Cultural ‘Diversity’ and the Church
Acts 13:1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Only Jesus could unite such a diverse group. In the decade after the Cross, city of Antioch had become the ’center’ of the Christian church. It was in Antioch that Believers were first called ’Christians’. And it was from Antioch that the world’s greatest missionary, Paul, was called and commissioned. Persecution, often the greatest asset to Christianity, had forced most Believers from Jerusalem. Antioch was now the center of the Christian world.
God was truly doing amazing things in the church at Antioch. People were coming to Christ. The church was taking care of the poor. The Holy Spirit was pouring out revelation, prophecy and teaching that would shape the Christian world forever. But perhaps most importantly, the church at Antioch had achieved a unique racial unity.
Cultural diversity is a hot topic today. The world, however, can never mandate or legislate racial, national or socioeconomic respect. It can only come from the Cross— that unique awareness experienced by Christians that we are all ‘sinners in need of a Savior’. When I understand that, every vestige of personal pride falls to the ground.
Look at the worship service described above in the FOCUS Verses. Note the people in attendance.
Barnabas: a kindhearted soul, a Jew from the island of Cyprus
Simeon called Niger: if not of African descent, he was notably dark (hence the name ‘Niger’). He may have been the man chosen to carry Jesus’ cross, although we can’t know for sure.
Lucius: Cyrene, a city in modern Libya, so Lucius was an African.
Manaen: to be brought up in the home of Herod meant privilege, power, and access. Manaen was a person of means.
Saul: a Pharisee, a Jew in the strictest sense
This passage is a great example of what the Cross of Jesus can do. It brings people from wildly different and adversarial backgrounds together. In another setting, these men, in all likelihood would not have been friends. But in the Church of Jesus, together as brothers!!