From the beginning, Christianity had to accomplish five fundamental transitions. And this was not after a long period of stability and organization. This happened right away.
- A geographical transition from Palestine to the Diaspora–all the lands outside Palestine.
- A sociological transition–Jesus was a rural itinerant preacher. The first Christians we meet are urban, living in the big cities of the Roman empire.
- A linguistic transition from Aramaic to Greek.
- A cultural transition from a predominantly Jewish culture to a predominantly Greco-Roman culture.
- And finally, a demographic transition from being a movement among Jews to a movement among non-Jews, or “Gentiles.”
So we see it was a very powerful movement. And because of the lack of controls, and due to all of these necessary transitions, Christianity was quite diverse from the very beginning. It looked a little different wherever it spread to. Therefore, what’s amazing is not so much that it was diverse, but that it had any unity at all! This seems true still today.
By far, the most important transition in that first expansion was the inclusion of Gentiles (non-Jews) into the community without the obligation of being circumcised or the observation of Jewish law. We see that the very first generation of Christians came into the fold without being or becoming Jewish, but rather, on their own terms. Hence, we see that Christianity saw itself from its very beginning as a potentially worldwide religion. No restrictions here.
Since you had such diversity from day one, there were different ways (and difficulties) in translating this resurrection experience. Our earliest Christian writings, Paul’s letters, show us this. There was some conflict at the start. It seems there was no “golden age” of Christianity, even early on. Though there was much unity, as Dr. Luke reports in his Acts of the Apostles in chapters two and four.
Tomorrow we shall look at the early Christian writings a bit.