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Most Evangelical Christians believe that early Church history is simply the time when churches became legalistic, developed a hierarchy of powerful leaders, built buildings, and became cold and dead.
Our books consistently maintain 4-star and better ratings despite the occasional 1- and 2-star ratings from people angry about my kicking over sacred cows.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Early Christianity is when the churches thrived more than any other time in Christian history. They listened to the admonishments given to the first century churches in the New Testament, made corrections, resolved problems … and blossomed.
From around A.D. 130 to A.D. 200 in early Church history, there were a number of defenses of the faith written to the emperor and other Roman leaders. These are called "apologies," and those who wrote them are known as "apologists."
Though these apologies address theology—and thus are an excellent insight into the beliefs of early Church history—their focus is the transformed lives of Christians.
Among us you will find uneducated persons, craftsmen, and old women, who, if they are unable in words to prove the benefit of our doctrine, yet by their deeds exhibit the benefit arising from their persuasion of its truth.
They do not rehearse speeches, but exhibit good works; when struck, they do not strike again; when robbed, they do not go to law; they give to those that ask of them, and love their neighbors as themselves. (A Plea for the Christians 11)
We … formerly delighted in fornication, but now embrace chastity alone. We who formerly used magical arts, dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God. We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions now bring what we have into a common stock and share with everyone in need.
We who hated and destroyed one another and because of their different customs would not live with men of a different tribe, now—since the coming of Christ—live familiarly with them, pray for our enemies, and try to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live conformably to the good precepts of Christ, so that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all. (First Apology 14)
It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. "See," they say, "how they love one another," for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. "How they are ready even to die for one another!" For they themselves will sooner put to death… . No tragedy causes trouble in our brotherhood, [and] the family possessions, which generally destroy brotherhood among you, create fraternal bonds among us. One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives. (Apology 39)
Love, forbearance, forgiveness, giving, sharing everything. Early Church history testifies that Christians were once living the life of Christ, and they were boasting about it to the world. They boasted, not because of their own goodness, but because they honored the Word (by which they generally meant Christ rather than the Scriptures). No "I'm not perfect, just forgiven" bumper stickers for these folks. Instead they chose, "Go ahead and compare us to yourselves" …
If we Christians are compared with you, then even if our discipline is inferior in some things, we shall still be found better than you. You forbid, yet commit, adulteries; we are born men only for our own wives. You punish crimes when committed; for us, even to think of crimes is to sin. You are afraid of those who are aware of what you do; we are afraid even of our own consciences, without which we cannot exist.
Finally, from your numbers the prison boils over, but you will not find a Christian there unless he is accused on account of his religion or has deserted it. (Minucius Felix, The Octavius 35)
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