on the impact of the apostles

I picked up a book in 1991 edited by E. G. Selwyn. I recall discovering it when looking for a commentary on 1 Peter by the same man. I don’t think I ever found the commentary, but I found this little book: A Short History of Christian Thought. The book is a collection of eight essays on the development of doctrine through the ages. Selwyn was Dean of Winchester, an Anglican clergyman. The author of the first essay was Gregory Dix, a man who had significant influence on Anglican liturgy and appears to have been a very high-church Anglican. As such his views are somewhat suspect, but his reputation as a scholar is high.

Gregory Dix’ essay is entitled “The First Four Centuries: Hellenism, Judaism, and Christianity”. In the second paragraph he makes this interesting observation:

The decade AD 30-40 saw the public proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth as ‘Messiah’ within the Semitic world of Syrian Judaism. The next found the infant Church embarked on the much greater audacity of a direct assault upon the dominant Hellenistic culture of the pagan Roman Empire. By AD 50 Christian propaganda among the Gentiles was becoming organized and deliberate, and in some circles was already spreading fast. By AD 65 the imperial government of the strongest police-state the world had known was finding itself impotent to put a stop to it, even in the capital, either by spasmodic violence or the steady pressure of prohibitory laws. … After AD 70 the direction of Christian expansion lies, apart from the Far East, overwhelmingly among the Gentiles. But it is a cardinal fact for the whole future history of Christian thought that this virtual transference of Christianity from its original Judaic matrix into the Greco-Roman world was a swift and sudden thing, the astonishing achievement of the first — the single ‘Apostolic’ Christian generation.

[A Short History of Christian Thought, p. 15. Bold emphasis mine.]

The thing that struck me from this observation is how striking the sudden advance into the Gentile world was. Is there any other religious development in history that really can parallel with this peaceful conquest? Isn’t it amazing that a group of 12 frightened men at the Crucifixion had expanded to a body of churches from Jerusalem to Rome and beyond in only 35 years?

When Revelation describes the foundation of the heavenly city as comprised of twelve stones on which is inscribed the names of the apostles, it is a fitting tribute. These men were God’s ROCKS on which the entire church is built. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the Lord for his gifts of the apostles. Praise the Lord for his grace to us who would be in darkness had the apostles not gone forth to establish Christ’s church.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3