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16. The early church

16-1 A Taste Of The First Century: The Positive : 16-1-1 " With one accord" || 16-1-2 The Early Church Our Example || 16-1-3 Prayer Meetings || 16-1-4 Christ-centredness || 16-1-5 Radical Preaching || 16-1-6 Women In The Early Church || 16-1-7 The Joy Of Faith || 16-2 A Taste Of The First Century: The Negative: 16-2-1 Division In The Church || 16-2-2 Politics In The Church || 16-3 Unity And Division In The First Century : 16-3-1 Unity And Division In The First Century Church || 16-3-2 Oikonomia And Household Fellowships || 16-3-3 Rich And Poor In The First Century || 16-3-4 Unity In The Church || 16-4 The Obstacles : 16-4-1 The Obstacles To The Growth Of Christianity || 16-4-2 The offence of the cross || 16-4-3 The rejection of Caesar || 16-4-4 Women And Slaves In The First Century || 16-4-5 The Roman Empire And Christianity || 16-4-6 The Attraction Of Judaism || 16-4-7 Other First Century Objections To Christianity || 16-5 How They Succeeded: 16-5-1 Why Christianity Spread In The First Century  || 16-5-2 The Example Of The Community || 16-5-3 House Meetings In The First Century || 16-5-4 Witness In The Workplace || 16-5-5 The Witness Of Christian Unity In The First Century || 16-5-6 The Role Of Women   In The First Century || 16-5-7 Style Of PreachingIn The First Century || 16-5-8 Christian Ethics In The First Century || 16-5-9 The Exclusivity Of Christianity || 16-5-10 Early Christian Doctrine || 16-6 Where Things Went Wrong: 16-6-1 Doctrinal Apostacy || 16-6-2 The Rise Of Traditions || 16-6-3 Legalism In The Church || 16-6-4 Social Tensions In The Church || 16-6-5 Wealth In The Church || 16-6-6 Worldliness In The Church || 16-6-7 Lost Emphasis Upon Grace || 16-6-8 Loss Of Faith In The Church || 16-6-9 Poor Church Leadership || 16-6-10 Dogmatism And Legalists


16-5-9 The Exclusivity Of Christianity

It is the exclusivity of Christianity which attracts. This is why those who have taught that other religions are equally valid ways of coming to salvation have made no converts. The exclusive nature of the Truth is one of the things which attracts, even though it might seem to us that this is what would turn people away from us. They were living in the 1st century in a spirit of religious pluralism, where one religion was seen as good as another; and we too live in the same atmosphere. Like them, our response must be to preach the exclusive nature of salvation in the real Christ. Thomas Robbins pointed out that one was " converted to the intolerant faiths of Judaism and Christianity while one merely adhered to the cults of Isis, Orpheus, or Mithra." Pagans never sought to make converts to any cult--only away from atheism, as they saw it. The very fact that conversion demanded something, a sharing in the sacrifice of the representative Christ, meant that there was something attractive about it. There was a cost to this religion- it was all about self-crucifixion. If the moral demands of the Truth are preached up front, this of itself is an attraction; the message itself has the power of conversion. The exclusivity of Christianity laid great stress on individual conversion. Most cults took their funding  from the state and from a few wealthy donors, rather than from a rank and file. Therefore it was a radically new concept for each man to lay aside what he could regularly (1 Cor. 16:1,2); and for the poor saints in one place to raise welfare to send to unknown ones in another part of the empire, e.g. the contribution of Corinth (who had not many wealthy) for the poor brethren in Jerusalem. That one had to give something from ones own pocket would have been a radical difference for the ordinary person.

Summing up, the early brethren were looking for a response. They were preaching toward decision, for conversion. The Lord taught us that He will make His followers fishers of men; and fishers catch something, they aren’t fishermen if they just offer a bait indifferently. Paul taught that his hearers should repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance (Acts 26:20). The address in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia has three parts, each marked by an appeal to the listeners. Clearly it has been planned in advance, and was an appeal for response (Acts 13:16,26,38). These preachers weren’t shy in asking men and women to decide for or against the love of God in Jesus. They challenged men to do something about the message they had heard.  

Playing On Disillusion

There were many disillusioned with the Imperial Cult, and the exclusivity of Christianity appealed to them. Juvenal, a contemporary of Paul, had much to write in criticism of it. Especially noticeable was the fact that many were disgusted at the moral state of society. Surely sensitive people must have been impressed by the Christian focus upon morality. Many realised that all the many gods were all the inventions of the human mind, and there must be one true God who could be worshipped in the same way by all peoples. The Truth presented this to them, as Paul did in Athens. None of the religions offered reconciliation with God, nor did they offer in any certainty a hope of anything after death. Yet true Christianity offered just this. We also live in a world disillusioned with itself, knowing their moral filth, seeing through the hypocrisy of an evangelical movement led by adulterers, no longer turning a blind eye to the perversions of the Catholic priesthood. They are searching for something, but they don’t know what. We may be entering a post-Christian era, but not a post-religious one. People seem more interested in religion now than they were 10 years ago. The radical difference between us and the world, the uniqueness of our position, must be evident up front. Christianity is perceived as just another sub-culture within society. Yet the world’s experience of us should show them that real Christianity is in fact a radical counter-culture, although it is rooted in love. 

There was also a realization by many that ‘God’ and the gods had been abstracted into almost nothing in practice. It was strongly felt by Greek philosophy that anger and wrath were too primitive attributes to apply to God: “to attribute such an emotion to a divine being was absurd and blasphemous. Deity, every novice in Greek philosophy knew as an axiom, must be apathes, without disturbing emotions of any kind. The idea of the Divine anger was not something which penetrated into Christianity from its pagan environment: it was something which the church maintained in the face of adverse pagan criticism”. The preaching of a God angry with sin, passionately consumed in the death of His Son, feeling every sin, rejoicing over every repentance and baptism…this was something radically new. And such a God imparted a sense of urgency to those who preached Him and His feelings and ways and being, a need for urgent response, a need to relate to Him, which was simply unknown in other religions.

The urgency of man’s position and the exclusivity of Christianity must be more up front in our witness. We too can abstract God and His being into nothingness. His passion and feelings can be forgotten by us, so great is our emphasis upon abstract theory.