Michael Green’s Evangelism in the Early Church is the classic study on evangelism in early church life. In reading this book I asked myself, what can we learn from the early church when it comes to spreading the gospel?
He writes that “Evangelism is never proclamation in a vacuum; but always to people, and the message must be given in terms that make sense to them.” While there are differences in their situation and ours, I see one major aspect of their proclamation where we can learn from them, their love. Green argues that “they made the grace of God credible by a society of love and mutual care which astonished the pagans and was recognized as something entirely new. It lent persuasiveness to their claim…”
Take for example the hypothetical ordinary man and ask, what would attract him to Christianity? The answer for the early church was clear according to Green. He writes, “undoubtedly the love of Christians had a lot to do with it, so did the moral qualities they displayed, the warmth of their fellowship, their manifest enthusiasm, the universal applicability of their message. Reconciliation with God had a lot to do with it.”
Not only was every individual important in their evangelism methods, but the community as a whole was involved. Green argues that “the great mission of Christianity was in reality accomplished by means of informal missionaries.” Green clearly argues that Christianity was from its inception was a lay movement. Green shows that there was no distinction in the early church between full time ministers and laymen in this responsibility to spread the gospel by every means possible. He argues that “every Christian was called to be a witness to Christ, not only by life but lip.” The life and lip analogy is important. This is where I felt Green worded it beautifully, “Christianity is enshrined in the life: but it is proclaimed by the lips. If there is a failure in either respect of the gospel cannot be communicated.”
Lastly, Green does offer some strong rebukes against today’s church. He states that the early church knew nothing of set addresses following certain homiletical patterns or preoccupations with large church buildings. Essentially he argues that this informal approach allowed for more variety when it came to the evangelism methods. Of course, he would argue that the gospel has clearly defined content , but there was no prevalent method for sharing that message. Green states that “It would be a gross mistake to suppose that the apostles sat down and worked out a plan of campaign: the spread of Christianity was, as we have seen, largely accomplished by informal missionaries, and must have been to a large extent haphazard and spontaneous.” This observation is well taken. Here is a good description:
“This must often have been not formal preaching, but informal chattering to friends and chance acquaintances, in homes and wine shops, on walks, and around market stalls. They went everywhere gossiping the gospel; they did it naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing. Consequently, they were taken seriously, and the movement spread, notably among the lower classes.”