“It’s true Christianity that moves into the world and rubs elbows and makes relationships and builds bridges to people, because that’s the definition we find biblically. Christians have always done that.
I want to run by a little history for you to show you this in a very general way. When you look back on the history of social reform in our culture western culture in Europe and here in America you find a great amount of that social reform is directly related to Christianity. For example, the 18th century had many of what was called evangelical awakenings. One who was greatly instrumental in those was John Wesley. And John Wesley was not just a preacher of the gospel, but he was a man concerned about people and so he denounced the evils of his day. He particularly took his whacks at slavery and he urged in addition to that the reform of prisons, the education of the masses ‑and, incidentally, that became the cry of many preachers ‑‑ in the l8th century, that there had to be education. As a result of these, by the time you got to 1776, all the way through to about 1914, tremendous social reform took place in western culture. And much of it reaped right out of the evangelistic awakenings, with John Wesley and others. There was a great awakening in America in about 1725 to about 1775, and the result of it was the building of a number of American universities, which at that time were geared to educate the masses, but were built around religious themes. Christianity was at the core.
The second great awakening led to the founding of a school system for the masses in Britain, as well as the founding of hundreds of colleges and schools in America. There was even a revival among Christians, I should say ‑‑ in Napoleon’s day, and out of that revival in Napoleon’s day came a man by the name of Wilberforce and Wilberforce was one of the engineers of the abolition of the slave trade in Africa. And the result of his work, which was the result of the work of an evangelistic awakening, was that the slaves in the British Empire were freed in 1834 and in the United States, they were freed in 1863. There were certain isolated Christians who had a tremendous impact on society, such as Elizabeth Frye. Elizabeth Frye promoted successful prison reform. There was a man by the name of Fliedner, who was a Christian in Germany, who built hopes for ex‑prisoners in order to help give them a halfway house to get them back into society. He built hospitals for the sick, spawned insane asylums, that is, homes for people who were insane, that had some character to them and some quality to them, so that they weren’t just holes or hovels where people were thrown until they died. He advocated orphanages for the children, and one of the people trained by Fliedner, trained in one of the schools, was a lady by the name of Florence Nightingale, who became the mother of modern nursing.
There was the seventh earl of Shaftsbury in England, a non by the name of Anthony Ashley Cooper. He describes himself in one of his writings as an evangelical of the evangelicals. In modern terms, he’d be a fighting fundie. He promoted legislation to cut the hours of factory labor in half, to prohibit the use of women working in coal mines, and of children in factories and farm gangs, and he promoted legislation to transfer retarded people from prisons to places where they would be treated as patients. Agencies cam out of these great awakenings ‑ these great Christian awakenings ‑‑ such as the YMCA, the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Salvation Army, and many others.
William Carey, a famous missionary to India, secured the abolition of widow burning, which was practiced in India, and child sacrifice. I always remember when I was a boy my dad telling about the natives in the land of India, who believed in the great god of the Ganges River, who would take one of their children and throw the baby when he was alive into the river and watch it drawn as a sacrifice to the god. William Carey went a long way to stop things like that.
In Africa, many missionaries flooding the country, following in the lead of Livingston, discouraged polygamy, fought the slave trade, built schools, and built hospitals. J. C. Wenger says this: “Christianity burst into a corrupt world with a brilliantly new moral radiance. The moral level of society was dismal at the time of the New Testament, and sin prevailed in many form, and into this discouraged world came Christ and his Spirit transformed disciples, filled with holy joy, motivated by a love which the pagans could not grasp, and proclaiming good news, the message that God has provided a Savior. These Christians lived in tiny communities knit together in the power of the Holy Spirit, little colonies of heaven. They thought of themselves as pilgrims and their way to the celestial city, but they were very much concerned to manifest the love of Christ in all human relationships. These early Christians insisted on bringing all of life under the lordship of Christ.” And Wenger says it is men and women of this kind of moral purity who build into society a strong sense of integrity. Life was cheap in the pre-Christian world ‑‑ murder, war, abortion, infant exposure ‑‑ people died in great numbers without anyone being very troubled in conscience. The early Christians brought a new concern into society at this very point. End quote.
And I think he’s right. Ever since Christianity arrived at the time that Christ was here and the disciples were here, it has continually had an impact on society. It still does. Christians have cared about people. They have always cared about people. We saw that this morning in our definitions of love from I Corinthians that love is not a feeling; love is not an attitude; love is not an abstract; love is acting toward somebody. We see in Matthew 25, for example, where Jesus talks about offering a cup of cold water to somebody in “My name”. We see in the book of James where, when somebody has a need in chapter 2, it’s not enough to give them a little encouragement, it’s only enough to meet their need. A very important thing! Christianity has always had great social implications.”