Friday, May 4, 2012
REASONS FOR EARLY CHURCH GROWTH By Otto Kaiser
My guest today is Professor Otto Kaiser, a professor at Global University. This history of the early church will be in two installments. Enjoy! -- Ada Brownell
The conquest of the world by Alexander the Great was a significant factor in early church growth. The Greek language and culture was enforced throughout the world as a result of the conquest making one language through which the Gospel could be spread. The Old Testament was translated into the Greek language, thus making the OT available to Gentiles. This Greek translation or Septuagint became the Bible of the early church.
The conquest of the world by Rome was also a significant church growth factor. For its troops to travel, Rome constructed a network of roads throughout its empire. Missionaries used these roads to travel and spread the Gospel. Also Roma Pax provided worldwide peace and safety for missionaries to travel both by sea and land. Rome eliminated pirates on the seas, highway robbers on the roads, and tribal terrorism.
A most significant factor for early church growth was the Diaspora of the Jews. Through the different conquests of the Holy Land by Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, the Jews were scattered all over the then known world. Two classes of Jews existed at the time of Jesus and Paul: Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews. Hebraic Jews lived in Palestine, especially in and near Jerusalem. They were extremely legalistically biased against Gentiles. Most Jews looked down on Gentiles, calling them dogs. The twelve disciples were Hebraic Jews.
The Hellenistic Jews lived mostly outside Palestine throughout the Roman Empire and many had business relations and friendships with Gentiles. Paul, Barnabas, Stephen, Philip and others were Hellenistic Jews. Beginning about 300 years before Christ, the Hellenistic Jews would invite Gentile business associates and friends to visit their synagogues to hear the learned lectures of the rabbis.
The Gentiles were attracted to Judaism for four significant reasons: (1.) Judaism was the only religion with high moral standards. All other religions had very low moral standards, and the physical act of prostitution was a part of their public worship ceremony. (2.) Judaism was the only monotheistic religion. All other religions had many gods who raped goddesses causing new gods to be born. (3.) Judaism promised a coming Messiah or Deliverer. At that time, over half of the population in the Roman world were slaves; and a promised deliverer was good news to the slaves. (4.) Likewise, Judaism was the only linear religion reaching toward a climax at the end of human history with eternal rewards and punishments. All other religions were circular around the cycle of nature; spring, summer, fall, and winter.
At the time of Paul, about two million Gentiles were in the process of conversion to Judaism. Most did not want to undergo the bloody surgery of circumcision in order to become full proselytes to Judaism. Those not submitting to circumcision but interested in Judaism were called God-fearers in the Book of Acts. A large amount of the early church Gentile converts had been God-fearers and were already knowledgeable of the Old Testament and were awaiting a Messiah. The Holy Spirit had sovereignly prepared the Gentiles to hear the Gospel.
The Hellenistic rabbis justified their preaching and converting Gentiles to Judaism using Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:3 and other OT prophecies. Whenever Paul came to a new city, he would go to the synagogue; there he would find the Gentile God-fearers who were attracted to his message. Paul did not demand circumcision, which was also good news to the God-fearers. Now you can understand the vicious hatred of the Jewish leaders toward Paul for stealing their Gentile converts, with their financial income, from their synagogues. God was in control of human history for the sake of the Gospel (See Galatians 4:4).
Later in church history, another factor in church growth was the monastic missionaries who took the Gospel and evangelized new territories: Saint Patrick of Ireland, Saint Colombo of Scotland, Saint Boniface of Germany, etc. The Holy Spirit confirmed their preaching with signs, wonders and miracles.
Other significant factors were the spiritual power encounters between the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of demons in signs, wonders and miracles. Apart from Gentile God-fearers, most Gentiles were under the control of folk or animistic religions. When they saw and experienced the greater power of the Holy Spirit, they were delivered from demonic powers and accepted Jesus Christ.
Permit me to recommend the following two books on power encounter for your reading and library:
Love, R. (2000). Muslims, Magic and the Kingdom of God. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library.
McCurry, D. (2001). Healing the Broken Family of Abraham. Colorado Springs, CO: Ministries to Muslims.
The above two books may be ordered from Gabriel Publishing, P. O. Box 1047, Waynesboro, GA 30830-2047, 706-554-1597 or from Assemblies of God Center for Ministry to Muslims, 2032 East Kearney, Suite 205, Springfield, MO 65803, 417-866-3313.