The early Christian church in the first three centuries after Jesus’s resurrection brought about the most amazing transformation of diverse social and religious cultures ever achieved by peaceful means in the history of the world. How did it happen? What kind of people were these? What was special about their way of living and believing?
It would be a mistake to romanticize the early church as an age of purity to which we should seek to return. The churches always had their problems and internal struggles. Nevertheless, the early churches as a whole did represent something different in their world. It attracted both devoted followers and brutal persecutors. To see what these early believers were like, let’s go to the sources and hear what they were bold to proclaim about themselves.
Sociologist Rodney Stark analyzed the survival and growth of the early church in the first few centuries. Here is his fascinating summary of the Early Church.
“. . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.” Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Princeton University Press, 1996, page 161.