Today’s post comes from David Fairchild’s website found here. Interesting stuff. Incidentally, Rodney Stark, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington and raised a Lutheran, says of himself, “I’ve never been an atheist. Atheism is an active faith; it says, ‘I believe there is no God.’ But I don’t know what I believe. I was brought up a Lutheran in Jamestown, North Dakota. I have trouble with faith. I’m not proud of this. I don’t think it makes me an intellectual. I would believe if I could, and I may be able to before it’s over. I would welcome that.“* (emphasis mine)
10 Marks of the Early Church
Rodney Stark and other sociologists tell us there were 10 values of early Christians that stood in stark (no pun intended) contrast to the pluralistic pagan culture of Rome. Let’s prayerfully think through these values and match them to the witness of our own churches. Do we see the city existing for us or do we see our church and our lives existing for the city?
1. They refused to attend blood thirsty entertainment. They wouldn’t go to gladiatorial events because they believed it defiled humans who were created in the image of God.
2. This made them appear to be anti-social. Tertullian and Augustine both write about these events in a negative light.
3. They did not serve in the military to support Caesar’s wars of conquest, which made them appear weak.
4. They were against abortion and infanticide. In this culture, both were considered acceptable. To throw your baby out on the dung heap if you didn’t want it was not taboo.
5. They empowered women by showing their value and dignity in places of learning and service which had previously been exclusively for men. Christians held women in high regard and treasured them rather than viewing them as just a step above expendable children and servants.
6. They were against sex outside of marriage. This fidelity was considered odd and against culture. Sex was viewed as nothing more than a desire like eating or sleeping. Christians held a high view of the bed and kept it pure and would not engage in sex outside of marriage.
7. They were against homosexual relationships. This was odd in a time when same sex practice was not frowned upon.
8. They were exceptionally generous with their resources. They shared what they had with one another and welcomed others in with a hospitality that was unparalleled. They were radically for the poor. In a time when the poor and downtrodden were viewed as getting what they deserved, they were aggressively committed to loving and serving people in the margins of society.
9. They mixed races and social classes in ways that were unseen in their gatherings, and for it they were considered scandalous.
10. They believed only Christ was the way to salvation. This was in a time when everyone had a god and could believe something entirely different and it was totally acceptable to be polytheists and pluralistic. Christians dared claim that Jesus was the only way and refused to bend to other gods.
Our city has yet to see a group of people that hold these practices simultaneously.
If we held the values 1-Refused bloodthirsty sports, 2-Refused militarism, 4-Empowered women, 9-Mixed races and classes, and 10-Were radically for the poor, we would be considered liberal by conservative ideology.
If we held to values 3-Were against abortion, 5-Forbid sex outside of marriage, 6-Forbid same-sex practice, and 10-Insisted that Jesus was the only way for salvation we would be labeled conservative by liberal ideology.
We don’t fit into the relativistic landscape of our time, nor rugged individualism or traditional hierarchical legalism. We simply don’t fit into current categories. We don’t fit neatly into conservative or liberal categories. This is because we are resident aliens.
Whenever Christians pick up the values of the Gospel and begin living them out in our city we are on the one hand vilified for our values and at the same time oddly attractive in ways that often confound our most vocal opponents. If we experience neither vilification nor attraction what qualities of our life are missing which mark Kingdom citizens through history?
*for entire interview with Rodney Stark, click here.