Church Growth

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION ARTICLE FOR

August 25, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 

The birth of the Christian Church has always been somewhat of a mystery to secular historians who do not recognize the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.  The reason is simple.  Without the resurrection it simply could not have happened.  Jesus was crucified, his followers were dispersed and the movement should have disappeared from the pages of history.

A second line of  improbable historical phenomena appears when one considers the growth of the Jesus movement in the ancient world.  Some would like to explain the growth by the acceptance of Christianity by Constantine as a legitimate religion, but the fact is that the growth took place prior to Constantine (306 – 337) both in the East and in the West.  Even after Constantine came to the throne Christianity was not made the official religion of Rome.  It was only protected as a legitimate faith.  The pagan temples still existed in every city and were supported by state funds.

The appeal of Christianity is discussed by Rodney Stark, and some of his observations are especially intriguing.  First of all he makes the point that the pagan temples were built to house the idol of the god.  They had a priesthood who offered sacrifices and maintained the temples in support of the empire and the emperor, but there was no congregation, no community, no fellowship attached to temple worship.  Individuals may have visited the temple, but there was no group or family of believers.  Christians gathered in congregations.  They shared their wealth.  They cared for the sick among them.  They cared about each other in a way pagan worship knew nothing about.

A specific illustration of this difference showed itself when the crowded cities of the empire were inflicted with plague.  The sanitary facilities of the ancient world were abysmal.  When plague hit it spread like wildfire and anyone who had the means fled the city, putting as much distance between themselves and everybody else as possible.  History tells us the Christians stayed and took care of each other.  Medical knowledge was thin, but simply keeping the sick clean and comfortable resulted in a survival rate far above that of the pagan population.  More Christians survived, even without consideration of new converts attracted by the loving lifestyle of the Jesus community.

Another factor in the growth of the Christian community was the prominence of woman in the movement.  Greco-Roman culture had little respect for woman.  Girl children were regularly exposed to wild beasts at birth.  If they were raised in the family they were married off young without any consideration of compatibility or a loving relationship.  Abortion was a common practice, as children were not particularly valued.  The decision to abort a pregnancy was always wholly the husbands right.

It was quite different in the Christian community.  Women were respected.  Marriages were later.  Abortion was regarded as murder.  The home was a place of moral and religious instruction.  Women were given a place of leadership in the congregations.  One observation not always made is that when Paul speaks about women covering their heads in I Corinthians 11:5 he is speaking about propriety of dress when ministering to the congregation.  All of this means a significant proportion of the Christian congregation were women.  It also means larger families, and growing Christian communities.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).

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