What Good is the Church?

“What good has this “my way or the highway to hell” religion ever done for the world?” —TheFriendlyAtheist

It hurts to come across statements like the one above (I found it in the comments section of an article I was reading). Christianity has done a world of good in the last two thousand years. The sad thing is that few people are aware of our legacy. This is largely the church’s fault. True, we don’t want to boast, but a bit of PR might make a big difference. Besides, these aren’t our accomplishments—they are God’s blessings. Shouldn’t we tell everyone what God has done?

Here is my answer to TheFriendlyAtheist:

Dear Friendly Atheist,

I’m sorry we haven’t told you about what Christianity has done for the world. Let me begin to rectify that omission, starting right now. You see, Christianity has made a huge difference as a force for good throughout history.

Let’s start at the beginning. Back in the third century, a plague (probably smallpox) swept through the Roman Empire. In that climate of fear, a sick person would be immediately shunned by friends and family and left to die alone. The one exception was with the church. Filled with God’s love, these early believers risked their lives to care for complete strangers.

That wasn’t all the church did. In a cruel and brutal culture, the church offered unheard of love and compassion. According to researcher Rodney Stark,

To cities filled with homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.

As the church grew, it continued to care for the sick. To quote Wikipedia, “The declaration of Christianity as an accepted religion in the Roman Empire drove an expansion of the provision of care. Following First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. construction of a hospital in every cathedral town was begun.” Medicine and Christianity continued to go hand in hand. Even in Islamic hospitals, the doctors were Christians. This connection between Christian faith and healing continues to the present day.

During the Dark Ages, the church was the center of learning, keeping history and literacy alive. In fact, many present-day universities trace their history back to the church. Mission schools brought formal education to Africa, going against the colonial powers by educating the native peoples. Today, the church still builds schools, often in places where no other resources are available.

Belief in unpredictable gods or a capricious Nature discouraged people from seeking natural laws that would remain consistent over time. Science arose directly from the Christian worldview that there is a God of order who created and maintains the cosmos.

Similarly, a belief in the value and dignity of every individual arises from the Christian teaching that God has made every person in his own image. In particular, the early church valued women in ways that contradicted the pagan society around them. As a result, Christian women disproportionately outnumbered the men.

And while some people used the Bible to justify their practice of slavery, the abolitionists were, for the most part, staunch believers. Today, the church is still deeply involved in issues of justice such as the fight against slavery and human trafficking.

Throughout church history, Christians have built orphanages, cared for widows, and served the poor. You won’t read it in the headlines, but it’s happening all over the world.

To be continued…

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