Spread of Christianity Among People Groups
From the very beginning times of Christianity, its message has identified with and transformed communities of people. Christianity itself grew out of a people group who had an identity that stretches back in time thousands of years. The worship of Yahweh, geographically born in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) has spread through history to the farthest islands of the seas.
Born into the people of Israel, Jesus gathered a small group of followers living and working with them until his ascension to heaven. From these few, the Christian faith spread to other Jews in Israel and the further reaches of the Roman Empire, including parts of southern Europe and Southwest Asia. As Christianity was later adopted by the Roman Empire, much of Europe became the focus of conquest for Roman Christianity, though much of this was due in part to the fall of Western Rome.
Rome and beyond
Justo L. Gonzalez documents this spread of Christianity into Europe through the avenue of Rome’s influence. He quotes from a Roman Citizen, Paulus Orosius who condenses this historical phenomenon into his own words. He thoughtfully writes, "If only to this end have the barbarians been sent within Roman borders,…that the church of Christ might be filled with Huns and Suevi, with Vandals and Burgundians, with diverse and innumerable peoples of believers, then let God’s mercy be praised…even if this has taken place through our own destruction."(1, p231)
The various people groups documented by Gonzalez are primarily groups who claim a common ethnic and political identity in the form of a kingdom. These were at times conversions of coercion through political structures and at times conversions of convenience and at times conversions of the heart. The varying nature of these happenings is reflected in divergent growth and development and at times the inharmonious history of these groups. Among the groups that might be included in this history are the Vandals, Visigoths, Burgundians, Franks, Ostrogoths and the Lombards.
A pattern begins
Ralph D. Winter comments on the ‘barbarian conversion,’ which took place in the midst of Rome’s decline. He states that, "as the Barbarian tribes people became Christianized, they became a greater and greater threat to Rome." He also notes that as the Barbarian tribes encroached on Rome they held high regard for the Christian faith and avoided the desecration of church properties. This respect was a result of what Winter calls a faith of at least ‘superficial’ proportions on the part of the Barbarians.
Winter explains that they received this faith through the missionary efforts of the Eastern church in Rome rather than the Western church. He conjectures that, "Perhaps a little more Christianity might have prevented the complete collapse of the governmental structure of the Roman Empire in the West." Perhaps this lack of effort on the part of the Western church in Rome to reach...