Incidental Public Witness?
In Alan Kreider’s book, The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom (an excellent little book worth picking up) he describes the early Christian church after describing the conversion stories of Justin and Cyprian,
“Justin and Cyprian were both converts; they were also martyrs. They were executed for their membership in a movement that was marginal, liminal, on the fringes of polite and respectable society. Like all early Christians, they had to content with a popular epithet for members of dissident groups – “insane.” And they knew that popular hostility or governmental initiative could lead to persecution, deportation or death. Yet they, and an ever increasing number of people, persisted in converting to Christianity…something was deeply attractive about [the Christian movement].” (page. 10)
Kreider brings up a great question in my mind: How in the world did the church grow in the midst of all of this?! This stuff is not “seeker sensitive” by any stretch of the imagination.
He goes on later to discuss the fact that the Christian community grew despite that fact that “neither Caecilius nor Tertullian (people who wrote about the church in that day day) referred to public witness, for it did not exist.” The Christians “did not have any explicit programs of evangelization.” They could not or they would have been killed. Okay, so the church grew like crazy without public witness? How does that work?
He writes a little about the nature of early church Christian worship:
“Christian worship was designed to enable Christians to worship God. It was not designed to attract non-Christians; it was not ‘seeker-sensitive,’ for seekers were not allow in.
If Christian worship did assist in the outreach of churches, it did so incidentally, as a by-product, by shaping the consciousness of the individual Christians and the character of their communities so that their lives – and their interactions with outsiders – would be attractive and question posing.”
Notice an important part of the quote above, “and their interactions with outsiders.” The problem we face in our culture is that we can go days without any interactions with outsiders to the Christian community. I am just guessing here that in the culture of the early church, the Christians interacted with the outside community on a very personal basis. We are so isolated (especially in suburban America) that our worship does not naturally develop lives that are public witnesses in and of themselves. We develop a community of Christians that loves Jesus but never interacts with the world (and in my humble opinion, doesn’t love Jesus very completely!) To be fair this is likely not on purpose. But, I think we need to continue asking the hard questions:
1) Is our church community’s worship shaping us as individuals and as a group to be so much like Jesus that our public witness is so compelling it can’t be ignored?
2) Is my life being shaped like Jesus or am I just getting by?
3) Do I actually have interactions with “outsiders” to the faith or do I live in a Christian ghetto?