(This post is my final paper for an independent study I did this semester. It focuses on how the missiology and missionary strategy of the early and medieval church can inform our present engagement of the Great Commission, and I think it ends up with some decent insights and ideas. If you'd like to see my full historical research paper on the subject, let me know and I'll send you a copy).
When we begin to study the missionary enterprise of the early Church (from the 2nd century on), we are immediately confronted by the fact that it does not at all resemble missions as we know it. Though we know from the plain facts of history that Christianity grew rapidly in the Roman Empire over the first few centuries, we have little more than suppositions as to how it grew. There is seldom any reference to evangelistic preaching after the apostolic period, and only a very few recorded instances of person-to-person evangelistic witnessing. Rather, we find that the means of evangelism which received the greatest emphasis within the Roman Empire were martyrdoms, exorcisms, healings, and the like. While we should not discount the presence of individual witnessing and other, more passive forms of evangelism (like the display of charity and the attractive moral sense of Christianity), it is remarkable that the missionary methods highlighted by early Christian writers are far removed from the methods we now embrace.
When we pry a little deeper and attempt to reconstruct the early Christian perception of the missionary mandate—in other words, what motivated them to evangelistic or missionary activity—we find still more differences. Where our primary motivations would probably fall along the lines of concern for the eternal state of the unreached, as well as obedience to Scripture, these motivations are almost nowhere to be found until the rise of the early medieval missionaries (some five hundred years after Christ). Rather, their motivations seem to have sprung from theologies of spiritual warfare, competition between different Christian sects, and a rather different conception of what the ideal Christian life should look like than the one we now hold.
There are two extreme responses to this discrepancy between the early Church and our own idea of missions. The first is to accept wholeheartedly the early Church’s understandings and methods, simply because they were nearer to the fountainhead of our faith than we are, temporally speaking. The other extreme is to utterly disregard the work of the early Church and to assume that the Holy Spirit took an extended vacation until the Protestant Reformation. Of course, neither of these reactions is acceptable.
Against the first position, we would say that the “earliness” of the early Church is not in itself a convincing argument for the authority of their faith and practice. It may be the case that they retained certain themes and emphases of the apostles’ preaching that were not ultimately included in the canon of Scripture, and that is worthy of consideration as a possibility. However, we also believe that the Bible contains the complete message of God for his people, and thus we need not worry that we may have missed some pieces of the early apostolic faith. What the early Church does offer us, however, is the possibility that our interpretation of Scripture may have gotten off track at some point, and that their own perceptions of the meaning of certain passages may be closer to the truth than our own. Sometimes the presuppositions of our culture blind us to certain facets of Scripture, just as the culture of the Roman Empire did for the early Church—but their blindnesses will not be the same as ours, so we can expect that the records they left behind may help us to perceive the weak spots in our own understanding of the faith.
Against the second position, we would say that it is our belief that the Holy Spirit has never abandoned the Church, but rather, throughout her history, has protected, instructed, and guided her. To ignore the history of the early and medieval church is to turn our backs on a thousand years of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the world. However, we also believe that the Church is a human institution, and therefore fallible on both the individual level and the communal level. Though the Holy Spirit is working in the Church, Christians don’t always get everything right as a result. So, as we would do with the varying expressions of Christian faith and practice in our own time, we must use a discerning eye towards the early and medieval churches, seeking to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is no easy task, since our assumptions often lead us to favor our own position where we disagree with our spiritual forefathers. But along the way, we may find something of value, something that we in our ignorance have overlooked or forgotten.
With that in mind, the applications of this paper take the form of tentative suggestions. I will point out several areas of faith and practice that the early Church employed in missions, but which we evangelicals do not. The suggestion here is that these methods are simply worth considering, and perhaps, in some cases, trying.
Applications in Theology
Much of our motivation for doing missionary work has its basis in our soteriology. We evangelicals traditionally hold that Jesus died to save us from our sins, so that we, as individuals, can be forgiven by God and welcomed into eternal life. Thus, our missionary endeavors focus on transmitting this message of personal salvation to others, who then can also be saved. The early Church would not have disagreed with this soteriological paradigm; however, they did not hold it to the exclusion of all other interpretations of the meaning of Christ’s work.
One of the dominant conceptions they had of soteriology was represented by the paradigm that has come to be known as Christus Victor. In short, Christus Victor theology considers the work of Christ not merely as an act of sacrificial atonement that leads to the forgiveness of sins, but as the triumph of God over the powers of sin, death, and the devil. Our problem, in our natural condition without Christ, is that we are captives. Everyone who sins cedes power to Satan and his dominion over the earth. There’s a broad stream of Scripture that speaks about Satan’s present dominion over the world, and about the Christian life as an external battle against the powers of evil. Paul seems to refer to Satan as “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the ruler of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Jesus calls Satan “the prince” of this present age (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). The early Church Fathers also saw death as more than just a physical eventuality—it was an evil spiritual power, wielded by Satan, to which all human beings were subject as a result of sin. It included not merely physical death, but the loss of all spiritual life. To these three complementary spheres of evil power—Satan, sin, and death—all human beings were enslaved as a result of Adam’s first sin.
In this view, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus all have significance for our salvation (rather than just his death, which is what evangelical atonement theology usually highlights). Jesus prepared for his ministry by going into the desert and ended up having a faceoff with Satan, which Jesus won by refusing to sin. A large part of Jesus’ subsequent ministry consisted of the confrontation of demonic powers and of freeing people from their grasp. Finally, Jesus died on the Cross “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15). “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). 1 John 3:8 puts it plainly: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” And as the final stroke of his victory, Jesus rose from the dead. The power of death, which was in Satan’s hands, could not hold Jesus.
This was one of the dominant ways that the early Church understood the Gospel, and, as demonstrated above, it is a thoroughly biblical understanding. And just like our soteriology informs our sense of the missionary mandate, so their soteriology affected theirs. Since Christianity was a triumphal war against Satan and the powers of evil, the early Church employed spiritual warfare as the front-line tactics of its mission. Exorcisms, healings, and displays of supernatural power went side-by-side with the Gospel message (much as they did in the Gospels and Acts). Not only was the salvation of individuals a wonderful thing for the individuals themselves, it was a blow against the Enemy, whose kingdom of darkness was shrinking with every new convert that was transferred into the kingdom of “marvelous light.”
In the baptismal liturgy, when the convert is asked to “renounce Satan and all his works,” the early Church was not speaking of personal spirituality and individual sin. It was a declaration of war—a renunciation of the old king and an acceptance of the colors of the Militia Christi. In the eastern Christianity of Mesopotamia, vast throngs of people consecrated themselves as “Sons and Daughters of the Covenant,” pledged to do spiritual battle through preaching, healing, charity, and prayer. And when the desert fathers in Egypt withdrew to the wilderness to give themselves to a life of prayer, it wasn’t simply for the sake of eccentricity or austere personal devotion—it was to confront the demons head-on (in the culture of the day, demonic spirits were thought to reside especially in the deserts). The mission of the church was not so much concerned with “reaching the unreached people,” but of making Christ’s triumph over Satan an experienced reality in the world around them.
However, just as our soteriology and missiology may be weakened by our ignorance of the Christus Victor tradition, so the early Church’s conception of mission was unbalanced by a lack of connection between it and the clearly loving, personal, outreaching dimension of God’s salvation. The militant nature of early missional activity took a violent turn when it finally gained the power to pursue its aims, with the succession of Constantine to the Imperial throne in the 4th century. With the Empire’s strength now behind them, the early Church attacked pagan temples and shrines, razing them to the ground and sometimes torturing and killing the priests. They carried out bloody pogroms against other sects within Christianity, determined to stamp out heresy with force. More Christians died at one another’s hands in the fourth century than had perished in all the previous persecutions under the Romans. This Christian use of force against the enemies of faith was sporadic and not well-organized, but even so it should give us pause. An incomplete and unbalanced theology can be a dangerous thing. However, I don’t think that we face the same danger in accepting some elements of Christus Victor theology, since our understanding is already heavily weighted toward the loving, people-oriented aspects of the Gospel.
So what can the early Church suggest for our present theology of missions? It would be unwise to abandon the clearly biblical passion for the salvation of individuals, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t buttress that theology with the addition of a Christus Victor perspective. Consider, for instance, one of the drawbacks of holding a missiology that focuses exclusively on the salvation of souls: if a missionary enterprise does not ultimately gain any converts, it is regarded as a failure. When I was serving in North Africa, I heard numerous stories about difficult mission-fields across the Muslim world, where missionaries would spend ten or fifteen or twenty years before making a single convert. The implication was that this was a tragic state of affairs. In some sense it is, but to leave the matter there would be to abandon these missionaries to a sense of failure, and there would be little motivation for future missionaries to consider such places for their own work.
If we add a Christus Victor element, however, the picture changes. In this light, missionary work in the most difficult places is the most important, most daring, and possibly the most fruitful work of all, since it stands on the front lines of the great spiritual war. Missionaries in those places are claiming the first beachhead in hostile territory, and simply by being there and taking their attack to very doorstep of the demons’ strongholds, they weaken the power of Satan’s kingdom. Who knows what fruit in personal salvation might grow there fifty or a hundred years from now, because of those first brave missionaries who began the invasion? In Christus Victor theology, no missionary endeavor carried out in the spirit of Christ can be a complete failure, simply because every such effort, regardless of the visible results, is a blow against Satan’s kingdom. Obedience to the call of Christ is never in vain. Any effort that says “yes” to God’s mission in the world is inherently valuable, regardless of the results. Christus Victor theology reminds us that it is Christ who is the warrior, and Christ who is the victor—not us. Our part is to obey; his part is to bring forth whatever fruit may grow in those barren fields.
What practical changes might this Christus Victor addition include? Some of the practices of the early Church, such as temple-smashing raids, are obviously inadvisable except in very extreme circumstances. But other practices, such as exorcisms and healings, might well be added to our regular missionary practice. Both practices were clearly evident in the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, so there is no reason why only “Charismatic” groups should have a corner on that market now. Obviously, we would have to guard against sensationalism and all the other dangers that come with displays of spiritual power, but the dangers themselves are not a strong enough argument to prevent us from employing what proved to be some of the most effective means of ministry-work for the first five hundred years of Christianity. When approached with significant training and discernment, these active means of spiritual warfare directly lay claim to the freedom that Christ won for us, and thus they make a powerful soteriological statement in and of themselves.
Further, it might be advisable to allow the rhetoric of spiritual warfare to return to our preaching and teaching. Speaking of Satan and demons has fallen out of vogue in the West, but if our Enemy truly is still prowling about, “seeking whom he may devour,” then we cannot afford to ignore him. Christians should be trained to think of themselves, at least in part, as soldiers in the great, triumphal war of God.
Applications in Personal Devotion
Much of the early and medieval Church also operated on a very different conception of what “the ideal Christian life” should look like. While we American Christians might point to a life characterized by daily quiet times, personal witnessing, and a healthy family life, some traditions in the early Church pointed to something that looked quite a bit like the pattern of ministry Jesus laid out for his seventy-two disciples in Luke 10. This was especially true in the eastern Christianity of Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia from the 2nd through the 7th centuries, and in Irish and Anglo-Saxon Christianity from the 6th through the 9th centuries. Their ideal was of the wandering pilgrim, wholly consecrated to Christ in every facet of his life. This was “the imitation of Christ” considered not merely as a path of spiritual devotion, but as a whole way of living. These imitators of Christ—usually monks of some sort—were considered set apart from the world, and they patterned their lives after Christ’s own: walking from village to village, preaching the Gospel, praying, voluntarily accepting the poverty of not having a home, doing acts of charity, and so on.
We Protestants shy away from that sort of model, mainly because we take some of the correctives of the Reformation too far. The Reformation sought to set right the erroneous medieval-Catholic belief in two different levels of Christianity, one for the laypeople (who really only had to attend Mass and otherwise try to be good), and another for those pursuing “the way of perfection”—a life of total consecration to God, usually as a monk or priest. Luther and the other Reformers rebelled against this, saying that the Bible taught that all believers were equal in God’s sight and all were called to uphold the moral and spiritual imperatives of the New Testament. The Reformers were right in this, but their heavy emphasis on the matter led to an unfortunate consequence: there is now virtually no one who dares to live the life of a monk or a pilgrim-preacher in Protestant Christianity, because that model is regarded with such scorn. But it is one thing to say that all Christians are equal; it is quite another to say that no one should live such a life of radical personal consecration to God, and I fear we have fallen into the error of the latter.
It was just such pilgrim-preachers who carried the Gospel all the way into Persia, and then to China and the steppes of central Asia in the first millennium, and it was just such pilgrim-preachers who set out from Britain to convert the barbarian tribes of Germany to the faith. These men, in large part, were the missionary force for the first thousand years of Christianity. Since it is a biblical model, why not present this kind of life as a spiritual ideal worthy of embrace? Most evangelical Christians in America, having grown up in the luxury of comfortable middle-class homes, will never even consider such a radical lifestyle as a genuine and honorable possibility unless it is presented to them as such. We have no models for this kind of ministry any more, which is unfortunate. But this model is not bound by culture. In any culture in the world, men and women who voluntarily choose to live with the poor and homeless, who travel about doing good deeds and spreading the hope of the Gospel, will be effective in the work of Christian missions. The old practice of spiritual pilgrimage to holy sites is undergoing a modest reawakening in some evangelical circles, so why not present the even older practice of the imitatio Christi pilgrimage as a possible ideal for the Christian life?
This idea of the imitation of Christ as a way of life does not merely encompass life, though—it also informs our perspective on death. Throughout the history of the early and medieval Church, martyrdom—dying for the sake of Christ and his work—was a laudable thing. Many early missionaries went out with the almost certain knowledge that they would be killed for their work. And yet they went. Some, like Anskar, even desired the glory of martyrdom. Why was martyrdom such a great glory? Because it was the fullest possible extent of the imitation of Christ. It was an act of sharing in Christ’s sufferings and death, and thus visibly presenting the message of a willingly-executed Savior to the world. It was a living drama of the message of a love so great that even death for the sake of that love is a welcome and wonderful thing.
Contrast this attitude with our present views on martyrdom. We work to serve the persecuted church, and well we should—they are our brothers and sisters. But we work out of a sense that persecution and martyrdom are tragedies, when all that Scripture asks us to do is offer comfort to the hurting. When Western missionaries die on the field, we regard it as a terrible tragedy. In some sense it is, especially for the family and friends left behind. But death is simply a part of life, and there is no better place to die than in the service of God. A life cut short in his service is better than a long life of comfortable apathy. In my opinion, being martyred in the work of the Kingdom of God is a far better way to perish than in spending the last twenty years of my life watching television and playing golf in a retirement resort. The plain fact of the matter is that unless we begin to change the perception of American Christians that martyrdom is a tragedy, then American Christians will never answer to call to be missionaries to the places that need the Gospel the most. Rather, it will fall to those believers who know both the cost and the glory of suffering and martyrdom—those in persecuting countries like China—who will have the honor of finishing the task.
Applications for the Life of the Church
Another application arises largely out of the unconscious circumstances of early Christianity—that of being clearly and obviously a distinct people, set apart from the world. In their earliest days they were an odd and therefore easily recognizable sect, and this played somewhat to their advantage. There was a sense of mystery about the church because it was so very different from the rest of the world. It is worth asking whether that same sense of wonderful mystery surrounds the church in America. Are we so different from the way the world lives that outsiders sit up and take notice? We need to find ways to live out the Christian message anew, because the message itself is so radically different from the ways of the world that it will, by itself, draw those who are looking for something beyond their normal experience.
A similar application comes from the story of the conversion of the Rus to Christianity in the late 10th century. Vladimir, the reigning prince of Kiev, considered all the various religious options around him (Islam, Judaism, Carolingian Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy), and he chose Eastern Orthodox Christianity because it was so beautiful. We would do well to consider how to make Christianity beautiful again—beautiful in art, architecture, literature, music, and liturgy, but most of all, beautiful in the presentation of its message and in its manner of living.
The early medieval Church also gives us an intriguing institutional paradigm to consider: missional monasticism. Protestants have always shied away from monasticism, largely for the reasons already described above. There is a common stereotype, not wholly undeserved, that the secluded lifestyle of monks ignores the Christian mandate of outreach, of being “in the world but not of it.” However, the early Irish monasticism of Columba and Columbanus gives us a different picture. Rather than being a community of seclusion, these monasteries were communities of outreach. The brothers lived together in poverty and under mutual spiritual vows, but they also went out into the surrounding areas, teaching and preaching to the local residents. Eventually a new monastery would be planted on the frontiers of an unreached territory, and the monks would go about preaching and teaching there as well, until a new set of missionary-monks were trained and ready to go even further into the barbarian hinterland.
Monasticism is a peculiar enough institution that it will not be missionally effective in every cultural context, but it might be worth considering whether it could be effective in the evangelical church in America. If a group of Christians—either singles or families—elected to live together in a common community, holding resources in common and strengthening one another’s spiritual lives by their constant contact, all while going out into their jobs in the world and intentionally spreading the Gospel there, what would the effects be? It could indeed be a way to spark that sense of mystery which the church in our day seems to have lost. And it should be noted that this is not merely a historical model; it’s also a biblical model—it is very similar to the Jerusalem church as portrayed in Acts. Already there are a few such evangelical communities growing in the movement called “the new monasticism,” and it will be interesting to see how they fare over the course of time.
Applications for Missionary Methods
Some of the missionary methods we glean from the early Church we learn from their successes; others from their mistakes. To take the latter category first, one missionary method that is now almost universally accepted, but which was slow to catch on in the early Church, was the use of the native vernacular in developing liturgy. The Persian church probably collapsed in large part because it never adopted the native language of Persia, but stubbornly kept to Syriac as its liturgical language. If Persian missionaries, who were extremely active for hundreds of years, had adopted the use of vernaculars rather than Syriac, Christianity probably would have penetrated deeper into Arabia and, quite possibly, this would have prevented the rise of Islam. Similarly, a use of the vernacular in the North African provinces might have allowed the ancient church in that region to survive the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. Only a very few missionaries in the early and medieval Church made use of vernaculars, and their efforts proved massively successful: Ulfila translated the Bible into Gothic, and within the span of a few decades the majority of German Goths were Arian Christians. Cyril and Methodius likewise translated the liturgy into Old Slavonic, which opened the gates for the conversion of much of Eastern Europe. The message is simple: whenever possible, use the language of the people to whom you minister.
Another instance of failure on the part of the early church is in this principle: acceptance of Christianity should not go hand-in-hand with the imposition of Imperial rule or culture. Much of Persia long remained Zoroastrian because to be a Christian was perceived as being a Roman. The German Goths who invaded the Roman Empire quite probably clung to Arian Christianity rather than the orthodox form because it gave them the freedom to be different, and so to preserve their own culture. Likewise, much later on, the Scandinavians were extremely slow in accepting the faith because they believed that to do so implied that they would have to accept subjugation to the Carolingian Empire and to the papal office. While most missionaries nowadays accept that native peoples should be able to retain their own culture and autonomy when receiving the Gospel, it is still worth asking the question: Do people around the world perceive the act of becoming Christian as an act of bowing to America (or at least, to the West)? And if so, what can be done to change that perception?
One possible answer, though certainly not the only answer, is to partner with native missionaries in the work of cross-cultural missions. Ulfila, the great apostle to the Goths, was himself a Goth by birth. Frumentius, who brought the Gospel to Ethiopia, had lived there for a number of years beforehand; as had Patrick with the Irish. The Anglo-Saxon missionaries who went out from Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries probably met with such success because they were of a related race and language to the Germans who received their message. People will more readily accept one of their own than an outsider; it’s a simple rule of human society. That doesn’t mean that cross-cultural missionaries are obsolete, but rather that a native missionary can be a great asset and ally.
Another application comes from one of the great successes of the early missions to Britain: where possible, target your work toward the leaders of society. Both the Roman and Irish missionaries to England went primarily to the various kings of the land, and with great success. In that culture, when the king accepted a new faith, his whole coterie of war-leaders would accept it, too, along with many of the common people. Thus, the conversion of the king often led to mass conversions of thousands upon thousands of people. Mass conversions are now looked upon suspiciously, and in Anglo-Saxon England they certainly did not signal a permanent change of life in the individuals who were baptized. However, many cultures think in more communal terms than we individualist Americans do, and for them, religion is a matter of community life, not merely of personal decision. Thus, mass conversions can be quite appropriate. And, generally speaking, the second or third generation after a mass conversion is usually thoroughly Christianized (this was the case with the Saxons, who were forced into mass baptism at the point of Charlemagne’s sword, but who soon became the leading lights of Christian Europe). Even if there are no mass conversions, however, the leaders in society usually engender great respect from their people, and the community as a whole will entertain the notion of a new faith more seriously if their leader converts.
Another application, which perhaps should be used sparingly, is to speak about the reality of final Judgment in our preaching and teaching. This was the model of the evangelistic-preaching of the early Church, wherever the sparse records of it remain. We, however, have inherited a fierce distaste toward the guilt-provoking, fire-and-brimstone sermons of our forefathers, and for good reason. But the fact of final Judgment remains prominent in our doctrine. If it is true, and if it is useful in the work of missions, why not use it? There is a difference between making people feel guilty merely for the sake of feeling guilty (which we should probably avoid), and of warning them about something that they need to know. It need not be done in a browbeating fashion. One could easily get the message across in a manner of gentleness and genuine concern. It will cause some offense, to be sure, but the Gospel is naturally offensive to many people.
And finally, we can learn from the message that the Venerable Bede tried to convey to his audience: take the Gospel to your enemies. In reflecting on the history of England, he chastised the Welsh Christians for not sending missionaries to the invading pagan tribes of Angles and Saxons. A few of Bede’s successors heard his message, and men like Willibrord and Boniface gave up their lives to go to the hostile Frisians. But on the whole, the message does not appear to have sunk in. Other than Anskar, we have virtually no record of missionaries going from Britain or central Europe to convert the Vikings. It is a difficult thing to minister to one’s enemies, but it is, I think, the highest expression of what Jesus commanded us to do: love our enemies. We in the American church ought to consider the degree to which we are praying for the salvation of radical Muslim fundamentalists and the degree to which we are traveling to the Middle East to live with them and share the message of Christ’s hope.
Applications for Culture
The final set of applications that I believe we can take from the history of the early and medieval church is on the matter of how to build a missionary culture. There were two great instances of “missionary cultures” during this period—the Edessan/Persian church, and the Irish/Anglo-Saxon church. For Christian clerics in those cultures, missionary service was regarded as one of the highest ideals, one of the greatest honors of the life of faith. They sent out missionaries in all directions at a rate unsurpassed until the Jesuits and the Moravians of the post-Reformation world (with the possible exception of the Franciscans).
How were they able to motivate their people so readily for missionary service? There seem to have been two main reasons: (1) the heroes of whom they were told while growing up were all missionaries, and (2) the finest churchmen and scholars of the day were involved in missionary service. The legacy of Patrick and Columbanus, along with a host of other 7th-century missionary-wanderers, fueled the Anglo-Saxon missions-wave that was spearheaded by Willibrord and Boniface. Their heroes were all missionaries, and so they too aspired to be missionaries. In the same way that ministry students in contemporary America might aspire to become like Billy Graham or Rick Warren or Rob Bell, they aspired to become like Patrick. Bede himself continued this legacy, because his missions-minded Ecclesiastical History of the English People became common reading in England and France and served to spark the Carolingian missions movement. So what application can be drawn for us? Simply this: in teaching and preaching, we can tell our people the stories of the great missionaries of the past—from Patrick and Boniface to J. Hudson Taylor and Samuel Zwemer. Unless they hear the stories, they will never even begin to dream of the possibilities of a world awakened by the mission of the Church.
The second reason for these missionary cultures was that the finest minds of the day were involved in missions. Egbert, Willibrord, and Boniface represented the cream of the crop of Anglo-Saxon clerics, and rather than spend their lives gaining large followings in England, they decided to spend themselves on the mission field. Similarly, Cyril and Methodius were among the leading lights of the Byzantine Empire when they agreed to go out in missionary service to the Khazars, Moravians, and Slavs. Cyril was perhaps one of the greatest intellects in history, and Methodius was a brilliant administrator with connections to the Imperial court; yet they decided to leave all that in order to present the Gospel to those who had not yet heard. To apply this to our own culture is something that we cannot compel: it is something that the best and brightest must themselves choose to do. But if the leaders of our church and culture do make the public and visible sacrifice of serving in cross-cultural missions for the sake of the Kingdom, it would undoubtedly have far-reaching effects in raising up admirers to join the cause.
In all these things, then, we can learn from the early Church. They speak to us from a different time and culture, and so they open up for us ideas that we may have never thought of before. Their ideas, if implemented here in America, would seem radical in nature, but Christianity is a faith that thrives on radical measures. Not all of these suggestions will work; probably not all of them are even advisable in the long run. But at the very least, they are worthy of consideration. We are heirs of the mission that these ancient saints began, and there is great potential that in our day we may see, at least in part, the fulfillment of the promise made 4,000 years ago to Abraham: all nations will be blessed. With that goal in mind, and the great mandate of our Lord himself, we ought to examine and employ every useful measure in the task of carrying out the Great Commission.
Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.