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The Social, Economic, and Political Commitments of the Early Church
They were all about faith in action.
Brandon J. O'Brien | posted 9/06/2011
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The Social, Economic, and Political Commitments of the Early Church

"What answer shall you make to the judge, you who dress walls, but will not clothe a man; who spruce up horses, and overlook an unfashionable brother; who leave grain to rot, but will not feed the starving; who bury your money and despise the oppressed?" It was pastor and theologian Basil of Caesarea who addressed this difficult question to the wealthy members of his congregation in the mid-fourth century. Basil had already put his money where his mouth was when he cashed in his considerable inheritance and built a hospital for the poor and a clinic for lepers. Now he was calling his fellow Christians to do the same.

Basil's example illustrates the radically countercultural commitments of the early Christians. They faced considerable social, economic, and political challenges, many of them very similar to the ones we face today. And they did their best to behave in ways consistent with their understanding of the gospel. Below are just a few examples of how the early church put its faith in action in the public realm.

Learn more through: The Birth of the Church.

The early Christians recognized the political implications of the faith.

The earliest Christian confession is recorded in Romans 10:9: "Jesus is Lord." Because we don't typically refer to anyone but Jesus as Lord, we usually understand this passage to be primarily religious in application. Jesus is the one we answer to in spiritual matters and who guides our moral conduct. Because Jesus is Lord, we don't serve other masters—like sin, the flesh, or the devil. But the first-century Roman context was different. In Rome, only Caesar was lord. And lest you forget, messages on billboards and graffiti on buildings were an ever-present reminder. Annually at tax time, the denizens of a city would make their way to the local temple, pay their tax, and proclaim "Caesar is lord." If they didn't make this declaration, they could be executed for treason. Christians knew this, and they took their chances.

Many annual Roman festivals were thinly veiled religious holidays dedicated to Roman gods or even the worship of the Caesar himself. Christians refused to participate in these festivals. This might be analogous in American culture to Christians refusing to celebrate on the Fourth of July or insisting on working on Memorial Day. They wanted to reserve their worship for Christ alone, but their conspicuous absence from these civic festivities marked them as bad citizens (at best) or traitors (at worst). Once they were identified as potential traitors, Christians were feared as a threat to the very fabric of Roman society. This was the primary reason many Christians were persecuted in the church's first few centuries. Despite the political consequences, these first Christians didn't shrink from their bold proclamation—"Jesus is Lord!"

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