I am on the 4th of a list of 17 factors that non-believers bring up — places where Christianity “did the wrong thing” in order to be a successful religion. It is my contention that the only way Christianity did succeed is because it was a truly revealed faith — and because it had the irrefutable witness of the Resurrection.
It is time that we turn the tables on non-believers so this comprehensive list of issues that I believe non-believers must deal with in explaining why Christianity succeeded where it should have clearly failed or died out.
Several people wanted me to list these 17 factors so here we go:
Factor #1 – Why Start a Religion With the Leader Crucified
Factor #2 – Why Use a Man from Galilee – not a popular place
Factor #3 – Why a Religion where the Leader is “Resurrected” Broken down into two parts easy and hard.
Today we will post the 4th, 5th and 6th factors, shorter ones but still, important. Why would so many people believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior when these are reasons against it at the time.
Factor #4 — What’s New? What’s Not Good
Roman literature tells us that “(t)he primary test of truth in religious matters was custom and tradition, the practices of the ancients.” In other words, if your beliefs had the right sort of background and a decent lineage (heritage), you had the respect of the Romans. Old was very good. Change, new and innovative was bad.
This was a big sticking point for Christianity, because it could only trace its roots back to a recent founder about 30 years. Christians were regarded as “arrogant innovators” whose religion was the new kid on the block, but yet had the nerve to insist that it was the only way to go! The old phrase “My way or the Roman highway” has been shortened slightly in the ensuing years. As noted above, Christianity argued that the “powers that be” which judged Jesus worthy of the worst and most shameful sort of death were completely wrong, and God Himself said so.
Malina and Neyrey explain the matter further. Reverence was given to ancestors, who were considered greater “by the fact of birth.” Romans “were culturally constrained to attempt the impossible task of living up to the traditions of those necessarily greater personages of their shared past.” What had been handed down was “presumed valid and normative. Forceful arguments might be phrased as: ‘We have always done it this way!'” Semper, ubique, ab omnibus — “Always, everywhere, by everyone!” In contrast, Christianity said, “Not now, not here, and not you!”
Of course this explains why Paul appeals to that which was handed on to him by others (1 Cor. 11:2) — but that is within a church context and where the handing on occurred in the last 20 years. Pilch and Malina add [Handbook of Biblical Social Values, p.19]
that change or novelty in religious doctrine or practice met with an especially violent reaction; change or novelty in religious dogma or doctrine was “a means value which serves to innovate or subvert core and secondary values.” In other words if you have something new to espouse you would more likely be labeled a heretic.
Even Christian eschatology and theology stood against this perception. The idea of sanctification, of an ultimate cleansing and perfecting of the world and each person, stood in direct opposition to the view that the past was the best of times, and things have gotten worse since then.
The Jews, on the other hand, traced their roots back much further, and although some Roman critics did make an effort to “uproot” those roots, others (including Tacitus – who referred to Christ, his execution by Pontius Pilate and the existence of early Christians in Rome in his final work, Annals (written ca. AD 116), book 15, chapter 44)
accorded the Jews a degree of respect because of the antiquity of their beliefs. In light of this we can understand efforts by some early Christian writers to link Christianity to Judaism as much as possible, and thus attain the same “antiquity” that the Jews were sometimes granted. (Of course, we would agree that the Christians were right to do this, but that is not how the Romans saw it!)
Critics of Christianity, of course, “caught on” to this “trick” and soon pointed out (however illicitly) that Christians could hardly claim Judaism as their past and at the same time observe none of its practices.
Therefore this is a hurdle that Christianity could never overcome outside a limited circle — not without some substantial offering of proof.
Factor #5 — Don’t Demand Behavior
This is not one of the greatest barriers to starting a new religion, but it is a significant one, and of course still is today. Ethically, Christian religion is “hard to do”. Judaism was as well, and that is one reason why there were so few fearers of God- Christianity didn’t offer nice, drunken parties or orgies with temple prostitutes; in fact it forbade them. It didn’t encourage wealth; it encouraged sharing the wealth (not socialism as we will see in another article). It did not appeal to the senses; it promised “pie in the sky by and by.”
This was a problem in the ancient world as much as it is now — if not more so. It would not appeal to the rich, who would be directed to share their wealth. The poor might like that, but not if they could not spend that shared dough on their favorite vice-distraction (not all of which were known to be “self-harming” and therefore offered an ulterior motivation for giving them up). Again, this is not an insurmountable hurdle; some Romans were attracted to the ethical system of Judaism, and would have been likewise attracted to Christianity.
It is very difficult to explain why Christianity grew where God-fearers were always a very small group. Not even evangelistic fervor explains that.
Factor #6 — Tolerance is a Virtue
We have already alluded to the problem of Christianity being seen as an “arrogant innovator.” Now compound the problem: Not only an innovator, but an exclusivist innovator. Many skeptics and non-believers today claim to be turned off by Christian “arrogance” and exclusivity. How much more so in the ancient world? The Romans were already grossly intolerant (point 2 in this discussion https://iamnotanatheist.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/why-believe-in-christianity-2/ ); how much more so in the context of another and very new faith playing the same game and claiming to overthrow the social and religious order? How if a faith came telling us we needed to stop attending our churches (and in fact would prefer we tear them down), stop having our parties, stop observing the social order that had been in place from the time of our venerated ancestors until now?
As DeSilva notes, “the message about this Christ was incompatible with the most deeply rooted religious ideology of the Gentile world, as well as the more recent message propagated in Roman imperial ideology” (i.e., the pax Romana versus the eschatology and judgment of God).
Area under Roman control for over 200 years including the life and deathe of Jesus Christ.
The Christians refused to believe in the gods, “the guardians of stability of the world order, the generous patrons who provided all that was needed for sustaining life, as well as the granters of individual petitions.” Jews and Christians alike were accused of atheism under this rubric (“a standard of performance for a defined population”).
Furthermore, because there was no aspect of social life that was secular — religion was intertwined with public life in a way that would make legions of ACLU attorneys cry — Jews and Christians held themselves aloof from public life, and engendered thereby the indignation of their neighbors.
That was bad enough, but Jews too would be intolerant to the new faith. Jewish families would feel social pressure to cut off converts and avoid the shame of their conversion. Without something to overcome Roman and even Jewish intolerance, Christianity was doomed.
Next Factor #7 — Stepping Into History
Acts 26:26 For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
This factor is a large one, multifaceted and complex and with varying levels of strength.