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