Sunday, July 06, 2008

Hope of the Early Church

I'm still reading The Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola. In the chapter about the church started in Galatia, quite a few interesting facts are shared regarding the early Church which really got me to thinking:

  • Over 50% of the new Believers are slaves, many being freedmen (former slaves). A few of the Believers are part of the Roman army and a few may have been merchants.
  • These new Believers do not have any Bibles, the New Testament had not yet been written. There may have been a few Jews among them with one or two scrolls from the Old Testament.
  • Only 5-10% of the population in the Roman Empire was literate so even if they had Bible, many would not be able to read them.
  • Many of the Freedmen are barely able to survive due to their poverty. They would seek work in the marketplace each day to earn one Roman denarius (a day's wage). This would buy just enough food to feed their families. Their diet usually consisted of veggies, bread, wine, olives, fish and fruit. Meat was not eaten very often.
  • The cities of the Roman colonies were usually dirty, smelly and unsafe. The life expectancy of a male is 45, for females it is 38.
  • Birth control was not normally practiced. Women would marry in their teens and raise families until they passed their child bearing years.
  • 25% of babies did not survive their first year and 30% of Jewish children died before they turned 18. The percentage for Gentiles was higher. Baby girls were often "exposed" (abandoned to die in remote places) if their parents were poor.
  • Paul & Barnabas spent only 3-5 months with the people of each church, teaching them the Good News. They would then leave them for up to 2 years before returning.

Reading these things made me realize that regardless of the issues I may be facing right now, it is nothing compared to what these individuals lived with on a daily basis.

But what really amazed me is contrasting these new Believers and their faith to that of new Believers in the church today (including myself!). We are constantly trying to come up with new programs and new things to help Believers better understand what it means to walk with the Lord and have their lives transformed. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against these things and many of them have helped me in the past and still do.

However, these Believers in most cases had never heard of Jesus before and here they are after only 5 months of instruction, living as a Church (eating together, fellowshipping etc) with not only none of the programs we have nowadays, but also no Bible as guidance. From what I've studied so far, they often had the whole "Church" thing down better than any churches in the present. They truly lived for one another and supported one another. Can you imagine how powerful that message must have been to take such deep root in their hearts?

Part of it may have been the fact that their lives in many cases seemed so hopeless and this brought them a Hope they had never experienced. I wonder if we are too comfortable in our own lives, to caught up in ourselves and in our mistaken belief that we are in control of our lives, to really let the Good News of Jesus to take hold of our hearts and imaginations.

I have to wonder, what has changed so much since then. Is it us and how we accept the Good News or has the Good News changed? Or is it a little of both? I know God's Good News never changes, but have we somehow watered it down so we are missing something that the early Church embraced so thoroughly?

1 comment:

Jilliefl1 said...

The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
It’s also available on Frank is also blogging now at