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For several years, I’ve been saying that the 21st Century and the 1st Century are remarkably similar.  If this is true, it has huge implications for Christians and ministry. Consider: 

1. One super power. In the 1st, it was the Roman Empire. In the 21st, it is the United States. Both were and are industrial-military empires. Both were and are global influences. Both sought and seek to produce a kind of peace (Pax Romana and today’s fall of communism, loosening of restrictions in China, and fall of Saddam and the Taliban). Both step into regional conflicts in order to exert influence and seek to bring order. Roman citizenship and American citizenship open doors of opportunity, grant certain protections and privileges. Both were hated – and respected.

2. One world trade language. In the 1st century, it was Koine Greek. One could travel anywhere and communicate in Greek. Today, it is English. This creates incredible opportunities for those with a message to communicate. One of the great opportunities for gospel expansion today is teaching English as a second language.

3. Contact with other cultures and peoples. The Roman road system linked the world together with a series of highways, canals and waterways. As a result, one could travel quickly, easily and safely. The apostles traveled these roads which linked regional cities, and the gospel took root wherever Christians traveled. The equivalent of the Roman road system today might be air travel. However, consider how the internet and cell phone technology has made the world a smaller place. A close friend of mine watched 9-11 happen in real time from his hotel room in Delhi, India. Another saw the towers fall from a university classroom television in a city in central China!

4. Immorality, as expressed in pervasive pornography, adultery, homosexuality, chemical addiction, violent entertainment, and the result – broken families. Such was Rome, with its drunken orgies, easy divorce laws and acceptance (or preferability of homosexuality). Such is today.

Some historians would trace the rise and fall of the Roman Empire to immorality, loss of self-discipline and entertainment. Early Christians were known for their opposition to abortion, the sex slave trade, homosexuality, divorce, adultery, and drunkenness. Sociologist Rodney Stark, in his insightful book, The Rise of Christianity, explains that Christians lived longer and had more children as a result of their disciplined and moral lifestyles. Thus, Christians became a majority in many areas. He also demonstrates that the compassionate response of Christ-followers to the victims of a sick culture gained much favor for the faith.

Broken people respond to the power of the Gospel which can redeem a life blasted by the soul sickness created by immorality. The power of the Name that can set the demonic free is good news, indeed.

5. Relativism and personal angst. In Rome, the ancient religions had run their course. Greeks dabbled in the newest trend in philosophy. A world-weary Pilate asked, “what is truth?” In the favorite words of the 21st century, “whatever.” Or, “what is true for you is not true for me.” Then, as now, the “word of truth” comes with a jolt to many people. Yet, there is a quiet confidence that comes with certainty about one’s beliefs.

6. Interest in New Age thought and occult practices. The 1st century was not a religious-free time. The Gospel was proclaimed in a world filled with mystery religions, witchcraft, magic, channelers, and New Age gurus. One has only to visit with high school girls to see the fast-growing interest in Wicca, or visit Barnes and Noble to see the large New Age section. Better yet, watch Oprah.

I’ve just scratched the surface.

We are living in a world much like that of Acts. Some would despair of the darkness of the time in which we live. I would suggest that darkness provides the greatest opportunity for the light to shine bright.

Our challenge is not the darkness. It is to shine brighter.


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