Christian Hallmarks

Do you yearn for something more than pat-on-the-back-glad-to-see-ya-brother/sister-foyer-fellowship? Do you wish for something more than the perfunctory, superficial “How are you’s?” often exchanged amongst brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you long for the day that membership in the body of Christ becomes more meaningful to your daily life? Do you wish that the idea of community was a concrete reality in your Christian experience, rather than an abstract concept to be grasped?

The Guideposts edition of the eminent Eerdmans’ Handbook to the History of Christianity contains a superlative introduction. Written by Dr. Robert D. Linder, Professor of History at Kansas State University, this introduction gives an insightful summary of “The Christian Centuries.” One particular section caught my eye. Under the heading of “Christian Hallmarks”, Linder offers the following:

“The hallmarks of apostolic Christianity were simplicity, community, evangelism and love. It was simple because it had little or no formal organization, maintained no church buildings or membership rolls, taught easy-to-understand doctrines, and followed a plan of financing activities by personal giving. This simplicity appealed especially to the poor and oppressed classes which could understand and participate without difficulty in the new faith.

“In addition, the Christian emphasis on a community of love sealed by baptism appealed to many people who were otherwise without hope and desperately lonely. Many felt themselves adrift in a world grown too large, and they craved the type of intimate fellowship offered by the Christian congregations. The Christian community made no distinctions based upon race, nation, cultural status, slavery, freedom or sex. The Christian church was to be gathered from every nation, all tribes, peoples and language-groups. The sense of community was fostered by frequent meetings for worship, study, sharing and the celebration of a love feast called the agape. In short, the community of Christians gave many otherwise outcast people a real sense of identity and belonging.

“Furthermore, the early Christians were aggressively evangelistic. They wanted to share their new-found life in Christ with others less fortunate. They believed that Jesus was the Son of God and that he could do what he claimed. They wanted to spread to the entire world the good news of new life in Christ. They were certain that they were right and were convinced that they had found ultimate truth (or ‘reality’) and values in Jesus and his teachings.”

These insightful observations regarding the earliest days of Christianity are intriguing for many reasons. With respect to perceptions about the world, there are amazing parallels between contemporary Christians and the early church. In our day, many feel themselves “adrift in a world grown too large.” Thus, there is a yearning for something more than foyer-fellowship—the glad-handing and superficial “How ya’ doin’s?” that oftentimes typify our interactions with one another.

It amazes me, also, that the plight and predicament of humanity in general has not changed. Even though our world has become an incredibly crowded place, loneliness remains a prolific heartbreaker. Factor in the mobile nature of our culture and it is easy to see why we are fast-becoming a nation of lost and lonely people. Perhaps Thoreau’s observation regarding the masses of humanity leading lives of quiet desperation was, indeed, correct.

Pondering Linder’s summary of the hallmarks of apostolic Christianity should cause us to do some serious soul-searching. What would happen if Christians from the first century were suddenly thrust into the twenty-first century? Would they recognize us as true adherents to Christ? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

No doubt about it, we need to take a fresh look at the Scriptures and a careful look at our lives. We need to honestly evaluate “our ministry plans” in light of the Lord’s will for our lives. Honestly, do our ministry portfolios tend to call attention to our own prowess in strategic planning and organizational design; or, do they reflect the simplicity of God’s design and confidence in God’s ability to direct our lives in His service?

We really do need to examine prevailing philosophies, principles and policies against the paradigms of New Testament Christianity. Are we living into the Lord’s will to the extent that the reality of Christ’s Kingdom is being demonstrated by our lives? Are we living out our community calling in such a way that our lives together in the body of Christ are a testimony that we are the Lord’s disciples? Can the world see Christ living in us by the love we have for one another? Are we passionate about the things that Jesus was passionate about? Are we helping those in need? Are we pointing the way to God by faithfully sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others? We need to ask: Do the hallmarks of contemporary Christianity reflect God’s plans and purposes for our lives?

© Bill Williams
September 20, 2005

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Bible Study, Blogroll, Christian Living, Christianity, Church, Following Jesus, Kingdom Living, Life. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Christian Hallmarks

  1. Maria Toth says:

    Thanks. Interessant! 🙂 Fellowship of a deep nature is what we all crave, i believe, for it mirrors the fellowship of the Trinity!

    God bless
    Maria in the UK

  2. Thoreau was indeed right. In the midst of millions of faces, there is incredible lonliness. That is, I believe also true with Christians. We haven’t gotten the hang of that one commandment; “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Think about the faces in your church-do a visual survey and try to pick out ones who portray lonliness. They are there!
    Thanks Bill!

  3. preacherman says:

    I hope that the Hallmarks of Christianity will be what the Church is known for in the 21st Century. Great post as always.

  4. Donna says:

    To all the questions in the first paragraph I would say YES!!

    Great thoughts!

  5. Dee Andrews says:

    I really like the portion of Dr. Linder’s essay that you quote here. I’ve experienced that kind of fellowship in the last several years and it was wonderful. Now I’m in a new place that is much more traditional in its approach and makeup and I’m really wanting to see some of those positive changes made (and want to help make them, if I can).

    The main way we experienced that kind of fellowship was through our small groups that met each Sunday evening in various homes of our congregation’s members. I hosted such a group for a long time and then our neighbors across the street who I helped lead to Christ hosted a group themselves. It was terrific.

    Plus, I’ve long taken the approach in talking with people of other faith groups of emphasizing the simplicity of New Testament Christianity in its form and function and have emphasized our commonalities as Christians today, even in different groups or “tribes” or denominations.

    Christ simply told the Samaritan woman at the well that there would soon come a time when all would experience true worship in truth and Spirit without the need for a temple or a tabernacle or a building or musical instruments or anything other than two or three people gathering together anywhere in the world in Jesus’ name with some bread and wine. They would sing together and pray and commune and encourage. Very simple; anytime, anywhere under any circumstances.

    Man has been the one who has made “church” and being a Christian such a complicated thing, in my opinion. Jesus meant for it to be very simple and straightforward. He also meant for us to gather together often as a family who always loves being together, much like we still do today in our own families during the holidays and at reunions and all.

    Thanks for the good post. I like the title and the thoughts contained therein.


  6. Kathy says:

    John M Kenny – great comments. However, if we really are interested in finding the truly lonely of our congregations, stand out in the parking lot and notice who goes home alone after services week after week. Once identified, invite ’em to lunch or something. We believers are most apt in hiding our true natures behind our Sunday smiles of “I’m okay, I’m all right.” We really have to dig in and take time if we’re going to truly identify those that need us. At least, imho that is. 🙂

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