Compared & Contrasted

The Churches Of Christ In Syria

by Jeff Asher

"And straightway he [Saul] preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Chris… Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas that he should go as far as Antioch. Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord" (Acts 9:20-22 and Acts 11:19-23).

Their Diversity In Liberty

Doing a little background reading reveals that the Church at Damascus and the Church at Antioch, while both Churches of Christ, still had their own unique features. We sometimes forget that unity in Christ does allow for diversity in matters of liberty (2 Corinthians 8, 10; Romans 14). Their significant differences explain why these two churches developed and played the roles they did in spreading the Gospel in the first century.

Damascus was a Church composed of orthodox Jews from the synagogues (Acts 9:2; 22:5, 12; 26:11-12). Whereas, Antioch was a Church composed of Hellenistic Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:19-20). This cultural difference soon led to an advantage for the Christians at Antioch.

After the conversion of Cornelius, those who were scattered from Jerusalem began to preach the Gospel not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. This, of course, resulted in a tremendous growth of the churches where it occurred. Most notably at Antioch, they received the word with readiness and a Church composed of Jews and Gentiles flourished. Consequently, Antioch becomes the next great center of evangelism, the starting point for the preaching journeys of Paul.

Both of these Churches enjoyed a pleasant relationship with the Apostle Paul. He was immersed by the devout disciple Ananias in Damascus. His early evangelistic work in the Kingdom was at Damascus and Tarsus. He was well liked and valued by the saints seeing they were willing to risk their life for him (Acts 9:24-25; II Corinthians 11:32-33). In all Paul labored about three years on their behalf.

The relationship with Antioch was even more splendid. This Church took upon itself the support of Paul in his evangelistic journeys through Asia Minor and Europe (Acts 13:3). This relationship continued throughout the entire course of Paul's work (14:26-27; 15:40; 18:22-23; 20:3). He readily considered Antioch as his home base and recognized that he had a special accountability to them.

The most striking difference between these two churches is their divergent attitudes toward the Law of Moses. At Damascus, there was a definite zeal for the law (Acts 22:12). This is an environment that would have been comfortable for the young convert Saul (Acts 22:1-3). These saints were still maintaining closeness to the synagogue. However, in Antioch, things were quite different. Paul matured in his understanding of the Law and the Gospel to the point that he understood that men could not be justified by the law (Acts 15:1ff). He came to know that what had once been bound was now loosed for the Jew and could never be bound upon the Gentile (Romans 14:17-21).

Their Unity In The Faith

While these churches were different, both still followed the same pattern (I Corinthians 4:17; II Timothy 1:13).

Both Damascus and Antioch Preached the One Faith. Paul describes in brief the chronology of his early life in Galatians 1:19-24. Of himself, he says that he "preached the faith which once he destroyed." Thus, in Syria, whether among orthodox Jewish converts or Gentile believers Paul preached the same faith—the faith he obeyed at Damascus.

Pre-millennial Dispensationalists construe Paul's ministry as a complicated and convoluted hodgepodge of Judaism and antinomianism. They argue that when Paul—the Jew—was converted by Jews and preached to Jews, he was following a Kingdom message for Jews that originated at Pentecost with Peter. However, when Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles was converting Gentiles, he preached the Mystery Gospel of the Grace of God. This is speculation and unbelief. Paul said he preached the Gospel "every where in every Church."

The Disciples wore the same name at Antioch and Damascus. The Disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26). This is not the only place they were called this, just the first place. This name was the name God put upon His people (Isaiah 62:1-4; cf. Acts 11:26; Matthew 2:12, 22; Hebrews 11:7). This is the only name by which all the disciples were called (James 2:7). It is the only name by which we can glorify Christ (I Peter 4:14, 16). It is the name which Paul accepted and which he urged all men to accept (Acts 26:28-29). Surely, it was the name all the Syrian believers wore.

Both Syrian Churches were incredibly evangelistic. While they may have had diverse opportunities—one to the Jews, the other to the Gentiles—both proceeded with tremendous zeal in accomplishing the great commission as opportunity allowed. Neither Church shirked its duty. Neither is there the hint of prejudice in the churches. The Gospel to all men was their intent.

Finally, both preached the same baptism. Paul wrote the Church at Ephesus, "There is one baptism" (4:5). When writing the Church at Rome he said, "Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ ... we are buried with Him by baptism... we have been planted together in the likeness of His death ..." (Romans 6:1-7). Paul said the water baptism he had (Acts 22:16), was the same that the Gentiles in Rome had. That is so because there is only one. There is not one for Jews and another for Gentiles. All have the same baptism—immersion in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).

Different But The Same

Whatever diversity existed among the Syrian Churches of Christ, it was not doctrinal or moral. The Churches did not follow divergent patterns for work and worship. Their opportunities and circumstances determined the outward appearance of the Churches. The Gospel determined their inner character and faithfulness to Christ.