Gone are the days when society largely took for granted that the Christian Church was a necessary part of Western Culture. Long gone. This has become such a fact of life that the benefits of an organizational Christian presence in society should be re-examined. Studies of the behavior patterns of North Americans and Europeans in the early Twenty-first Century show that when making important decisions, most people think, not in terms of Christian values, but of personal fulfillment and well-being. This is a significant shift from much of the Twentieth Century, when a Christian decision-making grid was commonly accepted.
Believers may bemoan this trend as an abandonment of core Christian values, such as honoring God, obeying his will and serving others but, like it or not, it would appear that this trend will be around for the foreseeable future. So maybe Christianity ought to be evaluated from this new pragmatic perspective. What are the benefits of a significant Christian presence in society? Let me suggest a few of the positive outcomes of vibrant Christianity in a given community.
Better marriages. All things being equal, the presence of churches which teach biblical family values results in more couples staying together. I am not just referring to husbands and wives agreeing to remain married even though they have ceased to have affection for one another. I am talking about couples who discover a deeper and more lasting love for one another because of their relationship to God. It is a known fact among Christian people that a commitment to one’s spouse, a willingness to work though issues and a dependence upon God to cause positive change in both lives has saved many thousands of marriages which otherwise would have ended in divorce court.
Better family life. Along with husbands and wives staying together, there are fewer problems raising children when families are involved in churches. “Parents: don’t exasperate your children, but bring them up in the teaching and discipline of the Lord”, is a hugely valuable principle at a time when families are breaking down in record numbers. Churches which teach the Bible by precept and example tend to have a higher percentage of intact and reasonably healthy families.
Lasting relationships. We are moving so fast in these times that it is difficult to form deep, long-term friendships. Again, churches who teach the Bible’s perspective on relationships tend to produce people who know how to befriend others and work through issues which could otherwise cause separation. Churches also provide venues for meeting people who desire these kinds of friendships. In Christian circles it is a rather routine thing to meet people who have remained friends over many years through some pretty difficult circumstances.
Personalized care. One of the best kept secrets in most communities is the fact that churches regularly provide free counseling, not only to their members, but often to virtually anyone who desires it. Many churches have pastors or staff members who are trained and gifted in the art of listening to people, helping them understand the dynamics behind their situation and offering sound, practical and biblical advice toward a solution. Obviously the more people who receive this care, the healthier a community becomes. This is especially refreshing when people are sometimes seen as figures on a spread sheet rather than as valuable persons.
Character building. While it is not the only voice in society encouraging people to become more than they are, the Christian church performs this role as well. Not only does it encourage people to dream large dreams and achieve great things, but it also builds character in ways that the other voices seem to be neglecting: that of correction. How many places can you go in Twenty-first Century Western Culture and have someone tell you the painful truth about yourself? I understand that this sort of thing seems out of fashion. I also know full-well how abused this type of thing can be, with churches sometimes working people over in the most trivial and narrow-minded of ways. But when a person truly is involved in things which are harmful to others and ultimately self-destructive, isn’t it a good thing that there are places where people can be lovingly confronted and helped to find a new path in life?
Finding God. When people get tired of the materialism and the seemingly endless chasing of personal fulfillment, many crave something more substantial. Christianity promises that if anyone desires to find God, he is willing to be found. In fact the truth is quite a bit better than that. God has made himself very accessible by becoming one of us, living as we live and doing what was necessary for us to have full and abundant relationship with our Creator. Of course I am speaking of Jesus Christ.
I am well aware that some people take this basic Christian assertion to be narrow and exclusive. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Other religions teach that people must attain some ultimate spiritual goal through hidden knowledge, austere self-denial, or the offering of something precious to win the deities’ favor. The Christian gospel is so simple and so attainable that some people have found it almost too good to be true. A person may be welcomed into relationship with God simply by putting their trust in Jesus. This means believing that he is who he claimed to be: the Son of God; accepting his self-sacrifice in payment for your wrongdoing and embracing his offer to join with you in making you new from the inside out.
The irony in this is that in putting faith in Jesus, a person actually finds the personal fulfillment which has eluded them for so long. Far from being narrow, faith in Jesus is something a small child can do. It is something a mentally disabled person can exercise. The basic message of Christianity is truly trans-cultural, finding those in every people group who resonate with its good news. It embraces both men and women. It reaches every strata of society. It changes lives when nothing else can.
All this and more come with an active Christian presence in society. Those who are concerned with the welfare of their communities would do well to make certain that churches are free to do what they do so well: benefit people and change lives for the better.