Jesus approach to sharing the Gospel was of the, “What are you looking for? - Come and see!” school of evangelism. He met people where they were, and by encouraging them to spend time with him, observing the way he lived, encouraged them to discover a relationship with God.
The early Christians worked and lived in much the same way, and the community of Christians grew rapidly. This was the kind of Christianity, with a go-with-the-flow approach to evangelism, that reached the shores of the British Isles in the first few centuries CE. It was only with the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire that a more aggressive, imperialistic approach to “spreading the faith” started to become apparent. Those who disagreed were demonised, persecuted and killed. To be a Christian became synonymous with adopting a particular culture, rather than becoming a Christian in a way distinct to each culture, while true to Jesus. Celtic Christianity continued to spread through its culture friendly, example based ministry until it too fell foul of the Roman approach at the Synod of Whitby.
Four things marked the Celtic Christians approach to spreading the Gospel:
It was culturally sensitive
They had an optimistic view of humanity and were not afraid of people. They had a respect for the beliefs of others. They lived alongside people, modelling and living what they taught. They examined local culture, using the gift of discernment, opposed the bad and blessed the good.
They believed that Jesus was the fulfilment of the highest and best aspirations and religious search of the culture around them.
It relied on the power of the Spirit
The Roman church could call on the power of the organisations of church and state to aid and enforce their mission. Whilst it is true that many Celtic churchmen replaced the Druids as counsellors to kings, there are many stories about the humble way they went about their tasks, often spurning the gifts and comfort offered by their patrons. Little wonder that their ministry was accompanied by signs and wonders, evidence of spiritual power.
It was community-based
The family and the tribe, not the civilised town, were the cultural centres in Britain and Ireland. Roman churches had their bishops and cathedrals, Celtic Christians were organised in local communities. Their bishops were travelling preachers and encouragers, under the leadership of the leaders of the communities. These communities carried on the “what are you looking for?-Come and see!” evangelism of Jesus. They were schools, prayer houses, hospitals, hostels, social action centres and craft co-operatives all rolled into one. They provided security as communities within a community in a time of social upheaval.
It was passionate
The Celts loved life. The Celtic Christians shared their faith and their lives out of the joyful abandonment to a life lived to the full in relationship with Jesus. They wandered, as peregrinati “for the love of Christ”, often leaving home and loved ones “for the sake of the Gospel”. They thought, lived and breathed mission, not as the tool of empire building, but as a means of sharing the life that they themselves had found in Jesus.