And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)
What human factors did God ordain to bring about the amazing spread of the Christian faith in the early centuries? Stephen Neill (A History of Christian Missions) suggests six.
1. First and foremost was the burning conviction which possessed a great number of the early Christians.
2. The solid historical message which Christians brought was indeed good news, and a welcome alternative to the mystery religions of the day.
3. The new Christian communities commended themselves by the purity of their lives.
4. The Christian communities were marked by mutual loyalty and an overcoming of antagonisms between alienated classes.
5. The Christians were known for an elaborate development of charitable service, especially to those within the fellowship. Emperor Julian, writing in the early fourth century, regretted the progress of Christianity because it pulled people away from the Roman gods. He said:
Atheism [i.e. Christian faith] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.
6. The persecution of Christians and their readiness to suffer made a dramatic impact on unbelievers. Neill observes, “Under the Roman Empire Christians had no legal right to exist . . . . Every Christian knew that sooner or later he might have to testify to his faith at the cost of his life.”
Here we are at the beginning of the third millennium. May God raise up hundreds of thousands of super-ordinary Christians and Christian communities with this kind of passion.