By Merritt Robinson
"These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also (Act 17:6 NRS).
The above statement from the book of Acts speaks of the actions of those who had turned to Jesus Christ and believed Him to be both Lord and Savior. Throughout the book of Acts, the writer seems to relate how God’s messengers/followers preached, taught and instructed non-believers concerning the life of Christ. Subsequently as people believed, there was a supernatural growth in the number of followers who claimed Christ to be their Lord and Savior. The growth was so substantial that unbelievers stated these people have been turned the world upside down. Essentially, there was a supernatural transformation amongst individuals by which sin was relinquished and righteousness was apprehended. As a reader of the New Testament text, one of the amazing realizations is the fact that this outlier of a religion, Christianity, could grow substantially and impact the world as it did. The pertinent question is how did this newly founded Church assist in the spiritual formation, the initiation of Christ within the lives of these new believers?
It is believed many new converts came from pagan religions and backgrounds. Thus, unlike individuals from Jewish backgrounds, who understood belief in one God (monotheism), conduct and ethics; pagans had nothing in which they could reference. Therefore, the Church would have had much to teach, instruct and convey to pagans so there could be a transition from a life of sinful rebellion.
The question is; what was the process the church implemented to lead its congregation into Christian maturation? Once again, there does not seem be a formula found within the biblical text. However, there are extra-biblical references that address how the early church addressed this issue.
The early church used an initiation process (Catechesis) which allowed the Church to accomplish two goals: determine the sincerity of the initiate (Catechumens) and provide enrollment and instruction leading to baptism (Catechumenate) and inclusion with the Church community. There were some Bishops and church communities which extended the initiation process over the lifetime of the catechumen. For other communities, the catechumenate process lasted several years, weeks or shorter periods.
In any case, the catechesis process provided the church an opportunity to lead, instruct and assist individuals in understanding the “Way” of Christ but more importantly reflecting the Imago Dei (the image of God) and allowing conviction to match conduct.