The Social Nature of Christianity

The social nature of the Christian church during the apostolic era was seen as a fraternal helpfulness, hence contributing to the wellbeing of the sick and poor. Charity and hearth were often provided for orphans and widows because of poor social conditions prevalent at that time in ancient Rome, during which the divine intrinsic spirit rooted in Judaism making its way into early Hebrew Christianity. By the middle of the third century A.D., the Roman church supported fifteen hundred of such dependents.

Likewise, during intense sessions of persecution under the civil or Jewish magistrates, the churches sent comfort to their brothers and sisters as shown in the letter to the Romans commissioned by Ignatius of Antioch during the first century. At this time, Ignatius was begging the church in Rome to not deliver him from his martyrdom. He implied that the Christians during that time would have naturally sought to save those from their common brotherhood.

The church also performed funeral services, its congregants gathering together in an organized fashion to guarantee the participants in the body of Christ a proper burial. “In public calamities, like pestilence or the invasion of nomadic brigands,” Walter Rauschenbusch says, “they stood by their members and sent aid to a distance.” This suggests that Christian hospitality was always guaranteed by the churches. Although those who worked were encouraged to do so in order to contribute to the church, nourishment and provisions were consistently handed to those in need.

This system of social welfare and common-ownership of production was a rather messy operation; it didn’t exist as a systematic establishment until the end of the third century, when one found Christian lodging-houses and homes for the elderly, sick, and poor. While looking after another’s needs during the apostolic and post-apostolic era was largely a direct matter between individuals within specific churches, the practice soon became an organized structure that spread throughout the world.

One witnesses the drawing board precursor to these homes for those in need in the epistles of Paul, who mentions wealthy and influential individuals and families offering their homes for ecclesiastical services and social welfare. Stephanas, Aquila, and Prisca are all examples of this type of contributor which had developed into the hospitable institutions for the low-class as seen by the fourth-century world.

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What is your role in serving others? How did the early church did it differently than we did?

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