The communities that sprang up under the lordship of this strange figure called Jesus were themselves the living evidence of a God at work in the public domain, generating a new kind of justice, of rationality, of spirituality, of beauty, of relationship, of freedom. The life which these communities exemplified created a head-on challenge to actual regimes, which was why the church was so viciously persecuted for nearly three centuries. They also provided an alternative society, to which people were drawn in increasing numbers, so that the church went on growing despite the persecution. This explains why standard Enlightenment discourse includes a list of the church’s obvious failings–crusades, inquisitions and the like–and a strange silence about its massive achievements in health, education, the arts, and many other spheres.
N.T. Wright, God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today, 88-89.