Sunday, January 31, 2010

How Christianity Transformed Civilization :: part 1

Many are familiar with the 1946 film classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, wherein the character played by Jimmy Stewart gets a chance to see what life would be like had he never been born. The main point of the film is that each person’s life has an impact on everybody else’s life. Had they never been born, there would be gaping holes left by their absence. This is certainly true of every human that has ever been created, most notably one – Jesus Christ. He has had an enormous impact – more than anybody else – on history. Had He never come, the hole would be a canyon about the size of a continent.[i]

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn’t go to college. He never visited a big city. He never traveled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.

While He was dying, His executioners gambled for His garments, the only property He had on earth. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today He is the central figure of the human race.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as the one solitary life.[ii] This week we will look at a few of the affects that the cause of Christ has had on civilization.

Yet, we live in an age in which only one prejudice is tolerated – antichristian bigotry. Michael Novak, the eminent columnist, once said that today you can no longer hold up to public pillorying and ridicule groups such as African-Americans or Native Americans or women or homosexuals, and so on. Today the only group you can hold up to public mockery are Christians. Attacks on the Church and Christianity are common. As Pat Buchanan once put it, “Christian-bashing is a popular indoor sport.”

But the truth is this: Had Jesus never been born, this world would be far more miserable than it is. In fact, many of man’s noblest and kindest deeds find their motivation in love for Jesus Christ; and some of our greatest accomplishments also have their origin in service rendered to the humble Carpenter of Nazareth.[iii]

Napoleon, who was well accustomed to political power, said that it would be amazing if a Roman emperor could rule from the grave, and yet that is what Jesus has been doing. (We would disagree with him, though, in that Jesus is not dead; He’s alive.) Napoleon said: “I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything which can approach the gospel . . . nations pass away, thrones crumble, but the Church remains.”[iv]

Despite its humble origins, the Church has made more changes on earth for the good than any other movement or force in history. This week we will only highlight a few contributions Christianity has made to civilization, and we will only be able to scrap the surface of each of those touched on. There are volumes of historical accounts substantially validating each of the following. (If you would like to study any of the items discussed this week in further, it would be recommended that you read Under the Influence by Alvin J. Schmidt and What if Jesus had Never Been Born by James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. Under the Influence would be recommended for grander research and thoroughness, though it may be harder to locate than the other.) That being the case, below is a bullet list of a few of the many positive contributions Christianity has made through the centuries.

“We must consider
that Christianity’s ‘initial thrust’
has hurled ‘acts and ideas’
not only ‘across centuries,’
but also around the world.’”
(Thomas Cahill)

Read through the following. As you do, see if you are aware of how each of these was initiated and propelled by Christians.

A Brief Overview

  • Hospitals, which essentially began during the Middle Ages.
  • Universities, which also began during the Middle Ages. In addition,
  • most of the world’s greatest universities were started by Christians for Christian purposes.
  • Literacy and education for the masses.
  • Capitalism and free-enterprise.
  • Representative government, particularly as it has been seen in the
  • American experiment.
  • The separation of political powers.
  • Civil liberties.
  • The abolition of slavery, both in antiquity and in more modern times.
  • Modern science.
  • The discovery of the New World by Columbus.
  • The elevation of women.
  • Benevolence and charity; the ‘Good Samaritan’ ethic.
  • Higher standards of justice.
  • The elevation of the common man.
  • High regard for human life.
  • The codifying and setting to writing of many of the world’s languages.
  • Greater development of art and music. The inspiration for the greatest works of art. [vi]

“No one is like you, O LORD;
you are great, and your name is mighty in power.”

(Jeremiah 10:6)

[i] James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 4.

[ii] Some have attributed this to Philips Brooks, the writer of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Quoted by Kennedy, 7-8).

[iii] James Kennedy, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, introduction to book.

[iv] Philip Schaff, Person of Christ: The Miracle of History, (Boston: The American Tract Society, undated), 323, 328.

[v] Thomas Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, (New York: Nan A. Talese, Doubleday, 1999), 311.

[vi] James Kennedy, What if Jesus had Never Been Born?, 3.

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