A People’s History of Christianity by Diana Butler Bass looks at the history of the church from the view of those we have never or seldom hear about. In her words she wants to look at the other side of history, the side that differs from the usual side of church history that we know about. She calls the familiar side the “Big-C” of Christianity: Christ, Constantine, Christendom, Calvin and Christian America.
The book is divided into 5 phases of history: Early, Medieval, Reformation, Modern and Contemporary Christianity. Each section talking about events and people that made that time period what it was and is.
I was moved by the early church’s concern for justice and mercy as seen in their hospitality and forbearance in the midst of sickness and persecution. There was a epidemic in the 2nd century known as the Plague of Galen in which hundreds of thousands died in the streets. While most people were fleeing the city the Christians remained behind to help. We modern/contemporary Christians seem to be more concerned about self preservation than about loving and taking care of our neighbor. A couple years ago in our neighborhood there was a rumor going about that a certain individual had TB so some from the Christian community became panicky and began worrying about weather they may have caught it from the person and making sure they did not go near him. Somewhat a different reaction from the early church (by the way they found out the guy did not have TB-panic for nothing)
The early church took the command “love your neighbor as yourself” seriously. The writer makes this statement, “While contemporary Christians tend to equate morality with sexual ethics, our ancestors defined morality as welcoming the stranger.” I wonder what would happen in our churches that instead of expecting and telling a new convert that he must now quit smoking, drinking, cussing and begin attending church and tell them that they must now open their houses to the homeless, take care of the sick and feed the hungry.
The writer makes the point that people did not convert to Christianity because of the churches doctrine but because it worked- it was seen and experienced in real life.