Being thankful for what Christianity has brought to our societies

I’m doing a course in biblical interpretation at the IBI and this came up during it.  I thought I’d post it here for others to see also.  All comments are welcome.

First this from a bible school textbook:

  • “We are under the new covenant and not under the old covenant thus we are not under the law as the terms of the covenant.
  • Also we are not Israelites preparing to live in the Promised Land with God dwelling in the tabernacle or temple; we are Christians with God living within each of us.
  • We do not approach God through the sacrifice of animals; we approach God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.” (Extract from “Grasping God’s Word” by Duvall & Hays Chap. 19).

We have access to the results of generations of the Lord’s people operating in the abundance of His grace that has been given to us as a result of the death of Christ.  Their (and our) faith in Him has resulted in many blessings being released into the world.

As a result of the prayers of the saints and the gracious action of God in our societies here in the West (and elsewhere) we experience innumerable blessings:

  • good governmental systems;
  • justice systems based on a good moral basis[1];
  • freedom from slavery;
  • law enforcement;
  • business in an environment of trust[2];
  • access to hospitals, nursing, doctors;
  • education
  • a legacy of Christian inspired classical music, literature, art, etc. for nearly everyone in our societies if they want it.

Resulting from the Christian understanding of a rational God we have

  • technologies that our ancestors couldn’t even have conceived of impacting the military, medical, communications, computing, transport and other areas.
  • We enjoy a lifestyle of luxury arising from free trade and corporate business cooperation that even their kings in their wildest imaginations had no idea could be had;
  • We enjoy the exotic produce of the land and sea from all over the world delivered to our door if we want it[3]

our material comforts are in another league to theirs.

Our understanding of the world and its astonishing variety and our exposure to knowledge about it and the universe through personal travel, education and TV, means that – if we had eyes to see it – we have been exposed to many of the miracles of God.

Here in the west we know little or nothing about persecution to the point of death.

That is not to say that every advance in Western society is directly attributable to Christians but I believe they are directly attributable to a Christian worldview – or on a more fundamental level – to God.  He is working through the revelation of His truth in the Scriptures to provide the basis for everyone’s thinking in Christian societies.  You only have to learn about the development of a society where some other basis is at work (e.g. animism, Buddhism, Islam or Hinduism) to see the difference. Not that many of those have been left untouched by the Christian worldview since the 19th century.


[1] At least originally – nowadays they are inclined to move to precedence but there is still an underlying Christian basis to the constitutions of the world’s major democracies which in turn determines the principles of justice used (e.g. innocent until proven guilty).

[2] That mightn’t seem to be the case but you only have to experience the difference between operating in a society where there is much less or no trust to see how important this is and how much we take it for granted.  Transparency International clearly show the relationship between trust (i.e. lack of corruption) in society and its prosperity.

[3] Tesco deliver to your door for just €5 more in nearly every part of Ireland.

Why Egypt welcomed Islam – a bit of church history

Or this could be titled “One of the reasons I hate religion”.

Until the 4th Century AD it often cost your life to be a Christian.  There were 10 severe persecutions of Christians all over the Roman Empire starting with Nero in AD 60 and ending with Diocletian.  You thought twice before becoming a Christian since there was every chance you could lose your life, possessions and loved ones if you did.

However that all changed when Constantine embraced Christianity around AD 318.  The Edict of Milan of that year legalised Christian worship, later it became compulsory to be a Christian!  Now, not only was there no state organised persecution, it was actually of great benefit to your career in any government post to be a Christian.  Add to that the fact that there was no separation between church and state and you no longer had to think twice before declaring yourself a Christian and everyone was doing it.

Both Jesus and Paul had warned about “wolves in sheep’s clothing” rising up from among them and not sparing the flock (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20: 29, 30).  And so it turned out.

The next several hundred years are characterised by huge amounts of religion and very little true Christian discipleship.

The head of the “Roman” empire moved himself to Constantinople and was effectively taken out of the way so that another head could arise –  the Pope in Rome.  However he wasn’t the only “head” at that time, there were four of them:  The Coptic Pope based in Alexandria, Egypt; the Syriac Patriarch based in Antioch in present day Turkey, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch based at Constantinople as well as the Roman Catholic Pope based in Rome.

Each of these four heads divided up the Christian world based on 4 views of the divinity and humanity of Christ.  I can’t tell you what the different views were, I suppose I should know, everyone at that time seemed to know which side they were on.

What has this to do with Egypt welcoming Islam?  Bear with me, we’ll get there.

At one of the Councils in the middle of the 5th century the then head of the Copts led an army of his followers into Constantinople.  He did this in an attempt to force their particular view of the nature of Christ down the throats of the others who had gathered there and so gain power over the Roman Empire.

In response the emperor of the day backed the Patriarch of Constantinople with a fleet and an army and imposed their view on the Copts instead.  All of Egypt – 20 million people – was ruled by Greek Orthodox governors with the Emperor’s fleet in the bay at Alexandria to help keep them in line.  (See the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons Vol. 4, Chapter 47).

Do you think God was pleased with all this bickering?  Well it would seem not.  About the beginning of the 7th century, Mohammed and his followers began to gain power.  They became fanatical and, inspired by a religious zeal backed by direct revelation from an angel, their armies quickly gained the upper hand over the bickering and divided Christians.  It didn’t take them long to leave Arabia and conquer a vast swathe of land, all of present day Jordan, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon, Iraq and Iran and parts of present day Turkey.    In the process the Patriarch of Antioch and all his followers came under Muslim domination.  There is still a remnant left today of the Syriac church in the region but not much.

An army of 100,000 fanatical Muslims drew up near the border with Egypt and stopped.  There was no way they were going further with 20,000,000 Christians in front of them.  Or was there?

Cue, the welcome.  The Coptic Egyptians saw this impressive army and thought they could do a good job of overthrowing their unwelcome Greek Orthodox overlords.  So they invited them in (see Gibbon’s History referred to above chapter 51).  The well motivated Islamic army conquered the Greek army and sent the fleet packing.  Egypt came under Islamic rule and over the centuries since the population was pressured through discrimination to turn from being Christian to being Muslim.  Today 85-90% of the 100,000,000 people in Egypt are Muslims.

Eventually, the third head -that of the Greek Orthodox church and its capital Constantinople – fell to the Muslims in the mid 15th century.  This left only the Roman Catholic Pope left.

And that, my friends, is how Egypt welcomed Islam.  A sorry reflection on organised religion and no sign of the love of Christ anywhere.  This period was the beginning of the Dark Ages which were dark at least partly and probably mainly because of a great apostasy from Christ’s teachings (2 Thess. 2:3) even though there was plenty of so called “Christian” religion.

The similarities with the present state of Evangelical religion in the West should be obvious.

The consequences of communion

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Paul’s observations on what happened when people didn’t discern the body of Christ during the breaking of bread or Lord’s supper or communion as it is sometimes known (1 Cor. 11:30) can be better understood if we look at the historical understanding of disease at the time and now.  Now we understand the concept of germs and contagious diseases but then such things were not understood at all.

However Paul was able to observe something happen and come to conclusions.  Communion meant sharing a common cup and bread (1 Cor. 10:16,17) then.  Nowadays we don’t normally do that, at least in large congregations.  The reason we don’t  is because we know that is how germs are spread.  But at a time when that was not understood, the connection between falling ill (or sometimes dying) and sharing a common cup would not have been so understood.  However Paul observed this happening in some churches.  And it would seem it was churches like Corinth who seemed most lax about how they observed the Lord’s supper that this happened in the most.

Now let’s take this argument one (admittedly controversial) stage further.  He says that believers in some cases were ill after communion because they did not observe the Lord’s body (1 Cor. 11:29).  In general believers will not be leading a promiscuous lifestyle.  Contagious diseases in particular are picked up by a promiscuous lifestyle.  So if the body is discerned and those who are outside the body in general are convicted enough by the self examination not to partake in the breaking of bread then that reduces the risk of the spread of contagious disease through sharing a common cup.

Of course there is not a one to one correlation between not having contagious disease and being a Christian – most everyone gets a cold at some time – but you can see how this might work out in practice even at a simply natural level.  Then if you take into account God’s divine intervention on behalf of His people … why don’t believers share a common loaf and a common cup during communion?