Christ will build His church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. He has done this in very visible ways over the last 2000 years, and we should be profoundly grateful not only for His faithfulness, but for the gift of many fine historians who have preserved the stories for us so that we could see God’s faithfulness work out over time.
The Father promises the Son the nations of the world in Psalm 2. When Satan tempts Jesus by offering Him the nations of the world and all their glory, if only Jesus will worship him, Satan is offering Jesus the crown without the cross. Jesus refuses, goes to the cross, and before ascending, tells His disciples, “Go, disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Not, please note, “Make some disciples from the nations,” but “Disciple the nations.” (Yeah, I know what your translation has. But this is what the text really says.) God drives that process: the mass conversions of Pentecost begin mission work as the converts return to their home countries; the thing intensifies as believers are driven from Jerusalem in the wave of persecutions that follow the stoning of Stephen. It really begins to unfold when the Holy Spirit moves the elders of Antioch to send out Paul and Barnabas.
What happens after that? Most Christians don’t know, because we believed the story our government-funded 5th-grade history textbook told us. That story is a lie. Even the terms are a lie. According to this lie, the “Classical” world gave way as Rome fell to the barbarians: night descended for 1000 years as the Dark Ages (or Middle Ages) began. Day dawned in the Rebirth (the literal meaning of “Renaissance”), and fully came in the Enlightenment.
Viewed through a theological lens, here’s what the terms tell us. The “Classical” era was when Yahweh-worship was largely confined to Jewish folks off in a corner, and paganism ruled the day in the places that mattered: Greece and Rome. Then Rome becomes Christian, Europe fills with Germans and Celts, who also become Christian, and the Dark Ages begin (aka the “Middle” ages — a historian’s term for ‘flyover territory’). The Rebirth (“Renaissance”) comes when people start looking again to the Romans for influence in art, architecture, philosophy, etc., instead of just approaching things as Christians. The “Enlightenment” comes when the pagan influence takes root and the intelligentsia throw off Christianity altogether.
In reality, the “darkness,” the “middle” era in that story, is Christendom. Rome became Christian, but wasn’t all that much on missionary work until God called the Germans and Celts to come live next door. Christian Rome woke from her slumber, launched a large and very effective missionary effort, and the barbarians came to Christ faster than Rome had, beginning 1000 years when Europe was Christian and really grappled with how to live as a Christian society. It is 1000 years of nations being discipled — which is exactly what Jesus told us to go and do. The continent was filled with fallen people, and of course there were problems — just as you don’t live a life of perfect discipleship. But they tried, and there was real growth and progress.
Today, the sun is setting on Christendom 1.0, but South Americans are throwing off Roman/animist syncretism in droves and flocking to the living Christ. Africa is coming to Christ. China has huge numbers of Christians, and the numbers are growing. Korea is about 30% Christian, last I checked. Christendom 2.0 is just getting started, and what a wonder it will be! Parenthetically, a great number of our dispensational and amillennial brethren think The End Is Near, because Christianity is dying out (among the white people). Ahem.
We of European extraction come from a long line of disciple nations. We must be grateful. If it seems that our own nations are dying spiritually, we must remember that we serve a God who really loves the death and resurrection motif. We must also be grateful that God has not confined His attentions to the places where white people live. He is very much at work in the rest of the world. The wealth that He has given to us, we must in turn give to others. That spans everything from sharing comfort with a fellow believer to sharing Christ with an unbelieving coworker to sending a missionary halfway around the world.
The Father promised Christ the nations. Christ purchased the world with His own blood. He told us to go disciple the nations. Let’s go get ’em.