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The Powerful Love of Jesus & Early Christians That Spread Like Wildfire

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True Christianity means acts of charity, love, kindness, service, and respect, even toward the least and neediest of people and your enemies.

The earliest Christian writings we have are the letters (Epistles) of Paul and then the four gospels of the New Testament: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

In them, you can find the powerful and captivating love that spread like wildfire in the first century after Jesus died.

A New Great Human Dignity

The oppressed masses in the ancient world had very little value.

  • People simply threw out sick or elderly slaves.
  • Families that decided they couldn’t afford another child abandoned unwanted children to beg on the streets or die of exposure.
  • Families often abandoned the chronically ill to die.
  • In pandemics, Romans often threw out even their closest family members into the streets if they became sick, hoping to avoid catching the disease.

Christianity said God made us in his own image, giving everyone enormous status in God’s eyes.

The early Christian Baptism prayer emphasized the dignity, respect, unity, equality, and harmony of each member—a very radical idea.

In those days, a traditional saying already five or six centuries old quoted a man thanking the Fates everyday that he was born a Greek, not a barbarian; free, not a slave; and a man, not a woman.

Instead, the traditional early Christian Baptism prayer said:

“Baptized into Messiah,

you are clothed in Messiah,

there is no more Jew or Greek,

slave or free person,

man or woman,

For you are all one in Messiah-Jesus.”

This radically loving view dared to challenge the dominant Roman society built on slavery and male dominance.

  • It erased category, rank, privilege, boundaries, and hierarchies of power
  • The earliest Christians saw each other as equal brothers and sisters in the Lord, including women, children, barbarians, and even slaves.

Clearly, this would be a thrilling idea to the poor, oppressed masses.

During this time, there were no fancy cathedrals, bishops, or popes.  Most of the apostles Jesus chose were married men.

Jesus didn’t care about traditional Jewish boundaries between the clean and unclean.

He treated everyone, no matter the race, class, gender, or sexual history, with dignity, love, and justice.

Even a lower-class worker or slave could identify with Jesus—a simple, humble backwoods peasant who suffered the agonizing pain and humiliating death of crucifixion.

Profound Love, Compassion, & Service

Jesus constantly emphasized compassion and loving service to others, even strangers.

  • He talks about loving and forgiving even enemies 53 times.
  • He talks about loving and treating others as you would want yourself 19 times.
  • He tells people to help the poor or reject wealth or rich people 128 times.
  • He talks about mercy to the weak or needy 24 times.
  • He told people not to judge others 34 times.

The Bible has over 2,000 verses on poverty and justice and emphasizes caring for the poor and needy hundreds of times.

The earliest Christians took this central message of Jesus to heart.

  • They focused on love—helping and supporting one another.
  • Christians shared meals together, going from house to house.
  • They provided health care to those who needed it.
  • They took care of the poor or homeless.
  • They worked to take care of the weak and needy, such as sick people, orphans, and widows.
  • Almost every ancient writing on how Christians acted emphasized taking care of orphans.
  • Romans often abandoned their babies but Christians would take them in and raise them.
  • Wealthy Christians sold their possessions and used the money to take care of the others, so there were no needy among them (Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32-37).
  • At least in Smyrna, some people used church funds to buy the freedom of slaves!

The philosopher Aristides in 125 AD says Christians don’t lie, give to the needy without boasting, protect orphans, and take strangers home and treat them like family.

Around the same time, Justin Martyr describes the more well off Christians giving money to take care of:

  • Orphans
  • Widows
  • the sick and needy
  • prisoners
  • strangers from other lands

One ancient writer says orphans have only three life outcomes: death, slavery, or Christian adoption.

By 251 AD, the church at Rome alone listed over 1,500 widows supported by the church to keep them out of desperate poverty (and make sure they wouldn’t have to become prostitutes).

During pandemics, wealthy Romans and many doctors left cities for their country estates as bodies of the dead and dying piled up in the streets.

In contrast, early Christians often rushed in to minister to ALL the sick during these desperate times, Christian or pagans alike.

  • In the mid-200s, Bishop Dionysius described Christians going to take care of plague victims in devastated neighborhoods as a “schooling and testing” for Christians.
  • Also in the mid-200s, Bishop Cyprian said, “What credit is it to us Christians if we just help Christians? Anyone can do that.  We have to help not just the household of faith, but everyone.”

Simply providing food and water to those sick, weak, and thrown into the streets surely saved lives.

Christians took care of the sick so much that they often caught the illnesses themselves and died, with other Christians taking care of them, then washing, putting a shroud on their bodies, and burying them, in wave after wave.

There is evidence the early church grew especially fast after epidemics in the 100s, 200s, and 500s AD, as others greatly admired and often benefitted from the Christian charity and love.

In 362 AD the Emperor Julian, concerned about Christianity spreading so fast, urged Romans to copy the Christian practice of taking care of the sick.

But Julian’s arguments didn’t work because Roman religions didn’t traditionally teach followers to care for the needy or helpless.

So when people joined the early Christian church, they became part of a family—a mutual support society of brothers and sisters in Christ that really did take care of each other.

In this spirit of respect, equality, love, companionship, and service to others, the early Christian church exploded in popularity.

 Against Violence & War

Jesus taught compassion, peace, and the shockingly novel idea of loving your enemies.  He was very clear about that.  Turn the other cheek.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Those who live by the sword die by the sword.

The first Christians took this to heart and rejected violence and war.

Over the first 250 years, Romans sometimes, in brief periods, persecuted Christians by:

  • whipping them
  • torturing them
  • crucifying them
  • burning them alive
  • boiling them alive
  • impaling them on spikes
  • hanging them
  • having gladiators, lions, bears, leopards, or other wild beasts kill them in ampitheatres

Later Christian historians exaggerated the numbers of martyrs and wrote many of the stories during times of peace.

When Romans did kill Christians in public spectacles, it didn’t make for good entertainment because the Christian martyrs refused to fight back.

  • Many of them went to their deaths with peaceful hearts.
  • Some of them even sang hymns as they burned in stadiums or faced wild beasts in front of cheering crowds.

You couldn’t help but admire the strength of these people’s hearts, filled with peaceful love.

The early Christians avoided war, killing, and military service.  Early Christian writings over a period of many years make this very clear.

Very often, they connect these ideas to Jesus teaching us to love our enemies or to the prophecy about swords being beaten into plowshares.

  • Every time any early Christian writes about killing, war, or joining the military, they reject it for all Christians. Not one writes that these things are acceptable.
  • Around 180 AD, Celsus, a pagan Roman, wrote that if everyone became Christian, the Roman Empire would collapse because Christians refused to join the army.

The Apostolic Tradition was an early church handbook of rules with a large circulation and impact, originally written in Greek and then translated into Arabic, Latin, Ethiopic, and Sahidic (a Coptic language).

  • It is a composite of more than one author, with some materials dating to between 100 and 300 AD.
  • The Apostolic Tradition explains the Christian church must refuse to baptize soldiers who kill, gladiators, prostitutes, pimps, and anyone with the “power of the sword.”
  • It says any Christian who tries to join the military must be kicked out.

Later, after Christianity became legal and Emperor Constantine called a conference of church leaders to adopt uniform laws, they adopted many of their rules from the Apostolic Tradition.

The first evidence of a few Christians in the Roman army is in 173 AD.  By the late 200s AD, their numbers were definitely growing, but even so, there is only clear evidence for 8 Christian soldiers before Emperor Constantine.

But when Constantine converted in 312 AD and made Christianity legal in 313 AD, he drastically changed the religion.

  • Constantine was a brutal sociopath.
  • Even after he claimed to be Christian, he murdered his eldest son, decapitated his brother-in-law, and killed his wife by boiling her alive.
  • He also continued worshipping the sun.
  • Constantine made it acceptable to be Christian and fight wars, putting Christian symbols on his soldiers.

Next the church fathers Saint Augustine in the early 400s AD and then Saint Thomas of Aquinas in the 1200s AD changed Christianity even more by arguing there were just wars.

Welcoming Foreigners & Immigration

The Bible has over 100 verses about welcoming the immigrant and loving them as we love ourselves and our children.

Jesus would rail in anger against our immigration hysteria and fear of Muslims.

The Parable Of The Good Samaritan makes this very clear.

  • In the parable, robbers strip a man naked, beat him, and leave him half dead on the side of the road.
  • Jewish holy men ignore the suffering man.
  • But the kind Samaritan takes pity on him, bandages his wounds, and then takes him to an inn.
  • He even leaves money with the innkeeper, asking him to take care of the man, and promises to come back and reimburse him for any extra expenses.

In the time of Jesus, Jews distrusted, feared, and hated Samaritans and their foreign ways and religion just like Trump supporters do Muslim and Mexican immigrants.

Clearly, Jesus is standing up for accepting feared outsiders with strange ways and different religions and saying these people may be better than even our own holy men.

Christians who reject or hate immigrants are not following the teachings of Jesus.

Female Equality

The Bible has many female heroes.

  • For example, the judge Deborah led the Israelites into battle.
  • Esther stood up to a Persian king and prevented the mass killing of the Israelites.

Women like Martha, Joanna, Mary, Susanna, and Mary Magdalene followed Jesus, helped fund his ministry, and preached his gospel.

Jesus welcomed them to travel along with men and learn the ways of God, even though Jews at the time didn’t speak in public to women outside their families, much less travel around the countryside with them.

Paul’s letters, the earliest historical evidence of Christian life, long before the earliest gospels were written, show the earliest Christians considered men, women, and even married couples apostles.

  • When Paul writes to the Romans, he seeks the favor of 29 church leaders, 10 of which are women, with two—Phoebe and Prisca—heading the list.
  • In Romans, Paul also names women missionaries and calls a woman Junia “foremost among the apostles.”
  • In Acts, either a woman or a woman working with a man establishes each of Paul’s original churches.

Women were prominent in the early church.

  • This was especially true in the first century of Christianity and to some degree in the second, when people worshipped in their homes and wealthy women often supported the church.
  • These women often presided at Eucharistic meals sharing bread and wine.

During the second century, as more and more Romans joined, their patriarchal, male-dominant culture had a stronger influence and more people started complaining about women in leadership positions.

After the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, worship moved from private homes to public churches and church leaders began excluding women from positions of authority.

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