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The Influence of the Early Church

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
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April 8, 2020 2:00 am

The Influence of the Early Church

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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April 8, 2020 2:00 am

How did the unlearned, poor disciples of the early church change the world? Jerry Sittser, a professor of church history at Whitworth University, shares what the early Christians did to influence their neighbors and transform their culture. While the Romans practiced accommodation and the Jews practiced isolation, the early Christians maintained high standards of discipleship without isolating themselves.They were truly in this world, but not of it, and paid a costly price to follow Christ.

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The Bible tells us we are to set our mind on things above, not on things on earth. Jerry Setser says that's part of how the early church changed the world.

They were living. They believed in a kind of transcendent kingdom that was, not of this world, but it had everything to do with this world.

So Christianity was kind of sedition us a subversive movement but not in the way we popularize it or conceive of it today. Where were marching were protesting were forcing the powers that be to bend where will they didn't do anything and that was the secret in my opinion to their impact in their success. This is family life to date. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson on Bob Lapine will find us

Are there things we can learn from the first century church about how to have an impact in the world we live in. Jerry Setser says there's a lot we can learn will talk with him about that today. Stay with us and welcome to family life to. Thanks for joining us. I think all of us at some point have looked at the small band of people who were around when Jesus ascended into heaven and thought how did they change the world because they were really no monies call to exactly and you think, what can we learn from them that can help us figure out how we can change the world today and point people to Jesus today to get a chance to visit that theme today with one of my favorite people. I Jerry Setser's joining us again on family life today. Welcome back. Thank you Bob, it's so good to be here to get you guys go way back we do and and this is your first time to meet Gary at already fascinated by the talks that we've already been having for recording data. Jerry is a professor at Whitworth University in Spokane Washington.

Although your season, there's coming to little bit of a an end right official retirement next June and and how many years. 31. Think of the students think of the legacies you have impacted the lives of so many men and women who some of them still write to you and call you and talk about the impact you have mental health. Last Monday I taught my last history of Christianity. One class, and about a dozen alums showed up in the last thing we did in the class was seeing five great hymns from the history of Christianity, really of just glory to him by pretentious but historic hymns pretentiously saying, be thou my vision. We sang to him by Francis of Assisi was lovely was a mighty fortress, was that one of them now.

I kept I kept before pre-Reformation you stayed out of Bernard. Bernard of Clairvaux Jerry has written a book that is still a classic. I mean anybody you know who is going through a season of loss and grief.

The book a Grace disguised ironic copies that sold an army of given away its part memoir because of the season of loss and grief. You went through, but it's also how God meet you in that season then shepherd you through that season and what you can learn about human about yourself in that season. It's profound. It's a book we keep in our family life resource Center. Your new book is fascinating that the book called resilient faith and the subtitle is how the early Christian third way changed the world.

So just start with what is the current weighed only yes we do.

I'll try to make this short and sweet. The phrase first appears in the second century document written by an unknown Christian apologist that the defender of the faith. He wrote around the year 140 it's very short really encourage listeners to read it you find it online. It's called the so-called letter to Dagny does.

It's beautiful.

It's beautifully written.

It's only 1214 pages long, and this unknown author is writing to a Roman official in he uses the phrase third race or third way to describe what the Roman official already knew about Christianity.

There was something about the Christian movement that was so new and so unusual and unique that Rome didn't know what to call it. So they called it the third race of the third way. The first was the Roman way. The second way was the Jewish Way, Rome was very similar Jews. There were a lot of Jews in the Roman Greco-Roman world about a 10% of the population was Jewish.

Some 5 million people. The third way was this new small new religion called Christianity in Rome was partly fascinated by partly disturbed by, and partly hostile to it and so the unknown author of this letter writing to Dagny just wants to explain describe what made Christianity so unique.

Hence, third race, third way.

Interesting that Judaism stood out because Rome was conquering people right and left, then they all had their tribal religions. But somehow Judaism stood out among those religion. It did hit was said these were called Diaspora Jews because they were away from other Jewish homeland and by 70 A.D. that was shut down. You know the temple was destroyed, and that what was broken down most Jews were already dispersed that pretty much disperse the rest of them Rome respected Judaism because Judaism was an ancient religion in Rome like things old. They were always suspicious of new things and Rome had a tremendous capacity to absorb new things into its pantheon of gods and into its various rites and rituals. Judaism could not be absorbed and they actually gave Jews favors.

They didn't force Jews to serve in the Army for example Judaism was different enough and observable enough that Rome could keep an eye on it says in my book is like an opposing team wearing a jersey, you always know that there they practice circumcision. They a kosher so that it tended to isolate Jews and because it was so difficult to become a Jew. Rome could respected, but very few people became it, so to speak. In the book. I say that the the way of Rome was accommodation the way of Judaism was isolation. The way of Christianity was different. It was immersion Christians in this early. Roughly from 35 A.D. two. The eve of Constantine, the last great persecution around the year 300 sourcing were talking about a 265 year period of time Christians had this amazing capacity to fit into the Roman world speak the same language shop in the same markets eat the same food dressed the same way speak the local languages are dialects think they have this tremendous capacity to But not be absorbed.

They were able to maintain high standards of discipleship and that very distinct belief system and yet not isolate now, that's amazing to me and that's really the story I tell how they actually did that so is as we look at where we are and would you say America's post-Christian today. No I do not think it's post-Christian. We still have very high rates of I densification of of of Christian belief most recent poll is 70% of American self identifies Christians by the way 10 years ago it was 84%. So in 10 years. That's it. From a statistical point of view, a precipitous drop, but most Americans still identifies Christian, I would say were post-Christendom. That is, it's not culturally familiar anymore. There's not as much privilege and power. Being Christian is there used to be immune Christianity in America were virtually synonymous for several centuries and I would say that's not the case so much and and and even Christian morality or Christian identity.

Things like kids knowing what Easter is all about. We lost a little of that, Michael.just look at the process in the last maybe 25, four years, the church spent centuries Christianizing a pagan calendar were patronizing the Christian calendar.

All you have to do is look at Christmas or Easter are my favorite holiday now is Thanksgiving dinner because it's it's kind of the least present herself arrange it or not is commercialized outside when you get past the turkey you know in the world not of the world. That's is at encapsulating the third way, yes. Except I think when we hear that it's often were in the world but not of the world, but they had a strong kingdom theology the Jesus they followed was Lord. They called him Lord. They paid a price to call him Lord, he was in competition with Caesar. But it was such a different kind of competition.

Jesus never raised an army. He never wrote a book he never built a palace. It's kind of interesting and one of the chapters of the book. I contrast the difference between Caesar Augustus, who was called the son of God and Jesus of Nazareth was called the son of God, really different sons of God. Those two are and you know if we had been living during that period, we would've wanted to be invited to parties in Caesar's Palace, not a party in a stable in Bethlehem right that's the God we serve. But we call that God Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord, so they believed in a kind of transcendent kingdom that was, not of this world, but it had everything to do with this world. So Christianity was kind of sedition assessed a subversive movement but not in the way we popularize and or conceive of it today. Where were marching were protesting were forcing the powers that be to bend to where will they didn't do anything right and that was the secret in my opinion to their impact and their success.

This is what I find fascinating because we think okay, what's our strategy need to be what cultural engagement look like, what, what's the approach we need to take and I read your book and its believe that Jesus is who he is and that the kingdom is real and that it's bigger than the world we live in and live like that's true, and watch what happens and watch what happens in the did that with enough success to maintain a growth pattern and an impact on the culture for 265 years. That's a longer period than going back to our Declaration of Independence. Now obviously there were exceptions that were Christians of fell away. We know this I mean the documents indicate this, but the general trajectory. Scholars estimate that in the year 40 there were about maybe 5000 Christians by the year 300 there were 5 million, and that happened under a great deal of duress and the whole time. You said it went 265 years.

By the time Constantine becomes the Emperor that was it. That was a shift away from the third way it it's a complicated story of Constantine gave legal recognition to Christianity.

In the year 313 and the Emperor Theodosius at the end of that fourth century made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and the numbers changed dramatically so we can estimate in the year 300 about 10% of the Empire was Christian about 5 million people just on the eve of the last great and biggest persecution under the Emperor Diocletian by the year three 6050% of the empires Christian became popular real Christian or nominal. Well, a lot of it is nominal. I mean you can't handle that growth rate and before that they had a process by which they would disciple people take 2 to 3 years and that elevated the level of serious Christianity do a critical mass in it a given church and all that began to break down. It happens slowly over period of maybe 100 years, but all of that began to break down while the third way becomes less meaningful as a category when it's the only way and then for the next many many centuries. Christianity, especially after one tribal groups became the only way the only real religion.

There were Jews and Muslims, but there were much smaller number in more marginal for somebody to come into the church in the first 200 years that I say this I think of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch who is traveling right and and they baptized him they had ever right away. Cornelius baptized right away. But let's think about this. What book was the eunuch reading book of Isaiah in chariot so he was a God-fearing writer. He was familiar with Judaism and he's got a text in front of him so he's obviously an important court official. Cornelius was a fellow traveling Jew.

He built a synagogue. He was loved by Jews, so early conversions in the apostolic period were usually people who were either Jews or associated with Judaism, but imagine what it's going to be like when the Christian movement grows from Jerusalem to Samaria to Antioch which was a very diverse city. They said our scholars estimate 18 identifiable ethnic groups and the net became the launching pad for missions to Karnes Philippi goes Roman world Carthage Alexandria on a ghost begins to break into different language groups will imagine what it would be like for a Christian to meet somebody who came from a genuinely pagan background.

They don't know anything about Genesis they don't believe the world was created by God. They don't know about Moses and Abraham and Esther and Ruth. They don't even know the categories creation fall redemption blank slate. Nothing. Zero what you baptized them into what mainly they didn't know enough and so they develop this process of 2 to 3 years to gradually move them into the Christian fold. So the being Christian was truly meaningful and that's to to three years of catechetical training and you couldn't be baptized. You could not only baptize cell afterwards. They were called the rites of initiation, but think about that and I like the fact that you chose the word training. It was an education.

It was training. It was more like what you do with an athlete or a musician, not what you do in a conventional classroom and in that culture, similar to what were living in right now. I think self-selection copy a lot of the discipleship methods that's music to my honestly I'm right now I'm actually busy where worth developing a two-year new catechumenate and it ends and it's not just information.

The Reformation catechisms work information doctrine driven right they taught doctrine. They taught the biblical story. They taught something along the lines of creeds. All that but they had a sponsor. What we now call the mentor. They train them in discipleship.

It's interesting in during the rites of initiation when they were being scrutinized or examined by the bishop before baptism they wouldn't simply ask and do you believe in God the father Almighty, and you believe in Jesus Christ his only son, and you believe in the Holy Spirit.

You believe in the life of the church and you would say yes yes yes repeat that, then they would ask and or are you visiting widows are you are you reaching out to the poor. Are you visiting prisoners that was as important to them as having correct doctrine and that was all part of the training process under the guidance of a mentor who would go through the same training with them, so mentors would go through it.

2345 times just like athlete students like musicians playing scales every day in the panel who were asking the question were people who were doing that is the rhythm of their own life. They were director of the widows and the orphans been doing that then there or the proxy of their orthodoxy were both solid. There were a seamless whole, and I love the fact you use the word rhythm. So this is amazing early on before we even get in the second century of one of the earliest Christian manuals written the did IK actually says Christians should be taking three times a day to pause to turn to God in worship by the middle of the second century. It's five times a day. These were natural rhythms that they develop constantly turn toward God you work in the world you raise your family should turn forgot they use the Lord's prayer three times a day mean all of these rhythms that taught a disciplined way of life, and if they had not done that Christianity would've been reabsorbed by the Roman world. The only way it could remain distinct was either isolate from the culture or train people with enough maturity and strength to be able to live in that culture and not capitulate to, and if they don't do good works. They don't change the world that unchanged doctrine is not going be enough.

It's got to be both Rome complained about the good works often with a kind of grudging admiration.

I mean, I've got quite a bit in the book about even emperors may, in fact, there's a early second century document were Roman governor provincial governors writing to the Emperor Trajan and he said Christians are affecting our economy there.

They're not buying temple merchandise. They're not buying animals for sacrifice. Merchants are complaining because the Christian lifestyle is challenging pagan values own little heart make that happen. Honestly, the same document.

Those where he said oh how they love one another is not that wasn't that's another document but just the same thing that a reputation for the care of each other. We have evidence in the plague that swept the Roman world. In the year 250, and Christians were exemplary in how they cared for the sick and the dying they would not only bury their own dead. They would bury the dead of their pagan neighbors at risk to themselves. How many did in fact either setting up a bishop writes a letter to his diocese and says many Christians were heroic and how they cared for the sick and they got the disease themselves, and then in this wonderful kind of theological statement bad signs but good theology. He said they took on the disease of other people under themselves and he said that because some of the people there were caring for recovered and they died. And so they had a course they have the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus is a kind of image that their point is they took on the disease themselves, just like Jesus did for all of us. So you're talking to a lot of moms and dads to a lot of people who love Jesus and who long to see the gospel explode in our culture to parents start to integrate monastic lifestyle patterns into their home and we started worship at 730 in the morning with our guests. I thinking where that discipleship Stephanie right well yeah I mean yes Bob, I have a chapter on identity and community and make three brief points. One is that Christian movement introduced a new kind of fundamental identity in the Roman world it's not based on wealth or status. It's not based on ethnicity or religious identification.

It's based on being a new creature in Jesus Christ and that shapes all what I call your secondary identities.

Whether you're married or single, with your husband or wife with your us household servant or a master. Christianity didn't erase those categories.

It slowly began to transform them. The other thing is that Christianity claimed to be a new Commonwealth Rome thought it was the Empire of the world. The Commonwealth controlled by its army, its rituals and and rights and ultimately the authority the Emperor and this little fledgling the movements and actually know where the new Commonwealth under Jesus Christ is Lord were creating a new kind of people that's global but then they turn right around and create something vital at the local level.

They caught the boy costs would culminate. Commonwealth only costs household a new household church so I would suggest that families need to think of themselves as units of discipleship, not just for the nuclear family but for kids that play soccer with their with their own children, neighbors, single people, elderly people and we become discipling units in our families, and that means you know we have to think about our values that we can raise children were knocking to be professional athletes, which every parent with a seven-year-old soccer player things here she's going to be in a course we all know that's nonsense, but that we do soccer as a way of interfacing with nonchurch people to introduce them to the Christian way of life in Christian belief system and let me suggest three categories for moms and dads to think in because as I read through these has no that I preached through first John earlier this year and in first John talks about all I do because I was found to prefer the sermons written about in the first John. John says right belief is an essential aspect of our faith absolutely. If you don't have right belief.

You don't have Christianity. He then says right morality how we live and how we honor righteousness is an essential part so somebody who says, I believe the right stuff, but they their life doesn't reflect typical morality.

We got ask a question what's going on there and then how you love others is the third aspect, and so as parents, as were raising our kids. I think we have to be asking are we teaching them to believe the right stuff are we teaching them to live Christian Lee in their moral, ethical, righteous living, and are we teaching them that you sacrificially love those in your world. Those are kind of those three categories that that I would think if your boy costs is focused on those three things you're probably raising countercultural kids. Yeah, it's interesting to think about how homes and churches function in our culture in the Greco-Roman world most people were poor 95% were either lower. What we would call lower middle class or under that and they lived right on top of each other. As I mentioned in my book.

Other was a survey done in Rome around the year 300.

They identified a little over 1700 domiciles homes mostly of wealthy people.

That's only 1700 in the city of 1,042,000 apartment buildings. Where was everybody living in these dense apartment buildings with no plumbing, no freshwater, no toilets, nothing.

No window pad to learn how to live together. Did you dead, and so Christians were visible. You could not hide being Christian, you would either be exposed as a fraud or you would be admired for the way you lived your life. People shopped in marketplaces every day, including Christians, Christians would run stalls people could observe how they were raising their families home and were treating wives, wives are treating husbands they would go home. Their neighbors could hear them and they started churches in these places they didn't have buildings yet. That was until much much later, so they were so much more visible. Are you think about our culture the way we build homes no front porches, patios, fences were isolated and we go to churches which are like castle surrounded by cement moats parking lot, city planners, called churches, dead spaces you get in your car which is like a wormhole and you go to your Christian school or Christian friends or Christian church, it creates an isolation from the very people that God loves and for whom Christ died. It's like a haunting phrase to me for whom Christ died. We can figure out how to first disciple, our families, and the circle of people with whom were associated but then we have to learn how to create genuine interfaces with a world that's leading that's bleeding if anybody knows that you folks just the breakdown of family and relationships a few years ago for the first time in American society. Over 50% of people above the age of 18 were unmarried. Their lonely there isolated and we gotta figure out how to reach them and and part of that. Think about it in terms of the culture today. Maybe him reaching too far is those only costs villages are sitting right here, there is by step into a twitter social space yeah I am stepping into their world.

That's not the only way it's not the only but that is a I cannot hide if I step in there. It's like I'm there on top of me, I'm on top of them and when you look at that what were doing. There is a pretty it's ugly and Christians are behaving often in a really ugly way all you are doing is adding to the shrill voice of our culture right, hating, not taking responsibility for the language you use. I mean it sounds so simple and almost embarrassingly obvious, but character is a way of bearing witness to the gospel.

If I am quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to anger and slow to anger.

If I'm kind to slow to tweet that we could do a lot more of that we are that we tweet.

We we speak in kindness and we deal directly with people rather than anonymously with people. I mean, these are becoming radical acts of discipleship their culture. This is where we can learn from history, we can learn from those who have gone before us, rather than thinking all that annoying thing about our day and about technology now they they knew about life and about humanity and about Jesus and and I love your book resilient faith how the early Christian third way change the world and I think it is a lot to say to us today.

You can go online and family life to to order a copy of resilient faith by Jerry Setser again. Our website is family life. The you can also order by calling one 800 FL today so can the website is family life to or call 1-800-358-6329 2000 F as in family L as in life, and then the word today. Get a copy of Jerry Setser's outstanding book, resilient faith how the early Christian third way changed the world limits a word of thanks to those of you who are a part of our mission. We want to change the world here at family life one home at a time. We believe that as we effectively develop godly marriages and families. That's how we bring salt and light into this culture. This daily radio program.

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You make it possible and you help us reach more people more often. Every time you donate to support the ongoing work of family life to so thanks for your support. If you've given in the past. If you're a regular listener and you've never given today would be a great day for you to invest in the ministry of the gospel through family life to go to family life to donate online or call one 800 FL today to donate and thanks for your support and for being a part of helping to change the one we hope you can be back with us tomorrow as we continue our conversation about what we can learn from the early church that applies to how we live for Christ. The 21st century. Setser will be with us as well.

Thank our engineer today. Keith Lynch, their entire broadcast team on behalf of our hosts David and Wilson and Bob Lapine that next time for another edition. Family life, family life, to a is a production family life of Little Rock Arkansas crew ministry help for today hope for tomorrow

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