Today 2.1 billion people claim to be followers of a carpenter, born 2000 years ago to an unknown peasant girl in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. He became a young street preacher and gathered a few poorly-educated followers around him for three years before being executed. His followers ran away and only a few thousand people had ever heard of him.
Stop and think about what I’ve just written for a moment. We are so used to Christianity as a world religion with great cathedrals and millions of dignitaries. But, humanly-speaking, the previous paragraph describes the very unpromising beginning of it all.
After the resurrection of Jesus Christianity spread like wildfire and now one third of the world’s population call themselves Christians. It is estimated that within the next 25 years the number of Christians will grow to 2.6 billion (67% of them in Latin America, Asia and Africa). It is estimated that in China there are some 28,000 new converts to Christ every day (yes, every day). There are between 80 million and 100 million Christians in China. In Africa the number of Christians has grown from 3% in 1900 to 45% today.
Christianity has had a massive impact for good on the world. I’m painfully aware of how Christians have sometimes failed to follow the teachings of Jesus and have even done just the opposite of what he taught. But, although fashionable today, it is not fair to write off a movement which has done, and is doing, an immense amount of good, simply because of a minority of failures within it.
Professor Alvin Schmidt has written a book entitled “How Christianity Transformed Civilization.” In it he outlines how the influence of Jesus led to:
Human life being treated as sacred
Sexual morality being treated with respect
- Yes, I know Christians have sometimes had a down on sex, but the Bible hasn’t. It includes an erotic love story. The higher view of sex also spared women much abuse and maltreatment.
Women being treated with dignity
- Yes, I know that the church is still divided over women being in church leadership but before Christ came women (and children) were treated as slaves or mere possessions in almost every culture. Jesus treated women with remarkable dignity.
A spread of charity and compassion
Establishment of hospitals
- Prior to Christianity, the Greeks and Romans had little or no interest in the poor, the sick and the dying. An international church council in 325AD directed bishops to establish hospices in every city that had a cathedral. The first hospital was built by St Basil in Caesarea in 369. In the Middle Ages there were hospitals all over Europe. Christian hospitals were the world’s first voluntary charitable institutions.
Promotion of education
- Christians started libraries and educational institutions. Uniquely, Christians taught both sexes and all classes and races .
Manual labour being respected
- The Greeks and Romans had a very low view of manual labour. It was mainly done by slaves. But Jesus was a manual worker. Trades Unions also have a Christian background.
Science being facilitated
- Yes, I know some Christians have opposed science (and some still do) but that is a minority position. In fact science flourished as a result of a Christian view of the world.
The promotion of liberty and justice
- Many laws in the western world have a Christian basis
The abolition of slavery
- Yes, I know that some Christians supported slavery but it was the strong Christian faith of William Wilberforce which led to its abolition.
All I can say is: some carpenter!
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction