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Question: How did Christianity evolve from a Jewish sect to an international religion?
Answer: The church was Jewish in its origin. But it could never accomplish a global mission if it continued within the confines of an exclusive religion like Judaism. It had to liberate itself from this exclusivity. The apostle Luke in the book of Acts gives us the steps that led to that freedom.
The conversion of the Jews to Christianity
Luke wrote that thousands of Jews early accepted the gospel. “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). The work of the seven deacons, and especially Stephen, marks a definite expansion and development of the Christian proclamation (Acts 6:8; 8:5).
And under the power of the Holy Spirit, such preaching drew “a great company” to Christ. The growth of the church had been extraordinary: “These were added … about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41); “the Lord added to the church daily” (v. 47); “many of them … believed; … about five thousand” (ch. 4:4); and “believers were the more added” (Acts 5:14). Thus, the number of church members was “multiplied in Jerusalem greatly” (Acts 6:7).
The conversion of the Gentiles to Christianity
But the persecutions led the disciples to leave Jerusalem and go to gentile lands. Philip preached to the Samaritans and the partly Judaized Ethiopian (Acts 8). Also, Peter evangelized the Roman centurion Cornelius (ch. 10). And the men of Cyrene and Cyprus reached out to non-Jews for the first time (Acts 11). In addition, Paul and his friends preached to the heathens in great numbers (Acts 13; 14). And, the disciples were successful by God’s grace, with the help of Peter and James, to secure for Gentile converts freedom from subjection to Jewish ritual (Acts 15).
The book of Acts concluded with a bright picture of the gospel’s spread throughout the eastern Roman world (Acts 16 to 28) where Christianity became largely a gentile religion. Being a gentile himself, Luke the author of Acts gave a true picture to such a movement. He revealed a deep interest in ministry to non-Jews. For this reason, he was considered a proper vessel to relate the story of the proclamation of the gospel to the gentile world!
The empowerment of the Holy Spirit
From the day when Jesus “through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles” (Acts 1:2), the Spirit appeared as the counselor of the church leaders and their associates. By the miracle of Pentecost “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). A little later, the believers also were “filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Also, the seven deacons were “full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), and one of the most prominent of their number, Stephen, was “full of faith and of the Holy Ghost” (v. 5).
As the narrative progressed, the Spirit continued to guide—in such situations as the ordination of Saul (Acts 9:17), in the acceptance of Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:44–47), in the separation of Barnabas and Saul for missionary work (Acts 13:2–4), in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:28), and in Paul’s missionary journeys (Acts 16:6, 7).
Thus, the rising of Christianity from a Jewish sect grew to an international religion, until the time when Paul could figuratively say that the gospel “was preached to every creature which is under heaven” (Col. 1:23).
In His service,