into a church, including George and Jesse Peters. George Liele preached to the Silver Bluff community after the church was constituted by Waitt Palmer. This church is arguably the oldest Black Baptist church in America.
The Union – The United Baptist ChurchRegular Baptist (Charleston Tradition) and Separate Baptist (Sandy Creek Tradition) Merge
H. Leon McBeth in his book, “Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness,” summarizes the tradition debate extremely well when he writes, “The order of Charleston and the ardor of Sandy Creek contribute to the synthesis that made up the Southern Baptist Convention. Creative elements from both traditions have enriched Southern Baptist life, and like two streams merging into one river, currents from each can still be identified and traced. The merging of these traditions which continue today; Southern Baptist are still trying to maintain balance between two streams of their heritage, the order of Charleston and the ardor of Sandy Creek”