Ministry Musings: “Deep and Wide” (3)

The church in Antioch was deep and wide, exhibiting a communal identity, a laity foundation, and a social unity.

It also (fourthly) had a worshipful center. The late Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, wrote that worship is the central act of the people of God.  It is the central act precisely because it establishes the revelation/response pattern which is at the heart of the Christian life.

We are made in the image of God in order to be able to receive what God wants to give to us through revelation.  Whether we gather in corporate worship or in our times of personal devotion, we are honoring that holy privilege.  We can build much of the Christian life when we enact this sentence, “I believe I have heard (one thing) from God; here is (one thing) I want to do in response to what I’ve heard.”  By igniting this pattern, we find ourselves worshiping God in all places and at all times.

Finally, the church at Antioch had a missional instinct.  When we read Acts 13:2-3, we see it.   Long before Emil Bruner ever wrote, “the church exists by mission as a fire exists by  burning,” these early Christians knew this was so.

And….they demonstrated it in a remarkable way….they accepted the Holy Spirit’s guidance to release Paul and Barnabas to leave them and go into the world.  This was like asking a congregation to “say goodbye” to two of its most important people.  It would have been so easy to have said, “Lord, we know we’re supposed to send someone ‘out there,’ but we really cannot do without Paul and Barnabas.”

They could send the very two people who had ignited faith in them, because they were not dependent upon any particular personalities; they were dependent upon Christ.  And therefore, they could release Paul and Barnabas with joy to go out to offer Christ to others, even as they had offered it to the people in Antioch.

The five elements we’ve looked at are part and parcel of the DNA of a church that’s “deep ane wide.”  The little song that many of us sang in Vacation Bible School as children is still the song God is calling the church to sing today.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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