HOW THE SCRIPTURES HELP US TO UNDERSTAND THE SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY
“THE SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY”
Why Christianity Spread in the Ancient World
Persecution: (Acts 8:4)
“All your ingenious cruelties can accomplish nothing; they are only a lure to this sect. Our number increases the more you destroy us. The blood of the Christians is their seed” (Tertullian)
The high moral standard taught in the gospel repelled the frivolous (Acts 5:13; 24:24-26), yet it could not fail to impress most strongly the deepest and noblest minds.
Yes it attracted the poor and downtrodden (1 Corinthians 1:26)
Yet also the educated and talented:
Crispus (Acts 18:8)
Lydia (Acts 16:14)
Prominent Greek women and men (Acts 17:12)
“All these facts expose the injustice of the odious charge of Celsus, repeated by a modern skeptic, that the new sect was almost entirely composed of the dregs of the populace—of peasants and mechanics, of boys and women, and beggars and slaves” (History of the Christian Church, Schaff, vol. 2, pp. 15-16).
Its Own Intrinsic Worth:
The salvation offered in the gospel is offered to all (1 Timothy 2:4-6).
Christianity’s teaching and example of its Founder is absolutely perfect.
Christianity is adapted to all classes, conditions, and relations among men, to all nationalities and races, and to all grades of culture.
Counter to first century culture, the gospel elevates women and the home life.
It’s emphasis on true brotherly love (John 13:34-35).
It’s teachings and the churches example of benevolence (Acts 2-4,6,11).
The triumphant deaths of its converts (Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Timothy 4:8).
Fulfillment of the Old Testament (Acts 17:2-3).
Christianity has the advantage of being the only religion predicted hundreds of years and over a century in advance of its arrival. Its Founder was not merely the only fulfillment of prophecy (Deuteronomy 18:15-17; Isaiah 53:1ff; Micah 5:2ff), but so was the church He established (Isaiah 2:2-4) and the glorious new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Testimony of the Miracles (John 20:30-31).
Every miracle that was performed authenticated the claims of those who preached the truth (Acts 2:22).
The Gospel Contains the Perfect Something for Every Man:
To the skeptic—truth.
To the slave—freedom and worth.
To the pessimist—optimism.
To a cold world—love, compassion, passion.
To the outcast—a family.
To the pagan who hated themselves—holiness, and a second chance.
To the seeker—genuine worship (John 4:24).
To the intellectual and philosopher—the truth (John 17:17).
“Christ appeared”, says Augustine, “to the men of the decrepit, decaying world, that while all around them was withering away, they might through Him receive new, youthful life”.
“Heathenism outwardly held sway, but was inwardly rotten and the in process of inevitable decay. The popular religion and public morality were undermined by a skeptical and materialistic philosophy. While the world was continually agitated by wars and revolutions, and public calamities, while systems of philosophy and dynasties were rising and passing away, the new religion, in spite of fearful opposition from without and danger from within, was silently and steadily progressing with the irresistible force of truth, and worked itself gradually into the very bone and blood of the race” (Schaff p. 17).
Reasons for Rapid Progress: Stated by Edward Gibbon
The zeal of the early Christians
Belief in future rewards and punishments
The power of miracles
The pure morals of the Christians
Compact church organization
While this is true, as is the statement that the extent, order, and unity of the Roman empire, and the prevalence of the Greek language and culture were also positive helps to the spread of the gospel, we need to remember the ultimate reason why Christianity has survived and continues to spread is that it is the only way to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). It is God’s truth to mankind and being created in the image of God, men can see and understand it. Thus, “the victory of Christianity in the Roman world was the victory of Christ, who was lifted up that He might draw all men unto Him” (The Beginnings of Christianity, George P. Fisher, p. 543).
The Apologists: 1 Peter 3:15
Christians who lived after the days of the apostles often presented the following lines of evidence when defending the gospel message:
The early Christians used the evidence of fulfilled prophecy not only when teaching the Jews (Acts 17:2-3), but also with the Gentiles; since the knowledge of future events can obviously only come from God. Thus the all-knowing God has placed His stamp of approval upon Christianity, for it stands as the only religion whose arrival was predicted centuries in advance.
The Moral Effect of the Gospel
“The Christian religion has not only taught the purest and sublimest code of morals ever known among men, but actually exhibited it in the life, sufferings, and death of its founder and true followers” (Schaff p. 118). Justin argued, “Its fruits they may know it. We, who once lived in debauchery, now study chastity; we, who dealt in sorceries; have consecrated ourselves to the good; we who loved money and possessions above all things else, now devote our property freely to the general good; we, who fought and killed each other, now pray for our enemies; those who persecute us in hatred, we kindly try to appease, in the hope that they may share the same blessings which we enjoy” (Apology I. c. 13 and 14).
The Rapid Spread of Christianity
And not just the rapid spread, for other religions and error had spread rapidly as well, but the rapid spread of the gospel by purely moral means (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The gospel was not spread by force, the sword, immorality, underhanded methods, or carnal tactics. “Origen makes good use of this argument against Celsus, and thinks that so great a success as Christianity met among Greeks and barbarians, learned and unlearned persons in so short a time, without any force or other worldly means, and in view of the united opposition of emperors, senate, governors, generals, priests, and people, can only be rationally accounted for on the ground of an extraordinary providence of God and the divine nature of Christ” (Schaff pp. 119-120).
The Reasonableness of Christianity
So many of the doctrines of Christianity are already embraced by honest thinking individuals: “For this is right” (Ephesians 6:1);“Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:23); “As even some of your own poets have said” (Acts 17:28).
The only answer for the deepest needs of man
That is, the human spirit can only find rest in Christ and in no other (John 4:15). Tertullian made the point that though the human spirit is confined in the body, perverted through bad training, weakened by lusts and passions, given to the service of false gods, it can be quickly awakened, informed, corrected and set on the right path when it embraces the gospel message. The dramatic change that happens when even the most hardened sinner becomes a Christian is evidence of its divine power (1 Corinthians 6:9