For Christians, Christmas is a unique time of joy associated with the birth of the savior Jesus Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection make possible a personal and intimate relationship with God. Jesus was born a Jew, and his teachings were built on the foundation of the Torah and the Old Testament. Thus, Christians and Jews have much in common and share a natural mutual affinity. But what came from Christ also benefited and deeply affected people of diverse beliefs in every part of the world.
The fact is that Christ affected history with such impact that He split time in two, dividing all human activities and events into happening before His coming (called B.C.) or after His coming (called A.D.). No one else in all of human history did this. Christ had to have had a supernatural impact on the world for that to be accepted.
History shows that Christianity and its Church have brought about more changes for the advancement and benefit of people than any other force or movement in history by an immeasurable factor. What is particularly surprising are the myriad achievements made by committed Christians, which non-believing secular-minded people also applaud.
Before Christ, human life was cheap and expendable all over the world. In the Americas, the Near East, Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East, child sacrifice was a common phenomenon. Babies, particularly females — who were considered inferior — were regularly abandoned. Author George Grant points out: “Before the explosive and penetrating growth of medieval Christian influence, the primordial evils of abortion, infanticide, abandonment, and exposure were a normal part of everyday life ” That changed in the West with the 6th century Christian Byzantine Roman Emperor Justinian whose Law Code declared child abandonment and abortion a crime.
In ancient cultures — in India, China, Rome, and Greece — women were considered inferior and simply viewed as property of their husbands. More recently, in the last two and a half centuries with the advent of the Christian missionary movement, the lives of women have been greatly improved around the world. Countless female infants abandoned in China were saved from almost sure death by Christian missionaries who then protected, educated, and raised them in Christian orphanages.
In India, prior to Christian influence, elderly widows were burned alive on their husband's funeral pyres, while infanticide — particularly for girls — was practiced by tossing little ones into the sea. In Africa, wives and concubines of tribal chieftains were routinely killed after the latter’s death. These practices were greatly ameliorated or entirely stopped as Christianity began to penetrate and influence the respective cultures.
Slavery is still practiced in parts of the Middle East and Africa, but it has been abolished throughout the Western world primarily due to leadership and influence of Christians. Two thousand years ago, Apostle Paul was way before his time, stating in his letter to Philemon, that he should take back his former slave, as “a brother beloved.”
Critics may accuse America of being too slow to abolish slavery. But it’s also true that slavery existed everywhere in the world at the time America’s Founders — who were 95% Christian — wisely drafted the Constitution so as to provide for change. It was that Constitution that enabled the passage of new laws so as to fulfill the ideals in the Declaration of Independence, which affirmed that all people are equal in value and “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
That Constitution assured that the promise of equal opportunity would reach greater fullness with time. In 50-plus years since Christian Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. led the non-violent Civil Rights Movement, blacks have achieved commensurate success with whites in almost every field, including reaching the presidency of the United States. Today, for the first time in American history, blacks are now represented in the House of Representatives in the same proportion as they are in the population at large.
We all recognize today the important role that charity plays in countless ways to help people in need. But before Christ, there is no trace or record of any organized charitable effort. The early Christians gained fame and renown by being generous to their own and to nonbelievers as well. Emperor Julian “the Apostate,” the last Roman emperor to try to destroy Christianity, was dumbfounded by the love that Christians showed to pagans and even those who persecuted them. The early church grew in large part by providing a way out of Rome’s harshness, bringing in converts who “turned from Caesar preaching war to Christ preaching peace, from incredible brutality to unprecedented charity.”
Today, widely recognized Christian-based organizations such as the Salvation Army, Samaritans Purse, and Goodwill Industries that started in the U.S. now have operations around the world. Their programs include shelters for the homeless, disaster relief, and humanitarian aid to developing countries, and also provide employment, training, and rehabilitation for people of limited employability.
Of the first 120 colleges and universities founded in America before the Revolutionary War, almost every one of them had Christian origins. In early America — Harvard, Yale, and Princeton Universities were originally founded as seminaries, and seven of the eight Ivy League universities were originally founded for purpose of establishing Christian-based institutions of higher learning.
Healthcare for the poor has its roots in Christianity. In both the early Orthodox Church of the East and the Catholic Church of the West, Christians took to heart the teachings of Christ, who said: “I was naked and youclothed me,I was sick and you looked after me.” The Syrian Church was the first institution to provide health care service in the East, while the Catholic Church was the first to do so in the West. In 325 A.D. the Council of Nicaea issued an edict requiring every cathedral to have an infirmary or hospital, to take care of people on pilgrimages. In the 9th Century A.D. the Benedictine Monastery in Salerno, Italy, founded the first and most famous medical university in Western Europe. The establishment of hospitals and universities, which accelerated through the Middle Ages was exclusively undertaken by Christians.
An unprecedented outpouring of the visual arts with cathedrals, sculpture, paintings, and frescos being commissioned came about as a result of Christianity flourishing in Europe during the Middle Ages — the period from the fall of the Roman Empire (476 A.D.) to the beginning of the Renaissance (1350 A.D.). The Christian Renaissance-inspired more of the world’s greatest and most valuable art, by masters the likes of whom have never been seen since — such as da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, and Botticelli. Almost all their created images were taken from or inspired by the Bible. While it’s impossible to measure, the Christian Renaissance produced more of the world’s greatest and most valuable works of art than any other period, school, epoch, or place in the world by a many-fold factor.
Suffice it to say that life both at home and around the world would no doubt be qualitatively worse today if Christ had never been born and Christianity had not become the greatest spiritual force ever to inspire creative beauty and advance the care and development of people. Indeed, there is reason to sing “Joy to the World.”
Scott S. Powell is senior fellow at Discovery Institute. He has enjoyed a career split between theory and practice with 30 years of experience as an entrepreneur and rainmaker in several industries. He joined the Discovery Institute after having been a visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution for six years and serving as a managing partner at a consulting firm, RemingtonRand.