The Apostle Paul had a special relationship with the Church at Antioch, in Syria.  He probably thought of it as his “home church.”

The Antioch Church was started by refugees from persecution in Jerusalem, about eight years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  It represented the first Christian congregation that was culturally integrated, including both orthodox Jews and “Hellenists” (Jews who adapted to secular Greek culture):

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, and they spoke the word to no one except Jews. But among them were some men of Cyprus and Cyrene who, on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.  (Acts 11:19-23)

Barnabas brought the young convert Saul,who later became the Apostle Paul, to the Antioch Church to be nurtured and trained for his missionary calling:

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”  (verses 25-26)

When a member of the congregation had visions about a coming famine, the Antioch Church set up a benevolent fund to help those who had limited food:

The church members determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. (verses 29-30)

A couple of years later, the Antioch Church commissioned the first missionaries in Christian history, and one of them was Paul:

While the church elders 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.” Then after fasting and   praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.  (Acts 13:2-3)

After each of his missionary trips, starting churches all over Asia Minor and Greece, Paul managed to find a way to visit the Antioch Church to give them a report and be renewed by their worship and fellowship:

They sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time. (Acts 14:26-28; See also Acts 18:22-23)

It was during one of these visits that Paul had an encounter with some orthodox Jewish believers who were trying to get the Gentile converts to submit to Old Testament law.  Paul took a stand that led to one of the most important choices in the life of the young Christian community:

Certain individuals came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  And after Paul and   Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders. So they were sent on their way by the church . . .  (Acts 15:1-3)

After much discussion, the Jerusalem Church decided to support Paul’s position and sent him back to Antioch with a letter to affirm that Gentiles don’t have to become Jews in order to become followers of Jesus:

When they gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. When the members read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. (verses 30-31)

Yes, Paul had many fond memories of his home church, Antioch.

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Which brings us to ABC’s HOMECOMING SUNDAY, November 2, 2014!  Many of you think of Altadena Baptist as your home church.  You may live out of the area now, and hopefully you are an active member of another church.   But you remember important things that happened to you at ABC, spiritual insights that came during worship services, fellowship that has led to continuing friendships, maybe life-changing decisions you made while you were here.

We consider you our apostles!  The word “apostle” comes from the Greek, meaning “sent out one.”  We see you as our missionaries all over the world, “sent out” from ABC, just as Paul was “sent out” from Antioch.

It’s time for all ABC’s apostles to make a visit and report back on all the things God has been doing in and through you.  See you on November 2!

–Pastor George Van Alstine