Why Are There So Many Christians?

a large crowd of people

Why So Many? 

 Key Verse 

 “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  

Romans 10:15

Why so many? My question probably appears ludicrous to you. You and I here in America are seeing local churches and whole denominations implode. However, that is not what I want to focus on. If we look beyond our country, the Church is bigger and healthier than we may think.

America is no longer the epicenter of Christianity that it once held for so many years – that’s okay, but it’s not okay. This may surprise you but the place where there are the most Christians is the continent of Africa[1]. As of 2017, Africa had 631 million Christians, Latin America had 601 million, and Europe had 571 million. 

How Many? 

Worldwide, there are an estimated 2.3 billion Christians, followed closely behind by Islam with 1.9 billion, and Hinduism with 1.2 billion. Of course, we know that God works with remnants. Many people claim to be Christian because their family has “always been Christian” or their “country” is Christian. Also, there are many sincere Christians that have never received any cohesive, consistent Christian education – missionaries are needed!

Okay, I have provided the numbers, but how did Christianity become the largest religion in the world? That is what I want us to look at over the next few blogs.

One Reason for “Why So Many”

Why so many? Since Africa has the most Christians, let’s first look for the answer there. There is a fascinating website titled, “The Gospel Coalition Africa” that is an African outreach ministry, by Africans. One ministry on the site is titled, “Ask an African Pastor.” It is fascinating and clearly ministers to many people. To provide some context, here’s a quote from their “About” page:

 The Council of the Gospel Coalition Africa is a collection of pastors and qualified elders who provide direction and leadership to TGC Africa. They meet annually for fellowship, discussion, planning, accountability, and prayer around the gospel of our Lord Jesus. Aiming to bring biblical conviction and pastoral sensitivity to bear on a range of pressing contemporary issues, the Council is committed to shepherding the next generation of church leaders in line with TGC Africa’s foundation documents. 

A Powerful Example of Why

And here are a few excerpts from a great testimony by “Proud Mpofu” titled, Learning to Love those I Hated.

 “I grew up in Zim. I am one of a minority tribe which is called the BaKalanga. So, as I grew up I felt like my tribe was oppressed, so to say… I grew angry because of that. Because I felt ‘we need to fight back!’  

“When I came to South Africa I came to Christ Church Midrand and started to read the Bible and I came to understand how God loved us to the extent that he sent His only son to die for us.” 

“The Christian message, I mean it humbled me to understand that I’m a sinner who was saved by grace…You can’t go and take revenge because revenge will never pay you anything. But we need to understand, those people, we think they hate us, but God loves them! And they also deserve love from us. And so the Bible is just clear – we need to love each other. No one is better. We are all sinners. And we will never address any social issue without loving those people who are around us. And that message is just amazing” 

 It Just Takes 3

  1. A spiritually lost person
  2. A person that will tell the Good News of Jesus
  3. A church that is committed to correctly teaching the Whole Bible

That is how so many people in the world have been saved and have grown to be fruitful, loving Christians. It just takes 3. That is what we need to remind ourselves of.

Jesus expects each of us to give all of our life to Him, but He has not made it complicated for us to be “fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).” Here’s how it works: A person in need hears the Gospel of Jesus and a local church comes along side them. The result is growth. The lost are saved, the fishers of men become more effective, the local church becomes healthier, also the regional and national conference or denomination is edified. It is not difficult. It just takes 3.

Next Time

Next time, in this new series, we travel back to the primitive Church, to the first years of the Bride of Christ, to see how an empire was upended and the whole world changed by God working through Christians to deliver the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


[1]

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A Trinket

A silver turtle trinket

I never noticed this until today. In the account of the “rich young ruler,” Mark considered it important enough to include it in his narrative. The Scripture reads, “And as he (Jesus) was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?(Mark 10:17)

Running to Jesus

The young man RAN to Jesus. This man had intent. He had determination. He had identified the source of what he had been seeking. We know this because he didn’t just run to Jesus but he caused Jesus to stop His journey. This is significant. Abraham did a similar thing, for we find in Genesis 18:2, “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” Many theologians consider this encounter to be a Christophany, a visible manifestation of the Son of God before He became flesh (John 1:14).

How similar these two accounts are. Both men spotted Jesus walking. Both men ran to meet Him. Both men stopped Jesus and entreated Him for His attention. Both men bowed or knelt before the Son of God. Both men made a request of Christ. But here the similarity stops.

God Called

God called Abram (Abraham) while he was still an idolator, living in the city of Ur. God called him to leave family, friends, and the familiar to go into the wilderness, to a land that God would show him. Abram took God up on His offer, the rich young ruler did not.

Jesus, in whom the Godhead dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9), asked the young man to get rid of the things that tied him to his family, his world, his life, and to come and join Jesus has a disciple; what a privilege Jesus extended to the rich young ruler, but the young man declined.

It’s not enough to run to Jesus, to interrupt Christ’s journey, to fall on our knees before the King of kings and the Lord of lords, to seek the favor of Jesus. For the first thing Jesus requires of us is to surrender all, to let go of the dead corpse of the world which we continually drag around with us. There can be no life as long as we remain in death.

Christ calls us out, but the decision rests solely upon us. Just as Abram was renamed Abraham, Simon was renamed Peter, Saul was renamed Paul, James and John were renamed the sons of thunder, someday, when we arrive in heaven God will give us a new name, but not the rich young ruler; not on that day, for he cared too much for this world to let go. Like a monkey who’s hand is trapped in a jar, this young man grasped his riches so tightly that he could not escape.

A Trinket of Death

Abraham and the rich young ruler: Two men that our Lord offered unimaginable joy and a place in the foundation of God’s kingdom. One man chose correctly, and one did not. What will we do when Jesus asks us to let go of the thing that is most precious to us, for He knows us better than we ourselves. Will we, by God’s grace, place our faith in Jesus? Will we let go of death and be reborn into eternal life? Or, will we try to hold on to a trinket of death and bargain with Jesus so that we may possess both death and life, a bargain that cannot be made.

Choose life. Choose love. Choose Jesus.

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Eternal Time

pocket watch

You know, time is fascinating. A gazillion years ago, someone came up with the grand idea to divide a day into 24 pieces of time. In English, we named those pieces “hours.” 

As time became more important to us, we needed more precision. So, for Western civilization, we came up with a brilliant new measurement for time. We cut an hour up into small pieces of time. We called each small piece of time a minute (my-noot), as in a small, piece of an hour. 

It wasn’t long before people needed things done in a New York minute, hence the need for a 2nd smaller piece of time! Still lacking creativity, we named this second piece of time a second. What the English language lacks in creativity is made up for by our determination to require rote memorization of our most used words and high levels of uniqueness for words that simply sit in dictionaries gathering dust. 

No matter how small we divvy up time, we can still divide it again. It never runs out! And, we can multiply time by days, weeks, months, and so forth, without limit. Again, it never runs out! Time can be infinitely transformed with math, but it takes Jesus Christ to transform our time into eternal life. “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24

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One fish, Two fish, Good fish, Bad fish

a fishing net

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.”  Matthew 13:47-48

In Matthew 13:47-48, Jesus is speaking about the end-of-time judgment. Still, for every person, our last opportunity to be saved is in our moment of death. So, the first question that I see from what Jesus said is, “How do you and I know if we are ‘good fish’?” Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has provided us with ample promises in the Scriptures for us to know. For example, “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” 1 John 3:24

A Wide Net

However, the Church casts a wide net and draws into itself both true believers and believers in name only. It is the responsibility of the ordained leadership to deal with false Christians within the Church. This is an aspect of church governance.

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.Acts 20:28

Great harm can be done to new, weak, or wayward Christians when the laity assumes the role of church governance by taking it upon themselves to confront a person they’ve discerned as a ‘bad fish’ within their fellowship. By this, I don’t mean to imply that the laity is to take a laissez-faire attitude, but we all should operate within our commissioning within our church. “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. (Romans 14:1)”

The Church has a long history of “killing” its wounded. It takes divine discernment for each of us to distinguish between a weak Christian and a person that is still of this world. Thankfully, when the Church functions as Jesus intends, then the whole Church is blessed.

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Dad's Fish

a picture of a salt water fish

Growth seems to be a natural progression of all God creates. Whether we look at kittens, calves, kids, or children, they all start small, but with the right care, feeding, and environment, they grow to become healthy and fulfill God’s purpose for them. 

Growth is a Lesson That God Teaches

All of God’s creation testifies of His existence, and growth is a lesson that teaches us about God’s intended process and purpose for His children. I am reminded of a problem my dad had when I was a teenager.

We lived on a small farm that had either a tiny lake or a huge pond that was stocked with fish. About two years after we moved there, the fish I caught looked like aliens from outer space. Every fish had a full-size head, but its body was small and underdeveloped. The fish seemed very strange.

Dad contacted our county’s Conservation agent. We learned that the fish were starving for oxygen and nutrients. Fertilizers were running off of our fields and into our lake, messing up the lake’s whole ecosystem.

Baby Christians

As Christians, we can experience a similar problem. When we are first saved, we’re babies who require extra attention and feeding. We also need exercise to grow up strong and healthy. If we lack any of those three, then we will not grow up as God intended. Instead, we will be stunted, just as my dad’s fish were.

We can read an account of this in 1 Corinthians 3:2-3 (ESV), I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?

When we meet a new convert to Jesus, let’s do as Paul did, making sure God’s new baby receives careful instruction, gentle guidance, opportunities to find and use their gifting and stretch experiences, so they live by faith. By doing so, our new addition to God’s kingdom will be less likely to be like my dad’s fish but, instead, will be a mighty tool in God’s hand.

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The Man Jesus

stained glass picture of Jesus

I rejoice and am thrilled every time I read about Jesus in John 1:1,14 (ESV), In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

As we know, Jesus has two natures. He is fully man (Mt. 1:23) and fully God (Colossians 2:9). Christ’s human traits, including his natural desires, decend from his mother who is a descendent of Adam. This is revealed by Scripture in Hebrews 4:15 (ESV), “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

And as we just read in John, chapter one, Jesus is fully God. Perhaps rightly, we often focus more on the divinity of Jesus and minimize Jesus the man. Yet there would be no salvation without the man, Jesus. 

In the man Jesus, God provided, on behalf of us, the unblemished Lamb, to pay the penalty for our sins. As R.C. Sproul said, “He (Jesus) satisfied the ransom demand for our release from captivity to sin.”

This substitution by Jesus for us required that Christ Jesus be a descendent of Adam. That’s why it says in Hebrews 10:5 (ESV): Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;

It took a sinless descendant of Adam to qualify as the sacrificial lamb. John the Baptist confirmed that Jesus was this lamb: The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 ESV)

It’s the man Jesus Christ of Nazareth that understands me and mediates (i.e. arbitrates ) for me. It is the righteousness of the man Jesus that the Father sees when I come before Him. It is the blood of this man Jesus that the Father sees as the propitiation of my sin.

During this Christmas season, let’s take time to thank Jesus for His humanity and His deity.

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Why, then?

creche

God doesn’t reach the same conclusions which we reach. An example is the arrival of Jesus. We, as Christians, will soon be celebrating the birth of “God with us”: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

Now, my guess is that neither you nor I would choose the middle of the history of Adam to introduce Christ Jesus, our Savior. Why did God not come in the flesh as soon as Adam sinned? Or, why did God not erase Adam and Eve and start over (my choice ;-)? Or, why did God not come in the flesh at the end of the age (Matthew 24:3)? Why would God come in the flesh in the middle of Adam’s history? We don’t know. But we do know that God is perfect (Matthew 5:48) and God is good (Mark 10:18), and Jesus, God with us, is essential.

No matter what time of day that you’ve read this, If you’ve accepted Jesus, then I pray that God’s hand will rest upon you, giving you direction, giving you strength, and provide you with courage. 

If you’ve not yet received Jesus as your Savior, I urge you to read: Salvation.

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A Redemption Allegory

sheep in a pen

When we study God’s salvation, it isn’t like anything a person would logically come up with. Let me give you an allegory, and then I’ll point us to a Scriptures.

An Allegory About Redemption

Imagine a drove of dirty, sickly, starving sheep with only small patches of fleece. They are standing in a pen which has nothing for them to eat. The owner of the sheep is standing by the only gate. Jesus walks up and says, “Those are my sheep.” The devil says, “No, the sheep asked me to be their master, so they’re in my pen, and I own them.”

Jesus says to the devil, “Look, here is my perfect blood sacrifice, the proof that I have paid (i.e., redeemed) all of them. Since I am the Lamb of God I’m one of them (John 1:29), the Law says that as a “kinsman,” I have the right to redeem them. And that’s what I’m doing.” The devil opens the gate, and Jesus calls to the sheep, “I am your Kinsman Redeemer, I have paid the price for your freedom. Come follow me!”

Some of the sheep run to Jesus and when they touch Him that are miraculasly changed into the most beautiful sheep that ever existed; other sheep gather around the open gate because they like Jesus, but they don’t leave because the pen is their home. Still other sheep run to the backside of the pen. They want nothing to do with Jesus. A few, perhaps, may start to leave the pen, but then they pull back.

Only the sheep that leave the devil’s pen and come to Jesus receive forgiveness for their sin. All the other sheep that remain in the pen, no matter how close they came to Jesus, do not receive forgiveness; their sin remains with them. The sheep that remain in the pen will receive the same punishment from God that their master, the devil, will receive.

God’s Process

Notice that redemption comes before God’s call. God’s process for our salvation is:
– Redemption, once for all (Jn. 3:16, Ro. 6:9)
– Preaching the Good News of Jesus (Mt. 28:19, Ro. 10:15)
– Coming to Jesus. (2 Cor. 6:17)
– Being reborn into the kingdom of God. (Jn. 3:3) 

What an amazing salvation God has provided! “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” Colossians 2:12-15 (ESV)

Isn’t God amazing!

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The Law of Increasing Returns

Coca-Cola Machine

Now, like me, somewhere in your past, you probably took a class on economics. And one of the first things your economics teacher taught you was the law of diminishing returns. My teacher’s example was a milkshake, but from personal experience, I’ll use Coca-Cola.

Diminishing Returns

When I was young, there were a few times, a very few, when my dad gave me a nickel when he pulled into a gas station. I would burst out of the car (no seatbelts then) and run to the faded red Coca-Cola machine, slip my nickel in, press down on the big lever, and plop, out came a six-ounce bottle of Coke. 

On my first swig from that chipped and beaten-up, greenish bottle, I’d get a mouthful of that wonderful Coca-Cola. The fizz would come out of my nose and squeeze past my lips; it was awesome!

However, every few years, Coca-Cola’s bottles, then cans, and then self-serve cups got larger and larger. Now I can go to a gas station and walk out with a 32 oz cup of Coke, and I can finish it off before I get home, never once experiencing fizz through my nose and mouth. Sadly, I will finish it off without a second thought.

That’s how the law of diminishing returns works. Sadly, a large portion of our economy depends on this economic law. But we, as Christians, have a different “law” at work within us.

Increasing Returns

2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV), “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This growth is a moral and spiritual transformation “from one degree of glory to another.” We are being progressively restored to greater and greater possession of the image of God which was corrupted at the fall of Adam. – Reformation Study Bible

Now we know that when we received Jesus as our Savior, the Holy Spirit (i.e., the Spirit) is continually building inside us and moving us closer and closer to the image of God that was Adam before he sinned. That’s what I call the law of increasing returns. Praise God!

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Good News In Peru

Peru

Rather than write a devotional today. A life-long missionary and dear friend has posted an amazing story of salvation in Peru. If you can, please visit “A Passion for Missions“. You will be blessed!

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