Christianity is the religion with the largest number of adherents in the world. From a small group of 12 disciples of Jesus, it has spread to over 2.4 billion people across the globe. The growth of Christianity has been phenomenal throughout the ages. It is also the most popular religion with multiple sects and denominations.
The humble beginnings of Christianity can be traced back to the work of a small group of Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem and adjoining areas. They were successful in creating small fellowship gatherings based on the new faith with prayers, sermons and Eucharistic celebrations. These gatherings became more organized and are often seen as the archaic form of today’s church denominations.
According to the bible, Jesus proclaimed “Go into the entire world and preach the gospel to all creation.Whoever believes and baptized will be saved.But whoever does not believe will be condemned.”(Mark 16: 15). Initially started as a reform group within Jewish traditions, it started spreading towards different corners of the world by the work of the early disciples and missionaries.
The History and spread of Christianity
In the initial years itself, Christianity gained popularity in a short span of time. St Paul was instrumental in organizing the scriptures and projecting Christianity as a religion with mass appeal. Simultaneously, the other disciples and preachers traveled to different geographical regions piggybacking on explorers and merchants. The official recognition of Christianity as the state religion in the Roman Empire became a crucial moment in the history of Christianity. In the 4th century AD, Constantine the emperor of Rome was impressed by the new religion and became an adherent of the same.
Christianity was considered a fresh theological thought process that was progressive and unique with respect to the existing religions at that time. Even though most Christian practices were inspired from Jewish traditions, it was duly contextualized and modernized for a new society. The priest centered rituals were later evolved into fellowships and prayers with community meals. The age-old traditions of animal sacrifices and strict punishments were transformed into more humane and progressive methods. This paradigm shift largely influenced the business men and traders in these societies. Riding on this new-found popularity, Christianity established itself as the preferred faith of Roman society and the elites.
The universal appeal of Christian beliefs
Christian theology brought in some elements of sophistication and was considered progressive with respect to the existing religious practices prominent during that time. Multiplicity of Gods and the special privileges enjoyed by the clergy alienated many followers from those religions. Christianity on the other hand tried to portray a democratized version of spirituality to its adherents. It unified many of the existing teachings and proposed an organized way of practicing religion focused on true God.
Even with a sophisticated theology, it succeeded in responding to human problems with practical solutions. Being part of the popular community gave the vulnerable population the sense of security and belonging. The weekly fellowship activities also ensured that people are in constant contact and could increase their social mobility. This enabled material transactions and promoted inter dependence during hard times. It also proved to be a secure place for marginalized people such as slaves, widows etc, and many started following it for the much-needed social protection. Unlike the pagan beliefs of that time, the Christian faith embraced the local cultures and embedded many of those aspects into its fold.
Christianity and daily life
The Christian popularity was not confined to the material aspects of daily human life. It provided a comprehensive scheme for the basic philosophical question of human existence. Explaining ‘life after death’ was always a major challenge for all the mainstream religions. Christianity created a logical and satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon. Life after death in some way corresponds to the idea of ultimate justice. This would be clear when we dive deep into the social order that was prevalent in the society. There was a high rate of corruption and inequalities in the system that left many groups terminally marginalized.
The prevalent religions of that time also reinforced these ideas and the marginalized population never had a chance of getting justice. The Christian idea of ‘afterlife’ drastically challenged this status quo and gave hope to people who were sidelined from the society. In short, we see the curious case of a theological proposition largely influencing the social life of masses naturally making it popular among them.
Popularity in Modern times
In recent times Christian faith has gone through lot reformations and is still very popular among the population. The organized nature of Christian spirituality has also spread out to other activities making such as charity and social works. The following factors can be mapped as major reasons behind the rising popularity of Christianity
1. Community Organization
Christian denominations across the globe have adhered strongly to the aspect of collective action and worship from its very beginning. The Sunday worship and the allied community activities have made it more popular among the people. This collective nature has helped in the spread of Christianity to other communities by the means of manpower, money and material.
The community truly believes in its social commitment and organizes charity activities. At the central level various registered charity organizations and non-profit organizations promoted by the churches are active in promoting economic development, crisis relief etc. Apart from this, each parish or chapter of different church groups raise funds based on common themes for local development activities.
3. Institution Building
All across the globe, one could see the influence of Christianity in the field of institution building especially in the field of health and education. Many of the premier universities and junior colleges are owned and operated by organizations/orders affiliated to the church. Similarly, it has encouraged both the religious and lay people in building medical infrastructure such as nursing homes, hospitals and training centers. This has helped Christianity to reach out to a large section of the population making it a preferred choice for them.
Evangelization is the major aspects that has kept Christianity popular among all nations is the missionary zeal with which evangelization was carried out. In the new global order, the scope of it has expanded in the form of televangelists with a constant presence in televisions and internet media. Evangelization conferences are regularly held in many parts of the world with special prayers, sermons and healing services.
The online presence made sure that people could take part in such gathering from any part of the world. Moreover, there is an aspect of prosperity gospel that came to prominence during the online evangelization process. Prosperity gospel used the ‘word of god’ and focused on miracles leading to material prosperity. This has helped in faster adoption of Christian faith among millions of people. Christian faith continues to grow in many places with more and more people officially accepting it as their faith. From the small communities in Jerusalem, it has grown to a global community of faithful with an organized theology and renewed spiritual practices. It always kept evolving as a response to the changing times but keeping the faith intact. This is the biggest reason for the rising popularity of Christianity.