What seemed like only a fictional possibility often seen in movies from the ’90s finally became a reality. A virus spread across the planet threatening the lives of millions and taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

As the dawn comes with the hope that NZ has defeated the threat of this virus, we are now in a position to reflect and take stock of this unprecedented phenomenon (in our lifetime at least). The world seems different. The world is different. The Church has had to quickly adapt to various situations changing so fast our plans seem to be in constant flux. Yet, as the dust seems to be settling, now is the moment for wisdom and insight. The question before us is: how is the disruption we’ve all experienced an opportunity to reshape and reform so that we may flourish together? What fruitful changes can be made and, most importantly, what core convictions should we retain amidst the change?
I’m not a futurist, so guessing what trends will take root and shape the Church is beyond my skill set. But I am, according to my nephew, a time-traveller. I spend most of my days in the Graeco-Roman world studying the lives and thinking of the first Christians. The first Christians were a minority group often swayed by the whims and intolerances of those who dominated the ancient landscape.

And yet from the margins, these Christians were able to effect great impact and eventually change the shape and way of life for much of the empire
. How did they do that? I’d like to suggest four areas that shaped them and then suggest that these elements should shape us as well as we create a new normal.

In the words of Brennan Manning, the first Christians were “seized by the power of a great affection.” They were captivated by Jesus and were willing to lay down their lives, for the Christ they so loved. This was a deepfelt response to the love God had demonstrated in the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus. Their lives were characterised by sincere and grateful devotion to Jesus. They worshipped the one true God revealed as Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit. They were shaped by their adoration, affection and allegiance to this God. We may sum this up in the word—“worship.”

Secondly, the first Christians were a family. The language of “sisters and brothers” is pervasive among the New Testament and early Christian literature and indicates their understanding that they were a family of those who had been adopted into the family of God. They shared their lives, resources, time, skills and gifts so that all could flourish and fulfil the call of God. They wrote letters to each other. They sent messengers to relay news and requests. They kept in contact and shared their lives, even if they were separated from each other. They maintained and sustained what we might call “fellowship.” Next, the early Christians embraced a way of life and love that was shaped by Jesus and the rich wisdom found in the Scriptures. It was the responsibility of each member to edify one’s self and the community.

This was not just a task for the few elite members, but rather a calling for each one to bring a gift, an insight, a testimony—something that would fuel and shape the devotion of God’s people in the ways that Jesus had taught them. In distinction to the patterns and convictions that shaped the Graeco-Roman world, the early Christians were to edify each other, following the way of Jesus as they were empowered and led by the Spirit.

Finally, the early Christians were a community that was sensitively attuned to the outside world, seeking to promote Jesus through their compassion and care for one another and those beyond their community. They were committed to announcing wisely in word and deed that Jesus was the true Lord and Saviour of all.

They sought to be a community that embodied the care and concern they had seen in the life of Jesus. So, by prayer, financial assistance, compassion, and a life of blessing, these Christians sought to demonstrate the kindness of God to everyone they came into contact with. They were a community with a mission. Whatever renovations or innovations we make, they need to be shaped by these key elements of worship, fellowship, edification and mission. Theology shapes praxis, and our devotion to Jesus, his people, his way of life and those who don’t know him yet, should be our central concerns.

Whatever the future looks like, and whatever shape it takes, whatever renovation and innovation we make in this current climate, we should do so in a manner that remains faithful to these core convictions.