One of the easiest ways of identifying a product or service provider is simply by recognizing its logo. For instance, every major road is filled with businesses that continuously invite travelers to satisfy their needs by means of their distinctive symbols.
Through the media, we have been trained from childhood in the symbolic language of restaurants, automobiles, banks, clothing stores, toy stores, and churches. All this is designed to save the time it takes to do the necessary research required to find the product we desire.
We also know that the logo or label of a product does not make the product, but that the product makes the logo! For instance, you can take the Mercedes logo and put it on a Hyundai, but that doesn’t make the Hyundai into a Mercedes!
Could it be that this is exactly what has happened to Christianity?
The more I study the ancient Church and its writings, the more it seems that we have taken the ancient logo of the Cross and superimposed it upon a different religion of infinitely lesser quality.
But of course, if one has only known a steady diet of stale crackers and putrefied cheese, then no amount of recriminations can convince us that our diet, is in fact, killing us. We should seek to expose such a people to food of better quality and taste so that they can come to an appreciation of the “new” knowledge they have acquired.
This is why, instead of hitting Christians over the head with the “news” that their current religion is a fraud, it is best to live in the attractive distinctiveness of the early Church, so that the curious would inquire as to our inspirational way of life, and learn about the holistic truth of Jesus Christ.
I will list some of the disctinctives of the Christian Church before the 5th Century as an example of how much Christianity has changed.
- Sacrificial Love
Christians loved one another, period. This love was expressed through sincere and devoted care for the devotees. No one lacked and everyone contributed to the real needs of the Christian community. Obedience and respect were not founded upon fear, but upon the loving principle of considering others to be better than ourselves.
Christians were a community of disciples. Even though they didn’t necessarily live in “communes,” they spent most of their time together in worship, study or godly activities. Christians lived “separate” lives that did not participate in secular entertainments, such as the theater, watching gladiators, the bath houses or festivals. These were viewed as deceptive distractions that kept them from being focused on Christ.
Soon after the initial state of the Pentecostal experience and within the lifetime of Saints Peter and Paul, baptism developed into a rite of initiation for those who proved their desire to become disciples of Lord Jesus. The primary purpose of baptism was not in order to “get saved” nor as an act of “obedience,” but rather, as a rite of initiation into the Teachings and Mysteries of the Gospel. History attests that many were part of the Christian community as indefinite “hearers” or “catechumens,” because they had not proven to be worthy of entering into the full communion of the Christian community. Christian disciples were subject to their leaders in the person of their Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons, because the understanding was that God had elected and established them as His representatives. Nothing was done in the Christian community without the consent and oversight of the Bishop…Nothing.
3. Foreign Ethos
Christians saw themselves as “living in the world, but not part of the world.” They strictly respected the laws of this world in so far as they were not required to deny Lord Jesus. Although they were better in obeying the laws than their secular counterparts, many Christians were tortured and put to death simply because they would not burn a little incense to the effigy of Cesar and exclaim: “Hail Cesar.” In fact, many were so loyal to their King, Lord Jesus Christ, that they would exclaim “Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory Forever!” as the flames engulfed their bodies and the lions teared their limbs. Christians considered themselves to be citizens of heaven and already seated with Christ, at the right hand of God the Father. Christians always had an attitude of readiness to depart from this world in a moment’s notice, and go home.
4. Christian Morality
Christian morality transcended the common philosophy of abstention that is the hallmark of the great religions of the world. Lord Jesus had commanded to “DO unto others what you would have them DO unto you.” (Luke 6:31) The distinctives of males and females were accentuated through modesty and respect. The Elderly were cherished, venerated, and obeyed. Widows without families became the mothers of the community. Virginity and abstinence were considered exalted states of being. People married the “brothers or sisters” in the Faith as a life-long vocation and with the consent of their Bishop. Oftentimes, Christian couples would abstain from sexual relations after the age of 50 in order to dedicate their entire lives to Christ. Since every human being was considered to be the image of God, they were treated as symbols of God in all respect and love. Christians oftentimes rescued unwanted children who were left to die “exposed” in the woods and bought slaves in the market in order to set them free.
5. Bold Proclamation
Christians did not hide their Faith. They would pray boldly and joyfully everywhere and in all places. They preached and taught everywhere they went- and when they suffered or died for it, many more would convert to the Christian Faith. Christians were courageous ambassadors of a new reality…a new world of divine love that would never perish. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was not primarily about Jesus “paying” God the Father for our sins, but rather, a doctrine of representative triumphalism through the Cross. In his vulnerability, Christ Jesus stood as the representative of all mankind and in our stead defeated all our enemies, especially fate. Lord Jesus defeated alienation from communion with the person of God through his death, and through the resurrection he defeated Hell itself. Christ took humankind from its current slavery to the putrefying state of this world, and raised us up in Him to the highest plane in heaven, even God’s throne.
6. Continual Expectation.
When Lord Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, his Angels promised that He would descend in a like manner upon the same place, in fulfillment of Scripture. (Zechariah 14:4) The person of Christ was the only incentive to wholeheartedly live the Christian life. The only thing that mattered was Christ’s command to “stay awake” because no one knew the hour in which he would return. (Matthew 24:42) Christians expected for Christ to return at any time and at any moment. Like in the case of a father and mother not being able to sleep because they have been anxiously waiting for their teenage child to return home from a party… Christians waited for Christ, urgently exclaiming “Maranatha! Come Lord Christ!”
**So if you know of a Christian community that shares these 6 distinctives, please let me know. I’d like to join them.