Lynn Cohick describes the effect of the church’s core practices on social hierarchies.
The Graeco-Roman writings, let’s say of the Stoics, for example, would talk about gift-giving, and would talk about how it’s important to care for someone else. But always the structure was that like helped like. And it was a very highly stratified society, and they wanted to keep it that way.
Christianity comes along, and in its writings, it just smashes the hierarchy to bits. And it says that you give to someone who can’t repay it, and you give to someone who’s in need, without thought to yourself. That changes how people think about who they are. It brings down the proud, and it lifts up the lowly.
And then they tried to live that out. And the two most important rites in the Christian church, from the very beginning – baptism and sharing the Lord’s supper, communion – both of those rites were done to each person. No one who was wealthy got a special baptism, right? Everyone was baptised the same, which meant everyone, in Christ, was an equal. And then, as they shared the meals together – however frequently they did that – they all shared equally.
Now what does that say to the slave woman, or the slave boy that’s part of the church? It says they’re amongst equals. They’re part of a family. They have an inheritance. They will live forever, with this community, before God. That has to have changed how people felt about themselves.