Jesus did not establish the church as an institution with a slick “Public Relations” plan. His followers were attracted by his message. They became a movement that developed into the early church.
Today, there are more than 50 million Catholics in the United States alone. They are “governed” by some 400 bishops in structures called dioceses.
Keep in mind that Jesus started with a small group of very ordinary people.
In this Vincentian Mindwalk, I explore how the early church went from a small movement to a worldwide institution.
Back to the beginning…
Around the year 100, there were already some 25,000 Christians, amazing growth for the times. But in spite of many persecutions, by 300 AD, they numbered some 20,000,000!
How did they grow from being a small movement to the most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in just two centuries?”
All this growth should not have happened!
Against all odds!
Before you respond, here are some important things to keep in mind. (The following is based on The Forgotten Ways, a book by Alan Hirsch dedicated to exploring dimensions of church renewal.)
They were an illegal religion throughout this period. At best, they were tolerated; at the very worst, they were very severely persecuted.
There were no church buildings as we know them. While archaeologists have discovered chapels dating from this period, they were definitely exceptions to the rule. They tended to gather in “house” churches.
Nor did they have a highly institutionalized or professional form of leadership normally associated with a church today.
They didn’t have youth groups, seminaries, committees, or even choirs!
And they actually made it hard to join the church. By the late second century, aspiring converts had to undergo a significant and rigorous initiation period to prove they understood what they were committing themselves to.
Pay it Forward?
The lead line in the 2000 movie “Pay It Forward” was, “When someone does you a good deed, don’t pay it back, pay it forward.”
That was shorthand for the response to a good deed someone does for you. In this way, the practice of helping one another can spread geometrically through society, creating a social movement with an impact of making the world a better place.
I often think, isn’t that what Jesus’ mission was all about… teaching us to pay the gift of God’s love forward? After all, God has first loved us… and wants us to pay it forward!
This is what Jesus did! He offered the love he knew in the circle of the Trinity. This “Good News” changed… and is changing the world!
Jesus taught this “pay it forward” theory in his parables
- The good Samaritan wasn’t paying anyone back. He was simply giving the gift of his care without asking for anything in return.
- The parable about the unforgiving servant makes the same point in reverse. The master, in effect, says… I gave you the gift of forgiveness. Why did you not pass it on and forgive just as you have been forgiven?
Both stories end with “go and do likewise”!
Jesus modeled “pay it forward
Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and giving his life for us is the ultimate expression of “pay it forward.”
Do this in memory of me! Wash one another’s feet. Lay down your life for your sisters and brothers.
Hirsch, in his book The Forgotten Ways, believes that “all God’s people carry within themselves the same potencies that energized the early Christian movement.”
At its root, isn’t this another description of evangelization?
Evangelization is touching people’s lives by loving them just as we have been loved.
- While recognizing the importance of structures, have we forgotten that people respond to being loved more than memorized answers?
- Do we appreciate that we do not earn God’s love… we can only “pay it forward?”
- Will “they know we are Christians by our love”… and want to join “the Jesus movement??