International News

Why the world needs the Church

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Rosie Kendall
 
‘Is religion good for society?’
 
Would you be confident to ask this question to your friends or family that don’t profess any kind of faith? If you would hesitate — you have good reason to. According to the most recent National Church Life Survey (NCLS) report, which draws information from congregations of Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants around the country, six in ten people can’t think of a reason why religion is good for society.
 
It’s disheartening, especially when you consider all the good things churches do that benefit the wider community. It’s not a fair assessment. This may be true, but given that the survey was conducted in the context of public engagement with outcomes of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, societal attitudes have been marred by negative elements about religious institutions that were revealed at that time.
 
The NCLS report also revealed something that seems contradictory at first glance: six in ten also think the most important role for churches in society is to serve the poor. Australia may have lost confidence in religion as a vessel for good. However, people recognise that benevolence is the language of the Church.
 
This insight is directly from the vision of the Church from its earliest days, as found in James 2:16-17: 'If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.'
 
We live in a crucial moment for the Church in Australia. Jesus commissioned the Church to continue what he started: to serve the poor, to save the lost and to point people to his Good News. His good news is needed in a world full of chaos, uncertainty and division, hurting from the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19.
 
The economic fallout is predicted to be large and ongoing, and felt by our communities for a long time.
 
The Church is the people of God, bringing His kingdom here on Earth until it comes in fullness. But how does this translate to someone searching for employment alongside nearly 4 million others after the government stimulus and rental freezes cease? What about those unable to afford groceries or are facing eviction?
 
The answer is in the way the people of God are instructed to live. James 2 instructs the people of God to provide for the needs of their brothers and sisters. We’re instructed not just to wish them well and offer up a Psalm, but to stand in solidarity alongside the poor and disadvantaged, say 'we’re with you' in hardship, loneliness and anxiety.
 
When you’re with someone, you’re attentive to their needs. If it’s only metaphorical, the sentiment becomes meaningless.
 
That’s why organisations like Christians Against Poverty (CAP) exist, to equip churches of all denominations to carry out the mission to serve and include the poor in their communities and do so while confidently proclaiming the good news of Jesus.
 
CAP resources, equips, and trains churches to do what Jesus called all of us to do, in the context of need in modern Australia. Through CAP Debt Centres, churches are stepping into the homes of some of the poorest and at-risk people, offering them a practical solution, and sharing the love of Jesus.
 
Churches have a unique opportunity to regain public faith by taking action to help people crippled by debt in the post-pandemic world.  When the pandemic hit, CAP clients Mark and Sarah found themselves in a desperate financial situation, and their local church was able to stand with them.
 
Almost immediately after social distancing was put in place, Sarah’s bookings as a professional photographer dried up. Mark’s hours at his retail position in menswear were dramatically reduced, then stopped altogether. Both were unemployed and getting calls each day by creditors demanding repayments from debt incurred to pay for medical bills when their first child was born with a congenital condition.
 
Through their church, they called their CAP caseworker and together, they worked out a solution to keep them afloat. 
 
'We feel like there's so much uncertainty and there’s definite anxiety there. But I just can imagine it being so much worse,' Sarah says.
 
'We’re looking forward to things at the moment, which sounds ridiculous in the midst of a pandemic.'
 
It doesn't need to be said that taking opportunities like this to help those in need also assists in redeeming the nation's perception of the Church. It's not about ourselves; it’s about bringing transformation into people’s lives and bringing glory to God in the process.
 
There are many reasons one could make a case for why Christianity has been good for society and will continue to be good for society. But historical analysis aside, it’s quite simple.
 
Keeping our focus on Jesus’ mandate and example to truly care for the poor will inevitably shine the light of God into our communities and into the world. Recognition of this work will likely come and go, but transformed lives are forever. 
 
Rosie is the CEO of CAP Australia and has been working for CAP in both Australia and in the UK for 10 years. She loves the church and seeing the bride of Christ respond to Jesus’ call to serve the poor and save the lost. She is passionate about equipping others to flourish in all that God has created them to be. Rosie’s husband Dave also works at CAP and they have three beautiful daughters, Esther, Lydia and the most recent addition, Maeve.  
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