The Influence of the Church

Throughout history, the church has wielded significant influence on the world, and it is essential to recognize both its positive and negative impacts. While acknowledging the negative aspects of the church is crucial for a comprehensive understanding, it is equally important to highlight the numerous positive contributions it has made to society. These positive impacts include humanitarian work, charitable initiatives, aid and emergency response efforts, promotion of education, and the embodiment of unconditional love towards marginalized individuals, just to name a few.

In his enlightening book, Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look At the Good and Evil of Christian History, John Dickson fearlessly delves into the challenging periods of the church’s past, such as the Crusades and the Inquisitions. However, he also emphasizes the church’s embodiment of Christlikeness and its profound influence on humanity.

One fascinating aspect discussed in the book is the church’s transformation during the 4th century, following the Great Persecution in the Roman Empire (303-312/313). During this time, the church embraced a unique perspective centered around the principle of love. Inspired by the life of Jesus, the church sought to model love in all aspects of its existence.

Here is an excerpt from the book:

Wealthy “benefaction” was, of course, an important feature of ancient Roman life. Emperors and other elites would bestow gifts on the citizenry-and only citizens-including buildings, monuments, and public games, as well as food supplies in times of shortage. The word for this was euergetism. “do-gooding,” and it was closely linked to the virtue of philotimia, “love of honor.” Public benefaction in ancient times was not charity on the basis of human need, but a social contract. The benefactor shared resources with less well-off citizen in return for public honor. This civic euergetism, writes Peter Brown of Princeton, ‘contained no element of compassion for the poor.’

John Dickson, Bullies and Saints, pg. 79-80.

The Radical Teaching in the New Testament

The church’s service to humanity, especially to the poor and their neighbors, was characterized by true compassion without any expectation of reciprocation. Their actions stood in stark contrast to other humanitarian aids of that time, as they cared for the sick not for payment but out of a genuine compulsion to show love. Aid was freely distributed to those in need, not seeking honor in return, but driven by the belief that every person bears the Imago Dei, the Image of God. This foundational principle made the church distinctly different in its approach to humanitarian work.

The teachings in the New Testament further exemplify the radical nature of love and compassion promoted by the church:

  1. Love Your Neighbor: Jesus emphasized the importance of loving one’s neighbor as oneself, encompassing anyone the Lord placed before them (Mark 12:31).
  2. Love Your Enemy- Taking it a step further, the teachings urged believers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them, thereby reflecting the character of God (Matthew 5:43-45).
  3. Non-retaliation “Believers were encouraged not to seek vengeance but to leave it to God, and instead, to respond to evil with acts of kindness and love (Romans 12:19-21).
  4. The Sign of Love- Jesus emphasized that love for one another would be the defining characteristic of His disciples (John 13:35).

What About Today?

However, reflecting on the present state of Western Christian churches, there is a concern about whether they have retained their influence and adherence to these principles.

As we examine Western Christian churches, it becomes evident that we must confront the question: Have we lost our influence? In a world that desperately needs love, compassion, and a message of hope, it is essential to reflect on whether we are faithfully embodying the radical teachings of Jesus. Are we consistently showing genuine love to our neighbors and even our enemies? Are we responding to evil with goodness and kindness? Our impact on the world hinges on our commitment to living out these principles. As the church, let us reevaluate our priorities (Jesus), rekindle our passion for selfless service, and embrace the transformative power of love. By doing so, we can once again be a powerful force for good and exemplify the true essence of Christianity to a world in need.”

You can pick up a copy of Bullies and Saints from Amazon or other retailers.

Obedience Met With Disappointment

It was a profoundly heavy and disheartening day, one of those days when everything seemed to go wrong. Right from the moment of waking up, there was an underlying feeling that it would be an uphill battle, filled with challenging conversations and adversities at every turn. It’s as if this difficult phase had become a recurring theme, leaving you drained and yearning for an end to this relentless new normal. The future appeared bleak, devoid of joy and excitement, making you wonder when it would all come to an end. The weight of it all led to questions and introspection: was it your own actions that led to this, or perhaps a lesson you were meant to learn?

Seeking solace and strength, you turned to passages from the Bible that spoke of God’s unwavering presence and support:

“He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

God’s Promises But Still The Struggle

Despite reminding yourself of God’s promises, it felt as though He remained silent in that very moment, leaving you grappling with disappointment. In this state of deep sadness, you found resonance with Psalm 44, attributed to the Sons of Korah, a group of Levites responsible for music in worship (2 Chronicles 20:19). This Psalm describes God’s past victories and deliverance for Israel against their enemies, and their obedience in response.

However, as the Psalm progresses, the tone shifts, revealing the stark reality of defeat and feeling forsaken: “But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies” (verse 9). It seems that despite their faithfulness, disappointment befalls them. The Psalmist goes on to express their loyalty to God and wonders why they face abandonment and defeat despite their commitment:

“If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered (Psalm 44:20-22).”

I Know My Redeemer Lives

This heartfelt lament strikes a chord with you, as you can relate to this profound sense of disappointment despite your obedience. In the midst of this turmoil, the Psalm concludes with a cry for God’s intervention and redemption:

“Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love (Psalm 44:26)!”

In times of distress and confusion, this final plea for God’s redeeming love serves as a reminder that even amidst adversity, hope can be found in His unwavering and steadfast presence.

Job in the Bible went through a season of hurt and pain. He lost his children, his wealth, and his health. He was broken and a point of despair. In a conversation with one his friends he gives some great insight that is just as important today.

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
    My heart faints within me (Job 19:25-27)!

Can you relate?