During the first few hundred years after Jesus lived, it was dangerous to be a Christ-follower. These early disciples called themselves followers of The Way. Because they wouldn’t give homage to the Roman gods, their faith was illegal, and they were persecuted with varying degrees of intensity. Frequently those arrested for practicing what the Romans called “Christianity” were put to death in gruesome ways. Certainly it would seem that wise Christians would have kept their faith secret.
Much of the time Rome followed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And early church leaders forbade believers from intentionally setting themselves up for martyrdom. But if a person was brought to a Roman official and accused of practicing Christianity, and if the person refused to recant, then the believer would pay with his or her life. In this way, nonbelievers could easily settle grudges with believers, or eliminate their Christian rivals.
Despite these dangers, historical records show that in the communities of those days, it was easy to tell who the Christ-followers were. They were the people who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the prisoners, attended to the sick, comforted the suffering and refused to accept injustice. Even though they might not openly proclaim their faith with words, they revealed it by their deeds. At the risk of their lives, these early believers imitated their Lord. They were known by how they behaved.
Suppose all the believers in America really got serious about the injustice in the world. Suppose tens of millions of American Christians gave up a few Christmas presents, and used the money instead to solve the world’s water crisis. Suppose tens of millions of American Christians took some of their surplus, and used it to bring affordable HIV treatment to Africa. Suppose tens of millions of American Christians refused to be manipulated into playing cheerleader for the military industrial complex. Suppose all over the world, folks reached out to total strangers, and began feeding the hungry, bringing clean water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and standing up for the victims of injustice. And suppose people started noticing what was going on. And starting asking why.
And suppose all over the world the Church could respond, “We’re Christ-followers. It’s what we do.”