I am once again reading Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. This is actually my second time through it, but this time I am taking notes and really studying it rather than just pleasure reading.
This re-reading has really reminded me of how frustrated I am that we, as a Christian community, don’t know our roots. There is this ridiculous gap between the early church and the Reformation, and it seems like much of it is just skipped over or ignored. It drives me a bit batty.
As I was reading today about the early church and how much Christian life stood out compared to pagan lives. This has given me a lot of food for thought. I had already been thinking about this after a recent discussion on standing out in the world. I think we really miss how big of a deal it was to be a Christian in the Roman empire. We are spoiled today. As Tertullian put it in Apology, “We have the reputation of living aloof from the crowds.” Is that really true anymore? Somewhere between 77% and 86% in America consider themselves Christians. Riiiight. We’re really living aloof from the crowds. :/
Shelley discusses it as such
The word used to describe the Christian in the New Testament is highly significant. It is the term hagios, often translated “saints.” It means holy ones, but its root suggests different. So a holy thing is different from other things. The temple is holy because it is different from other buildings; the Sabbath day is holy because it is different from other days. The Christian, therefore, is a person who is fundamentally different.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read it. It seems like modern Christianity doesn’t really embrace this line of thinking except to condemn those outside of the church. We point out others differences rather than being different within ourselves.
Fundamental to the Christian life-style and cause of endless hostility was the Christian’s rejection of the pagan gods. The Greeks and Romans had deities for every aspect of living–for sowing and reaping, for rain and wind, for volcanoes and rivers, for birth and death. But to Christians these gods were nothing, and their denial of them marked the followers of Jesus as “enemies of the human race.”
So to be a Christian meant that you could very well be rejecting part of every aspect of life. That’s tough.
One simply could not reject the gods without arousing scorn as a social misfit. For the pagan every meal began with a liquid offering and a prayer to the pagan gods. A Christian could not share in that. Most heathen feasts and social parties were held in the precincts of a temple after sacrifice has been made, and the invitation was usually to dine “at the table” of some god. A Christian could not go to such a feast. Inevitably, when he refused the invitation to some social occasion, the Christian seemed rude, boorish, and discourteous.
I wish I had read this back in high school. I think I would’ve felt a little better about blowing off parties. :/
The Christian fear of idolatry also led to difficulties in making a living. A mason might be involved in building the walls of a heathen temple, a tailor in making robes for a heathen priest, an incense-maker in making incense for the heathen sacrifices. Tertullian even forbade a Christian to be a schoolteacher, because such teaching involved using textbooks that told the ancient stories of the gods and called for observing the religious festivals of the pagan year.
Yet another reason to homeschool 😉
We might think that working with the sick would be a simple act of kindness. But even here early Christians found the pagan hospitals under the protection of the heathen god Aesculapius, and while a sick friend lay in his bed, the priest went down the aisle chanting to the god.
In short, the early Christian was almost bound to divorce himself from the social and economic life of his time–if he wanted to be true to his Lord. This meant that everywhere the Christian turned his life and faith were on display because the gospel introduced a revolutionary new attitude toward human life. It could be seen in Christian views of slaves, children, and sex.
Can you imagine if we lived that way today? Its not like our current culture is so wonderful and “Christian” that we should be embracing it. I think that many of us have come to take our faith as just something to be weaved into the rest of life, rather than a new frame for our entire life.
I have tons more that I want to write from the early chapters of this book, but this will do for now 😀