Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What were the characteristics of the early Christian witnesses?

As a movement, we have sought to continually go back to the early church for our example of how to be God's people. I am fascinated by the early church because of its phenomenal growth rate, even in the face of being illegal, surrounded by paganism, generally poor, having no Christian colleges or church buildings.

In his book Thirty Years that Changed the World: The Book of Acts for Today, Michael Green speaks of the characteristics of the early Christians, particularly in their proclamation of the Christian message. Here are his basic points.

1. They passionately believed their message, and went about their task with great seriousness.

2. They refused to compromise their message, despite living in a pagan culture.

3. They had a great flexibility in their methods of sharing the good news.

"The relative fixity of the kerygma [the gospel message] they preached is in striking contrast to the flexibility with which they went about it. They had no desire to keep talk about Jesus to the synagogue. They did it on the streets, in the court rooms, on board ship, in prison, in front of the high and mighty or the beggars by the kerbside . . . The western church at large has lost the certainty and New Testament content from its gospel: but it always does its 'preaching thing' in much the same way. It will be done in church, as a monolgue, for between fifteen and thiry minutes, by a clergyman. Our Christian forefathers would be amazed . . . that we have become so unimaginative and inflexible in its presentation."

4.They witnessed about an encounter with Christ, sharing their personal story.

5. They proclaimed Christ, first and foremost.

"We have seen that the person of Jesus dominated their sermons. It was him they proclaimed, with all the conviction, intelligence and passion of which they were capable."

6. They challenged men and women.

7. They spoke with conviction and confidence.

Which of these seven characteristics do you think the church is most missing in its proclamation? Which do you think we do best?