Relevance of The Early Christian Movement’s Diverse Trajectories in the Time of COVID-19

by Jojo Gabuya

Christians living today in America, especially during this time of the pandemic, might find relevant the diverse trajectories of the early Christian movement,” which Dale T. Irvin and Scott W. Sunquist describe in their book, History of the World Christian Movement. Christianity entered at a time when various other religions were already in the world. So, significant social and cultural diversity influenced the early Christians’ households of faith. Some of these diverse trajectories that seemed to have drawn people of different cultural and social backgrounds to early Christianity were the stories of miracles that the followers of Jesus performed in his name, the social inversion (equality between the rich and the poor exists, and social justice reigns) the Jesus movement proclaimed, and the gospel message’s appeal to those desiring for women’s more significant inclusion in the community.

Spiritual but not religious Christians, who are more interested in Christ-like praxis than with Christian theology might appreciate the miracle stories in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Those who are desperate and physically weak, during this COVID-19 pandemic, might revive their hope in Jesus’ “earth-bound theology and not a heaven-bound theology,” as C.S. Song emphasizes in his book, Jesus, the Crucified People. In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus calms the storm, instead of preaching about how to calm the storm. Also, in Mark 6:30-44, Jesus feeds five thousand people rather than teaching how to feed them. In short, Jesus walks his talk. His theology is a theology of God’s word that becomes heard in the pain and suffering of both humans and non-humans today.

Jesus’ earth-bound theology apparently encouraged the early Christian movement to proclaim social inversion. In The Forging of Christian Identity, Judith M. Lieu posits, “the subjects of ‘theology’ become the structural components of a social world; the reversal of values epitomized by Jesus’ humiliation in incarnation and death becomes the norm for Christian social experience and its value system.” Today’s Christians might appreciate reading the Synoptic Gospels, which contained stories of Jesus, who disrupted the political rhetoric in the Roman empire, to promote social change. Matthew 22: 15-21, The Question About Paying Taxes, fearlessly emphasized Jesus’ values of equality, honesty, justice, love, and truth, to those who questioned his humanity and divinity.

The social inversion that the movement proclaimed attracted women to Christianity. So, women have been included and played significant leadership roles among Jesus’ disciples, since the beginning of Christianity. Among them are women leaders of house churches – Junia, Phoebe, and Prisca; the martyrs – Martha, Perpetua, and Felicity; Paul’s devotee Thecla; the gender-bender Joan of Arc; and the ascetics – Macrina and Susan. However, some of these women’s outstanding contributions to the movement have been suppressed. Interestingly, fragments of the “Gospel of Mary Magdalene” have survived along with the “Gospel of Peter,” but her Gospel is nowhere in the Bible, as Irvin and Sunquist wrote. Nevertheless, some feminists and LGBTQIA theologians and writers have been untiringly unearthing the exemplary work of the early Christian women, reclaiming their rightful places in society, and restoring their voices in Christian Churches. Having said this, may we practice the early Christian movement’s diverse trajectories, which are still relevant during these trying times.

Jojo is soon to receive their M.Div from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. Before coming to California in 2016, they worked with the United Nations Development Programmes, as Regional Coordinator for its Bottom-up Budgeting Project in Mindanao, Philippines. Prior to this, they worked as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) Volunteer, as Results-based Management Advisor for the Ministry of Gender in Zambia, Southern Africa.

Jojo is also a member of the NEXT Church blogging cohort, and their writing focuses on how Jesus would respond to the racism, xenophobia, microaggressions, and gender.