For the month of July we will be studying just how the early Christians went about practicing their faith.
As will be typical of many of my posts I will start them out with quotes from one of my many sources that got me to thinking about the current post. This quote comes from a book by Robin Myers entitled The Underground Church – Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus.
We forget to distinguish between history as a record of the elites and history as a record of the people. While most academics concentrate on the theologians who wrote the treatises and on the bishops who argued about questions of authority, the most important constituency of all gets left out: the vast majority of ordinary people whose lives were dramatically changed by the Jesus Movement. This included women, peasants, and slaves.
It is important to understand just how diverse the early church was. For the first three centuries there were no creeds or lists of beliefs that you had to follow to call yourself a follower of the Way. For the most part these early Christian groups were just ordinary people who had banded together around their trust in the teachings of Jesus. One common practice was that they would sell their possessions and turn the proceeds over to the leader of their group to be used for the benefit of all. This was part of their core beliefs of hospitality. We will get into that in a future post.
Because, almost all the people of The Way were illiterate they left little behind in the way of written documents. There were some documents being passed around during this period, some of them by the Apostle Paul among others, but for the first hundred years or they were simply unavailable to many. But in recent years artifacts of their existence have been found to let us know a little more about them. We also know more about them from the study of tax law, and organizational documents from the Roman military of the times. We know that they were a big enough perceived threat to the Roman empire that many of their leaders, but only a small percentage of followers, were executed in the Coliseum.
We know that they lived their daily lives around their faith to an infinitely greater degree than do today’s Christians. But faith to them was not citing a creed, they just didn’t exist for the most part for several hundred more years, but instead faith was defined as a trust in the teaching and wisdom of Jesus Christ. They trusted in what Jesus did and said. Christians were centuries away from putting beliefs ahead of actions.