I’ve been going through a study of the early church, and I have been thinking a lot about the rapid expansion of Christianity.
There are a lot of reasons why the early church multiplied. At the time the Roman Empire was at peace (Pax Romana) the borders were safe, and people were able to travel freely without concern. The people of the empire shared a similar language (Koine Greek) so people would be able to speak a common language no matter where they traveled throughout the vast empire. And, because of the dispersing of the Jews throughout Asia and Europe, there were synagogues all over the place. Everywhere the early believers went there would be a place to go and share the gospel message.
Those are some of the reasons why the early church was growing, but there are some others as well.
The early church acted differently compared to the rest of the culture.
For example, Christians had compassion for the poor. We know in Acts that the early believers would sell their excess possessions for the poor believers leading to a sense of equality. Even hundreds of years later, Emperor Julian would comment on how not only did Christians take care of their own poor but also nonbelievers as well?! The leader of the government, (who wasn’t a fan of Christians), was dumbfounded by how they treated all people.
We see another example of how they were different; Christians went out of their way to help the babies who were left to die in the garbage. The Roman Empire was known for its lack of affection for babies and its willingness to accept practices of infanticide for a variety of reasons. The early church was known to save the babies from the trash and raise them as their own or give them proper burials if they passed away.
The early church benefited from the stability of the government, but they also benefited for their convictions for the helpless.
Today’s church in the United States is vastly different than the early church. For example, if you go to any Christian leadership conference, you probably won’t find a class about helping the helpless. Yes, you might hear a guest speaker talk about it, or it might come up in passing. But what you will hear is this word “excellence.” You will listen to how your ministry needs to be excellent, and it needs to be a stellar experience for people who are visiting. If you want the right customers, you need to make sure they get a clean building, with friendly people and possibly some sort of gift on the way out.
This is a style of attracting the right people so they can become good givers so that the church to pay for the extras like air conditioning. People need Jesus, but they won’t stay unless they are comfortable
John Crist had a great skit about pastors on easter, you can check it below.
We are far from the early church in many ways, and we have traded what made us different from the pharisaical attitude that Jesus taught against in the gospels. We gave up helping the helpless for catering to the wealthy.
Side note: Living in the Seattle area, I know the homeless situation is very complicated, and our church has had many issues with abusers of the system. But we haven’t given up on helping either. Instead of walking away, we are evaluating how we can help solve the problems not just prolong bad choices.
As Christians, we need to start being different in the way that makes people think “Why are they acting like this?” And I am not talking about being different in wearing denim skirts and homeschooling our kids (those things aren’t bad, but I don’t know how that helps the kingdom). We need to be different in the ways that matter, in a radical love so different than our society, that it touches everyone around us.