A brief and selective history of Christians loving their neighbours.
This is from some research I was doing as part of my preparation for a preach on God's care for the poor. God works in His people so that He can work through them. This is true in many different ways, including caring for those in need. The Bible shows us that from the Old Testament into the New, generosity and compassion were defining characteristics of God’s people. This has continued ever since…
Aristides of Athens, 125AD: “They do not despise the widow or grieve the orphan. He that has distributes liberally to him that has not… And if there is among them any man who is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast for two or three days so that they may supply the needy with the food they need.”
John Ortburg, Who Is This Man?: “The Council of Nyssa [Fourth Century] decreed that wherever a cathedral existed, there must be a hospice, a place of caring for the sick and poor.” This continued throughout the spread of Christianity across Europe, and often included centres of education as well.
Julian the Apostate, Roman Emperor who tried to reverse the gains Christianity had made, 361AD: “It is disgraceful that while the impious Galileans support both their own poor and ours as well, everyone sees that our people lack aid from us.”
The practice of infanticide by exposure, which was common in the Roman Empire, was challenged and eventually outlawed by Christian influence, beginning with Christians rescuing the abandoned babies (often girls).
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1536: “The Lord commands us to do ‘good to all men,’ universally, a great part of whom, estimated according to their own merits, are very undeserving; but here the Scripture assists us with an excellent rule, when it inculcates, that we must not regard the intrinsic merit or men, but must consider the image of God in them, to which we owe all possible honour and love… Whoever, therefore, is presented to you that needs your kind offices, you have no reason to refuse him your assistance.”
Jonathan Edwards, 18th Century: “It is better to give to several that are not objects of charity, than to send away one that is.”
Western colonialism of the 16th to 19th Centuries perpetrated many evils, and too many Christians collaborated with this, but research is emerging which shows that “Areas where [independent] Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, great literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental organisations.” (Christianity Today, January 2014)
William Wilberforce and the “Clapham sect” of evangelicals spearheaded the fight to abolish the transatlantic slave trade.
In the 19th Century, “ragged schools” were founded by Christians to give free basic education to poor street children.
Thomas Barnado taught at these schools, as well as preaching the gospel beneath Edinburgh Castle and elsewhere, and founding hostels for homeless children. By his death there were 96 of them caring for 8,000 children.
Around the same time, the Salvation Army was campaigning for better wages for workers, helped women out of prostitution, and opened a match factory in 1891 to help match-sellers who had previously only been able to use toxic materials, paying them double.
At the level of national policy, Lord Shaftesbury pushed bills through parliament to improve workers’ conditions.
The Victorian Prime Minister William Gladstone and his wife were known to search the streets of London for prostitutes in order to take them to safe houses.
Compassion’s child sponsorship program is producing provable results: “sponsorship makes children 27 to 40 percent more likely to complete secondary school, and 50 to 80 percent more likely to complete a university education… when the child grows up, he is 14 to 18 percent more likely to obtain a salaried job, and 35 percent more likely to obtain a white-collar job.” (Christianity Today, June 2013)
Begun in 1983, Bethany Christian Trust now supports 6,000 homeless and vulnerable people in Scotland, from urgent assistance to long-term care and development.
Justice and Care has rescued hundreds of people from people trafficking and sex slavery in Asia, as well as bringing criminal prosecutions and training police officers and community leaders.