I had the privilege of speaking to my daughters’ co-op this week. They have been studying the Greek and Roman era, and the teachers asked me to come speak on the Early Church experience in that era. As always, I find that speaking with the kids helps remind me of what is most important… more than anything I teach them, I’m sure!
We closed the lesson by making an IXTHUS, or fish, in plaster. Now, as far as many today know, the fish is just an emblem on the back of a car. If you know a little more about it, you know it is a sign of Christianity. And if you know a little more, you know that early Christians used the Greek word for fish (IXTHUS) as an acronym for the words “Jesus, Christ, God’s Son, Savior.”
Of course, an old joke comes to mind. A police officer stops a driver and wants to see his license and registration. The driver shows it to him, and the officer is about to let him go. Before going, the driver asks what that was all about. The officer replies, “I saw you screaming at that other driver and honking your horn, but I saw the fish emblem on the car, so I assumed the car was stolen.”
Two thoughts come to mind: 1) Christianity is more than simply placing a symbol on our cars, and 2) There is a radical difference in how the fish symbol is used today vs. the early church. You see, the fish symbol wasn’t boldly placed in the open…rather, it was a private sign to believers to know where to safely meet to worship.
Many Christians today are serious about their faith. They have changed their lives, radically, in order to serve Christ. They are doing what they can to live in the faith. I don’t want to downplay that at all.
But, if you are like me, you can’t help but be impressed, and a little overwhelmed, with the faith of those in the early church. At best, they had trouble working and feeding their families because they wouldn’t sacrifice to the Greek & Roman gods. At worst, they were burned, beaten, crucified, and fed to lions.
So when I teach Christianity in the early church, and I teach the fish symbol, it gives me pause. Do I have any understanding, in the freedom of America, of what it means to worship as the early church did? And, without persecution, have we lapsed in our awe and reverence? And, would we be faithful if challenged at that level in our faith?
As the disciples cried out in Luke 17:5, “increase our faith,” Lord!