Evangelisation in the Early Church
The Early Christians lived evangelisation extensively and saw it as an integral part of Christian life. In
continuing the mission of the Apostles in preaching about Christ they sought to evangelise the
Jewish and Pagan population in the Roman Empire. This was primarily achieved through four
avenues: the teachings of the Apologetics, the evangelisation work of the “street evangelists”, the
charity of the ordinary Christian population and the examples of the Christian martyrs. Collectively
these four groups of Christians were able to be strong witnesses of Christ resulting in a huge number
of Jewish and Roman citizens converting to Christianity. Even more amazing was the fact that these
conversions occurred when the early Christian Church was being persecuted both by the Jewish and
Roman authorities. Just the mere fact that you were a Christian resulted in death by being fed to the
lions in the colosseum or being crucified just as Christ was.
It is clear that from the early days, the Church saw its mission of evangelisation as an integral
instruction from Christ and it is clear from the Acts of the Apostles that the Apostles sort to spread
the Word of God throughout the whole Roman Empire and beyond. The Apostles including Saint
Peter and Saint Paul travelled throughout the whole empire preaching and baptising Jews and
Gentiles in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Following the Apostles, the
bishops and deacons continued the work of teaching the population on Christ. The Apologetics sort
to continue the mission of evangelisation through their writings and arguments seeking to change
the social and political attitude toward the Christian population and the Early Church. These
Apologetics including Saint Justin Martyr and Saint Ignatius of Antioch tried to persuade the leaders
not to persecute the Christians through Greek philosophy and theology. This had limited effect with
only certain provinces showing leniency in enforcing the various Roman Emperors’ persecutions.
In the Early Church there is also evidence that “street evangelists” would travel from city to city
following in the footsteps of Christ and the apostles themselves in bringing Christianity to a
significant number of villages and towns. These evangelists sort to convert Christians “door to
door”, adopting a local form of evangelisation whereby they converted individuals, families and
whole neighbourhoods. This allowed the Early Church to rapidly spread throughout the whole
empire ensuring that the seeds were sown in every town and city in the Roman Empire. Many of
these “street evangelists” had no possessions and lived on the food that was given to them. This in
itself demonstrated great Christian witness.
By far the most effective form of evangelisation was the public and private witness of the small
Christian populations throughout the whole Roman Empire. Their Christian values, ethics, prayer life
and charity proved vital in demonstrating Christian belief in the Jewish and Roman communities.
Their Christian example was able to bring about many conversions as many pagans saw the
transformation in their hearts. Furthermore, the charity of the small Christian populations was
found to be extraordinary by pagans as no such thing existed in the empire previously. The
Christians even demonstrated charity to nonbelievers which brought about many conversions
especially among the poor and slave populations in the Roman Empire. The hope, zeal and values
preached and lived by the early Christians must have attracted many under privileged in society to
convert to Christianity.
The final category of Christian witnesses and evangelists were probably the most courageous of all.
The early Christian martyred who suffered death under the persecutions proved to be extraordinary
witnesses of the faith especially to those who witnessed their martyrdom. There is strong evidence
that many conversions occurred as a direct result of the martyrdom of these early Christians. The
Roman population found it extraordinary that one would die for what they believed and as a result
the martyrs somehow portrayed genuineness about their faith to the pagan population. This
genuineness led many pagans to examine their conscious and change their lifestyle and ultimately
convert to Christianity.
Christians today can learn many things about how the Early Church lived out their mission of
evangelisation. It should give us hope and encouragement and when an increasingly secular society
persecutes Christians and Christian thought and we continue to strive to bring the message of Christ
to all souls. We should demonstrate the same passion and zeal as the early Christians when
preaching the Word of God and we should demonstrate greater charity to our neighbours even if
they are not Christian. We should seek to be genuine Christians and live out our faith with joy and
hope and be proud of our heritage. We should take our faith more seriously just as the early
Christians and martyrs did. They died for what they believed in and yet we at the smallest obstacle
seem to discard any Christian value or teaching which is not seen to be compatible with modern life.
Today’s world is very similar to how the Roman empire used to be two thousand years ago and we
should seek to follow in the footsteps of the apostles, apologetics and early evangelists in preaching
the Word of God to our family, neighbours, friends and community. Only by following in the
footsteps of Christ and the Early Church can we hope to change the world for the better and bring
about a culture change in the world today in which there will be a new civilisation of love and hope.