I read a blog post a couple of weeks ago titled, Church Growth Strategy: Be Weird. The title did what it intended to do, it got my attention.
Actually, it was a review of a book that I’ve since ordered, Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. In it, Larry Hurtado, of the University of Edinburgh, contends that early Christianity grew dramatically because, while the Christian message was universal, its messengers were unique. There was no drive for early believers to accommodate themselves to Greek or Roman culture, nor to make their values palatable for the people they were reaching. Hurtado argued that part of the attraction to Christianity was that Christians were different. Their views were different. Their values were different. Their lives were different. Hurtado’s book echoes sociologist Rodney Stark in The Rise of Christianity, who attributed much of Christianity’s early growth to some things that set them apart.
According to Hurtado and Stark, Christians were very diverse and all ethnicities and socio-economic statuses worshiped together and viewed each other as equals. They valued children and family and promoted the sanctity of human life in a world where infanticide and abortion were common and even extolled. They believed marriage was for life in a culture that practiced serial marriages. Their sexual morals were dramatically different from their culture. Christian men and women were held to the same moral standards, unlike Romans who only expected virtue of women.
In other words, Christianity grew like wild-fire in the first couple of centuries because it was both universal and distinctive. It was universal in that any category of person could become a Christian, but distinctive in that Christians lived visibly different lives. That combination made them more attractive.
Could that be said of us today? I think the universal nature of the Christian message is still universal. But distinctive? I truly wonder if we are more concerned about fitting in with the world than standing out as something unique and special. The early Christians made a difference partly because they were not afraid to be different. Are we?
The most common word for Christians in the New Testament is the Greek word, hagios, and translated, saint. The word literally means “set apart, special”, in that God’s people are set apart for him in a special way. The word for church is, ekklesia. It literally means “called out ones”, as in our being called out of the world by and for God. The Christians saw themselves on mission to love people and reach people, but not to simply blend in with everyone else. They were unique, special, different.
I wouldn’t say that means we should be weird. But the world should see some things different in us. Because we are not just like everyone else. We’ve been called of God to be his own special people. By living that way, we actually become more attractive for the Gospel.