St. Francis is known for the saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and use words if necessary” (whether he actually said that or not, I have no idea). I just noticed today on the front page of Creighton University’s website that there is a ‘news’ banner which proclaims: “Creighton Ranks First in National Listing of Schools Contributing to Public Good” It immediately made me think, “what if our churches got such headlines?” I mean, technically, Creighton’s reputation does reflect on the Roman Catholic Church, since it is a Catholic institution, so it does add to the Catholic Church’s reputation for contributing to the common good.
Evangelicals have traditionally focused on witnessing– bringing people to Christ and into the Kingdom, not only by “getting people saved” but by helping them “grow in Christ”– to have life transformational changes in their lives once they do become a Christian. And some evangelical churches may have a strong witness through what they do for those in need around them, or for contributing to the social good.
Now to some extent, you can’t control what people are going to think about you, so it can be pointless to try (some people may simply have such a biased view against Christians, or Nebraskans, or philosophers, that I can’t win no matter what). But usually you have some power to win people over, and to alter their view about you, for better or ill.
It is a fruitful excersize to think through what your church is known for in the neighborhood. Maybe its primarily known for its location (Oh, thats the one on 96th and Maple beside the bowling alley) or for its looks (“Oh, thats the one thats all white and has the old time spire on it”). Maybe you are known for your theology (“oh, that church is pretty liberal- I heard the pastor once questioned the virgin birth from the pulpit) or for your politics (“they tend to intersperse their Bible study with anti-obama (or anti-bush) rhetoric” –depending on the church). Your church might be known for being wealthy (“lots of BMW’s and Cadillacs in that lot”) or for your diversity (pretty much all white suburbanites at that church) or maybe even for your potlucks (best in town!).
Again, I don’t doubt that some of your churches are known for contributing to the common good, and it would be encouraging to hear about that if they are, but wouldn’t it be cool if on a regular basis Christian Churches were regularly extolled for their activities leading to the greater good? It seems like that would be an amazing witness to Christ’s transformative power in our lives.
At the same time that I say that– some of your churches already do contribute to the common good, and we don’t always think of it. Insofar as your church helps to establish and grow healthy marriages and families, it definitely contributes to the common good. Insofar as it encourages you to be in life- giving and transformative relationships with other Christians, and to build each other up through accountability and through challenging each other to live lives of love and good deeds (Hebrews 10) it does just that. Insofar as your life becomes more and more concerned for others, less and less concerned with satisfying your own needs, and more open to laying down your life for your neighbor– your church is contributing to the common good.
The church today needs more and more of this sort of banner headlines. With so many headlines about churches being about Priests molesting children, or outrageous luxories of Christian ‘leaders’, it is all the more important to give people some alternate news about the local church. Hopefully they know more about our churches than where they are located, or what our politics are. Hopefully they will come to know our churches to be a witness of the love of Christ for the world, and the grace of God to all peoples.
May God have mercy on us all.