The growth of Christianity is a big problem for Atheists. It started off with 12 guys and has now grown to approximately 2 billion professing Christians today.
Christianity isn’t true because it is a “major” world religion; rather, the fact that it grew/continues to grow at all, despite having all the odds against it, is simply remarkable to note. So what happened?
A Person & An Event
In a previous post, I wrote about how we can know that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed in the 1st century. A number of other works have been done to show that this same Jesus actually died, was buried, and rose again 3 days later. I would love to go into the historical evidences for these things, but much has already been written by others about that topic.
What’s significant about Jerusalem is that it’s the place where Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea. Upon hearing the message of the resurrection, those in Jerusalem simply could have walked to where Jesus was buried (which would have been public knowledge) & seen for themselves that it was or was not empty. This would have proved Christianity false before it even had the opportunity to grow.
1st Century Missionaries
We have a few accounts of some big name missionaries in the first century. First and foremost, there were the disciples who followed Jesus around for 3 years and then shared a meal with him after he had died. Secondly, there was the Apostle Paul who was converted as a result of meeting Jesus. Thirdly, there are lesser known accounts of men like Apollos, Stephen, & Justin Martyr, etc.
These men helped Christianity grow by their testimony to being early eyewitnesses to the truth of Christianity & eventually losing their lives as a result of their preaching.
Some would object and say that Christianity did not grow as a result of the preaching about the resurrection; rather, it grew as a result of the Roman Emperor Constantine being converted during battle close to 312 AD. From there, he made the whole Roman empire to be Christians by law. Many would argue that this is why Christianity grew exponentially.
Why Christianity though? When so many other Roman emperors had been indifferent or hostile towards Christianity, why didn’t Constantine simply choose a Roman pagan religion instead of Christianity? There must have been a person (Jesus) and an event (resurrection)
Could Christianity have grown simply because it was the “state religion?” Again, Atheists must be frustrated with the growth of Christianity in Communist China then! Christianity has flourished where the state does not approve of it & has become perplexed with how to deal with the fact that there are more Christians that Communists. You can read about that here
Having studied church history at some length, Christianity has tended to grow in the toughest of environments.
When major world leaders put forth their ideologies, the hope of the followers is never found in the suffering/death of their leader. When the leader dies, the movement dies. They do all that they can to keep the leader alive so as to keep the movement alive. Having this in mind, we can see why the disciples were discouraged when Jesus died. They thought Christianity would die with Him. It likely could/should have if He hadn’t risen from the dead 3 days after (the person + the event mentioned earlier).
The suffering and death of Jesus did not crush the religion; rather, it made it grow. As a result of the person + event, the disciples likewise lived on to preach and then suffer for the message they proclaimed. And Christianity still grew when the earliest eyewitnesses were killed.
In the not-so-distant history of the church, there are countless stories of guards & executioners who were in charge of jailing, torturing, or killing Christians that then went on to become converted themselves! There was something about the suffering of those Christians that only made Christianity grow more amidst hostility.
Indeed, there are people today who realize that becoming a Christian in their country means certain disownment from their family & the possibility of death.
This is not an easy conclusion for Christians today. Western Christians are desperate to see Christianity grow and flourish in our lifetime & yet would reject much of the suffering that comes with proclaiming the person (Jesus) + the event (resurrection).
I live in the United Kingdom where Christians are not persecuted and can worship freely without fear of suffering. What would happen if it cost us something to be a Christian in the UK? Is it not possible that if it were to cost us something to be Christians in this country that we might see the true value of the person (Jesus) + the event (resurrection) and Christianity would grow again?
– Tyson Bradley