The Rise of Christianity, c. 200 A.D.
For several years I have had questions about the timing of prophetic events. I have the general understanding that many evangelical Christians share, which is that the Great Tribulation spoken of by Christ, as well as John in his Revelation, is yet to come. I am not dogmatic about prophecy for several reasons, the most significant reason being that I don’t pretend to understand it all.
There are some stances that are held by many evangelicals concerning prophecy that I do not see much evidence for, but again I don’t have all the answers myself. When it comes to prophecy, I don’t believe anyone has all the answers nor were we intended by God to have all the answers. I do believe, however, that God does not leave us without ample information concerning prophecy nor does he want us to be completely mystified by prophecy.
I assume that you are routinely sent questions about your viewpoint. I’ll admit that while reading scripture I have often wondered if some of the events that are generally held by Christians to be futuristic, have not already come to pass. At the same time, I consider differing views on prophecy with guarded reservation.
Frankly, I see a pattern in some realms of the church that tend to worship intellectualism above the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ. I believe God gave us a brain in order to use it, but it seems that man, saved or lost, cannot resist worshiping his own intellect. The study of prophecy seems to avail itself too often to this pattern. This, again, is why I am not dogmatic in my particular view of prophecy.
I am genuinely interested in understanding as much as possible concerning prophecy and how it relates to world events. I hope you won’t mind responding to some questions I have. Thanks in advance.
Pastor Chad Kibodeaux
Mauriceville Assembly of God
Three Questions and Three Answers
1. Based on your postmillennial viewpoint, how do you contend that the Great Commission is still applicable? I realize that the church seems to be making advances in nations such as China and Africa, but overall the world is becoming darker and much more sinful. I understand the concept of ebb and flow, but the ebbing seems to be far outweighing the flowing. How do you reconcile that with a gradual advance of God’s Kingdom?
According to this source, the number of Christians in the world today is growing by 25.2 million per year. “The total growth of Christianity (25,210,195) adds the equivalent of more than the population of Australia (21,555,500) or the state of Texas (23,904,380) of new Christians to Christianity every year.”
How did that all begin?
Let’s use the “business report analogy.” What would you say about a business corporation that began with $120 dollars (the number of disciples in the upper room in Acts 2:15-26) and then ten days later, it turned a profit of $3000 and the profit continued to grow each day for several years? 2000 years later, this business corporation had grown to encompass over one-third of the world’s wealth. Certainly, the man who started that business would be heralded as a great genius, if not worshiped as God.
According to Acts 2:41, we know about how many disciples of Jesus there were on the day of Pentecost, April 20th, 30 AD — “about 3,000 souls.” In modern times, we consider this a great revival. But how did Christianity grow to what it has become today?
How many disciples were there in 100 AD? How many were there in 500, 1000, 1500, 2000 AD? We can make some rough estimates, but there is no way of knowing for sure. First of all, there are false believers in every age. We have to number professing believers who hold to orthodox doctrine and claim membership in a church.
We know that the growth of Christianity in the Roman Empire was dramatic in the first 500 years. From modern demographic studies, we see that the population of the Roman Empire was 70 to 100 million at its peak in the early second century. By 500 AD, the Empire had shrunk to about 55 million. About half of the population of the Roman Empire was Christian by this point.
But surprisingly, the growth of the church was slow in the Apostolic era of the first century. If you count the large urban centers of the Roman Empire there were no more than 150 large cities. Churches in the first century were mainly city-based. Let’s say that by 100 AD, Rome had 100 thriving city churches of about 1000 members on average. I think that estimate is generous. If so, there would have been no more than 100,000 believers after 70 years of growth.
Is that a success or failure?
To put this in perspective, the whole world had a population of about 180 million people in 100 AD. This means that 100,000 Christians were 0.055 percent of the world population. Christianity, apart from the miraculous revivals we read about in the book of Acts, had a slow start.
Some historians are far more generous than this and suppose that by the second century Christianity had become a larger group of up to 500,000. Still this is only .27 percent of the world population.
That makes it all the more amazing that by 500 AD, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Roman Empire and missionaries were being sent to northern Europe. By this time, there were less than 20 million people in Europe, apart from the Asian and African cities of the Roman Empire, which had more than twice as many. In all there were about 55 million people in the Roman Empire. Professing Christians made up about half of that number by 500 AD. This was about 10 percent of the total world population.
From there, we see slow but steady growth until the time of the Reformation in the 1500s when both Roman Catholics and Protestants began sending missionaries to the New World. This rapid growth was fueled of course, by the Age of Exploration and the new inventions that came from the Renaissance, especially the printing press.
By the 1800s, Christianity was advancing so rapidly that even most secular history textbooks of that era stressed the idea of Christian progress, that the world was improving due to advances in every area of learning. Most Christians believed this advance in progress was due to the Gospel. As more and more people would converted to Christ, individual lives would reform and the world would become a better place.
By early the 1900s, most of the Christians were in the western hemisphere and Europe, while there were almost no Christians in Africa, Asia and other areas of the world. But in the 20th century there was a huge thrust of the Gospel in the so-called Third World.
Now fast forward to 2014. Today, the number of professing Christians make up 35 percent of the world population — about 2.3 billion Christians. “About 1.5 billion are estimated to attend church regularly at over 5 million congregations, up from 400,000 believers 100 years ago.”
It is now true that more people are converted worldwide every day than in the entire era of the New Testament. Many of these new converts are the products of huge spiritual awakenings in Africa, Asia and the Pacific islands in the latter half of the 20th century.
I published this article 23 years ago in 1991. Understand that the criteria for “Christian” is different here. The U.S. Center for World Mission study focuses mainly on who they would consider to be highly committed Christians, not merely professing Christians. So they suppose the percentages of committed Christians are lower in modern times, but were higher in the early centuries of persecution. Here is an excerpt from that study:
According to the U.S. Center for World Mission, Christian evangelism in the last 100 years has reached a growth curve that is now increasing exponentially. Comparing the ratio of Christians per unconverted people in the world, the following statistics have been noted:
In the year 100 A.D. (about 70 years after Jesus Christ’s ministry began), there was a total of one believer for every 360 unbelievers on the planet Earth (or .27% of the world’s population).
In the year 1000, the ratio became 1 to 220 (or .45% of the population).
In 1900, the ratio became 1 to 27 (or 3.7%).
In 1980, the ratio became 1 to 11 (or 9.1%).
In 1990, the ratio was 1 to 7 (or 14.3%).
Given information from subsequent studies that 1.5 billion of 7.2 billion people are committed Christians —
In 2014, the ratio is 1 to 5 (or 20.8%).
Here is a paradox. Evangelical Christians have become generally more pessimistic in the last 100 years. There used to be more postmillennialists who thought the world was becoming a better place due to the great evangelical world missions thrust that began in the 1800s. Ironically, now that Christianity is the largest religion in the world, most evangelicals are premillennialists who think the world is predestined to get worse and worse until the end.
2. What would you say to a challenge of your belief if it were likened to a doctrine that would lend itself to an apostate church mindset? Specifically, that it would seem to play very well into the “seeker-friendly” mindset of many pastors who focus energy on entertainment and a “feel good” message to add numbers to their local congregations. It seems that so many of these congregations name the name of Christ, but it is a Christ of their own making, a Christ that fits conveniently into lives that are saturated by our sinful culture. The church growth in America, for instance, seems to be concentrated among these types of congregations that preach a pseudo-gospel very different from that of Christ and the apostles, yet the growth of these congregations is seen by many as the advancement of the church. Wouldn’t that mindset go hand in hand with your understanding of the millennium?
We have to distinguish between the growth of the church and the growth of the kingdom of God. Certainly, there is an overlap between the two. When men represent the church, especially as ordained ministers, too many fall into the trap of representing themselves and their own agenda. When we represent Christ’s victorious kingdom, we act as ambassadors representing the King of the universe. We stand for something greater than ourselves.
So while church growth is certainly a sign of the growth of the kingdom, the kingdom of God does not depend on large numbers in the visible church. In fact, the postmillennial view is that the elect are to rule and reign with Christ presently in history even when they are not the majority. I certainly agree that doctrinal purity and membership in a doctrinally orthodox church is necessary in order to represent Christ. We see during times of revival and reformation a re-emphasis on the primary doctrines of the Christian faith.
The foundation of the United States of America as a free republic was based in large part by the participation of Christians in developing the political philosophy of civil liberty. Christians were not the only people involved in the process, but the Christian idea of liberty won the day because those who did participate had the most forceful and persuasive worldview.
In every area of life in which Christians participate, we ought to be the leaders and apply the biblical laws and principles to our field of endeavor. That is the kingdom of God invading the earth. Of course, that includes the church in its own sphere of influence, but the kingdom is much greater than that. We need not be the majority or even large in numbers, but we must be confident that the children of God are destined to reign and rule with Christ and advance His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
3. As much as there maybe some gain in the church, and I thank God for the gain, how do the contemporary martyrs that are being imprisoned, tortured and even killed on a regular basis, fit into your understanding of the millennium?
What I understand from the New Testament and the writings of the early church fathers, the Apostolic Church of the first century was organized along the lines of urban areas. In other words there was the Church at Rome, the Church at Corinth, the Church at Alexandria, Lyons, Ephesus, Antioch, etc. If you count the large urban centers of the Roman Empire there were no more than 150 large cities.
There were approximately 3120 Christians in 30 AD. The 120 in the upper room and the 3000 souls added to the church on the day of Pentecost. This number may not have included women and children.
Now fast-forward to 64 AD. We know at this time there was a “falling away” of sorts due to the first persecution under Nero. Then later around 96 AD there was a second persecution under Domitian.
Throughout the first 300 years of Christianity, there were ten persecutions under ten different Roman Emperors. There was apparently an explosion of growth after each of the ten Roman persecutions. As Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
We should expect the same to happen today. As martyrdom is on the increase in the world, we may be seeing a short term falling away in those cultures, but soon there will be an explosion of faith in those same areas.
4. How does the rise of Islam, its quest for global dominance and some of it’s terrorist tactics, specifically the beheading of “infidels” (Rev. 20:4), their hatred for Jews and Christians and their belief in the imminent appearance of the twelfth Imam or Mahdi, which seems to fit very nicely with the idea of a coming Antichrist that will rise to world power, fit into your viewpoint?
Islam is a Dynamic Monarchian heresy. It was a heresy prevalent in the early church that was defeated along with Modalistic Monarchianism and Arianism as an anti-Trinitarian error. Islam emerged in the eight century after Mohammed had conversations with both Jews and heretical Christian monks on the Arabian Peninsula who taught him monotheism.
Islam spread mainly among illiterates who could not read the Bible in their own language. In nations that were conquered by the Saracens (Arabs) in the Middle Ages, Christians were forced to convert on pain of death or were forced to pay a tribute tax. Although Islam considers both the Old and New Testament to be inspired writings of God, they hold the Koran to be of higher inspiration. Islam can only be maintained as the dominant religion in countries where the Bible is suppressed and civil penalties are enforced on converts to Christianity.
Since Islam appeared, it has looked at times to be unstoppable. In the Middle Ages, many Christians saw Islam as a fulfillment of prophecies found in Revelation. The religion has advanced by the sword. No Christian nation once overcome by Islam has yet been able to reclaim the culture. But we may be seeing the beginning of a reversal of that trend in our day. In Muslim countries where the Bible is available, we see numerous converts to Christ. Since much of this activity is underground, we have no idea as to the extent of these conversions.
It is reported that great revivals are occurring in the Muslim nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Libya and Sudan. Mission researchers estimate more Muslims have converted to Christianity in the last 10 years than in the last 15 centuries of Islam. The superiority of the Bible as God’s Word over the Koran is sufficient to see this work of transformation of the Muslim world take place.
It is true that the Muslims look to the coming of the “12th Imam” and even see Jesus as a prophet who will come again to judge the world. This may not herald the end-times antichrist as much as it opens them to the true revelation of Jesus found in the Word of God – the Bible. Ultimately, it is the truth of the Gospel that converts people. Eventually Islam will be overcome by Christianity.