Looking at the spread of Christianity in antiquity, the earliest known document we have addressing it was written by the Roman Governor of Bithynia, Pliny the Younger, in 110 A.D. He writes:
“For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, rank, and even of both sexes are, and will be endangered. For the contagion of the superstition has spread, not only to the cities, but also to the villages and farms.” – (Pliny the Younger 10.96)
Rodney Stark, a revered sociologist of religion, has researched the data and surmised the following growth statistics. But looking first at Acts chapter 1, we are given a number of the Jewish Believers at Jerusalem, prior to the feast of Pentecost, as being approximately 120 men (plus women and possibly children). This follows 3.5 years of the greatest display of God’s power in Jesus Christ to the Jews. Multitudes followed Him, but at His ascension, we see 120 males + additional women remaining. After the day of Pentecost, it says “3000 received Peter’s words and were baptized”, and then later in Acts, 5000 more. So based on the text, we have about 8,120+ professing in 29 A.D.
Based on Stark’s data research from the church’s inception through 350 A.D., we have this growth rate:
40 A.D. – About 11 years after Christ, and the above mentioned events, Stark’s data shows that Christians in the Roman Empire totaled around 1000 Christians. Down from the Biblical number of about 8200.
100 A.D. – (60 years later) 7500 Christians
150 A.D. – 40,000 Christians
300 A.D. – 1.2 million Christians, which was about 2% of the Roman Empire’s population
350 A.D. – estimated 34 million professing Christians
Something that stands out to me is that the growth rate in the day that the Bible records the Apostles preaching in Christ’s power, confirming it with signs following to the unbelievers, is not as drastic a climb as it takes off in “sheer numbers” under an organized Roman Catholic Church order, that reigns for 1200 years, prompting what we now refer to as the Reformation; an extreme overreaction that went to the other extreme, and completely influenced modern Christianity’s views on Grace/Salvation, even though the Apostles themselves would call it heresy. At that point the term “Christian” appears to become an associative term, rather than a biblical life of obedience in faithfulness, due to Church history, and the fact that heresies were already heavily infecting the church at that time. Under the chosen Apostles, there is a historical, and biblical record of their ministries operating in God’s miraculous power, yet the growth of the church in their numbers was more a moderate incline, but after the establishment of Roman Christian churches in nearly every province, there becomes this mass association with the Christian name, much like today. “I identify with Christianity”, but the biblical model of righteous works and hunger for the word of God become less important to being able to make such a claim. Paul said, “Whosoever names the name of Christ let him depart from iniquity (rebellion to the word).”
The Bible cuts out anyone claiming Jesus who doesn’t obey the law of Christ, but much of these churches didn’t draw that line, nor does the false church of today. Instead of the discipleship example of Jesus, grounded in intent study of the Word and spiritual growth, we have a model of gathering where it becomes traditions of rituals not found in scripture and the only access to the Word is a dependency upon these “leaders” to properly carry on with the Apostles doctrine, According to those “early church fathers” we often mention, such as Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Alexandria, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Tertullian, and so forth, there became major issues and control leading to deception and heresies. So deception is prevented how? ….knowing the Word yourselves. But the numbers of the “associative Christian” exploded. Is that the discipleship model and focus of Jesus and the Apostles? Obviously not. In the first 70 years of the 1st century, from Christ, there is around 8600 Christians gained in the Roman Empire suggested in Stark’s historical census study. There were nearly that amount in the first few chapters of Acts. Apparently many converts actually don’t finish their race and quit. Following Jesus isn’t as casual as it has been made to be believed.
Today we are quick to embrace everything that calls itself Christian as being what it claims. We affirm “salvations” that show no regeneration, or fruit of the Presence; church goers who associate with Christianity, but are worldly focused and have more passion for getting ahead in this life with its materialism, than ever considering the importance of truth, and pursuing that commandment. We see tears at an altar and declare, “6 saved today!!!”, yet we jump the gun to declare progress before actually inspecting the fruit, and we in turn affirm to those, (even if their conversions were real), that they are “saved”, yet that is not the case until they have completed the race. We repeatedly affirm what is not written. A person may have repented, yes. God celebrates that, because it is a start. But saved requires unwavering faithfulness till death.
Two types of people don’t win their marathon: casual walkers and quitters. Paul says we run to obtain the prize. Why run at all, if Jesus did it for us? Hmmm?
People who profess to be “temples of the Spirit” become so easily offended at reproof of the Word when it challenges us to more dying to our self-will. “I must decrease and He must increase in my life”, John the Baptist said. It’s amazing that Luke didn’t name his sequel, “The Beliefs of the Apostles” rather than the “Acts/ Deeds of the Apostles”, in light of the modern view of a salvation, void of works. That is a normal battle of the flesh and Spirit, but the result of who wins is the key. We are so desensitized by two millennia of compromise, heresy, and disillusionment of the Truth that what we may consider “church” and “truth” in our respective views, as we’ve been taught may, and likely very well has been greatly tainted from the Word as it originally came forth and was intended. Why do we “kick against the pricks” as Saul did before? Why buck against God’s correction if it is pleasing Him that is our true focus?
John the Baptist, of whom Jesus said there was no greater prophet before Him, who leaped in the womb at Jesus’ presence, who declared Him the Messiah in his heart at His baptism, was quickly offended at Jesus when he ended up in prison facing death, because he too thought Jesus would get him out of suffering. But God willed for John to die for the cause of Christ. John, like us loved his expectations of Jesus, when Jesus met them, but wasn’t so excited about the reality of Jesus’ command to suffer for Him to be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17), when Jesus puts the expectation on him for service. Worship and service are the same Hebrew Word, עֲבוֹדָה, Avodah. You have never worshiped Christ if you’ve never surrendered your life and will to doing His. Is He really Lord?
Luke 14:25-34 – Counting the Cost
“Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate (love less) his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he CANNOT be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me CANNOT be my disciple. For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’ Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions. “Salt is good, but if salt loses its flavor, how can its flavor be restored?”