A. Neill speaks of three things that occurred in the first century that radically affected the expansion of the church.
1. The first was the realization the Jesus was not going to return quickly. After a fairly frenzied attempt to evangelize in the early part of Acts, by the 13thchapter of acts, it was recognized that “a steady programme of expansion thoughout the world” was appropriate.
2. Second, there was clear evidence from both God and circumstances, that salvation was not for Jews alone. Rather, it was available to all peoples.
3. Third, the destruction of Jerusalem (70AD) made Christianity a religion without a center. Despite the high regard given places such as Rome, Jerusalem, Constantinople, or Canterbury, Christianity is not burdened with a Mecca. Christianity has no single home nor a home culture. (20-21)
I think these lessons need to be remembered today. Effective Christian missions comes from recognizing that we don’t know when Christ will return so we need to plan both short-term and long-term strategies for mission. Christian missions is not Jewish missions, or Western missions. Contextualizing the message to all cultures and all people is needed. Christian missions and the Christian church has no center except Christ.
“… owing to Luke’s predilection for Paul, we know a great deal more about Paul than we know about anyone else. He tends to dominate the scene, and we are inclined to think of him as the typical missionary. In point of fact the picture is far more complex than that. We have to think of a great many full-time missionaries moving rapidly in many directions, and also of that mass of unprofessional missionaries, already alluded to, through whose witness churches were coming into being all over the place, unorganized, independent, yet acutely aware of their status as the new Israel and of their fellowship with all other believers in the world.” (26)
C. One reason for this growth was the perceived morality of the Christians. Many non-Christians desired that (ethical living was a goal of Stoics, and Romans extolled living a life of virtue), but few seemed to achieve it like the Christians did (understanding, of course, that Christians were human and often failed as well). Also, Christians were known for their charitable work. This was an area that impressed many non-Christians. Emperor Julian (the Apostate), certainly no friend of Christianity, wrote:
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 Galilaeans 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.” (37-38)
A very loosely related article (but one I like) is on The Importance of Historical Theology