If I asked you, "Is Christianity a good influence in a community?" you would regard my question to be ridiculous. Virtually every adult here is certain Christianity is a good influence in any community, or you would not be here. If you sincerely were convinced, heart and soul convinced, that Christianity is a bad influence on a community, you would not be here.

If your conviction is that Christianity is a good influence on a community, may I ask a question? What do you mean by "good influence"? I want to ask some questions. You answer my questions in your own thinking. Please DO NOT answer my questions in any manner other than in your own mind.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have a positive influence on the morality of that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have a positive influence on the ethics (concepts of right and wrong) of that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will a the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have a positive influence on the way people treat people in that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have a positive influence on the level of caring in that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community decrease the crime rate in that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

Will the fact that a significant number of Christians exist in a community have any positive impact on decreasing poverty and the things associated with poverty in that community? In your thinking, yes or no.

  1. I want to share two situations, one communicated by someone else, and one from my personal experience.
    1. The first situation comes from someone else.
      1. The elders encourage and make it possible for each of us on staff to attend one gathering a year as a type of continuing education experience.
        1. It is common for the staff to share tapes from these experiences.
        2. This information came from a tape Brad Pistole [youth minister] shared with me. The speaker who shared this information was Mr. Lynn Anderson.
      2. A British journalist researched this question and presented the findings in a one hour television program: "What is the impact of Christian faith on society?"
        1. Their primary objective was this: find the most Christianized city in Western civilization and examine the impact Christianity has on that city. The search was not restricted to one country.
        2. The criteria for determining the degree of Christianization was simple: find a city where more people go to church on a regular basis than in any other city.
        3. The city they selected [because of the percentage of people who attend church on a regular basis] was Dallas, Texas.
          1. What was shared was in no way used as an attack on Dallas, and I certainly have no desire to use the information in this way.
          2. By pure coincidence, the Church of Christ has the largest number of members in Dallas than in any other city in Western civilization.
      3. Life in Dallas was examined in a variety of ways:
        1. Health care
        2. Hospitals
        3. Emergency care
        4. Contagious diseases
        5. Infant mortality rate
        6. Job availability
        7. General economics
          1. How easy is it to get a job?
          2. How easy is it to get housing?
          3. The relationship between potential income and potential housing.
        8. Homelessness
        9. Racism
        10. The existence of abuse
        11. Crime rates
        12. Economic discrepancies
      4. Note this: the focus of the categories is on relationships and people-to-people interaction. (It was not an evaluation of that city as a city.)
      5. All of those categories were compared to cities which had significantly less people attending church on a regular basis.
      6. When they made these comparisons of Dallas to other cities in these selected categories, they concluded that Dallas was one of the worst cities to live in.
      7. They then arranged a meeting with respected preachers in the churches of the community.
        1. They shared their findings.
        2. They asked, "How do you explain this?"
        3. The common answer: "Those things do not concern us. We are spiritual leaders."
    2. The second situation is from personal experience.
      1. In October of 1993 Joyce and I spent three weeks in Gadansk, and Sopot Poland doing one-on-one private studies with high school students, college students, and young professionals.
        1. Basically we were doing follow up from the previous summer's work in "Let's Start Talking."
        2. We used the Gospel of Luke for the foundation of religious studies.
        3. After three weeks of long days and nights of one-on-one studies, we both were exhausted.
      2. On our return to Oxford, we spent four days in Copenhagen resting and touring the old city.
      3. I never have had an experience quite like that one.
        1. If you have traveled outside the United States, hold up your hand.
        2. Let me tell you about some of the experiences, and you will see why I was surprised.
        3. When we arrived in the airport, there were two signs.
          1. One sign said, "If you have something to declare, this way" with an arrow pointing the direction.
          2. The other sign said, "If you have nothing to declare, this way" with another arrow pointing to some double doors.
          3. We had nothing to declare, so we walked through the double doors--and to the outside sidewalk; no one checked us or anything we had.
        4. The first thing I noticed were clean, sanitary, convenient disposal containers for drug paraphernalia.
          1. It is not illegal to use recreational drugs.
          2. They did not want you to endanger anyone else with your needles.
        5. When Joyce and I checked into our hotel, there were advertising magazines by the telephone.
          1. The magazines were advertising available escort services.
          2. Listed were available ladies, their educational background, the number of languages spoken, etc.
          3. The information was not presented in what Americans would consider a pornographic manner.
      4. The city was as neat, clean, and very attractive.
        1. Stores having sales displayed merchandise on side walks UNATTENDED.
        2. We were there for two days before we saw our first policeman.
        3. The people were extremely courteous and helpful.
      5. Yet, Denmark is not a religious place.
        1. It is said in Denmark a person attends church three times in a lifetime.
        2. The first time is to be christened as a baby.
        3. The second time is to get married.
        4. The third time is for your own funeral.
      6. What would happen in our country if:
        1. You were not required to pass through customs at an entry air port?
        2. Recreational drugs were legal.
        3. Prostitution was legal and could advertise.
        4. Police had an almost invisible presence.
        5. Stores placed sales merchandise on the side walks unattended.
        6. Would our cities be safe, courteous, and clean?
        7. And we are considered a Christian society.
      7. From my American experience, those circumstances did not add up.

  2. I fear that something we did so long ago now deceives us and betrays God's purposes.
    1. Because of some arguments among ourselves decades ago about what the church can and cannot do, we made an artificial distinction.
      1. We separated what we labeled as "secular concerns" from what we labeled to be "spiritual concerns."
      2. We acknowledged God created us to be "secular beings" and "spiritual beings."
      3. But we created the impression God's primary concern is the "spiritual being."
      4. We created the impression that God's objective in our earthly existence is to destroy our interest in secular matters and to promote interest in spiritual matters.
        1. Then we called spiritual matters God's doctrinal concerns.
        2. We classified secular matters as being evil.
      5. That artificial separation has a horrible impact on us.
        1. Some Christians see no conflict between being very deceitful Monday through Saturday as long as they worship on Sunday.
        2. Some Christians see no conflict between having a secret sexual affair Monday through Saturday as long as they worship on Sunday.
        3. Some Christians see no conflict in being unconcerned about people around them as long as they can isolate themselves in the church.

  3. I want to challenge your minds and hearts by reading scripture.
    1. The first reading is from Isaiah 1:16,17 given after Isaiah told Judah that their correct worship disgusted God.
      "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow."
    2. The second is Psalm 15.
      Psalm 15:1-5 O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the Lord; He swears to his own hurt and does not change; He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
    3. The third is a statement Jesus made in Matthew 5:13-16.
      You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
    4. The fourth is part of a parable Jesus gave in Matthew 25:34-46.
      "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 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; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

May God give us the wisdom to grasp the proper balance of His concern for the whole person.

Question: if every Church of Christ in Fort Smith disappeared, ceased to exist, in 24 hours, would there be any noticeable impact on the well being of this community?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 24 March 2002

Addendum regarding sermon's focus on Dallas (especially for citizens of Dallas):

I gave a great deal of thought to using the Dallas information and actually contacted Lynn Anderson (who responded) before using that information as an illustration of a point. I even expressed a questioning attitude to Lynn regarding the journalist's attitude. My fear was this: some would focus on Dallas rather than on the all too common perspective in the church and among the broader umbrella of those who devote themselves to Christ. The artificial division between what is defined to be secular and what is defined to be spiritual is slaughtering too many Christians.

There are a number of weaknesses in the journalist's approach. (1) Much more is involved than "church attendance" in a community. Far too many attend churches, but are what I would consider to be unspiritual people. (2) The study was not about the Church of Christ but all churches that regard themselves Christian. It is too easy to personalize the research and react rather than be concerned about the artificial separation between the secular and spiritual. (3) Where influence for Christ is prominent, the influences for evil will be extremely active. Satan concentrates his opposition in situations that are more threatening to his control.

It is urgent that it be understood that those facts do not confirm Dallas is a horrible place to live. It is equally urgent that it be understood that every effort churches make in Dallas to reach out to people struggling is great, good, and right. I think it is entirely likely that some of the most challenging and encouraging things happening in the Church of Christ have their origin in courageous outreaches in Dallas.

When we exist within a social context wherein most of our association is with those of similar faith, it is very difficult to maintain an awareness of how dismal and desperate life is for many who exist separated from that context. I readily confess that is true for me. When someone finds justified fault with the church, my first inclination is to react by proving that they do not know all the good things happening in the congregation. I have to consciously remind myself that those good things may be blessing others, but those good things obviously are not touching the lives of the struggling fault finders. The temptation is to "do so much" that we can through our own efforts quieten every criticism. But that is a woefully inadequate approach that plays into the hands of those whose focus is consumed by our faults. We must depend on God's adequacy as we function as instruments in His hands.

I have visited with Ross Cochran [a professor of vocational ministry at Harding University] and I greatly appreciate his emphasis. May many ears understand his point and be lights and salt in their communities.

Some may believe that Christianity has no real moral effect on any community based on works Christians do for the community. Unless the church in Dallas is incredibly different from the church in every area I have known, I am sure that even there some Christians wish that the church would stop getting so involved in ungodly people's lives.

The roots of the need go very deep and entwine themselves around very emotional, complex concerns.

David Chadwell

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