Rephrasing a question.
How could the Christian movement go from a mere 25,000 followers in the year 100, to 20 million just 200 years later… while enduring constant persecution?
Before I wade into the waters, I would like to pose a COVID era question. People who love and care for their families have faced the question, “Am I a carrier of this microscopic organism?” “Am I contagious?” It is especially acute for parents who are doctors and nurses who literally put their lives on the line each day as the go to work. It is a question asked out of love.
Was the Christian movement contagious? How could the Good News movement spread so effectively without many of the structures we consider essential to being church?
Jesus was contagious!
Using that image, it seems to me that Jesus was contagious for those he came into contact with. They wanted to be counted as his followers. They, in turn were themselves contagious. We might even see them as “super-spreaders”.
When Jesus passed through many lives, he certainly lit up the rooms of their lives. What was it that was so infectious about Jesus that ordinary people, in the midst of their daily lives, would literally drop everything to be in his presence?
We have some clues in Jesus’ words. He told them stories illustrating the good news that God loved them… no matter who they were or how messed up their lives were. Jesus not only told them stories. He acted out these stories. They experienced the contagion of God’s love in Jesus.
They didn’t always understand them because they were so used to thinking within the framework of a structured society of winners and losers. So “the kingdom” meant they would no longer stand outside waiting for scraps from the table. They would be fed with the finest wheat.
They certainly felt welcomed into the inner circle when he fed 5,000, or the smaller Passover meals such as the one which turned out to be his last supper. At that more intimate meal they probably were shocked when he acted like a servant and washed their feet. What’s more, he actually asked them to wash one another’s feet!
The story they had the most difficulty with was the story that ended on a cross. Only later when they were filled with the Spirit, did they understand the scandal of the cross. The cross was the most dramatic way God demonstrated the good news of love for us. God was saying that everyone was in the circle of God’s love… even enemies! This awareness transformed their lives.
The early Christians were contagious
They then began to live the stories he told them, especially the one where they finally understood the command to wash one another’s feet. They now began to understand the depths of the ancient message “I will be your God and you will be my people.” Jesus made it clear that these words meant they were all in the circle of God’s love and called to love one another as God loved each of them.
The transformed lives of these followers revealed the good news with amazing clarity. “See these Christians, how they love!” Others wanted to be in that circle of love. They all wanted to be in that family.
The obvious question
We sing the words to “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Do others know we are Christians by our practical love? Love for rich and the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, saints and sinners, those who think differently or have different color skin? Do they experience God’s love for them mirrored by our lives? Is it any wonder that Jesus speaks of the final judgement in terms of what we do for the unrecognized, bruised and broken Christ in our midst?
This kind of lived love is highly contagious!