Does every historic movement emerge from a specific cause? If so, what caused the Christian religion to come into being? According to the original followers of Jesus of Nazareth, the church sprang into existence and was deeply shaped because of the truth of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The first four parts of this series (see part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4) have catalogued five evidences for the resurrection of Jesus. This article will briefly consider two more important elements in support of the truth of the resurrection
6. Emergence of the Historic Christian Church
What initiated this religious movement that within 300 years dominated the entire Roman Empire and over the course of two millennia dominated all of Western civilization? In a very short time span, Christianity developed a distinct cultural and theological identity apart from that of traditional Judaism. According to the New Testament, the unique religion of Christianity came into being directly because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The extraordinary historical emergence of the Christian church needs an adequate explanation. According to the Christian Scriptures, the apostles turned the world upside down with the truth of the resurrection, and the historic church emerged. This is why many have called the historic Christian church the community of the resurrection.
But if the resurrection didn’t cause the emergence of Christianity, what did? There seems to be no other adequate natural explanation. Thus the heart of historic Christianity is found in the remarkable happenings of Easter Sunday.
7. Emergence of Sunday as a Day of Worship
The Hebrew people worshiped on the Sabbath, which is the seventh day of the week (measured from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). Nevertheless, the early Christian church (which was viewed initially as a sect of Judaism), gradually changed the day of their worship from the seventh to the first day of the week (see Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; “the Lord’s Day”: Revelation 1:10). For the early Christian church, Sunday uniquely commemorated Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.
Sustained reflection on Christ’s resurrection to immortal life transformed Christian worship, uniquely influencing the formulation of the sacraments of the early church (baptism and communion), and thus it distinguished the Christian faith in its theology and practice from traditional Judaism. Apart from the resurrection, no reason existed for early Christians (as a sect of Judaism) to view Sunday (the first day of the week) as having any enduring theological or ceremonial significance. The resurrection of Jesus therefore set historic Christianity apart from the Judaism of its day. That same truth of resurrected life sets the faith apart from all other religions through the centuries.
So the happenings of Easter Sunday—Jesus’s resurrection—explains two things well: First, why the Christian religion emerged as a historical movement; and second, why Christians worship on a different day of the week from the Jews. And, in turn, both of these historical elements support the factual nature of Jesus’s resurrection.
Reflections: Your Turn
Many believers describe their Christian faith in very personal terms. But why is it important to also understand that Christianity was a dynamic historical movement?
- I address the resurrection of Jesus in two of my books, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (see chapter 10) and 7 Truths That Changed the World: Discovering Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas (see chapters 1 and 2).
- I also recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona and Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb by William Lane Craig.
- A further recommended source is N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God.