The New Hebrides — which is now the nation of Vanuatu — was an area known for infanticide, cannibalism, the sacrifice of the wives after the death of their husbands, violence, murder and theft during the early 1800s when John Geddie arrived as a missionary. After 24 years of devoted service he died. Following his death, a commemorative tablet was placed in his memory: “In memory of John Geddie….When he landed in 1848 there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872, there were no heathen.”
That’s a result of the first Christmas more than 2000 years ago.
R.R. Palmer, a major historian from Yale, wrote, “It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the coming of Christianity. It brought with it, for one thing, an altogether new sense of human life. For the Greeks had shown man his mind; but the Christians showed him his soul. They taught that in the sight of God, all souls were equal, that every human life was sacrosanct and inviolate. Where the Greeks had identified the beautiful and the good, had thought ugliness to be bad, had shrunk from disease and imperfection and from everything misshapen, horrible, and repulsive, the Christian sought out the diseased, the crippled, the mutilated, to give them help. Love, for the ancient Greek, was never quite distinguished from Venus. For the Christians held that God was love, it took on deep overtones of sacrifice and compassion.”
Christmas is obviously more about changing lives (and society) than toys, trees, and tinsel.
Following Constantine’s “conversion” in A.D. 325, the churches especially in the West, built and maintained hospitals, hospices for travelers and houses for orphans, widows and the indigent. The churches were the only group that the poor could look to as the Empire was crumbling. In fact, the Church in Rome supported 1,500 widows and virgins, as well as those ill in inns, prisoners and many of the poor. A number of hospitals were founded by rich Christians in various cities.
At the first ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325, the bishops were told to establish hospices (a place for travelers to rest) in every city that had a cathedral — which was the major town in a parish where the bishop lived and ruled! The first hospital was built by St. Basil in Caesarea in A.D. 369. Christian hospitals (the only kind) covered all of Europe and even beyond by the Middle Ages. In fact, it is said that Christian hospitals were the world’s first voluntary charitable institutions.
Note that the atheists and agnostics did not build hospitals and other charitable organizations.
Historians note that charitable organizations are almost unknown in the ancient world until after the time of Christ.
Monasteries in the early days of Christianity generated the copying of Scripture and other literature, especially from Greece, and their libraries provided the inspiration for the first universities in the twelfth and thirteenth century.
Kenneth Latourette declared in his classic seven-volume “A History of the Expansion of Christianity”: “After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Church, impelled by its Christian purpose, had become the schoolmaster of Western Europe and the tutor of the barbarian of the North. Under its auspices most of the universities of the Middle Ages had arisen.”
The notion of public education first came from the Protestant Reformers who taught male and female of all classes. In America, the first law to require education of the masses was passed by the Puritans. The law was called The Old Deluder Satan Act. Furthermore, the rise of the modern university is largely the result of Christian educational endeavors. And in 1910, America had 403 educational institutions of college grade under Protestant or Baptist sponsorship. All but one of the first 123 colleges in colonial America were Christian institutions. America’s university system emerged from the American seminaries: Princeton headed by John Witherspoon and Yale headed by Timothy Dwight.
Christianity changed the rules of behavior and produced a middle class not known to mankind. It had always been the rich and poor, the elite and the serfs. But with Christ who was a carpenter and Paul who was a tent maker, physical labor was now respectable and no longer limited to slaves and serfs. There was honor in all work and workers were to be treated fairly. All ethnic groups would be respected since all people were created by God. Laziness and idleness were seen as sinful. “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” was an admonition by the Apostle Paul. Thus, work was seen as an honorable and God-given calling. That helped produce a vibrant middle class.
The free world owes much to nonconformist Christianity with its emphasis on freedom of thought and liberty for everyone. It taught people to question the established church and legal systems. One of the first mass leaders of men was John Ball, a free preacher without a parish or pulpit but with plenty of pull. He was the first leader of a mass revolt in 1381 and had great influence preaching the doctrines of Bible translator John Wycliffe.
John Wesley (died 1790) was not only a great Methodist preacher but fought against bribery, smuggling, the plundering of wrecked vessels and general corruption of politics. He worked hard to relieve poverty and started missions to prisoners. He was a pioneer in prison reform. Before 1500, very few had attempted any prison reform. He was called “the best loved man in England.”
James Oglethorpe, John Howard, Robert Raikes, John Oberlin, William Wilberforce and scores of other Christian leaders made an astounding impact on Europe and the world.
Without a doubt, this carpenter from a hick town in Galilee changed the world as no other person who ever lived.
He also changed me.
Dr. Don Boys is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives who ran a large Christian school in Indianapolis, wrote columns for USA Today for eight years and authored 17 books and hundreds of columns and articles for Internet and print media publications. Follow Dr. Boys on Facebook at CSTNews and TheGodHaters, Twitter, and visit his blog.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.