How will the ‘nones,’ the ‘unaffiliated,’ the ‘disaffiliated’ people of our contemporary society be convinced of the reality of Easter—that Jesus is alive? In the same way that the ancient pagan Mediterranean world was convinced that “Christ is risen” during the first 300 years of the Jesus movement!
“In the period following the Apostolic Age, there was an exuberant caring and sharing on the part of Christians that was unique in antiquity. [Emperor] Julian the apostate, an enemy of Christianity, admitted that ‘the godless Galileans fed not only their (poor) but ours also.’ Tertullian wrote that the Christians’ deeds of love were so noble that the pagan world confessed in astonishment, ‘See how they love one another.’ By A.D. 250 Christians in Rome were caring for some fifteen hundred needy people… [At Constantinople], Bishop John Chrysostom witnessed: ‘Every day the Church here feeds 3,000 people. Besides this, the church daily helps provide food and clothes for prisoners, the hospitalized, pilgrims, cripples, and others.” (from Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster)
“The early Christian church in the first three centuries after Jesus’s resurrection brought about the most amazing transformation of diverse social and religious cultures ever achieved by peaceful means in the history of the world. How did it happen?
- “. . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world.
- . . . Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems.
- To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope.
- To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment.
- To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family.
- To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes,
- Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . .”
For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.” (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Princeton University Press, 1996, page 161).
For more information, reference How They Love One Another: A look at the Caring & Sharing of the Early Christians and What Were Early Christians Like?
As early Christian faith communities engaged in massive ministries to care for the urban poor, their pagan neighbors became convinced that the power at work in these faith communities could only be explained by the risen Christ being alive and at work in them, empowering them to do what seemed otherwise incredible.
The same will be true for us today!