Have you ever considered the tangible impact of the coming of Jesus Christ on our world? Sociologist, Alvin Schmit decided to do an extensive research project to answer this question. A summary of his research can be found in his excellent book How Christianity Changed the World (formerly published with the title Under the Influence). It is an inspiring and insightful tour of church history, from the first century right through to our modern world. The number of people transformed through their faith in Jesus Christ is nothing short of astonishing, as is the resulting impact on every sector of society.
Consider the following areas:
1. Sanctity of human life
One of the more moral of Rome's philosophers, Seneca, said “We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal.” At that time, families wanted no more than one daughter so abandoned infants were commonplace. Followers of Christ valued human life – all life. Afra of Augsburg (late third century) was a converted prostitute who “developed a ministry to abandoned children of prisoners, thieves, smugglers, pirates, and runaway slaves.” Although it took time, through the influence of Christians, human sacrifice was stopped as were the cruel gladiatorial games.
2. Sexual Morality
Rome was known for its sexual permissiveness, with everything from adultery to fornication to pedophilia being seen as acceptable. There we no constraints on any sexual pleasure. This led to a very low view of marriage. Followers of Christ brought honour and faithfulness back into the marriage relationship and urged true love, not lust, as the highest goal.
3. Women’s Dignity and Freedom
In the first century, woman had an extremely low status in society. They had no freedom and were more like slaves to men. They lived in silence and were seen as having no social value. Without doubt, the birth of Jesus was turning point in history of women.
4. Charity and Compassion
The old Roman world was a world without charity. The Christians changed that with their loving care for everyone, including orphans, children, and the aged.
5. Hospitals and Health Care
Jesus was healer of body and soul. In contrast, Rome had no respect for sick or dying nor did the Greeks despite their passion for buildings, literature and philosophy. Christians started hospitals, mental institutions, nursing, and founded organisations such as the Red Cross.
Jesus was the greatest teacher ever and the value of teaching continued through the early church. Throughout history, followers of Christ have led the way in education, with public schools being Martin Luther's idea, and compulsory graded education emerged from Christian influencers. Education for the deaf and the blind (e.g. Louis Braille) were also pioneered by Christians, as were Sunday Schools and universities.
7. Labor and Economic Freedom
Christians have always sought to being dignity to work, as well as a sense of calling to our vocation. The very concept of a "work ethic' has its roots in the Protestant movement. Christians have also championed the values of property rights and individual freedom.
Christians have been pioneers in all fields of science including physiology, biology, astronomy, physics, chemistry, and medicine. In fact, modern science is an outgrowth of Christian theology.
9. Liberty and Justice for all
Christians have been front-runners in the establishment of law, freedom, rights, equality, and freedom of religion in our world.
10. Slavery Abolished
WIlliam Wilberforce's work in abolishing slavery was driven by his faith, as was Dr Martin Luther King Jnr's efforts to end racial segregation.
11. Art, Architecture, Music, Literature.
Christian influence in arts and entertainment has also been pervasive throughout history.
With the rise of the new atheism and the growing hatred in some circles towards people of faith, may we never forget the positive impact that Christ and his followers have made on history and our world. One Harvard scholar, Robert Putman, recently admitted the positive influence of people of faith on society. May his tribe increase.
Is that impact waning? Is it time to reclaim our purpose to DISCOVER our gifts and use them, not just in the church, but also to be salt and light in every sector of our society? I believe so. We have one life to live. Let's make a difference in our world … for Jesus Christ.
P.S. Click here to download a free summary of this book. For other good books on this subject, check out Rodney Stark's Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success and What if Jesus had never been born? by James Kennedy.