Imagine what would have happened had Jesus not left Earth.
Christianity likely would not have spread, for it was the belief that Christ was no longer on Earth that decentralized Christianity, challenging it to adopt and adapt to other lands and languages.
May 25 is Ascension Day, a celebration of Jesus’ ascension into heaven after his death. Most people — including many Christians — are unaware of this holy day. But it helps explain the birth of the church, and the early church’s missionary zeal and character.
Ascension Day offers an antidote to Christian exceptionalism.
The first disciples claimed that Jesus vanished after 40 days of meeting with them. This inaugurated the first missionary movement in history. Prior to the early Christians, no adherents had left their land and language to convince foreigners of the universality of their faith. Religion was an ethnic expression. Every city had their patron God. No one felt the need to take their god to other cities except for safe travels
This would have been the fate of Christianity, too, if not for Jesus’ ascension. Ascension took away the temptation of the first disciples to claim a central location and language. Lamin Sanneh, a professor of missions and world Christianity at Yale Divinity School, points out that Christianity adapted through multiple cultural and historical contexts because it was detached from a geographical center.
This rapid adaptation manifests in the Christian Scriptures. The Jewish Bible is mostly in Hebrew, the language of the Jewish patriarchs; the Quran was scripted in Arabic, Muhammed’s mother tongue. But the Gospels were written in Koine, (simple) Greek, though Jesus taught in Aramaic.
The original Scripture of Christ is a translation. The essence of Christianity is to be in constant translation.
It is the nature of any organization to centralize. Often this is done through connecting a land…