We read a fascinating article earlier semester about how Christianity has outgrown each of the cultures that it has thrived in over the last 2000 years. The Article discussed 5 major eras: Jewish, Roman, Viking, Saracens, and Western. What emerged was a fascinating picture of just how unique and universal Christianity is.
Jewish Era (0-60 AD)
It is always important to remember that the first Christians…all of them were Jews. With the outpouring of Pentecost the faith started to spread far and wide. With conversion of Paul, who was to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) and with the monumental events of Acts 10-11, with Cornelius’s conversion and the Gentile inclusion, Jewish Christianity was in crisis. Was Jewish custom, culture and Law to be required of Gentile believers? With the history-changing decision at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, Christianity forever severed it’s full Jewish heritage and truly became a religion of all peoples everywhere. Jewish culture, law and tradition could not keep bound the radical message of Christianity. Christianity had been de-judaized and the message adapted to the Roman World.
The Roman Era (60-400 AD)
And so Christianity spread well beyond the borders of Jerusalem, Samaria and Judea, indeed it was going to the ends of the world. Rome, in that day, was the center of the world. And as the Christian population grew over four centuries it became a formidable force. And with Constantines’s Edict of Toleration in 313, persecution ceased and hardships eased. Christianity would soon become a state religion and would be synonymous with Rome. But this proved to be detrimental to its identity and its mission. With Christianity popularized all of a sudden there were hundreds of thousand nominal Christians. In order to continue its expansion to the ends of the earth and not be bound by imperial boundaries Christianity needed to be de-Romanized.
The Barbarian Era (400-800 AD)
As Rome officially fell in 476 AD, the Roman world became more susceptible to attack and it was eventually overrun with Goths and Barbarians from the North. And what happened was that “within a short time, the conquerors were conquered by the power of the gospel, as some of the barbarians who invaded embrace the faith of those whom they had overthrown.”1 With the Intitution of Church on the rise, monasteries start to spring up all over the place. The Celts were perhaps the most influential monks of this era as the brought their message far and wide.
The Viking Era (800-1200 AD)
And then came the ferocious and swift attacks of the Vikings. Their tactics allows them to cover great distances with speed and they reeked havoc on most of Europe. Yet little by little these captors were attracted to and turned by the Faith to become believers themselves. It was also during this time that Islam rose to a World Religion. Muslims soon controlled most of the Middle East and were heading north and west in expansion.
The Saracens (Muslims) (1200-1600 AD)
With the disaster of the Crusades, Christianity’s vibrancy looked dim. With the Reformation came new life and vibrancy to Christianity. When Luther had translated the Latin Vulgate into german vernacular he essentially de-latinized the gospel, and it was again available to the common tongue. This had huge ramifications on the Faith. And would help spawn a new age of missions.
The Age of Great Advance (1600-2000 AD)
The way was now paved to take the gospel far and wide and pillars such as William Carey did just that. And the gospel was taken again to non-western nations. This trend is continuing even today as a majority of vibrant Christianity has now shifted to the south and to the East (South America and China). And so what we are witnessing now is the de-westernizing of the gospel.
So throughout each era, and throughout each culture, Christianity has survived and even has thrived. Why? Because the message of the gospel is truly radical and truly boundless. It can speak into every culture in every time, because it is a timeless work. The Word of God is not bound by any man, by any culture, or by any institution.
*Blog post based on the Article “As the Waters Cover the Sea: His Glory Expands to the Nations” by Robert A. Blincoe from Pathways to Global Understanding, YWAM Publishing; Revised edition (December 12, 2007)
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