For someone already interacting with Christians, conversion catalysts might include theological similarities, shared values, or understandable rituals.
It became socially acceptable to be a Christian, as it had certain privileges - for example, clergy were exempted from tax - and could ensure association with the leaders and elite of certain communities Latourette This led to a quick growth in clergy. It is clear that Christianity became an important social factor. The church grew from a small minority to an influential majority. As society tilted more and more toward Christianity, social interaction and relatedness ensured a rapid increase in conversions.
Based on the social reaction model, Schor's calculations indicate that the number of Christians reached approximately An important new development is the network theory based on mathematical analysis of relational systems. Schor explains it as follows:.
The new approach to modelling is a product of network theory, a branch of mathematics devoted to analysing relational systems. Here, a network is any system that can be represented as a set of 'links' connecting a series of 'nodes. According to Manuel Castells networks are made up of lines of communication that connect a series of nodes or hubs.
The nodes represent individuals, organisations or communication systems. This means that information and decision-making are not localised, but reside in a 'process' Ward This is not only true of current society dominated by communication networks, but of all societies. There have always been lines of communication connecting individuals and groups together. This results in a 'liquid' society Bauman ; Ward Ward contends that the church of the future will be much less institutionalised and hierarchical, functioning as open, liquid communication networks.
According to Schor , social network theory has been fruitfully applied to the dynamics of contained groups or the place of individuals in society. Network theory aided Stark's research including the groundbreaking conclusion that almost all converts to modern religious groups have friendships or familial bonds with existing members. Schor explains the importance of this approach as follows:.
Network theory thus allows for a more nuanced model of the Christian community. But how can this help us to understand conversion? While network models cannot give a precise count of Christians, they can offer new insights into the dynamics of Christian growth. These suggestions come from the field of network science. Over the last two decades, scholars have investigated many kinds of 'self-organizing' networks, from biological ecosystems, to economic systems, to the World Wide Web.outer-edge-design.com/components/spy/1658-best-cell-tracker.php
A Short History of Christianity
Across fields, they have found consistent patterns in the way networks form, grow, change, and collapse. Because of this consistency, one can hypothesise about how the Christian community organised itself, subdivided, and found so many adherents. The different network models help us to understand how the early church functioned and had the ability to preach the Gospel over vast areas. As already indicated, travelling teachers, healers and merchants were important in the dissemination of Christian beliefs see Arterbury In villages, towns and cities groups of Christians gathered, receiving travelling teachers with hospitality.
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These travellers brought news, maybe money to assist the local Christians and to carry news and contributions to the next group of Christians. Where there were no Christian communities, these teachers and healers would stay and establish a small group of Christians. According to Chadwick  , the pagan writer Celsus c.
He wrote: 'Their agreement is quite amazing The way the early Christians were interconnected and communicated via travelling teachers, healers and letters is very much a communication network which functioned on an informal basis, but with time on a more formal basis. The bishop and Christian congregation in a certain area would function as a 'node', a point of reference and support, sending out and assisting teachers to travel further.
It meant that even very small groups of Christians could be reached. Institutional model of church growth. The institutionalisation of the church, especially after the Edict of Milan AD , is currently regarded as a very negative development in the history of the church. For many, it constituted a significant departure from what the church as body of Christ was meant to be. However, departing from Schor's models, I would suggest that the institutionalisation of the early church significantly contributed to the rapid growth of the church. The calculations discussed previously, indicated a jump in growth in the period AD.
The Spread of the Early Church
This had much to do with the fact that the church had become a powerful institution with resources. With the support from the emperor, the church was more and more in a position to assist people with their daily needs giving protection and intervene on their behalf in legal matters. During the 20th century, the institutionalism of the church had been severely criticised. This line of thought was continued by G. Heering, who described the transformation of the Jesus-movement into an institutionalised church as the fall of Christianity Heering At the beginning of the 21st century, these sentiments are echoed by prominent exponents of missional ecclesiology like Hirsch , Viola and Barna and Ward The general consensus is that institutionalisation is bad for the church, especially in a post-Christendom and postmodernist era.
This might be true in the 21st century, but during the 4th century the protection of the state and the development of the corpus christianum had a marked effect on the church. We read in the Edict of Milan:. When we, Constantine and Licinius, Emperors, met in Milan in conference concerning the welfare and security of the realm, we decided of the things that are of profit to all mankind, the worship of God ought rightly to be our first and chiefest care, and it was right that Christians and all others should have freedom to follow the kind of religion they favoured Moreover, concerning the Christians, we before gave orders with respect to the places set apart for their places of worship.
It is now our pleasure that all who have bought such places should restore them to the Christians, without any demand for payment. The restitution of church property, the development of new places of worship, the remuneration of clergy and tax exemption for clergy clearly had a beneficial effect on the early church. Tertullian wrote in his Apologia AD to the Roman governor of his province, refuting charges being made against Christians and the Christian faith, arguing that the followers of Christ were loyal subjects of the empire, and thus should not be persecuted.
He writes: 'Plures efficimur, quotiens metimur a vobis, semen est sanguis christianorum see Altaner This remark, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, became a standard answer to the question of why the church grew so fast. In a sense this is true, as we saw above where the role of trusted leaders, preachers and healers was discussed.
Martyrdom was convincing. But the opposite is also true: with freedom of religion granted by Constantine and Licinius, even more possibilities of growth opened up. Many, who feared persecution, now had the freedom to convert to Christianity.
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The freedom of religion and to hold gatherings, as well as the restitution of church property, had the effect that spontaneous expressions of Christian love like hospitality to the stranger, caring for the sick and feeding the hungry , became more and more the responsibility of the deacon and the official structures of the church. This made the church attractive: it was a place where you could receive care and comfort in times of tribulation.
The institutionalised diaconate of the early church drew many of those suffering poverty and illness to the church. To date, there has been no in-depth published study of the history of the institutionalised diaconate in either the Eastern or the Western churches beyond the early Middle Ages Pokusa ; eds. There are at least fourteen hundred years for which our knowledge of the history of the diaconate is incomplete.
In contrast to this lack of information, we find that the diaconate during and after the 16th century Reformation has been well documented and researched i. Innes Even with the limited knowledge of the formal diaconate, we know that as early as the 2nd century, during the pre-conciliar period, theological reflection on and implementation of the diaconate were already in an advanced stage Kennedy The Christian diaconate found its roots in the teaching of Jesus Christ and the way that the proto-church in Jerusalem organised itself.
In the post-Constantine era, the diaconate had the freedom to develop and drew many to the church and to conversion.
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The same happened with the important issue of hospitality. According to Arterbury , the majority of references to hospitality in the New Testament deal with the custom of private hospitality, but a dramatic shift in Christian hospitality can be detected at least by the 3rd century. Hospitality was placed under the authority of the bishop cf. Cyprian c. Rather than encourage individual Christians to host travellers, Cyprian taught that either the bishop should assist travellers on behalf of the congregation using the congregation's funds, or the bishop should at the very least determine when parishioners were allowed to extend hospitality to travellers Arterbury After Constantine began to favour the Christians, bishops not only had more power, but they also had significantly more financial resources at their disposal, resources which could in turn be used to expand the custom of hospitality.
The questions remain: Was institutionalisation of the early church only bad, theologically and otherwise? Was it the fall of Christianity? Numerically the church grew as a result of the important role the institutionalised church played in the post-Constantine period.
Even in the 21st century it is often clear that missionaries still need a 'home base'. In a network model of mission, there is still a nucleus which provides stability and continuity. The challenge to the 21st century church is probably to find a balance between the continuity and resources of the church as institution and the dynamic and missional character of non-institutional church.
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