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Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Bleak History of Christian Mission - Part I

Christianity is a missionary religion.

Preaching and teaching is a central component of its dogma, and the injunction to make converts appears in the earliest of Church writings.

The Gospel of Matthew gives the church “The Great Commission,” 28:19 – 20

“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (NAB)

This same commission is reflected in an earlier narrative in the Gospel of Mark 16:15

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (NAB)

In the early years of the church, in the years leading to the writing of the Gospels, Christianity was not known as Christianity, and Christians were not known as Christians.

Jesus of Nazareth, known in his home town as Joshua son of Joseph, had been given the title of Christ, from the Greek Kyrios, the anointed one, but he was not worshipped as a God.

Those following the teachings of Jesus, referred to those teachings as The Way, and they saw themselves as followers and keepers of The Way. They saw themselves as students of The Way, disciples, from the Latin discipulos, the saw the church as a school, from the Latin schola, and the symbol they used to identify themselves was not the symbol of Jesus’ torture and death, the crucifix, it was a fish, because the faithful disciples of the way swam together as do a school of fish. They lived together, they prayed together, they took care of one another, and protected each other.  

Those in the way did not rely on any other power to carry out their mission; not the army, not the empire, not kings, and queens, and princes. They cared for one another, and preached the forgiveness of sins, to friend and stranger alike.

The way was transformative, it was a grass roots movement, it cast aside social norms, and it threatened to overthrow the exiting power structures.

It was dynamic, and it lent itself to rapid growth throughout the communities of the oppressed.

The great commission was well suited to the simple mission of the early movement; to love God with all your strength and all your heart, and all your mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

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