Christianity’s Impact on the World

Christianity’s Impact on the World

It has been said many times before that ideas have consequences, and indeed they do. The ideas—the truths—that were revealed and spread with the coming of Christ and the penning of the New Testament, changed the world far and wide, always for good, wherever they took root. From the sanctity of life to the view of women, from the sciences to the arts, from the fields of labor to the halls of justice, every area of life has changed for the better as a result of Christianity’s impact. 

Sanctity of Life

Some of the most foundational changes arising from Christianity’s influence relate to the sanctity of life. As a result of God’s revelation that all people are made in his image and possess inherent value, dignity, and worth, Christians vehemently opposed and eventually outlawed the common practices of abortion, infanticide, gladiator games, human sacrifices, and more.1 

Whereas the pagans would leave their unwanted children out to die of exposure, Christians would take in those children and raise them as their own.2 Unfortunately, exposure wasn’t the only way parents discarded their children. Others would drown their children in the sea, cut their throats, throw them into manure piles, or sacrifice them to pagan gods.3 Infant girls were especially vulnerable to these practices because females were held in very low regard in the pre-Christian world. Yet wherever Christians encountered such practices, they both opposed them and provided practical assistance to make it easier for people to choose a better way.  

Similarly, in the Roman world, watching men and animals destroy human life was considered high-class entertainment.4 Christians boycotted and spoke out against the games until they were eventually outlawed. The early Christians were hated for interfering with Roman entertainment, but they didn’t care what a pagan world thought of them. They insisted that life is sacred and they fought for the abolition of the gladiator games until goodness, truth, and beauty won the day.

It was not only in the Roman world, but also in the Americas that life was held in low view prior its encounter with Christianity. Most notably, the Aztecs and Mayans would cut open their enemy’s chest and tear out the beating heart while they were still alive.5 They would cut holes in their tongues and draw rope festooned with thorns through the wound to collect blood offerings,6 and they would eat captured soldiers with a sauce of peppers and tomatoes.7

With the spread of Christianity, these horrific practices were not only personally rejected, but also outlawed, and were never accepted again for as long as Christians had a presence.8   

Labor and Economics 

Another, perhaps less well-known area in which Christianity had a major impact is on labor and economics. In the pre-Christian world, Greeks and Romans believed that physical labor was demeaning and only suitable for slaves.9 Christians, on the other hand, believe that labor is honorable. This is taught in Exodus 20:9, which says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God….” and in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, which says, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Physical labor was also modeled by Jesus, who was likely a carpenter or artisan (Mark 6:3), and by Paul, who was a tentmaker (Acts 18:3).  Additionally, the Bible teaches that the laborer deserves his wages (1 Cor. 9:9; Deut. 25:4), it assumes property rights when it forbids theft (Exodus 20:15), and it prescribes a strong work ethic in passages like Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

The world-changing results of these ideas are beyond adequate description. As Christianity made inroads into cultures, people were given greater freedom and they became more productive, which led to increasing wealth, less disease, and greater innovation. The dignity of labor, along with the prescription to pay wages, undermined slavery even before it was outlawed.10 When combined with the Christian value of individual freedom, these beliefs led to the free enterprise economic system, which has lifted millions of people around the world out of poverty and provided a model for overcoming poverty worldwide.11 In fact, since 1970 alone, the percentage of humanity living in extreme poverty has fallen 80% due to free enterprise, a result of Christian ideas applied to economics.12 

Slavery

Christian ideas not only undermined slavery; they directly led to its abolition. Prior to Christianity, slavery was indigenous to African and Asian countries even before it was practiced in Europe, and it continued on both continents long after it was abolished in Europe and the United States.13 

At the time of Christ, slaves comprised about 75% of Athens and over 50% of the Roman population.14 Slavery was also widely practiced by many American Indians long before Columbus arrived. With few exceptions, kings, priests, and philosophers around the world approved of slavery; for example, Aristotle saw it as natural, expedient, and just. Additionally, Muslims have practiced slavery since the inception of Islam, as modeled by their pattern of conduct, the false prophet Muhammad, who bought and sold slaves throughout his life, notably selling his black slaves for half the value of one Arab slave.15 In fact, the practice of slavery continues in many Muslim nations today. 

Contrary to what most American children are taught in schools today, slavery is not and has never been unique to any one people group, religion, or skin color; it is as natural to sinful humanity as any other practice. What is unique is the intolerance and abolition of slavery that is yet another result of Christianity.  

Again, the Bible teaches that all human beings are made in God’s image and therefore have inherent dignity (Genesis 1:27). People are not property to be bought and sold, but rather image-bearers to be loved and valued. Additionally, Jesus taught his followers, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). At a minimum, this ethic precluded owning slaves.

As Christians worked out the practical implications of these teachings, most concluded that slavery was wrong. That some professing Christians fought to keep their slaves doesn’t negate the fact that it was committed Christians who abolished slavery, as informed by the Scriptures. Theologians like St. Augustine (354-430), St. Chrysostom (4th century), and St. Patrick (5th century) laid the groundwork for abolition, while politicians like William Wilberforce, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and Abraham Lincoln worked to abolish the practice by law.  

Science

Many people may also be surprised that it is Christian truths, practically lived out, that led to the advent and development of science. 

Prior to Christianity, most people were either polytheists or pantheists. Polytheists believed that the gods were whimsical and irrational, and often engaged in jealous, nonsensical, and unpredictable behavior. They believed, therefore, that there was no order or rationality to nature and so there was no reason to study it. Pantheists, of course, believed that God and the universe were essentially identical, and therefore to manipulate aspects of nature in order to try to understand it was sacrilegious. 

Additionally, as mentioned, the Greeks believed that manual activity was for slaves. Collecting and recording data was not the work of a thinker, and so they relied exclusively on the deductive method for seeking knowledge. 

Christians, on the other hand, believe that: 1. There is one God who is rational and orderly, 2. God’s world is therefore rational, orderly, normally predictable, and worth seeking to understand, 3. God is separate and distinct from his world, 4. People, made in God’s image, can employ rational processes to study and understand God’s world, and 5. Physical work like collecting, recording, and analyzing data was honoring to God. Apart from these beliefs, there would be no science. 

For this reason, it ought not surprise anyone that it was devout Christians Robert Grosseteste (1168-1253), Roger Bacon (1220-1292), William of Ockham (1285-1347), and Francis Bacon (1561-1626), whose work led to the inductive method used to collect, analyze, and record data in order to draw scientific conclusions.16 Following them, “From the thirteenth century onward into the eighteenth, every major scientist, in effect, explained his motivations in religious terms.”17 From Copernicus to Vesalius to Kepler to Galileo to Pascal, the great scientists were motivated by their knowledge of Scripture to seek truth and understanding of God’s universe. Thus, German physicist Ernst Mach could say, “Every unbiased mind must admit that the age in which the chief development of the science of mechanics took place was an age of predominantly theological cast.”18

Conclusion

While these areas are certainly significant, they hardly do justice to the vast array of additional areas that have not been discussed here.19 From the arts and architecture to the concepts of liberty and justice for all, from education and healthcare to the status of women, Christianity has utterly transformed the world with truth, goodness, and beauty. Everywhere Christianity has had an impact, the culture has been improved. 

Today many seek to divorce human progress from its Christian roots, and yet as the West abandons these roots, we begin to taste and see more and more of the world as it was before the influence of Christianity. As truth is replaced once more with lies, we’re seeing injustice supplant justice, slavery usurp freedom, apathy overcome care and concern, death conquer life, and evil root out good. But there is hope. 

One day the Lord will return and he will make all things right. He will separate the sheep from the goats, and he will enact justice for those who have refused grace. In the meantime, we have a powerful story to tell to a hurting and lonely world. Ideas have consequences, and we have the truth.

References:

  1. For more on this, see “Christianity’s Impact, Part 1: Life, Healthcare, and Women,” in the Knight and Rose Show podcast, https://knightandrose.podbean.com/
  2. George Grant, The Third Time Around: A History of the ProLife Movement from the First Century to the Present (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1991), 249-51. 
  3. Euripides, Ion, trans. Arthur S. Way (New York: William Heinemann, 1919), 51.
  4. William Stearns Davis, A Day in Old Rome (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1925), 389.
  5. Richard Townsend, The Aztecs (London: Hudson and Hudson, 1992), 100.
  6. Howard La Fay, “The Maya: Children of Time,” National Geographic (December 1975): 738. 
  7. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Conquest of New Spain, trans. J.M. Cohen (New York: Penguin Books, 1963), 387.
  8. Alvin Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 63.
  9. Schmidt, 194.
  10. Kenneth Latourette, A History of Christianity (New York: Harper and Row, 1953), 246.
  11. The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solutions by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus
  12. Arthur Brooks, “If You Hate Poverty, You Should Love Capitalism,” PragerU video, August 31, 2017, https://www.prageru.com/video/if-you-hate-poverty-you-should-love-capitalism.
  13. Schmidt, 272.
  14. Schmidt, 272.
  15. Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, Provisions for the Afterlife Which Lie Within Prophetic Guidance, trans. Ismail Abdus Salaam (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Al-Kotob Al-Ilmiyah, 30-31); see also Sahih al-Bukhari 6161
  16. Schmidt, 218-221.
  17. Lynn White Jr., Dynamo and Virgin Reconsidered: Essays in the Dynamism of Western Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968), 89. 
  18. Ernst Mach, Science of Mechanics, trans. Thomas J. McCormack (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1960), 549.

For further study of this topic, check out the following resources: 

  1. Holland, Tom. Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. New York: Basic Books, 2019.    
  2. Mangalwadi, Vishal. The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of  Western Civilization. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011. 
  3. Schmidt, Alvin. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. 
  4. Stark, Rodney. The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion. New York: HarperOne, 2012. 
  5. Wallace, J. Warner. Person of Interest: Why Jesus Still Matters in a World that Rejects the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2021.

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