by Leroy Barber
As I look at the early Church, I am amazed by their diversity. They were a bunch of people who were deciding to learn a new way of living outside the norm of their society. They were Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, trying to live a different life.
First, it drew people to know who they were and how they could be a part of this new thing. Eventually, they would be called Christians at Antioch.
Second, it put them in such opposition to the status quo that persecutions began to happen. These new Christians were fed to lions and burned at the stake by folks like Nero.
It is remarkable that even though Christians were heavily persecuted, people kept wanting to become Christian! Acts tells us that the Church was added to daily. In contrast to today, a time when Christians are quite comfortable and people are leaving church in droves, I can’t help but wonder if we should call ourselves Christian. We simply don’t resemble anything close to the early Church. We walk down the “Romans Road” to belief, but in many cases that is where faith ends. It seems that in the early Church people preferred authenticity, even if it brought persecution.
And here we introduce the idea of hospitality. The idea of hospitality wasn’t a part of some cultural norm to show one’s status or sophistication. It was a way of life to help people who were wandering about because their families disowned them for following Jesus. Hospitality was a necessity of life and the norm of a struggling community caring for each other. Those early Christians even sold their belongings to meet each others’ basic needs. Can you imagine selling your stuff so that your neighbor can eat? I have experienced such hospitality in some of the most vulnerable places around the world. And I have been deeply blessed.
How did we get here, friends? How are we so separated by race and culture? More importantly, how do we begin to live into our call again as Christians? How do we recapture the moment when we were first called Christians?
It seems to me that the call is once again or perhaps has always been a radical one, meaning that at all costs we give our lives for one another. We sacrifice for strangers. We love and give to people across racial, cultural, political, denominational, gender, and economic lines. If we do this, there would need to be a new way to define such a community since the idea of Christian as many know it today does not now fit this new kind of community.
To sacrifice for all? It might take an act of God. Yes, it probably would. The Holy Spirit would have to take over our lives and rid us of our fears. However, perhaps this is just what we need—an act of God to make us Christians again.
Leroy Barber (@leroybarber) is global executive director of Word Made Flesh and serves on the boards of Mission Year, Simple Way, the Evangelical Environment Network, and the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). He is the author of New Neighbor: An Invitation to Join Beloved Community andEveryday Missions: How Ordinary People Can Change the World. His third book,Red, Yellow, Black and White: Who’s More Precious In His Sight? will be released in the fall of 2014.