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The bishops of Spain and France set up vast networks for social welfare, so that the poor did not free-fall now that Rome’s safety net had disappeared.”18 Regarding the monks and the monastic movement, historian David Bosch notes that “humanly speaking, it was because of monasticism that so much authentic Christianity evolved in the course of Europe’s ‘dark ages’ and beyond.”19 He goes on to say the monks “worked incredibly hard; they plowed, hedged, drained morasses, cleared away forests did carpentry, thatched, and built roads and bridges…they lifted the hearts of the poor and neglected peasants….”20 Light on the Dark Ages; available from http://fathersofthechurch.com/2006/04/27/light-on-the-dark-ages/; Internet; accessed March 12, 2007.
Ibid., 232 In the British Isles God was at work. Celtic Ireland was considered too barbaric for the Romans to conquer and civilize. But at the turn of the fifth century Patrick (later to be known as St. Patrick) returned to Ireland, the country of his captors (he was taken captive as a slave for six years from his home in Britain), with a dozen other Christfollowers and through the twenty-eight years of Patrick’s sustained ministry “he planted around 700 churches and ordained perhaps 1000 priests. Within his lifetime, 30-40 (or more) of Ireland’s 150 tribes became substantially Christian.”21 Patrick did more than plant churches. He was also committed to creating a better life for the Irish.
Patrick’s gospel had community implications. Hunter notes that Patrick was the first to publicly crusade against slavery. “Within his lifetime, or soon after, the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and intertribal warfare decreased,” and his communities modeled the Christian way of faithfulness, generosity and peace to…the Irish.22 In the years to follow, according to Hunter, "Patrick's movement blanketed the island: 'In Ireland alone there are more than 6,000 place names containing the element Cill--the old Gaelic word for church'"23 The Middle Ages During what is called the high middle ages (1054 A.D., marking the split between the Latin and Greek Church, to the 1400s) the social influence of the church was felt throughout Europe. Though we often think of this time period as time of the Crusades, George C. Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again, (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 2000), 60.
Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, (New York, Doubleday, 1995), 110; quoted in George C.
Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism (Nashville, TN:
Abington Press), 2000, 23.
this period was not without external ministries of mercy. Some of our earliest social institutions date back to the high middle ages. It was Pope Innocent III, in the thirteenth century, who established the modern city hospital “to care for the acutely ill who may have no one to take care of them properly, as well as for those who have been injured or who have been picked up on the street and whose friends are not in a position to care for them.”24 After establishing his then state-of-the-art hospital, Pope Innocent III invited Bishops to Rome to observe his modern hospital…and sent them away to replicate it.
This resulted in an outburst of hospital building throughout Europe. The numbers, expertise and discipline of doctors and surgeons increased greatly. Germany soon had a hospital for every town of 5000 residents. In England, in addition to the medical services provided by the monasteries, there were 750 hospitals to meet the needs of about 2 million people. Without the aid of drugs, leprosy was eradicated from England.25 Catholic scholar Thomas Massaro illuminates the innovative and practical role of the church during the middle ages. “Modern labor unions and group insurance policies are an outgrowth of various activities of guilds and sodalities, agencies through which members of the medieval church practiced mutual support, often under direct religious auspices.26 Despite the shortcomings of the crusading medieval church, it was not without charity. Beryl Hugen writes, “Yet, in one respect at least, the medieval church protected the poor. Only the church was large enough and universal enough to speak for those City Hospitals—Organized Charity; available from http://www2.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/walsh-u.htm; accessed 12 March 2007.
The Middle Ages; available from http://www.churchinhistory.org/pages/middleages/middleages.htm; Internet; accessed 12 March 2007.
outside the [feudal] system….It is significant that the three services most typical of the church at that time were the hospital, the hospice, and the sanctuary.”27 In addition to the work of the institutional church, God was raising up individuals like Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), who rediscovered the Gospel and eventually established the order for his retinue that bears his name. Historian Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) writes of St.
Francis in his Essays in Criticism (1865):
He [Francis] transformed monachism by uprooting the stationary monk, delivering him from the bondage of property, and sending him, as a mendicant friar, to be a stranger and sojourner, not in the wilderness, but in the most crowded haunts of men, to console them and to do them good. This popular instinct of his is at the bottom of his famous marriage with poverty. Poverty and suffering are the condition of the people, the multitude, the immense majority of mankind; and it was towards this people that his soul yearned. "He listens," it was said of him, "to those to whom God himself will not listen."28 Francis’ Christianity was a faith that had external social implications and greatly impacted those in the lower strata of society.
The Reformation and Religious Orders Martin Luther repudiated good works as a means of salvation but never meant salvation to be void of resultant good works. “We are not saved by works, he said, yet added, ‘But if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.’”29 Eventually however the reformation of the church resulted in the fragmentation of the protesting church. The emphasis on the purity of doctrine fragmented and decommissioned the mission of the (Protestant) church. For Calvinists, the belief in Hugen, 151.
Saint Francis the Saint—the Father of the Renaissance; available from http://www2.nd.edu/Departments/Maritain/etext/walsh-p.htm; accessed 12 March 2007.
predestination “paralyze[d] the will to mission.”30 For Lutherans of the seventeenth century, “the Great Commission became a theme for discussion, not missionary action.”31 Of the Reformation David Bosch writes, When the Reformation shattered the ancient unity of the western church, each of the fragments into which it was no divided was obliged to define itself over against all other fragments…The reformational descriptions of the church thus ended up accentuating differences rather than similarities. Christians were taught to look divisively at other Christians. Eventually, Lutherans divided from Lutherans, Reformed separated from Reformed, each group justifying its actions by appealing to marks of the true church…. The church of pure doctrine was a church without a mission.32 Interestingly the response of some Catholics to these fractured times was quite different. Catholics became more missional. A case in point is the Society of Jesus, better known to us as the Jesuits. Founded by Ignatius Loyola, when he was forty-nine, the Jesuits cut a huge swath for the gospel across the globe. Focusing on education, having never started a school, the Jesuits founded thirty colleges in the first twelve years, two hundred in the first sixty years (and eventually over seven hundred secondary schools and universities).33 By the 1800s, Lowney notes, one out of every five Europeans was educated in a Jesuit school.34 They crossed mountains, forged rivers, filled in many of the white spaces on the maps. They were the confidants to European kings, Indian moguls and Chinese emperors. Their mission: “The aim and end of this society is, by traveling Ibid., 258.
Chris Lowney, Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World, (Chicago: Loyola Press; Reprint edition, January 2005), 7.
through the various regions of the world at the order of the Pope or of the superior of the Society itself, to preach, hear confessions, and use all other means it can…to help souls.”35 In 1540 there were ten Jesuits, by 1556, the year of Loyola's death, there were a thousand and by 1580 there were 5,000 Jesuits. Vladimir Lenin once said sighing, that with only a dozen cadres as talented and dedicated as the Jesuits, his Communist movement would change the world.36 As the gospel penetrated China in the 1600s, it was the merciful actions of the Jesuits that awakened the Chinese to the good news of the gospel. The Chinese were intrigued with the role of service to one’s fellowman that had no parallel in Confucianism. They were impressed with the “…themes of [Mateo] Ricci, the first of which concerns the practice of public charity; the management of hospitals and orphanages, the pious foundations and charitable societies caring for the poor, for destitute widows and prisoners, and the practice of almsgiving.”37 The Catholics missionaries practiced the “[s]even bodily and seven spiritual works of compassion”38 found in Matthew 25. As early as 1630 the Christian Humanitarian Society in Hangzhou, China was founded. “…[I]t was the Christian contribution to a larger movement of setting up “societies for the performance of good
deeds,” that was very popular in late Ming times.”39 It was practices such as these that engendered a great admiration for the morality of the believers and led thousands to become Christ followers.
The Influence of Wesley It is impossible to discuss the history of the church engaging the needs of society without addressing John Wesley. Wesley was a man with a mission and a vision—“to redeem the nation” and “to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.”40 In a country where in “1736 every sixth house in London was licensed as a grogshop”41 England was a country of drunkenness, despair and moral decay. Children as young as three and a half worked in the mines, the mills and brickyards and “[l]ess than one in twenty-five had any kind of schooling…”42 The rural poor migrated to the cities in droves looking for work as the primitive wheels of the industrial revolution began to turn, creating urban slums never seen before. "The reins of economic power were completely in the hands of the wealthy few. Beneath the sophisticated veneer of the governing classes, the English populace was gripped in a vise of poverty, disease, and moral decay."43 Where was the church? The Church of England catered to the upper strata of society. Churches were subsidized by the government and of the eleven thousand pastors who were on the payroll, six thousand
of them never set foot in their parishes but resided in England or on the continent, farming out their ministry to underlings.44 Wesley’s goal was formidable but his mission was clear. Preaching to the masses alone was insufficient, as his contemporary, George Whitefield, who would often preach to crowds exceeding twenty thousand, had proved. (Ben Franklin once calculated that Whitefield could be heard by thirty thousand people.45) Because Whitefield had no mechanism for preserving the fruit of his preaching, near the end of his life Whitefield called his converts “a rope of sand.”46 Wesley learned from Whitefield and building on Whitefield’s “field preaching,” Wesley added his class meetings—his small group system, and it was these class meetings that shaped a people and began the redemption of the nation.
Wesley’s approach to ministry was shaped by the biography of Catholic nobleman Monr. de Renty (1611-1649). “Throughout his life, Wesley continued to refer to de Renty as the epitome of Christian holiness coupled with concern for the poor and effective methodology.”47 De Renty’s small groups formed the model for Wesley’s class meetings—small groups that met regularly for encouragement and accountability. More importantly de Renty helped shape Wesley’s spiritual growth model.
The focus of the Anglican groups was personal growth through careful attention to themselves; de Renty concentrated on personal growth by ministering to the needs of others. The Anglicans hoped that Christian service would be the eventual outcome of their quest for personal holiness; de Renty viewed Christian service as the context in which personal holiness developed…. [F]or Wesley, de Renty’s model of growthIbid., 20.
through-service enabled him to steer his groups around the dangers of morbid introspection and mysticism.48 Wesley practiced what he preached—“There is no holiness apart from social holiness.”49 Among other things, he campaigned against the slave trade, agitated for prison and labor reform, including child labor; set up loan funds for the poor; opened a dispensary to distribute medicines to the poor; worked to solve unemployment; and personally gave away considerable sums of money to people in need.50 John Wesley may well be the understatement of the past two and a half centuries.
On February 24, 1791 at age 88, six days before his death, he wrote his last letter he would ever write to William Wilberforce, who was converted under Wesley’s ministry.51 In his letter he urged Wilberforce to continue his fight to end the slave trade.
Relentlessly, for the next sixteen years, Wilberforce pressed on to end slavery. Parliament outlawed England's participation in the slave trade in 1807 a few days before Wilberforce’s death and 800,000 slaves were set free. Wesley’s revolutionary concepts and methods of what church could be shaped not only what has become a denomination but an approach to externally focused ministry that touches us today.
Lovett H. Weems, John Wesley’s Message Today (Nashville, TN; Abington Press, 1992), 62.
The Life of John Wesley by John Telford; available from http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/telford/telford_ch20.htm; Internet; accessed 24 May 2007.