Christians, Christians Everywhere

Recently a commenter named B.A. Worldchanger chimed in to the discussion in the Why I Deny the Virgin Birth post. His argument for Christianity starts like so:

… Christ says that “This gospel will be preached as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” That day is approaching. Most people aren’t fully aware that Christianity, up until the late 1800’s, was centralize in Europe. Now, not a single continent on earth can lay claim to that title, as the gospel has literally spread to all nations in some form or another. Even closed nations.

I constantly hear variations on this theme, usually from evangelicals. They’re always proud of the inroads that Christianity has made amongst the Muslims in the middle east or against the government in China. I’m never sure why it’s supposed to be impressive. I suppose because the writer rarely has any grasp of history.

For example, why is it impressive that Christianity is now being preached in the middle east? Christianity was BORN in the middle east. There are groups of Palestinian Christians that believe themselves descended from the first generation of Christians. Christianity has always been preached in the middle east.

China? India? Persian Christians followed the silk road to the eastern edge of China. In The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died, Philip Jenkins reproduces some back-of-the-envelope calculations suggesting that one third of all Christians were living in Asia around 1,000 CE.

Africa? There’s a reason that so many of our ancient manuscripts are found in Coptic. The Egyptian church claims to have been founded by the evangelist Marc. Christianity spread through Africa, settling in places like Aksum (Axum) in modern Ethiopia.

It really is a history for Christians to be proud of. The early church, despite (or perhaps because of) all its factions, was a dynamic and vibrant faith. Of course, that means facing the fact that it was outdone by Islam in most of its territory, leaving only the rump in Europe.

Christian missions reached from Ireland to China, but the heartland was in Asia and northern Africa. Christianity was not “centralized” in Europe, it survived in Europe. It most other places it was diminished by the coming of Islam, although even then it took many centuries for it to fade. It still survives in pockets today, like the Coptic Churches or the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

So what folks like B.A. Worldchanger are actually saying is not that Christianity is approaching its zenith. Christianity is finally regaining the geographic spread that it had in the seventh and eighth centuries. If you’re looking for a time in which Christianity is preached all over Africa and Eurasia, you’re more than 1000 years too late.

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