What sort of community did the early church create?
That question was explored in the second chapter of Sittser’s “Water From A Deep Well.” I’ll briefly discuss two of the defining characteristics of the early Christian community.
1. The early church was a community committed to serving the poor.
In the fourth century, Roman emperor Julian complained because of the “massive social welfare system” that the Christians had created. This upset the emperor because it made the rest of Rome look bad for not supporting the poor. In a letter to a court official, the emperor wrote “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by priests, the impious Galileans (what he called Christians) observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence…they support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.” (Sittser 56)
Simply put; Christians cared for people in need.
Many converted to Christianity because they were impressed by the way Christians treated one another. Justin Martyr, a philosopher, became a Christian after he saw Christians caring for one another and compared it to the harshness of the rest of the world. Justin writes about one of the differences: “…we who once took most pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need.” (Sittser 60).
In addition to serving the poor, the early church community was welcoming to those who were marginalized by Roman society.
For example, women found more opportunities in the church compared to the rest of the culture. In the Roman world, women had less rights than men. Female children were considered less than their male counterparts. Divorce was common and easy for men to attain.
The Christian worldview was welcoming to women. “The church lived by a different ethic, which impressed the very people who suffered the most as victims of Rome’s immorality and injustice.” (Sittser 57)
Women held leadership roles as well. “Whether married or single, women had opportunities to use their gifts in the church. They prayed and prophesied and served the poor, and they held church office too, specifically the office of deacon.” (Sittser 58)
2. The Christian community was a self-less community.
The Roman world endured two massive plagues that killed off major swaths of the population. During the height of the plagues, many healthy people would shun the sick in hopes of not catching the disease. While the majority of the community quarantined the sick, Christians became known as people who would care for the sick and bury the dead.
“Ironically, Christians survived the plagues at higher rates than pagans, even though Christians were more willing to be exposed to the deadly contagion.” (Sittser 65)
One reason for this is because Christians cared for other Christians who became sick instead of leaving them on their own. This lead to increased rates of survival. Second, some Christians who helped became immune and thus provided “a work force of healthy people who where no longer susceptible to the disease.” Lastly, Christians prayed for the sick and experienced miraculous healings on occasion.
What do you think of the early Christian community? Comment below about your overall impressions of chapter 2.