Grateful for Antioch   Leave a comment

Jesus was a Jew, born among Jews, who lived His life among Jews. His followers were all Jewish. All the early Christians were culturally Jewish.

My ancestors are mostly from northern Europe (my Wendat blood aside). They were Gentiles, worshipping nature gods and the Celtic pantheon under Roman occupation when Jesus was born.

If Jesus’ followers had conducted themselves the way the Jews always had in the past, my ancestors never would have come to Christ … but a curious thing happened in the years following Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jewish persecution of Christians drove the Jewish Christians out of Palestine.

A man named Barnabas (a Hellenistic Jew by birth who had become a Jewish Christian), who was from Cyprus, ended up in Antioch where a Christian church was just getting started. The members of the First Church of Antioch were mostly Gentiles with a smattering of Hellenistic  Jews. Barnabas soon recognized that these young Christians needed guidance. They didn’t know anything Judaism. Perhaps he worried they would continue to practice their pagan ways even as Christians. So he went to Tarsus and found Paul, who had trained as a rabbi under one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the era, but had had to flee Jewish life after becoming a Christian.

Together, these two men provided the Antioch Christians with a foundation theology. Peter checked it out and agreed with what they were doing. Non-Christians first called Jesus’ followers “Christians” at Antioch, because they recognized a unique culture growing within that community.

Around AD 46-47, the church at Antioch committed itself to the Great Commission. They wanted to tell the world beyond their sphere of influence about Jesus Christ. They elected to send their teachers, Paul and Barnabas, on this first-ever mission.

It was a fateful decision that really truly changed the world. Humbly, working for their passage, without use of the sword or political power, these men and the men and women they discipled carried the gospel throughout the known world.

When the missionaries came back from Asia Minor, the church at Jerusalem was presented with a problem. They were Jews who had become Christians. Their culture was very important to them. But there were all these new Gentile Christians. Should the culture of the church in Jerusalem force them to give up their Gentile culture to become Christians or were they already Christians who were not Jewish.

At the first ever catholic (little c intentional) council of Christian churches in Jerusalem in AD 49, it was decided that Christianity did not have a prescribed culture. We could believe the same things about God without having to eat the same foods or hold the same annual events.

This is important to me because I’m posting this on Christmas Eve, when my family celebrates Christmas. There are a lot of naysayers about Christmas who try to insist that Christians ought not to celebrate it because it is the result of paganism tainting Christianity.

I’ve been posting an education series on that, hoping to show that isn’t so. Christians come from a wide variety of cultures and we are not required to all look the same and act the same in our practices. Our theology must be in line with the Bible, but that doesn’t mean our cultures must be ignored.

I applaud the men (and women, as well, for there were some) who thoughtfully considered this issue 2000 years ago and came to recognize that God approaches us within the context of our culture, not devoid of it. Certainly there are doctrines that are clearly defined within the Bible that we should not deviate from, but that still leaves a lot of room for personalization and freedom in Christ.

Check out to see what my fellow authors have to be grateful for this Christmas Eve.

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