I believe that for those who claim to be Christian, discovering Christianity’s unique beginnings should be continually sought and made afresh with new understanding and study. Why? Because I think we will be encouraged and challenged.
This doesn’t mean you need to get a Ph.D. in the subject. Maybe you should just read a few things such as a blog post or two (consider what I have written about the growth of early Christianity over the past few days: day 1, day 2, day 3). Regardless of what you read, the book of Acts should never be left out.
One of the ways I think studying the early church will encourage us is that we will be reminded of the difficulties the early disciples had to overcome.
It was a small group of eleven men whom Jesus commissioned to carry on his work, and bring the gospel to the whole world. They were not distinguished; they were not educated; they had no influential backers. In their own nation they were nobodies and, in any case, their own nation was a mere second-class province on the eastern extremity of the Roman map.
If they had stopped to weigh up the probabilities of succeeding in their mission, even granted their conviction that Jesus was alive and that his Spirit went with them to equip them for their task, their hearts must surely have sunk, so heavily were the odds weighted against them. How could they possibly succeed? And yet they did.
So what were some of the difficulties the early disciples faced?
- The early disciples were nobodies.
- They were seen as atheistic as they did not honor the customary gods.
- They were believed to be guilty of both incest and cannibalism. The reason for this is that they met in secret, spoke about feeding on Christ in the Eucharist, and spoke of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Their idea that Jesus’ death on the cross was the key to the wisdom of the ages was laughable.
- Their ethical lifestyle was not appealing.
(see Chapter 2 in Evangelism in the Early Church)
Basically, “Christians were opposed as anti-social, atheistic, and depraved,” writes Green. “Their message proclaimed a crucified criminal, and nothing could have been less calculated than that to win them converts.”
And yet despite all of this, the message spread throughout the Roman Empire. Though the message of the cross was folly to those who were perishing, to those who were being saved it was the power of God (see 1 Corinthians 1:18).
What difficulties does the church face today? What difficulties do you personally face in sharing the gospel? Is it easy to get discouraged? If so, it will do us good to remember the early church and the hardships they overcame as the proclaimed the gospel–the gospel which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).