While it is surely true that quality is more important than quantity in evaluating Christian growth, the increasing number of Christians is a topic that is first documented in the book of Acts:
And in these days Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren, and said (and there was a multitude of persons gathered together, about a hundred and twenty),[Act 1:15]
And they, when they heard it, glorified God; and they said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them that have believed; and they are all zealous for the law:[Act 21:20]
These numbers, while certainly not precise, give clear indication that the church is growing, and gives some idea as to the rate of growth.
Rodney Stark, a sociologist, addresses the growth rate of the early church, and shows the rate at about 40 percent per decade through the fourth century, growing the early church from about 120 to about 5 to 7 million at the time of Constantine. While it is just an estimate about a period where it is very hard to get real data Stark’s argument is valuable and shows the exponential growth of the Christian movement. What is less convincing is Stark’s argument that, in essence, says that social networking primarily accounts for the growth.
Stark’s argument that social networking is critical to church expansion actually does hold a lot of merit. I will address the social aspects of Christian growth in another article. But concluding that social networking primarily accounts for this growth goes against even evidence that he provides in his text. In fact, Stark clearly admits that “doctrine receives its due — an essential factor in the religion success was what Christians believed.”
However, this admission does not go far enough. Both social networking and doctrine do have their place in the scheme of Christian growth. But it is more than that. One bit of evidence that Stark offers is a quote from Eusebius. He refers to Eusebius Ecclesiastical History which says:
“Among the illustrious of that time was Quadratus, who, according to tradition, had a prophetic gift like that of Phillip’s daughters. Many others besides them were famed members of the first rank in apostolic succession, eager disciples of great men, who built everywhere on the foundations of churches laid by the apostles, sowing the saving seed through the whole world. Many of them, smitten by the divine Word, first fulfilled the Savior’s command by distributing their property to the needy. Then, leaving their homes, they took up the work of evangelists, eager to preach the message of faith to those who have never heard it and to provide them the inspired Gospels in writing. As soon as they had laid the foundations of the faith in some foreign place, they appointed others as pastors to tend those newly brought in and then set off again to other lands and peoples. The grace and call operation of God assisted them, for even at that date many miraculous wonders of the divine Spirit worked through them so that whole crowds eagerly embrace worship of the universe creator at the first hearing.”
“The grace and call operation of God assisted them, for even at that date many miraculous wonders of the divine Spirit worked through them” clearly says that succeeding generations (plural) had “many miraculous wonders of the divine Spirit worked through them”.
Eusebius’ reference to growth being accompanied by the powerful and miraculous working of the spirit was also reported by some of the ante Nicene fathers.
This reporting of the powerful and miraculous working of the spirit is consistent with what we see in the book of Acts, and in fact, what the pattern was in the Gospels. (Mark 16:17,20; John 2:11; John 3:2; John 4:48; John 6:2; John 20:30; Acts 2:22,43; Acts 4:30; Acts 6:8; Acts 7:36; Acts 8:6; Acts 14:3; Acts 15:12; Acts 19:11-12; Romans 15:18-19; 1 Cor 12:10,28; Hebrews 2:4)
The rise of Christianity, the growth in both the number of believers and believing in the word of God was accompanied by miraculous wonders of the spirit done by believers operating in the power of this gift of holy spirit. This pattern did not stop when the apostles died or even the next generation as some would tell you, but continued past that. The Eusebius reference is another indication that, first of all, Cessation doctrine is erroneous, and God in all ages rewards believing faith with signs and wonders, in awesome manifestations of the spirit. When people believe God to the point that the miraculous happens, more and more people believe.
 The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History, Rodney Stark, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996 p. 6
 ibid p. 4
 EUSEBIUS The Church History, Translation by Paul Maier, Kregel, Grand Rapids, 2007, p.110 (Eusebius 3.37)
© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.