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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Patience: A Prime Virtue Among Early Christians

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I recently attended a seminar led by retired missionary Alan Kreider on "Patient Ferment: Learning From the Early Church" that was held at the Williamsburg Retreat Center.

According to his study, the church in the first several centuries grew rapidly not by some well organized mission strategy, but by a patient demonstration of a counter-cultural way of life. Early Christians, ordinary human beings from all walks of life, were simply demonstrating Jesus' kind of care for the worth and well being of everyone, slave and free, men and women, citizens and subjects alike.

The results of their unselfish ministries to the poor and hopeless among them were amazing. By the time the emperor Constantine legitimatized the faith in the fourth century and began to give them favorable treatment, Christianity had spread over the entire Roman empire.

Kreider believes that patience, the ability to quietly persevere and persist against all odds, was their distinguishing trait, and cited Tertullian, a second century Christian teacher, who described it this way:

"To see patience... look at Jesus. God allows himself to become incarnate; in his mother's womb and awaits the time of birth, and after his birth suffers himself to grow into manhood, and when an adult, shows no eagerness to become known, but bears reproaches, and is baptized by his servant... He did not force one who was unwilling to stay close to him; he scorned no one's table or dwelling; in fact, he ministered personally to his disciples by washing their feet. He did not despise sinners or tax collectors, he showed no anger even toward that city which refused to receive him, even when his disciples wished fire from heaven to fall upon such a shameful town; he healed the ungrateful yielded to his persecutors.  More than that, heaven kept in his company the one who would betray him ... He who could have had, if he wished, at a single word, legions of angels from heaven to assist him did not approve an avenging sword on the part of even one of his disciples. It was the patience of the Lord that was wounded in Malchus (the person Peter struck with his sword when Jesus was being apprehended)... He actually cursed for all time the works of the sword and by healing him whom he himself had not struck, he made satisfaction by patience, which is the mother of mercy... Such were the manifestations of his patience, the very magnitude of which is the reason why pagan nations reject the faith; but for us they are its rational foundation... Patience is the very nature of God.

So let wrongdoing grow weary from your patience... If one tries to provoke you to a fight... (heed) the admonition of the Lord, 'If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also'... If someone bursts out cursing or wrangling, recall the saying, 'When men reproach you, rejoice.'"

As someone has said, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but it has been found difficult and not tried.
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