Is the church the light of the world? Amongst the tragedy, hardship and the mundane of this world, does the church act as a beacon of light? Can the lost see the church amidst the darkness? With the deepest regret I would have to surmise that the answer is no. Having gone through some very dark times in my own life and reaching out to God so desperately, urgently seeking comfort on earth from the Lord’s people, I did not see anywhere to turn! Indeed, light may flow from some churches but on the whole I would suggest the church does not produce the beam of light required to bring the ships in!
Forgive me if I cause offence as I am acutely aware of the aid the church provide by means of food banks, clothing banks, children’s work, evangelism, helping the homeless etc. and individually I see rays of God’s light radiate from Christians that I know. I just feel that perhaps Jesus is not represented quite as brightly as He could be and that the church is not always easy to access.
So, what could the church do to let the light of God shine? Scripture gives us a few examples:-
- Give money to the poor –
Matthew 19.21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Luke 3:11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
- Care for others, Pay it forward –
Luke 14:12-14 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
James 1.27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
- Be kind –
Proverbs 14:31 “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.”
- Support others –
Galatians 6:2 “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ.”
Proverbs 31:8-9 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
- Love with actions –
1 John 3:18 “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
- Feed the hungry, water the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick, visit the imprisoned –
Matthew 25:35-36 “For 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.’
- Work Hard –
Ephesians 4:28 “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
Acts 20:35 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
- Practice hospitality –
Romans 12:13 “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
St John Chrysostom in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans explains that charity is not bare words but a “taking care … for instance, by relieving poverty, lending one’s aid to the sick, rescuing from dangers, to stand by them that be in difficulties, to weep with them that weep, and to rejoice with them that rejoice.”
There are approximately 37,501 churches in the UK, 140 of these in Aberdeen and 4865 in London. Worldwide there are an estimated 2.4 billion Christians, with approximate figures of Australia – 12,201,600, Canada – 22,103,000, France – 36,700,000, Ghana – 19,300,000, Greece – 11,000,000, India – 30,000,000, Italy – 53,230,000, Japan – 2,921,000, South Korea – 14,601,000, Mexico – 107,780,000, Norway – 3,844,000, Pakistan – 3,300,000, Russia – 66,000,000, Syria – 1,800,000. These figures are astonishing! If we could all come together in some idea of unity, imagine the world we could be living in! Let us imagine that all churches in any one city came together to strategize ways of dealing with local problems and worked together to a solution. Our communities could be transformed! Home by home, community by community, town by town, city by city, our world would become a better place!
I must point out this blog is not heavily researched but merely presents my own musings on this subject. I am all too aware of the problems that face the church as a body and us as individual limbs of that body. Our society certainly does not make it easy to help others and our suing culture makes everything all the more complex. I myself, have discovered just how hard it is to help others. I have felt as though I would like to enter chaplaincy when I complete my degree but without experience, I am unlikely to ever get a position and getting experience is almost impossible. Volunteering these days is not a simple case of turn up and offer to help, forms must be completed, interviews undertaken, and most often previous experience is necessary.
So where could we start? Because we have developed into a rather insular society, it can be difficult to identify those who need our help. Many are too embarrassed to seek help and would rather muddle through on their own. Yet we all struggle at some point in our lives and as fellow strugglers we can be well placed to help each other! The church needs a new identity, one which shouts, “I am here for anyone who needs me!”, “I am here to help”, “I don’t judge!”, “I understand that all are made in the image of God and all are just as loved and just as important to God and therefore also to me!” The early church gives us an idea of what our church could look like in Acts 2:41-47 “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. …”. Now I am not suggesting that members should start piling their money together and sharing it out but this sense of family, of fellowship, of “oneness” is certainly something that the church should look to exemplify.
Below is an example of what people may be struggling with, but this is by no means a comprehensive list and, indeed, by my living in Scotland, it is likely that I will be conscious of factors affecting people living in this area. If we are to look across our wider church family, many issues will be quite different, indeed, many, heartbreakingly, suffer from severe persecution to the point of a threat to their very lives making our problems look somewhat smaller! Beside each one I have given an example of what the church could perhaps do to help with these struggles:-
Loneliness – Unfortunately, because of a high movement of peoples in our society today, many find themselves without family and friends close by. Within the church there is likely to be many people in this situation so a group could be created where fellowship could be formed or perhaps numbers could be exchanged whereby, they could visit each other, or a rota could be arranged for members to visit those suffering.
Hunger – Some members of the congregation may be too busy to offer much practical support, for example they may be working full time, have young children or elderly relatives etc. but they may be in a position to donate money towards a food bank or perhaps pick-up extra messages as part of their own shopping.
Housing issues, damp, neglect, dirt, garden requirements – Those in the congregation with a trade may be useful to help those with housing needs. Some jobs may be small and take only 20 minutes to fix but which could have been causing the homeowner great distress. Others could help with cleaning or undertake some gardening. Still others may be able to offer housing advice to those living in inadequate housing.
Homelessness – This is, of course, a challenging problem and not one that is easily solved. There can be much red tape around providing accommodation for the homeless etc. So, this would need to be discussed on a church-by-church basis. Perhaps at the very least a collection could be taken for the homeless on some sort of regular basis. If someone presents themselves as homeless perhaps a member of the church could try and assist them with a place to stay and advice about places to eat, places to shower, council numbers for assistance with housing etc. For those in temporary accommodation perhaps a member could assist with providing them with the necessities and help them settle in and get used to living in a house on their own.
Unemployment – There may be members of the congregation who could offer work or work experience to people, or others who can help with c.v. preparation, interview skills, details of volunteering opportunities which can enhance the c.v. and keep the person active.
Single parenthood – Life as a single parent can be lonely and overwhelming, perhaps the church could arrange a single parent’s group where they could get together and share experiences and offer advice to one another. Members of the church could help with babysitting or provide some company for a chat in the evening.
Abusive relationships/Emotional abuse/Manipulation – There may be members of the congregation who have experiences situations like these themselves and are well placed to come alongside someone and counsel them through this.
Mental illness/Depression/Anxiety – Again, someone with similar experiences would be well suited to be a listening ear and support. A group may be a great way for people suffering from mental illness to share experiences and perhaps, do uplifting and positive activities together.
Ill health in adults, children and caring for those unwell – Perhaps any nurses or carers within the congregation could offer advice as to what the church could do to help those suffering from ill health and for those that care for them. Support could be given where necessary to ease the burden of the carer and days out or special activities could be organised for both parties.
Lack of spiritual guidance, requiring help with Bible comprehension – A group of people who regularly undertake Bible Study would be well placed to help others gain a more comprehensive understanding of Scripture and could come alongside them as spiritual guides.
Childcare issues – I am sure there would be many people more than willing to undertake babysitting duties!
Boredom – This may seem like a strange one but how often boredom leads to bad practices, drinking, bad sexual practice, depression etc. Perhaps the church could arrange plenty fellowship opportunities that both young and old can participate in.
Illiteracy/English not first language – There may be teachers within the church that could teach literacy and if not then many in a position to teach basic English comprehension, reading and writing.
Alcoholism/Addiction – The church should be a safe space that offers help to anyone that needs it, a place where one can be honest about lifestyle choices, however, wrong they may be and be received in Christian love. Although this is a particularly challenging problem, advice may be given about other agencies which can also offer support whilst a listening ear, general advice and company may be offered by the church.
Unruly children – We have all been through this to some extent and those with grown up children may be well placed to offer advice and tips. Perhaps the church could organise a parenting course or a parenting support group.
Unhealthy lifestyle/Poor diet – We are all too aware nowadays how important a healthy diet is to our overall health, yet many have never been taught how to cook this way. It may be that there are cooks and chefs within the church that could provide ideas for low-cost healthy meal plans or organise cooking classes to get people started but if not, there are many reasonably priced recipe books that offer low cost, healthy meal ideas that could be purchased and which many family cooks could help teach.
Inability to get basic necessities – Members of the congregation could pick up another person’s shopping while obtaining their own or pick up a prescription while nipping to the shops etc.
Inability to attend appointments – Perhaps a newly retired person or mum of school aged children would be well placed to drive people to attend appointments.
I am not naïve enough to think that this is easy, but I would hope that it was at least something that the church could work towards. All the red tape before us can be overwhelming and feel as though the task is impossible but nothing is impossible for our God. If we align ourselves with His will then we will succeed! Of course, each church community is different, and some may not be large enough to offer some of the suggestions above and this is where a unified church would be of such benefit so that one church may say “we don’t have that facility, but we know who does!”.
As Christians we have not only the tools but also the power of the Spirit to undertake these tasks. We have answers to life’s problems in our Bible and we have God as our guide. How many of God’s servants stand idle, waiting for the chance to be a light in the darkness, to be a worker in God’s Kingdom? I must be honest and admit I am one such servant, a willing servant in heart but one yet to be a warrior of action and I pray that the Lord guides me to labour for His glory.
“ For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” Ephesians 5:8
Love and Blessings