Would the Apostles have used the internet?
Actually, they did use a type of internet. It was one of the key reasons for the rapid spread of the Gospel, and we can learn a lot from it.
In the following article, I’ll talk about how the Apostles used the “information highway” of their time, and what we can learn from their example in the 21st century–a time of unprecedented technology, communications, and potential for reaching the lost.
The Spread of the Gospel & Technology
As children of the information age we suffer from historic snobbery, a perception of much of history as being somewhat primitive. In this tunnel vision, something valuable is often lost to us as disciples of Christ and church builders.
What we often forget is that information revolutions have happened before. In that sense, there’s always been an internet of one kind or another.
3 Early Forms of the Internet & Their Impact
The invention of the printing press, for example, made it possible to print books at scale and more cheaply, which led to a social and cultural revolution in the 15th and 16th centuries.
In fact, the first book printed on the Gutenberg press was the Bible, in 1455. Prior to this point in time, Scripture would have to be meticulously recorded by hand–making Bibles both rare and extraordinarily expensive.
But the printing press made it possible to produce and distribute the Word of God more efficiently, meaning an increase in access to Scripture. The printing press also helped accelerate the Renaissance by making it possible to print and distribute classic texts such as those by philosophers Plato and Aristotle.
Ultimately, the printing press enabled the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500’s. Martin Luther famously said of this technology, “Printing is the ultimate gift of God and the greatest one.”
Let’s go back even further. Even before the birth of Jesus, the Silk Road trade network was accelerating the exchange of ideas, technologies and goods. For more than 1,500 years, this network of routes helped move people and merchant goods from Asia to Europe–often across some pretty treacherous terrain.
Of course, the movement of people ultimately meant the movement of ideas, religious beliefs, ideologies, and technological innovations as well. Today, the Silk Road is credited as the beginning of globalization.
Finally: the Roman Road network. During the first century, this network consisted of well engineered roads, aqueducts, bridges and tunnels extending 250,000 miles, protected by Roman law and spanning a vast empire. Similar to the Silk Road, the Roman Road also became a superhighway of information, trade, ideas and religion.
When we track the missionary journeys of Paul and his companions, we are observing them using the internet of the time (the Roman Road network) in the cultural ecosystem of the time (The Roman Empire).
Paul and his companions didn’t shy away from what was culturally relevant or significant. Instead, they used these systems strategically and intentionally for the advancement of the Gospel.
Let’s unpack this a bit to see how they leveraged the Roman superhighways of information, technology and culture to spread the good news of Jesus.
1. Leverage points of exchange.
Paul and the other missionaries of the time weren’t afraid to go where culture was being shaped: The Temple Courts in Jerusalem, the Synagogues, the marketplaces, the Athenian Areopagus.
It takes faith, boldness and intentionality to do this. There are inherent pushbacks and opposition when you insert a countercultural message into the cultural conversation. There is also disproportionate leverage and outsized influence that happens when the Gospel gains traction.
Right now, the cultural conversation is being shaped in a wide variety of ways and mostly through digital content. Videos, social media posts, podcasts are all powerful levers that can shape and shift opinions.
How is this proactive, intentional and strategic positioning of the Gospel happening in your church? Are you creating content, sparking conversation, and shaping culture outside of your Sunday service setting in places that will inevitably produce pushback and debate?
2. Choose centers of influence, with speed of communication.
The Apostles chose centers of influence, where speed of communication was inevitable: Jerusalem, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome.
Pay attention to the routes and places where churches sprung up in the first century. Most were centers of influence that offered a ripple effect to the surrounding provinces connected by the most advanced transportation infrastructure humanity has known until that point.
This allowed for faith to radiate from the centers of influence and for Jesus followers to provide financial aid, communication and pastoral care to small faith communities popping up around the Roman Empire and beyond.
This use of both centers of influence and speed of communication is often under-appreciated and under-used by churches today, during an age where both influence and speed are possible at unheard-of-before levels.
How is your church participating in places of influence, where your message will be accelerated?
3. Remain flexible.
The early church had one inherent advantage for rapid growth: It was built and managed startup-style, with cultural, logistical and spiritual flexibility.
With close to zero hierarchies, bureaucracies, overhead budget and status to uphold, the early church was messy but also free to be particularly attuned to the Holy Spirit, shifting to the circumstances and cultural nuances of the place they were in. Paul’s powerful stance of becoming “all things to all men” without compromising the integrity of the Gospel, speaks to the remarkable agility of the emerging Jesus movement in the first century.
Is your church structured in such a way that you can quickly move and bend with the times all the while upholding the authority of Scripture in increasingly inhospitable environments? Or are you restricted by the “status quo”?
Over to You
How does this compare to your church culture, leadership and lifestyle?
We hear complaints of the decline of Christianity in America due to increasing hostility towards the faith. We forget that we were born and thrived in hostile environments for centuries and there is much we can learn from the early church that would be perfectly applicable today.
Perhaps our lack of bold faith is to blame as well. The early church wasn’t afraid to leverage cultural influence and speed, and remain flexible. How can we adjust our methods of communication, messaging, and even attitudes towards the status quo to mimic the incredibly effective model of the early church?
For us, that might look like bolder, more strategic digital outreach, and an openness to entering spaces that feel “unchurched” or uncomfortable. Instead of staying comfortable, let’s continue to look to the model of the Apostles and other early believers, who zealously infiltrated the culture of their times to see the spread of the Gospel.
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