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What If We’re the Early Christians?

Image: John Cafazza

Despite Jesus’ declaration that no one knows when the world will come to an end, every generation has its share of doomsday forecasters. People have been thinking that we’re living in the end times for the last 2,000 years—any day now, Paul and Peter said, Jesus will return. 

But, seriously, this time it’s going to happen. After all, have you seen the state of the world?!

It was just announced in the last couple of weeks that the Thwaites Glacier in the Antarctic, nicknamed the “doomsday glacier,” is melting faster than originally anticipated. Thwaites is a glacier larger than the state of Florida—a monumental 80 miles wide and 800-1200 meters deep. If it all melts, it has the potential to raise the sea level globally by two feet, which would be devastating for coastal communities. 

That’s kind of a big deal, especially for coastal cities like Miami-Dade, where the elevation averages just six feet above sea level, or New Orleans, which averages just five feet above sea level. Some areas of the city are actually below sea level already.

This glacier was originally predicted to melt over the course of many centuries, but because of warmer ocean waters, scientists think this will now happen over the course of many decades.

Jesus said that there will be wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes, and other signs that we’re living in the end times. A recent study revealed that 48% of Americans believe they’ll live to see climate change destroy the earth, and a 2022 Pew Research study indicates that 63% of evangelical Protestants and 76% of historically Black Christians believe we’re living in the end times. 

Between doomsday glaciers and other global events both manmade and natural, it’s no wonder that so many of us think this is it. Time to pack for the apocalypse!

But what if this isn’t the end of the story? What if—and hold on tight for this one—we’re actually the early Christians?

Taking the Long View

Humans have been writing the story of our species for somewhere around 5,500 years—the first known written language was invented by Sumerians around 3400 BC.

That story entered a dramatic, new chapter about 2,000 years ago, when Jesus entered the scene and launched a revolutionary movement of grace, love, and forgiveness that is still going strong today. 

Some of those early Christians who walked with Jesus believed that a generation wouldn’t pass away before Jesus returned, and yet here we are, about 100 generations later, still convinced the end is near.

Recently, Father Kenneth Tanner, Pastor of Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan, challenged followers on Instagram to consider the very real possibility that we’ll be someone else’s definition of “early Christians.”

“If the human story continues another 8000 years, when humans look back to our time they will talk about the last 2000 years as but the beginning of Christianity,” Tanner wrote. “What if, contrary to so much speculation of the last century and more, the gospel is just starting to convert the world?”

Speaking to that first century Christian audience, Peter wrote with wisdom and truth he couldn’t possibly have grasped then when he said, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:19 NIV).

The people of the early church couldn’t imagine a generation passing away before Jesus returned; how many of them possessed the insight to imagine 100 generations? Can we grasp the depth of God’s patience and love for 100 more generations? 

This long view of humanity shifts our vision from one of egocentric assumptions that we must be the last generation, that God’s patience has run out, so we might as well give in to despair and resignation. The end must be near, so hurry up, Jesus! Everyone else can go ahead and perish.

Instead, what if we saw the work of our hands as laying the foundation for the coming kingdom thousands of years from now? What if we abandoned our fix-it-and-forget-it plumbing theology and embraced instead Makoto Fujimura’s theology of making, and joined in collaboration with the Lord of the Universe to be co-creators of the New Creation?

In his Instagram post, Tanner continued, “Enabled by the Spirit, what are we doing today to lay the groundwork for human thriving, ecological stability, and the future of human culture in imitation of our crucified human God in the third and fourth millenniums, beyond even that? How would such a disposition change us?”

With this mindset, we can look to the future and take up the task of shaping a world for the Christians of 3024, or the Christians of 4024, or the Christians of 5024, and be the early Christians who saw the troubles and tribulations unfolding around them and took action steps to heal the land. 

Remember the church of the early 21st century? They will marvel. They made all the difference.

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