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"belief in God Was Central to the Lives of the Early Christians but Has Become Irrelevant for Modern Man" Discuss

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"Belief in God was central to the lives of the early Christians but has become irrelevant for modern man" Discuss

Luke's Act's of the Apostles, an early diary of the Christian faith, concludes with St. Paul's arrival in Rome in around 60 A.D. Christianity had come to the centre of world power and learning. However, St. Paul was brought there to stand trial for being a Christian, and eventually sentenced to death. It is all too easy to forget that these were the conditions under which Christianity spent its infancy, and with this context in mind the question of man's need for God seems almost imbecilic. However, 'modern man' is a term that conjures up a very different context, and moreover is constantly evolving - herein lies the beginning of our study of human faith.

Let us look firstly at fact. The decline of a need for God can be loosely evaluated by studying the influence of religions in the world today. Christianity is not the only religion we may consider here; any that believes in a higher power is relevant to our study because the belief displays the need for a God, even if this need is not manifested in the traditional perception of the Almighty. Having understood this, Christianity is the religion of 33% of the world's population, whilst 22% belong to Islam and 15% to Hinduism. In fact, only 17% of the world's population are 'nonreligious,' and this is certainly evidence of a living God in our world today. Grant R. Jeffrey (1996) notes that Christianity's numbers have increased by 1300% between 1934 and 1994, whilst the world's population grew by only 400%. So is there really a valid argument that human society today is less dependent on God than at the time of the early church? The main problem with such statistics is that being associated with a religion does not necessarily mean that the practitioner feels they have any real need for God: it is difficult to refute and yet equally difficult to prove conclusively that nominal religiousness, especially within Christianity, is on the increase. Moreover, these statistics are frozen and as such to not represent modern humankind. For example, a more recent study by BBC News found that in the U.K., 66% of 18-24 years olds claimed to have no religious affiliation, compared with 25% of pensioners. Will the next generation's numbers be lower still? Also, we must give weight to the notion that ageing often seems to induce a relationship with God; increasing awareness of mortality and the uncertainty of one's future build dependence on a merciful and loving Father.

Having seen that Christianity is the most widespread religion in the world today, as well as being the most relevant to this corner of the world, it is useful for us to examine some of the reasons for its early success and the role of God in the lives of the early Christians, in comparison with that of today's believers. There are several possible interpretations of a time when followers were undoubtedly more devoted to their church - devotion to their God is the only factor in dispute.

Jesus, during his lifetime, is believed to have told some of his followers that they would not 'taste death' (GNB, Mark) until the end of the world - and this was interpreted quite literally by the early Christians. Belief in this parousia gave a sense of immediacy and essentiality to the lives of those early believers, and of course this added extra sting to the promise of eternal punishment if one did not live as Christ taught. Ours is, perhaps sadly, a world devoid of magic and even more so of supernatural fear. The church offered universal salvation during dark times - its teachings were in opposition to the elitist claims of the Gnostics, whereas today salvation is not in such great demand. Christianity offered an important source of meaning to the lives of many - Justin Martyr, one of the Church's most venerable role models, described it as 'the love of man, faith and hope which comes from the Father'(Apology 1): the final chapter in his search for philosophical meaning in life. The organisation offered a system of basic social security to its people; was practical as well as spiritual and all in all it is easy to surmise that even in the early church it was the appeal of the organisation, and not its God, that gave it support. Today, governments grant welfare to those without employment and the money distributed by religious charities would be socially embarrassing for members of the first world to receive.

However, it remains absolutely irrefutable that certain, and apparently most, members of the early church lived in constant and reverend awe of their lord; St. Paul wrote in around 60 A.D.:

God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

(Corinthians)

It was this sense of awe and subservience, and not any of the factors mentioned, that was the motive for their service of the Church. A brief account of the Neronian or Domitite persecutions would be enough to convince anyone that those who suffered were indeed committed solely to their faith - no price was too large to pay for it. The Christians met in secret at risk of arrest; their services were vitally important to them. Moreover, it took 3 years, perhaps fully a tenth of one's life expectancy simply to complete the necessary training to become a Christian and participate in the sacred rites it had developed - it is incomprehensible that anyone who did not adhere to the most devout service of God could display this level of commitment. There is of course the matter of the Church's growth and expansion as well as the many holy writings that were accumulated - the good news of God, it was felt, was simply too exquisite to remain untold.

The faith of the early Christians was in my opinion both admirable and pure; although it is certainly true that the Church had many non-essential appeals, these were, I feel, only a just reward for the perseverance and dedication of the true believer. It is worth remembering that we are historically removed from the Christ story whereas the early Christians felt a part of it - it is difficult for us to understand its immediate influence some two thousand years later. Certainly though, this is no reason to discredit the faith of the early church, but perhaps is a plausible explanation, if not a viable excuse, for the apparent lack of devotion we are witness to today.

A useful exercise here is to compare the fate of the early church with a recent

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