It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!’”
—Tertullian, Second Century Church Father and Theologian
The rise of Christianity from an obscure Jewish sect to the world’s largest religion continues to fascinate scholars. Hundreds of books and articles credit the ease of expansion to the Jewish diaspora and its network of synagogues which provided a platform for the hearing of the Christian gospel. Credit is also given to evangelistic zeal which was absent in pagan religion. Yet, the primary reason Christianity grew was the ordinary Christian’s capacity for love and service. Nowhere was this love and service on greater display than when the plague struck Roman society.
In 165 AD, during the reign of the Marcus Aurelius, an epidemic pillaged its way through the Roman world. The privileged and wealthy pagans retreated to their country estates while thousands of others were left to face a hopeless situation of suffering and death. Christians, however, did not flee. Unlike their pagan counterparts, Christians had a divine call to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This prompted Christians all around the empire to nurse the sick, and while this certainly cost Christian lives, it also saved many lives, Christian and pagan alike. As science and common sense demonstrates, when people are cared for and not abandoned, their chances of survival increases. The capacity that Christians had for love and service actually saved lives. These episodes of love and service prompted such growth in Christianity that 100 years after the event, the pagan emperor Julian wrote a letter to a high priest bragging about his adoption of the Christian strategy for growth. Christianity grew, he contended, because of their “’moral character.’”
Christianity grew to the world’s largest religion because ordinary Christians seized every opportunity to manifest their calling to love their neighbor and serve the needy. This charity was especially notable in times of crisis and unrest. Had certain crises not occurred, writes one historian, “the Christians would have been deprived of major, possibly crucial opportunities.” When unrest meets Christian charity, growth occurs. At a time when Christianity is declining under immense social and political pressures, we must seize the opportunity before us and once again find our capacity for love and service.
While we are not facing the horror of the Roman plague, we are facing a high dose of unrest and anxiety due the coronavirus pandemic. And while our love and service are not needed to nurse people back to health, our love and service can be manifested in how we share our resources. We are humbled and privileged that we can provide a space for groups such as the Red Cross and the Chesapeake Youth Orchestra, which lost the use of their former space due to the pandemic. Our space is also being used for a food drive, faithfully organized by our Christian friends from the Misionera Penial congregation. I pray that we will not neglect to do good and share what we have (Hebrews 13:16). I also pray that our “opponents,” whoever they may be] - the drop out, the skeptic - will see us and say, “ look how they love one another!”
—Pastor Mark Metze
is a creative way to ready and study God's Word by creating notes and drawings to accompany Scripture verses. This group meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:30. I have also included a picture of the Bible Journaling Group.