Recently, some have made comments to me indicating that they had a very, very low opinion of Christians, especially fundamentalist Christians. In fact, this person seemed to be blaming most of the world’s ills upon those of Christian faith. I have been thinking about this, the Church has certainly had its share of problems, and much evil has been done in the NAME of Christianity, what IS the truth? Has the Christian faith been the source of much evil and injustice, or has it been an agent for change to the better?
Notice that I emphasized name above. Doing something in the name of Christianity no more makes it or me Christian than doing something in the name of Mars makes it or me Martian. So how do we know if an act is Christian or a person is a true follower of Christ? Fortunately, the bible makes it very clear. You shall know them by their fruit. What fruit? I’m glad you asked, Paul tells us in Galatians:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
There are many references to how we are to live our lives, both in the Old and New Testaments. Both make very clear that God’s will is that we walk in love and show justice, humility and mercy. The prophet Micah put it this way:
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”
No one can deny that the early church turned the known world on its head. Their impact was large and profound. Just what was that impact? Well, in reading the ancient writings, we find that their love was evident, both in their dealings with one another and with the world. In fact, when a plague swept through the Roman Empire in the third century, it was the Christian believers who attended the sick. Keep in mind that at this time they had suffered continual persecution since the time of Emperor Trajan (100AD). It was this willingness to love others in the face of hatred and their refusal to renounce their beliefs even in the face of death that caused them to stand out and others to come to believe.
In the dark ages, the church in the form of monasteries became the haven of the arts, science and literature. Much was lost then, but no doubt much more would have been lost were it not for the church. Even so, much wrong was done in the name of the church, and many church truths were lost as well. But, were the acts, acts of true believers, true followers of Christ? Were they acts of the true church? Well, using the rule I set forth a few paragraphs ago, I think we can agree the answer would be no. Eventually, reformation came, beginning with Martin Luther. His 95 theses could be considered the birth of Protestantism and the slow restoration of the church. Luther published the first bible in the common language of the day, in the process helping to standardize and stabilize the German language. Not wanting this to be a book on church history, let us skip ahead.
By the 1700’s slavery, child labor and the like was accepted practice. Enter Christian reformers like John Wesley and William Wilberforce. Wilberforce had a tremendous impact upon English culture, and was at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement in England. Wesley’s teachings led to prison reform, and supported the abolitionist movement. In America, the situation was similar, with many Christian sects opposing slavery. Although they did not have the early success of the abolitionist movement in England, in the end, it was Christian believers who were at the forefront of the movement which eventually ended slavery. Christian influence continues to be found at the heart of moral reform. From the ending of child labor, to the establishment of schools and hospitals, orphanages, humane treatment of prisoners, the civil rights movement, to the establishment of this country and the writing of its constitution and bill of rights, Christianity has played an important and positive role in this world.
Today, the vast majority of humanitarian work being done in the third world is accomplished through Christian workers and agencies. Even at home many of the efforts to help the poor and disadvantaged have Christian roots. The list of those who have spent their lives, doing good, reaching out to the poor, the naked, the hungry and the infirm stretches back through the centuries. Some, like Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, and Mother Theresa, the whole world knows. Most are known only to a few, and may labor their whole lives in seeming obscurity, unknown in this world perhaps, but well know before the throne of God. For some, it is something they take time from work to do, some make it their lifelong vocation, and some will even lay down their lives in their selfless quest to help others.
Is the Church perfect? No, we may seek to follow the only perfect one, but we are not perfect. Could we do more? Possibly, there is so much need, but there are also many practical issues that limit us all. In the end though, we must conclude that while much harm has been done in the name of Christianity, true Christians have done and continue to make many positive contributions to our world.