A Forgotten Fact about the Earliest Christian Movement

A Forgotten Fact about the Earliest Christian Movement

Written by Michael J. Kruger |
Tuesday, January 17, 2023

So, if you want to recapture your identity as a believer, don’t just think about the future. Look to the past. Remember what Christians have always been: voyagers. We are travelers. As such, take up the invitation of Paul: “Travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:19).

The lovable Disney film Moana, tells the story of a young girl who lives on a Polynesian island and is the daughter of the chief. Like many fathers, the chief is overly protective of his daughter, and also of the people he rules.

As a result, the people of Moana’s village are in a bit of a rut. They are rather uninspired and somewhat in-grown, not sure of their purpose or destiny. And Moana feels the same unrest. The core of the movie catalogs her struggle to discover her identity and calling.

But here’s the key. While she is curious about what her future should be, her breakthrough comes when she begins to consider the past. One night she explores the hidden caves on the island and discovers a fleet of boats that have been sealed away and forgotten. Then it hits her: “We were voyagers!

This core realization is the key to her identity. Her people were not (originally) a static people, an in-grown and home-bound people, but rather they were people on the move. They were travelers, always looking to move forward rather than backwards.

When I first saw this film with my daughter a number of years ago, I was struck by how much Moana is a picture of the early Christian movement. (Yes, even when I watch Disney movies I am still doing academic work in my head!).

In the midst of my current research project, I am learning this afresh. It’s something I sort of already knew, but had forgotten to some extent. As I have been studying the early Christian sources I had a bit of an epiphany similar to Moana’s: “We were voyagers!”

In other words, one of the central features of the early Christian movement was that they were a people who traveled, and traveled extensively.

Of course, the remarkable missionary efforts, and rapid expansion of the Christian movement in the earliest centuries, have been well-documented (see Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity). Indeed, the new Christian movement could be characterized as one with a “transient life-style” as believers sought to evangelize the world around them.

Harnack’s classic study, which need not be rehearsed here, catalogs a substantial number of early Christian leaders/teachers who were known for their extensive travel. Of course, this would include first-century individuals like Paul, Peter, Priscilla and Aquila, and many more, as documented in the book of Acts and beyond.  But, Harnack also highlights the extensive travel of later Christian leaders such as Justin, Hegesippus, Julius Africanus, and (especially) Origen.

Read More

Scroll to top