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|Real Hope Lies in the Church||
In a day in which politicians profess promise in their party or policies, we must be reminded of one timeless truth: The true hope of America, both past and present, lies in the effectiveness of the local church.
The late Presbyterian pastor Clarence McCartney observed: "The poorest church building, a mere wooden shack, with broken windows and a whining organ, and bare benches, and scattered worshippers and a dull preacher, is yet a far more significant part of any community or city than a library with its thousands of volumes, or a bank with its Grecian columns and its vaults busting with gold and silver."
The church in America goes back to the foundation of our society, as we now know it. The pilgrims left the religious persecution of their European homes to establish a new life in a land where they were free to worship as they chose. Thus, one of the first structures of early American towns was the church building.
The early church served as a place not only to worship, but also to fellowship with neighbors, coordinate town activities, elect officials and meet the needs of others. Many of our great historical events and movements have been located in or affiliated with churches, from national independence to civil rights.
Today, the local church still stands as a primary source of strength, second only to the family, in communities from coast to coast. Whether it's an 18th-century cathedral in Boston or a converted shopping strip in South Central, when someone has a need, they can still turn to the nearest congregation. Consider the wide range of aid and inspiration provided by the church: fellowship with friends, consolation after the loss of a loved one, direction in difficult economic times, food for the poor, clothes for the needy, shelter for the homeless, and so much more. Churches whose members seek to live in harmony with New Testament teachings provide a secure and stable sense of family, an atmosphere of belonging and evidence that there is a God who cares.
Government may attempt to provide "social services" to the needy, but change seldom occurs simply by handing out cash grants. That is why President Bush's emphasis on "faith-based initiatives" rings true. Last year the President came to Dallas to celebrate the work of Dr. Tony Evans and his congregation at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. This church is making a difference in its own neighborhood through effective mentoring programs. Without a personal touch through people who genuinely care about those in need, social welfare simply becomes a tax burden. But when finances are used to fuel an existing core of concerned people -- a group very often associated with a church -- the positive effect is clearly demonstrated through the lives of those who are encouraged and enriched.
Archbishop William Temple wisely noted, "The church is the only society in the world which exists for the benefit of those outside its membership."
This selfless service to the community can be contrasted with the cold, self-serving attitude sometimes seen in elected officials and bureaucratic government agencies. Graft and greed run contrary to standard religious values, delivering most churches from the pitfalls of many local, state and federal agencies where bribes, kickbacks, scandals and other self-indulgent crimes are not unusual.
By empowering the local church to further its mission of helping their fellow man, we are empowering America to be strong. Through the power of the positive human touch, lives are being redeemed, families are being restored, and communities are being revitalized. Government has a role in our lives, but its role is limited. When the church accepts its divinely ordained role, there is no limit to the positive influence it can have in our lives and, in turn, our nation.
There is no substitute for "love that never fails" and no better place than the church to introduce people to that love and inspire them to share it freely and fearlessly. Those who grope in darkness will move toward the bright shining light of life...and that light is most clearly seen in the place best described as a "city set on a hill."