By Dr. Adam B. Dooley
Christian Action League
March 23, 2023
History credits Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. with the assertion that some Christians are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. The same sentiment found its way into Johnny Cash’s 1977 album The Rambler when he recorded the song “No Earthly Good.” But is the idea true? Or is it really just the opposite? Despite contemporary notions that Christianity is a plague on society, believers anchored to eternity have often led efforts aimed at the betterment of society in the here and now.
Though secular elites now posit the modern university as the alternative to religious superstition, many of America’s oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning were started by devout Christians. The vision of the Puritans birthed Harvard and Yale. The motto of Princeton, started by early Presbyterians to train ministers, still reads, “Under God She Flourishes.” Brown University was the dream of the earliest Baptists in America. Dutch Reformed believers boast of Rutgers University. The same religious influence is just as obvious across the Atlantic. Oxford, Cambridge, and the University of Edinburgh all have thoroughly Christian roots. Sadly, a robust commitment to Scripture has waned in most of these organizations, but their origins nonetheless remain clear.
Ever wonder why so many hospitals bear denominational labels or are run by Christians? At the risk of being overly simplistic, caring for the sick is intrinsically a Christian idea. Our contemporary hospital system is the fruit of a Judeo-Christian ethic. As early as the fourth century, Christ followers began ministering to those who were ill in their homes. Albert Jonsen, in his Short History of Medical Ethics, reminds us that the first Christian hospital appeared during the same period at Caesarea in Cappadocia. Currently, over 700 faith-based hospitals exist in the United States.
The same pattern exists for orphanages. More than 8000 faith-based adoption agencies currently serve our nation. On the other side of the equation, evangelicals are twice as likely to adopt as are their secular counterparts. Names like Amy Carmichael and George Mueller are historical reminders of heroic saints who started orphanages and schools in order to rescue endangered children.
I do not mean to imply that only Christians do noble things; nor do I wish to insinuate that followers of Jesus have never fallen short of the standards and expectations of Scripture. Sometimes, even in the name of God, believers justify the unthinkable and bring shame to the name of Christ. Yet, the notion that casting an eye toward heaven leaves Christ followers blind to the needs around them seems contrary to reality. In fact, the most committed believers seem to be motivated by their eternal hope, not despite it.
William Wilberforce worked tirelessly to end slavery. Dietrich Bonhoeffer resisted Adolf Hitler and rescued Jews from the Nazis. Florence Nightingale founded modern nursing. Clara Barton established the American Red Cross. John Witherspoon helped craft the Declaration of Independence and promoted the virtue of freedom in a moral society. On and on I could go, but the point is that eternal priorities do not distract from the common good, they promote it.
In his letter to the Colossian church, the Apostle Paul captured the impetus behind the Christian pursuit of making the world a better place—Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve (Colossians 3:23-24). In other words, eternal rewards accompany eternal life. Though salvation is a complete work of grace that cannot be earned or deserved, God is eager to celebrate our faithful acts of obedience. The privilege of being in God’s family brings with it the responsibility of living fully yielded to the Lord.
A similar instruction appears in Paul’s Corinthian letter as well—we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Our longing to see God should inspire us to please God. The more heavenly minded we are, the better off our friends on this earth will be.
This editorial was first published in the Jackson Post, Jackson, Tennessee.
It is posted here with the author’s permission.
Dr. Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of ‘Hope When Life Unravels.’ Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.