..all God’s people carry within themselves the same potencies that energized the early Christian movement… Apostolic Genius (the primal missional potencies of the gospel and of God’s people) lies dormant in you, me, and every local church that seeks to follow jesus faithfully in any time. We have quite simply forgotten how to access and trigger it. This book is written to help us identify its constituent elements and to help us (re)activate it so that we might once again truly be a truly transformative Jesus movement in the West.
The first book I decided to tackle in 2007 is The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. Although it looks like a regular book it is dense and thick and that makes me all excited inside.
In the introduction Hirsch asks the $64,000 Question:
How did the early church grow from being a relatively small movement to the “most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in (just) two centuries?”
Hirsch explains that by most estimates the early church had grown to about 25,000 people at the close of the first century. Two hundred years later, conservative estimates put the church at 20 million strong. That is incredible growth. Hirsch throws a wrench in your answering of that question by reminding you that this growth happened in spite of the follow:
- Christianity was an illegal religion at this time
- No church buildings like we know them
- The cannon was being put together during this period
- No institutional or professional forms of leadership
- No seeker-sensitive, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, commentaries, etc.
- It was actually hard to join a church
Ok, can you answer the question? How did they do it? 25 thousand to 20 million in 200 years?
Before you answer Hirsch adds this:
But before the example of the early Christian movement can be dismissed as a freak of history, there is another, even more astounding manifestation of Apostolic Genius, that unique and explosive power inherent in all of God’s people, in our own time- namely, the underground church in China.
When Mao took power 1949 the Chinese church was estimated at 2 million. Mao set out to wipe China clean of all religion focusing explicitly on Christianity. Those in senior leadership were executed, church property was nationalized, missionaries and foreign ministers were deported out of China, and public meetings were banned by threat of imprisonment and death. This still occurs even today.
When foreign missionaries were finally able to return in the early eighties they expected to find a severely diminished church. The found that the church in China had grown to 60 million.
Hirsch says that by looking at the growth of the early church and the Chinese church we find that elements such as “the strange mixture of the passionate love of God, prayer, incarnational practice, appropriate modes of leadership, relevant organization and structures, and the conditions that allow these to catalyze” allow something remarkable to take place.
I am very much looking forward to reading this book. If the inrtoduction is any indication than I am in for a wild ride through these pages. One can only hope.