How the Gospel Moves

The early church suffered persecution; in that, there is no dispute.  The effort of the persecution was to stop the grown of the Church, mostly through the elimination of the spread of the gospel.  Initially, the persecution was sporadic, raising up in only one area at a time and then settling for a time.  Then the persecution became organized, meaning it was planned and systematic, and then universal—that is, it was everywhere.  The reaction of the Church grew with the persecution, as did the Church.  As the persecution changed and adapted, so did the Jesus’ people.  

The persecutions shaped how the believers gathered and worshiped.  In many ways, the collection of the believers became secretive and private, which is not a good way to grow a church body.  But if it were not, the meetings would draw negative and unwanted attention.  (Sometimes these meeting were even held in the catacombs next to the decomposing bodies of Christians who were killed for their faith.)

In his book The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, Gonzalez says, “It is clear that the enormous spread of the Gospel in those first few centuries was not due to the full-time missionaries, but rather to the many Christians who traveled for other reasons—slaves, merchants, exiles condemned to work in the mines, and the like” (1984, p. 99).   But only 85 pages earlier, Gonzalez writes, “The political unity wrought by the Roman Empire allowed the early Christians to travel without having to fear bandits or local wars” (p. 14).  In Paul’s day (as we find in the book of Acts), Paul and his companions were able to travel from city to city sharing the gospel.  They could freely preach in the open and the only people they had to fear were their fellow Jews or the trinket merchants of other religious systems.  It was not the government that gave Paul grief, but the religious types, trying to protect their religious ways.  

However, a couple centuries later, the great persecutions seem to have removed the ability for “professional” missionaries and church planters to work as they did.  The persecution brought the Great Commission right into the lives of everyday believers.  The very thing trying to stop the growth of the Church was also the thing that birthed an evangelical flame within the individuals of the body.  Now, taking out one person had very little impact upon the mission to move the gospel to the darker places, as the traders, slaves, soldiers, and exiles did.  

And if I may, I would like to look at the present through a lens from history.  In nations where Christianity is being greatly persecuted, the gospel still moves.  Yes, I believe it is in part due to brave missionaries; however, history might suggest it is through the simple movement of faithful believers, submitting to the direction of the Holy Spirit.  If we can learn anything from history, it is that not only do the brave missionaries deserve our support, but also the believers, already in the nation, who can take the gospel where it needs to go. And we should also realize that even in our comfortable little unpersecuted bubbles, we should not rely on the "professional missionaries," the books, tracts, music, TV shows, preachers, etc, we should carry the gospel wherever we go.

González, Justo L. The story of Christianity: The early Church to the dawn of the Reformation. Vol 1. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.