Was the Early Church ‘Patient’?

Bryan Litfin | October 31, 2016

Christianity probably shouldn’t exist. Not only did the fledgling faith erect large obstacles to conversion, such as strict moral requirements and secretive, exclusive worship services. Roman society also despised Christians and sometimes put them to death. No modern church growth consultant would’ve predicted an exciting future for the ancient church.

Yet grow it did—a surprising turn of events that has captured the imagination of Alan Kreider in his new book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Kreider—professor emeritus of church history and mission at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana—attributes the church’s success to four key factors.

Chief among them is the titular virtue of (1) patience, which Kreider takes to be the most essential aspect of early Christianity’s upward trajectory. This virtue was embodied in (2) communal actions (habits) and taught to newcomers in (3) catechesis and worship. Together these three factors created (4) a ferment, a kind of internal energy that couldn’t be contained.

Christianity wasn’t a bubbling stew heated from outside, but a living, breathing mash—a yeasty conglomerate leavened with the Holy Spirit and alive with possibilities. “Patient ferment” is therefore an appropriate metaphor. With the…

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