15 September 2008

by Rod Benson

I believe the local church is the hope of the world.

I’m not the first to have that thought – Bill Hybels and other peak Christian leaders have mentioned it many times. If you look at the life and ministry of Jesus, you’ll see that his ministry strategy and emphases focused on a small group of like-minded people who knew God, and wanted to obey him, and were convinced that they held the answer to the world’s hopelessness.

But what does it mean to convey Christian hope? Fundamentally there is the process of repentance and faith, the “new birth,” as John calls it. That experience, whether in an instant or across months or years, transforms a person from “darkness” to “light,” bringing new hope. As more individuals follow Christ, changes appear on a wider scale, and whole communities and nations are impacted. Ultimately the resurrection of Jesus, the centre and ground of hope, will transform every aspect of existence.

Evangelism and mission are essential to this process. So too are simple acts of compassion and grace, and the cultivation of Christian virtues in ordinary lives. I’d like to think that a world of lost, lonely and hurting people might find hope simply by crossing the path of a trusted Christian friend. And I’d like to think that our Baptist churches will be communities where such connections happen.

Moral qualities such as altruism, responsibility and justice do not descend on great leaders out of the air. They are cultivated and shaped in ordinary people, often away from the spotlight, early in life, often in the transactions between a parent and child. And they are most often strengthened by a moral community such as a local church. Historically, where the churches have been humble and missional, great good has come; where the churches have been haughty and institutional, society has crumbled.

We have an awesome responsibility then: together, to be the bearers and harbingers of Christian virtues and Christian hope, shaping and being shaped by our communities. Therein lies the hope of the world, as Jesus well knew.

Rev Rod Benson is an ethicist and public theologian with the Tinsley Institute, an activity of Morling College, Sydney.