Why the Christian Church grew so rapidly
by Robert Randle 6/17/2009 / Missions
It was around the year 1940 or so, H.G. Well's had a famous 'Halloween Special' radio broadcast, "WAR OF THE WORLDS," and thousands of listeners to the program thought the planet Earth really was invaded by the Martians. Scores of panic-stricken American citizens jumped to their deaths from tall office buildings because they thought the threat was real. When news reports of suicides, rioting, and mass paranoia reached the CBS radio station [New York], the hoax was recanted and calm was once again restored to the public. No doubt thousand of people prayed and churches, synagogues, and mosques were overflowing because of one simple fact; people are not yet prepared to face the end of their existence in such a surreal, unalterable and cataclysmic way. It seems when people are faced with such finality, there is only one of three choices that can be made; either do good deeds with the time you have left, total resignation [give up trying to make a difference], or anarchy [lawlessness].
One of the things which have confounded historians, anthropologists, and social scientists alike is how Christianity became a major world religion in such a short time. It started as a small movement emanating from Jerusalem in Judea and spread throughout the Roman Empire; eventually becoming the official religion of Rome within a century. There were certainly more ancient religions that have been around for thousands of years before Christianity, and even traditional Orthodox Judaism as practiced during the time of Jesus was hundreds of years old and very much part of the cultural fabric of much of the civilized world then.
The uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only-begotten Son of God who was resurrected from the dead and offering the promise of eternal life to those who believed in His name was certainly a factor, as well as the miracles performed by the followers of Jesus through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. There is also another reason, which perhaps gets to the heart of the matter and may be a reason why the growth was so phenomenal. The earliest writings of the New Testament may not in fact be the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), but rather the letters written by the Apostle Paul. Time after time in some of his earliest writings, the apostle expressed his belief in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 2: 5, 16
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
The night is almost gone and the day is at hand.
I Corinthians 1: 7-8
So that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall confirm you to the end blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For as often as you eat of this bread and drink the cup, you do proclaim the Lord's death, until He comes.
II Corinthians 2: 14
Just as you also partially did understand us, that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus.
Philippians 1: 10; 2: 16
So that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ. Holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men, the Lord is near.
I Thessalonians 2: 19
For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming.
So that He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.
5: 2, 4
For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief (Cp. Matthew 24: 42-45; Luke 12: 39-40 ).
II Thessalonians 1: 7, 10
And to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day and to be marveled at among all who have believed-for our testimony to you was believed.
This is the last writing in Paul's letters where the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is expected soon or within that generation because the focus shifts to a more distant future as pointed out in II Thessalonians 2: 1-12. Some of the believers became disillusioned, were idle, not working and became busy bodies (II Thessalonians 3: 8-15). There were even some who claimed that the resurrection has already taken place, although the Scripture doesn't provide any examples of what proof there was to the claim (II Timothy 2: 16-18). Paul, nearing the end of his earthly life and desired to see Timothy soon; possibly for the last time and wanted him to bring John Mark as he seems to be looking past after his life is over toward the Lord rewarding him for faithful service in a distant time beyond the grave (II Timothy 4: 6-9, 11).
The apostle Peter starts out writing about the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in much the same way that his contemporary the apostle Paul does.
I Peter 1: 7, 13
That the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Therefore, girds your minds for actions, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
I Peter 2: 12
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds; glorify God in the day of visitation.
4: 7, 13
The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep rejoicing; so that at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.
The tone of the apostle Peter's letters shift in the same direction toward a future, as opposed to a present return of the Lord Jesus; just like that of the Apostle Paul. Peter is reaching the end of his earthly life also as reflected in II Peter 1: 12-13, which reads: And I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by the way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind.
II Peter 3: 1, 3-4, 8-9
This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,. Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all [things] continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day. The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
The epistles of John were written about a generation later and by this time the apostles Peter, Paul, and many other of the original apostles and disciples are probably dead or very old. John is consistent like his predecessors and has expectations at this later stage (nearly A.D. 100 or so) that the Lord will appear in his lifetime.
I John 2: 17a-18, 28
And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; Children, it is the last hour; and just as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know it is the last hour. And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.
Lastly, the letter from Jude, brother of James (1: 1), and this short epistle continues the theme of the Lord coming in this latter time period where it seems that he and John are contemporaries as to the date attributed to their writings.
Jude 17-17, 21
"But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, "In the last time there shall be mockers (Cp. II Peter 3: 3-4), following after their own ungodly lusts." Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. "
From the internal evidence and necessary inference it seems reasonable to reach a tentative, if not conclusive assertion that the Gospels were indeed written much later than is traditionally accepted. The ranks of believers swelled among the regions where the gospel was preached and miraculous healings took place because people were in great anxiety and urgent anticipation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in their lifetime, to judge the ungodly and reward the righteous.
If this conclusion is reasonable, then there would not be any need for the written Gospels because eternity would have dawned, and faith became sight. On the other hand, if the Lord was not coming in the expected time, people would begin to lose heart, especially with the future direction and survival of the Church at stake. The circumstances were dire as death, old age, and apostasy was a serious problem for the Church and it no doubt left a leadership vacuum and a struggle for power and preeminence among the brethren. There was the concern over who was in charge of the ordination and anointing of bishops, elders, deacons, and presbyters of the flock and to establish authority over the body of Christ, just like it was in the beginning.
The letters written by the apostles had to be preserved for posterity but also people needed to know about the life and teachings of their Lord and Savior. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were compiled from the people who were the earliest followers of Jesus or those whom they taught who in turn, collected these oral histories and traditions into the volumes that comprise the New Testament.
Also, if the Gospels were in circulation at the time of the teachings and writings of the apostles, it is unthinkable that no one would have quoted from them. There are a few allusions to the words of Jesus in the epistles, but none of them can be substantiated except as a fragmentary verse here and there, as opposed to an entirely verifiable passage. Be that as it may, as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13: 11, "And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for our salvation is nearer than when we first believed."