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Good done by the church

Around the world, the Church works to tackle poverty and injustice, motivated by God's love for humanity.

Read time: 6 minutes and 26 seconds

Christianity has utterly transformed societies across the world since the days of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago. The positive impact of the Church cannot be overstated: guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ to be a good influence on society, Christianity has touched virtually every part of life. Over the centuries, the Church has founded schools, hospitals and orphanages; Christians have campaigned for prison reform, better housing and an end to the slave trade; they have helped to establish a huge number of charities to support the poor, the underprivileged, prisoners and their families, the homeless and those seeking justice. Christians were involved in setting up many of the best-known charities including Oxfam, the Salvation Army, the Samaritans and the RSPCA. Church work reaches all ages and stages of life: there is a Christian ethos behind the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements and also the establishment of hospices. Churches run marriage preparation courses, countless parent-and-toddler groups and provide support for the bereaved. Remarkably, a number of famous football clubs can trace their origins back to efforts by the Church to establish sports teams in the late 19th century.

Around the world, the Church is working to tackle poverty and injustice.

On any one day the Church continues to make a difference to millions of lives across the world. The Church runs lunch clubs for schoolchildren; it organises overnight accommodation and food for people sleeping rough; it runs chaplaincies in scores of organisations, including universities and workplaces, to provide practical and emotional support to students and workers. The Foodbanks, which provide vital support to tens of thousands of families around the UK, were set up by a Christian organisation. In many towns and cities, churches provide Street Pastors: teams who serve the night-time economy, spending their evenings caring for, listening to and helping people whether they are returning from a night out or from working in pubs, clubs or bars.

Around the world, the Church is working to tackle poverty and injustice. It is providing financial and practical help for communities hit by natural and man-made disasters. It does advocacy work too - speaking up for the voiceless in the corridors of international power. The Church was at the heart of the civil rights movement in the United States and the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.

The work done by volunteers is saving nations staggering sums of money. It is estimated that in New York City alone, the time given by churches and the faith community is worth $8.8bn a year. Research in the UK in 2015-16 for the Cinnamon Network calculated that the time given by churches and faith groups to their communities through social action was worth more than $3bn a year.

The motivation for doing good

One passage in the Bible book, Micah, explains what God requires of his followers: ‘to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly…’ During his three years of teaching and miraculously healing people, Jesus Christ explained the counter-cultural way people should live. The Bible book, Matthew, says he told his disciples they were the ‘salt of the earth’. Salt was used as a preservative to stop food rotting. He also told them, ‘You are the light of the world…let you light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.’ Jesus was saying that by being ‘salt’ and ‘light’, Christians should and would be a positive influence on their communities.

The work done by the Church is not motivated by a need to earn God’s favour. A relationship with God that lasts forever is possible only because of Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead. It cannot be earned. Humanity’s best effort and intentions are insignificant when compared with Jesus’s sacrifice on humanity’s behalf. The Church is prompted to do good works all over the world in response to God’s love for humanity and Jesus’s instruction.

In the Bible book, Matthew, Jesus tells his followers a story about a King passing judgement. Christians see it as an indication of how God will judge those who claim to follow him and also of how Christians should show mercy to people: ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’.

Continued below...

Christianity Good done by the church

Abolishing slavery and reforming prisons: some stories from history

Christians played a significant role in reforming society in the UK in the 18th and 19th centuries. William Wilberforce was the most high-profile member of the Clapham Sect – a group of Christian campaigners centred on an Anglican church in south London. The campaigners, who also included Quakers and Christians from other denominations, mobilised grass roots support to abolish slavery - the transport by British ships of slave labour from West Africa to the West Indies and the eastern United States. Wilberforce repeatedly took proposed laws to the British parliament until eventually the slave trade was banned and slaves were set free. He also campaigned for other causes including medical aid for the poor; education for the deaf, better working conditions in factories, and animal welfare - he helped to set up what became the RSPCA.

Elizabeth Fry championed prison reform. In the 18th century, men, women and children were crammed into prisons together. They were dirty, dangerous places. Fry visited jails to distribute clothes and organise help for women and children. She set up schooling for child prisoners and arranged work for the women, such as sewing and knitting, which gave them something to do and a way to earn money for extra food. She campaigned for men and women to be separated and for inmates to be classified so that hardened criminals did not mix with prisoners jailed for minor offences.

Reformers like Rowntree, Fry, Wilberforce and many others were motivated by their strong Christian faith and love of Jesus Christ to change the world around them for the better.

Like Fry, Joseph Rowntree in York and the Cadbury family in Birmingham were Quakers. They were successful businessmen producing chocolate. They were also social pioneers who transformed the lives of their employees. The Cadburys’ work included: providing affordable, decent housing for their workforce; providing education classes for staff; organising work outings; building homes for pensioners and public swimming pools, and building sports facilities for staff. Rowntree was also driven to improve the lives of his workers. His factory provided staff with dinners and had a library. He employed a company doctor and dentist and founded works clubs and societies. Like the Cadburys, he also designed decent housing for staff.

Reformers like Rowntree, Fry, Wilberforce and many others were motivated by their strong Christian faith and love of Jesus Christ to change the world around them for the better.

The Church’s failings

It should be acknowledged that the Church is not without faults: considerable harm has been done around the world in the name of religion over the centuries. The Church has not always got it right. That’s because the Church is made up of ordinary people and people make mistakes. No-one in the Church is perfect. Some highly-respected figures have done some terrible things. For example, John Newton is best known as the 18th century composer of the famous hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’, and as a campaigner for the abolition of slavery. But he had been a slave trader himself for years before concluding that it was cruel, evil and had to be stopped.