I was reading this week about the evangelistic zeal of the early church. It’s incredible to think how the movement spread. From a small group of discouraged followers at the time of Christ’s death, news of the resurrection and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit transformed Jesus’ followers and they brought the good news about Jesus to the ends of the earth. Within 300 years, Christianity had been adopted as the official religion of Rome and there wasn’t a place in the empire that hadn’t felt its influence. The article spoke of how the early Christians were motivated by gratitude, responsibility and concern. Their gratitude stemmed from an overwhelming sense of how much Jesus had sacrificed for them. Their responsibility came from a clear conviction that Jesus had commissioned all of His followers to make disciples and be prepared to give a reason for their hope. And their concern came from a deep sense of compassion that people are lost without Jesus Christ. What strikes me is how different their mindset is from what we’re often tempted to think today. Four stark contrasts stand out to me.
- We think that we should lay low because Christianity is unpopular. Somewhere along the line, Christians in North America got used to the idea of Christianity being popular. Now that it’s often publicly attacked and ridiculed, there can be a tendency to retreat. What I love about the early church is how they assumed the unpopularity of Christianity and shared boldly anyway. Christianity was rejected by the Jewish establishment, persecuted under many of Rome’s emperors, and misunderstood by common people. But the church saw these as reasons to share the gospel message not to hide it.
- We think the gospel is for people who like church. I think that we should be grateful that there are still so many in our culture who have some connection or background with the church. But too often we lose our confidence when we speak with people who don’t have a church background or who have had a bad experience with church. The early church did start in the synagogues with people who had a familiarity with the Scriptures. But they soon found themselves kicked out of local synagogues and this just spurred them on to share the good news with others. The message of the gospel spread largely among people who viewed Christianity as a cult and found its practices strange and beliefs unusual. As we have courage to share, the gospel will do the same today.
- We think that we shouldn’t share with people of other religions. In Canada, it’s common for Christians to assume that sensitivity means not saying anything about Christ to someone who has a different religion. The thinking seems to be that people of different faiths would only argue and hurt one another if the topic of religion came up. I think we need to be more comfortable talking about faith with people of all religious backgrounds. As the early church shared its message, everyone they spoke with was a part of another religion. But being a part of a religion is different than being convinced you’ve found the truth. Almost everyone we ministered to in Japan came from Buddhist and/or Shinto religious associations but there was still room for respectful conversation about faith and passionate testimony to the difference that Jesus makes. The same is true in Canada.
- We think that we should spend our time with people who share our beliefs. Fellowship is critical to a believer’s growth and being with people who share your beliefs can be very affirming when there are many people who oppose them. But Christians today often retreat into safe relationships with people who are ‘like us.’ The early church found refuge in fellowship with other believers but that refuge compelled them to go out and love and serve and share the gospel with those who were different than them. And when they seemed to have reached a point of comfort and complacency, God seemed to deliberately scatter them through persecution as He did in Acts 8:1.
Canada is still far more open to the gospel and far more comfortable for Christians than it ever was for the early church. This Christmas, I pray that we’d see the current shifts in our culture as motivation to share our faith not to hide it. Who are you inviting to our Christmas Eve and Candlelight services this Sunday? Who are you praying will respond? Help make Christ’s light shine in the darkness this week.
In awe of Him,