The History of Christianity #64
Our History of Christianity Scripture verse today is 1 Corinthians 1:26-27 which reads: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.”
Our History of Christianity quote today is from John Wesley. He said: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
Today, in the History of Christianity, we are looking at “Christian Life” (Part 1) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).
When telling the story of Christianity, one must always remember that the sources themselves are not a fair representation of all that was taking place. Since most of the surviving documents deal with the work and thought of the leaders of the church, or with persecution and conflicts with the state, there is always the tendancy to forget that these writings present only a partial picture, saying little of the life and faith of the rank and file, or of their religious practices. Furthermore, when one attempts to reconstruct the rest of the picture, one is faced with an almost total lack of sources, and must be content with piecing together bits of information.
The Social Origins of Early Christians
The pagan writer Celsus once complained that Christians were ignorant folk whose teaching took place, not in schools nor in open forums, but in kitchens, shops, and tanneries. Although the work of Christians such as Justin, Clement, and Origen would seem to belie Celsus’ words, the fact remains that, in general, Celsus was telling the truth. Wise scholars among Christians were the exception rather than the rule. It is significant that in his apology “Against Celsus” Origen does not contradict Celsus on this score. From the perspective of cultured pagans such as Tacitus, Cornelius Fronto, and Marcus Aurelius, Christians were a despicable rabble.
They were not entirely wrong, for recent sociological studies indicate that the vast majority of Christians during the first three centuries belonged to the lower echelons of society, or at least did not fit well in the higher ranks. According to the witness of the Gospels, Jesus spent most of his time with poor, ill, and despised people. Paul, who belonged to a higher social class than most of the earliest disciples, does say that the majority of Christians in Corinth were ignorant, powerless, and of obscure birth. The same is generally true during the first three centuries of the life of the church. Although there were Christians of relatively high rank, such as Domitilla — if she indeed was a Christian — and Perpetua, it is likely that for each of these there were hundreds or perhaps thousands of Christians of humbler status and less instruction.
Next time, we will continue looking at The Social Origins of Early Christians.