The church today faces tons of criticism. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of them (and maybe even voiced them yourself). It’s important to note that while some of these critiques are legitimate (and others are not), this is nothing new. After all, the church has faced charges for thousands of years.
Studying church history fuels my faith. These brothers and sisters are inspiring. They were bold, intelligent, fearless, and made an unwavering commitment to Christ. Surprisingly, the church grew not by doing slam dunk things for Jesus, but simply by acting like Christians: by loving God and their neighbors, by sharing the gospel with others, by humbly submitting to authority, by working hard for their pagan bosses without causing them trouble. The church grew by doing ordinary things.
And yet, with this church growth came criticism. Lots of it. But the things that the early church was criticized for may surprise you. What are they? While there are more, here are three of those charges. 1
Three Repeated Charges Against The Early Church
1. Charge #1: Atheism
Yep, the church was criticized for being atheists, even though they clearly demonstrated faith in Jesus. When you think of the word “atheist,” you probably think of someone who doesn’t believe in God. But back then, an “atheist was someone who did not observe the traditional religions practiced, regardless of what faith he professed.” And since Christians worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ and did not observe traditional practices, they were charged as atheists.
Christian Apologists, like Justin Martyr, responded that Christians did indeed believe in God, but that wasn’t a satisfying answer because they “still did not perform the customary ceremonies.”
2. Charge #2: Cannibalism
Christians were charged with cannibalism since they ate the “blood” and “body” of the Lord in the Lord’s supper, and they hid the elements (e.g., the bread and wine) from those who did not profess faith in Christ. They knew that communion should exclusively be for those who have trusted in Christ. Christians partake of the Lord’s supper as a means of grace to remember what Christ has done, among other reasons. But outsiders said it was cannibalism.
3. Charge #3: Incest
Back then, as in many churches today, the Christian community was tight — really tight. They loved one another and laid down their lives for one another. And because they referred to one another as “brother” or “sister” and shared the common table together at the “love feast,” they were charged with incest.
The church has faced criticism for thousands of years. Of course, we should listen in and make changes where necessary. But some of the charges aren’t true and we should be ready to endure them for Jesus’ sake.
- Much of the content of this post was derived from Everett Ferguson’s helpful book, Church History (see pages 65-67) ↩