The early Christians did not say “look what the world is coming to!” but “look what has come into the world!”
The early church was most useful when it preached the meaning of Christ through the lens of the whole of Scripture. It was most powerful when it maintained integrity with God and other human beings. It was most evangelistic when it understood that adherents of other religions, whether Jewish or Greek or Roman, faced eternal judgment without Christ.
When the early believers converted to Christ, it never occurred to them to fit Him into the margins of their busy lives. They redefined themselves around a new, immovable center. He was not an optional weekend activity, along with the kids’ soccer practices. They put Him and His church and His cause first in their hearts, first in their schedules, first in their budgets, first in their reputations, first in their very lives. They devoted themselves [Ac. 2:42]. [This was] unmistakable evidence that the Holy Spirit was being poured out.
In the whole range of history there is no more striking contrast than that of the Apostolic churches with the heathenism around them. They had shortcomings enough, it is true, and divisions and scandals not a few, for even apostolic times were no golden age of purity and primitive simplicity. Yet we can see that their fullness of life, and hope, and promise for the future, were a new sort of power in the world. Within their own limits they had solved almost by the way the social problem which baffled Rome, and baffles Europe still. They had lifted woman to her rightful place, restored the dignity of labor, abolished beggary, and drawn the sting of slavery. The secret of the revolution is that the selfishness of race and class were forgotten in the Supper of the Lord, and a new basis for society found in love of the visible image of God in men for whom Christ died (Henry Gwatkin).
Authentic, biblical Christianity has always been an exclusive religion. This became apparent during the Roman Empire. When the Emperor Alexander Severus heard about Christianity, he placed an image of Christ beside the other gods in his private chapel, just to be safe. The Romans were happy to welcome Jesus into their pantheon. What the Romans couldn’t understand was why Christians refused to reciprocate. If the emperor was willing to worship Christ, why weren’t Christians willing to worship the emperor? Yet the early Christians insisted that in order to worship Christ at all, they had to worship Christ alone. They were even willing to stand up for this conviction by playing “Christians and lions” at the Colosseum.
The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church
It is our care for the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness, that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. “Only look,” they say, “look how they love one another” (they themselves being given over to mutual hatred). “Look how they are prepared to die for one another” (they themselves being readier to kill each other). Thus had this saying become a fact, “Hereby shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
Christians are differentiated from other people by country, language, or customs. They do not live in cities of their own or speak some strange dialect. They live in their own native lands, but as resident aliens. They marry and have children just like everyone else, but they do not kill unwanted babies.
A dozen ignorant peasants proclaiming a crucified Jew as the founder of a new faith; bearing as the symbol of their worship an instrument which was the sign of ignominy, slavery and crime; preaching what must have seemed an absurd doctrine of humility, patient suffering and love to enemies – graces undreamed of before; demanding what must have seemed an absurd worship for one who had died like a malefactor and a slave, and making what must have seemed an absurd promise of everlasting life through one who had himself died, and that between two thieves.
Christianity burst into a corrupt world with a brilliantly new moral radiance… The moral level of society was dismal, and sin prevailed in many forms… Into this discouraged world came Christ and His Spirit-transformed disciples, filled with holy joy, motivated by a love which the pagans could not grasp, and proclaiming Good News-the message that God has provided a Savior… The Christians lived in tiny communities knit together in the power of the Holy Spirit, little colonies of heaven. They thought of themselves as pilgrims on their way to the celestial city, but they were very much concerned to manifest the love of Christ in all human relationships.