Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Want astonishing growth rates? Try this...

This is the gist of holy growth - unwavering convictions + love
Constantine's legalization of Christianity in 313 did not so much aid its spread as recognize its success. By 350, over half the population of the empire were followers of Jesus. After nearly three centuries of persecution, these were not nominal believers. Whether they became martyrs or not, these early Christians gave their lives for the faith. Yet the early church grew by 40% every ten years.

"What Stark found in his study of the first Christian centuries was an astonishing growth rate of 40% per decade."

Living conditions at that time were horrid. Overcrowded cities were unsanitary, dangerous, unpleasant places to live. Life expectancy was around 30 years for males, and infanticide (especially of girls) was common. Marriage was typically an abusive relationship, and abortion and adultery were rampant.

Christian marriage and child-rearing practices were in stark contrast. The Christian home was the primary means of evangelism in the early centuries of church history. Pagan women found Christian homes to be highly attractive and as a result, a disproportionate number of the converts during this time were women. In turn, the presence of these women drew pagan men who were looking for wives.

Devastating epidemics regularly swept across the Mediterranean world in those days. It was common for pagans to abandon the cities and even their own family members because they had no way to avoid catching the disease. Christians, however, not only took care of their own relatives and each other, they would care for pagan neighbors. This work was carried on by families in their homes, not through institutions. This compassion gradually began to transform the entire society as more and more people converted to Christianity.

We would do well to imitate the Christian charity of our forebears. Instead of thinking of the church in terms of special buildings and programs, we should view the places we live as places of worship, fellowship, service, and outreach. Love must begin at home. We should be as loath to desecrate our "domestic churches" with harsh words to each other as we would be to profane the sanctuary. We should discipline ourselves as families to have regular times of corporate prayer and Bible study at home. We should always seek opportunities to serve the poor, elderly, or lonely in our communities--whether by making meals, offering hospitality, or simply sharing our children's artwork.

Even as early Christians refused to fit in with the loose morals of the Roman empire, we must not compromise with the divorce, abortion, or homosexuality prevalent in our own day. Yet we Christian families must passionately love the sinners who inhabit our neighborhoods. "Salt of the Empire: The Role of the Christian Family in Evangelization" by Mike Aquilina. Touchstone, May 2004 (Vol 17, No 4).


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