The Death of Christianity – The Citizen
In the book of the Acts of the Apostles of the New Testament, we find this statement: “These men who turned the world upside down also came here…” Acts 17:6. Of course, at the time, they hadn’t upset the whole world, but it must have seemed so to the communities that were impacted at the time. And, while the early Christians were limited in the distance they could travel, Jesus instructed his disciples to “go into all the world,” to teach and make disciples. And it’s been that way for 2,000 years.
Following the torture and legalized murder of Jesus, his followers hid in terror, were desperate and assumed that the great adventure to change the world was coming to an end. But, the following Sunday, the news spread that Jesus had risen from the dead. And, indeed, there were many witnesses, including all the disciples (except the defector Judas who committed suicide) who would be with him for about forty days.
The mission was scaled up to go all over the world and a movement that started small would, in fact, cover the entire planet in the years to come. The persecution drove some people from their homes, but it resulted in their faith being transplanted everywhere. Merchants, sailors and other travelers are added to the number who will serve as spokespersons and missionaries. Even the murder of Christians would draw people in, watching how they died with faith and courage, drawn to the teaching and life of Jesus.
The history of the Church (ekklesia, in Greek, loosely meaning “those who are called together”) is not entirely positive. Critics are quick to point out the failures, hypocrisies, and flaws of the Church and some of its prominent leaders throughout the centuries.
But, whenever humanity is involved, it should come as no surprise. The Bible is full of accounts of imperfect individuals who were, despite everything, used to accomplish God’s divine purposes. Nevertheless, it was Jesus who said he would build his Church, despite the failures of men and women.
So what has happened since the apostles “turned the world upside down”? A lot, as it turns out. There are currently approximately 2.5 BILLION Christians in the world today, finding a home in one of 41,000 different expressions (or “denominations”) of this faith. This represents a little less than a third of the total population of the Earth. By numbers alone, Christianity is the largest religion in all of human history.
The Christian faith has changed culture in ways most people take for granted, such as caring for the poor and underprivileged, hospitals, hospices, universities, art, music, architecture, child welfare, raising the status of women, the sanctity of life, and on the list goes.
So the person who said “These guys who turned the world upside down also came here…” was, it seems, an unlikely and unwitting prophet. The death of the Church and of Christianity has been predicted many times over the years, but the predictions have always been wrong. Even in countries where religion is frowned upon and oppressed, the Church and the faith it represents are alive and well.
In the years before Mao, the Christian population of China was estimated at five million. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, that number stands at sixty-eight million or 5% of the population of the huge communist country. Even in Cuba, our closest communist neighbor, there are almost seven million Christians who make up about 65% of the population. On the other hand, true atheists represent only 7% of the world’s population.
Thus, “these ‘companions’ and those who followed them have indeed ‘turned the world upside down’. Christianity is alive and well and continues to ‘go quietly and persistently into all the world and proclaim the Good News.’
Once all governments, institutions and philosophies leave the scene, the Church will remain. She is, after all, a divine creation, and even though in some cases she seems dead – well, there’s that thing about resurrection. Never count it.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at [email protected]]