Why Did the Early Church Grow So Rapidly?

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS

volume 17, number 16, April 26, 2018

“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:47

Why Did the Early Church Grow So Rapidly?

Though Jesus fed five thousand with a few loaves of bread and a few fish, by the time of His ascension, only one hundred and twenty were gathered in the Upper Room to pray for the power of the promised Holy Spirit to come upon them. But on the day of Pentecost, Peter, the former coward, now filled with the Holy Spirit, preached with power and the people were pierced in the heart, asking what they must do? Three thousand were saved on that day (Acts 2:41). A few days later we are told that 5000 were in the church (Acts 4:4). Luke tells us that the Lord, not the winsomeness or master plan of the apostles, was adding converts daily. 

By the end of the first century A.D., church historians estimate that there were between 500,000 and one million Christians world wide (the Roman Empire had 181 million people at the time). Though this was pretty amazing growth from only one hundred and twenty some seventy years before, the church was still a very small minority of the Roman population. By the end of the second century there were two million Christians. By the end of the third century there were five million Christians, and by the end of the fourth century A.D. the number doubled to ten million Christians.[1]

How did this happen and what does this tell us? Let’s set the stage for this amazing phenomenon. Most of the early believers came from pagan backgrounds steeped in ignorance, superstition, perversion, and cruelty to people and animals. So, when the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of a pagan man to believe the gospel, to transfer him from darkness to light, from the kingdom of sin, Satan, and death into the kingdom of forgiveness, power, and life, he could not help but tell everyone he knew of Christ’s transforming work in his life. 

Roland Allen puts it this way,

Spontaneous expansion begins with the individual efforts of the individual Christian to assist his friend. . . He speaks from the heart because he is too eager to be able to refrain from speaking. His subject has gripped him. He speaks of what he knows, and knows by experience. The truth which he imparts is his own truth. He knows its force. He is speaking almost as much to relieve his own mind as to convert his hearer, and yet he is as eager to convert his hearer as to relieve his own mind, for his mind can only be relieved by sharing his new truth. And his truth is not shared until another has received it. This his hearer realizes. Inevitably he is moved by it. Before he has experienced the truth himself, he has shared the speaker’s experience” [2]

Simply put, to borrow from the words of John before the Sanhedrin which told him to stop preaching Jesus, “They could not stop speaking of all they had seen and heard.” 

So, this begs the question-if we are born again, if we have experienced new life through Jesus Christ, then why are we not as zealous as the apostles and early believers? The underlying reason must be the lack of confidence in what the Holy Spirit can do in and through us. We simply neglect the Spirit, incorrectly believing that our ministry plan, experience in ministry, preaching or organizing gifts, gift of gab, or pleasant personality can convert people. We don’t, of course, actually say this, but this works itself out in our churches and personal lives. 

But there is a second reason as well. We have forgotten just how bad and lost we were. The pagans of the early church era, who were rescued from darkness to light, had no trouble understanding the glorious work of salvation wrought in them by the Holy Spirit. Their conversion was very real to them, and their friends saw it as well. They were able to speak from the heart, not in a merely academic fashion, to their family and friends, and tell them of the mighty deeds of God. We see this today in the Muslim and Hindu majority cultures where thousands are daily coming to faith in Christ. These dear people have seen the bankruptcy and failure of their former religions, and they have found the truth as it is in Jesus. They are not the least bit reticent in making Jesus known to those around them. And because their friends are still in darkness, their words to their friends hold weight. 

We, on the other hand, have been Christians for so long, that we have little or no memory of our unbelieving past. Have you lately gone back in your mind to your life before God saved you? Think about your attitudes, values, world view, speech, and actions. The best of you, if you died even one second before God, in regenerating grace, gave you a new heart, would have perished and gone to hell. 

And then we must also at least raise the question, “Is it possible that some professing Christians are not really saved in the first place?” Maybe they have grown up around the church. Perhaps they are nice, moral people. Maybe they had a religious experience of some sort while in middle school. However, perhaps it is also true that their hearts have never been changed. They still are dead in their trespasses and sins.

What, then, does this mean for the church in the western world? First, we must seek the Spirit’s power and anointing on our preachers and evangelists. Pray for it. Ask God to give it to you and your pastor. Believe He can and will do so, if you seek Him with all your heart. Second, meditate often on passages like Ephesians 2:1-13, Romans 3:10-26, and Romans 8:31-39 and bask in the glory of what God has done in saving your soul. Think of what you were, where you were headed, the hopelessness with which you were living, and then consider who you now are, what God has done, and where you are going when you die. And third, meditate on the horror of hell and the lake of fire which awaits all, including your family members and friends, who do not bow the knee to King Jesus. Smell the sulfur of hell fire, and screw up your courage, by the Holy Spirit, to announce to people that Jesus has come, died, been raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again to judge the world, that they must flee from the wrath of God which is to come and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Savior of sinners. 

______________________

1. Number of Christians Throughout History, <www.mb.soft.com>

2. The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: And the Causes That Hinder It, Roland Allen, page 10. 

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