A few Sundays ago, I preached on the need for Christians to seek the welfare of their cities. But what does it mean for us to seek the welfare of Dallas? It is a question I have been asking myself throughout this "For the City" sermon series, and it is a question I hope you are asking yourselves too.
Church history can serve as a guide as we attempt to answer this question because our common past provides examples of what to do and what not to do. And the first few centuries of the Church are especially helpful to study because the world of the Roman Empire has some significant similarities with our modern world. Christianity emerged in world awash in different languages, cultures, ideas, religions. It emerged in a pluralistic, global world much like our own. And Christianity was able to grow and thrive in that environment despite suspicion, opposition, and waves of persecution. How did they do that? There are many answers to that question, but one answer that sociologist Rodney Stark gives is that they sought the welfare of their cities and the people around them. Here is how he puts it:
Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.
This is such an inspiration to me and challenge as well. These brothers and sisters who brought new norms and new kinds of social relationships to their cities remade the Roman Empire in the span of a few centuries, and those men and women are what we call the communion of saints, those people of God who have gone before us and shown us what faith in Christ makes possible.
It is easy to look at our world in this particular historical moment and feel cynical or tired or mournful or angry, and there is a place for all those emotions. But despite those feelings, do we still believe that our faith in the resurrected Christ can change the world around us precisely because the good news is the only that can really change the human heart?
Over the next two Sundays we will be looking at the book of Acts, and we will see the ways in which Paul does exactly what Stark describes. Going into the cities of the Roman Empire, Paul brings along with him the new norms of Christianity, as well as new ways of thinking about social standing, race, religion, and social attachment. And as Paul does this people react to him in vastly different ways, but wherever he goes people begin to believe that a Jewish Rabbi who was crucified by the Roman Empire rose from the dead and that he, not Caesar, was the true king of the world. In other words, wherever he went people began to believe the gospel.
As we continue this series, I challenge you to prayerfully ask yourself this question. How can we as the people of All Saints East Dallas bring not only new norms and new modes of social attachment to East Dallas, but also the good news that Jesus is alive and that he is the true king of the world?