For a term paper in my History of Christian Mission course, I am studying the missional nature of the Church before the reign of Emperor Constantine (272-337), whose decision to legalize Christianity drastically altered the primitive and pure faith of the early church. Here are a few quotes I think speak to how the first Christians understood the faith and their mission as followers of Jesus.
Eusebius, the great Church historian, who lived from 263-339, wrote:
Then did they show themselves to the heathen in the clearest light. For the Christians were the only people who amid such terrible ills showed their fellow-feeling and humanity in their actions. Day by day some would busy themselves with attending to the dead and burying them; others gathered in one spot all who were afflicted by hunger throughout the city, and gave bread to them all.
Lucian, a Greek satirist and writer, who lived from circa 125-180, wrote this:
It is incredible to see the ardor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator (Jesus) has put into their heads that they are all brethren.
What might we learn from our ancestors? Their compassion for others is simply a “given.” No need for powerful, guilt-producing sermons from the podium. No “hunger awareness week” on their church calendar. No visit and lecture from a social justice expert. No outsourcing the work of mercy to experts. No division between gospel and social action.
None of that. Instead, just plain-old obedience to Jesus’ command to love others before self.