The Gospel Commission commands all Christian believers to go and make disciples and baptize them.
When this was written there were only two classes of people: pagans or Jews. The pagans or "barbarians" were those who had not yet been converted. During most of Christendom's history there were few atheists who dared to make their lack of faith known. The constant fear of Hell was a deterrent to anyone during the Middle Ages and beyond, and no one dared express doubts about its existence. Apart from Judaism, and after Constantine legalized it, Christianity was the only religion in the civilized West.
During the early period of the Reformation, a mayor or prince who ruled over a designated city chose the religion that would be practiced therein: either Lutheranism or Catholicism; there was no individual religious freedom. Salvation was a decision blessed and guaranteed by the church if adherence to its teachings were faithfully followed.
Following the Protestant reformation in the mid-sixteenth century, many reformers arose and became most effective in gaining followers, particularly in northern Europe and the Low Countries. Luther's compelling doctrine of justification by faith for the first time allowed individual believers to be accepted by faith on their personal belief and no longer practice the former rituals demanded of the Church.
It was not until the mid-sixteenth century that the Church began internal reforms with doctrinal definitions, disciplinary and organizational reforms, now known as the Counter-Reformation. It became necessary to clarify and define Catholic orthodoxy, the relationship of scripture to tradition, the sacraments, and other doctrines. These were some of the positions that were designated for study at the Council of Trent in 1545, to seek the "extirpation of heresies and the reform of morals."
Heretofore, there had been no countervailing doctrines and the Church had been the only arbiter of beliefs and practices. The Reformation forced it to declare both orthodoxy and heresy and the importance and place of the sacraments in the believer's life. This was a drastic change from the previous millennium when there had been only one form of Christianity: Roman Catholicism. Now there were multiple "heresies" springing up and gaining followers throughout the Church that forced it to establish its doctrines and deal with the apostasy of large groups, even whole cities, to some of these new religious beliefs.
The founders and settlers of the North American continent immigrated to this new country hoping to enjoy freedoms not allowed in the countries they left behind. Some fled their countries because of religious persecution and looked for a place where there would be freedom to believe as they wished. Like their previous persecutors, it was not long until they soon developed religious intolerance with rules that were enforced by public shame and even worse.
Today, in most of the so-called Christian world, there is freedom of choice in religion that was never enjoyed by most Christians in earlier centuries. One may choose among a wide range of churches affiliated with a denomination, attend and join a non-denominational church; or none. There is no fear or shame in not believing or practicing any religion, and unlike the experience of our ancestors; one can be an agnostic, or even an atheist, openly, with little derision. There is both freedom of religion and freedom from religion, if one so chooses. What is often overlooked is that the religious belief of most people was chosen by their parents even before they were born; much as it was a choice of the community in which our ancestors lived hundreds of years earlier. We do not choose our parents; did we freely choose our religion, or was it largely their decision?
When discussing religion or spirituality with a friend, wouldn't you wonder why she wanted to persuade you to become a Buddhist, Hindu, Mormon, or some other belief? Should they expect less of us about Christianity? Should we not be able to offer the benefits and advantages of Christianity if we truly believe it is the only path to eternal salvation?
Before we speak to someone about Christianity, we should ask ourselves these questions:
Do I truly believe that everyone should be a Christian? And an Adventist?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4263