In 2001, 75% of those polled by the Pew Research Center indicated that religious institutions have played a role in solving important social problems (Stonestreet, 2016), yet by 2016, the percentage had dropped significantly to only 58% (Lipka, 2016). This figure is disappointing, suggesting that the memories or knowledge of positive Christian influences have diminished. Accordingly, the intention of the following blog is to identify and share the significant contributions of Christianity to healthcare and education.
Healthcare in Ancient Times
In the Croatian Medical Journal, Tatjana Buklijas (2008) states that “while institutions providing some form of medical treatment existed in ancient Greece and Rome, neither of these cultures organized community care for the sick, poor, and needy (Risse, 1999). A radical change occurred in the late Antiquity, with the rise of Christianity, which embraced charity as one of its basic doctrines. The first hospitals were founded when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire (Risse, 1999).”
According to Knowles (2011, pp. 52-53), “the Graeco-Roman world was often cruel and inhumane. The weak and the sick were despised. Abortion, infanticide and poisoning were widely practiced. The doctor was often also a sorcerer, and the power to heal equally conferred the power to kill. Among the pagans of the classical world, only the Hippocratic band of physicians had a different attitude — they swore an oath to heal and not to harm, and to carry out their duty of care to the sick.”
“However, it wasn’t until the ‘conversion’ of Constantine that Christians were publicly able to express ethical convictions and undertake social reform. Even before that, stories of Christians caring for people had an enormous impact. In the second century, when plague hit the city of Carthage, pagan households threw sufferers onto the streets. The entire Christian community responded. They were seen on the streets, offering comfort and taking them into their own homes to be cared for. After Constantine, Julian, who came to power in AD 355, was the last Roman Emperor who tried to reinstitute paganism. In his Apology, Julian said that if the old religion wanted to succeed, it would need to care for people even better than the way Christians cared.”
In 369 A.D., St. Basil of Caesarea founded a 300-bed hospital, which was the first large-scale hospital for the disabled and the seriously ill. Patients in this type of monastic hospital further included the homeless, orphans, lepers, the elderly, the poor and the stranger (Crislip, 2005).
Healthcare in the Dark and Middle Ages
During the Dark Ages (476 – 1000 A.D.), rulers influenced by Christian values often directed and encouraged the building of hospitals. As an example, Charlemagne “decreed that every cathedral should have a school, monastery, and hospital attached” (Knowles, 2011, pp. 53).
“Rapid population growth in Europe during the 12th and 13th centuries prompted the creation of many hospital foundations initiated by diverse groups, including the Hospitallers of St John, Christian confraternities, rulers, prominent private individuals, and, increasingly, municipal authorities. Monastic healing officially ended after the Council of Clermont in 1130 when monks were instructed to cease practicing medicine” (Risse, 1999, pp. 54).
Despite occasional setbacks, religiously-affiliated hospitals still play an important role in society today. According to the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (previously the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health Care Workers), the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of hospitals in the world, with around 18,000 clinics and 5,500 hospitals with a majority located in developing countries. It is estimated that the Catholic Church manages twenty-six percent of the world’s healthcare facilities. The Catholic Church further runs around 16,000 homes for the elderly and people with special needs.
Patients may even prefer religiously-affiliated non-profit hospitals. In one recent study, German patients considered religiously-affiliated nonprofit hospitals to be more trustworthy and attractive than their nonprofit secular or for-profit counterparts (Seeman, Drevs, Gebele & Tscheulin, 2015).
The Salvation Army
Christianity has also inspired other ways to attend to society’s health. The story of the founding of the Salvation Army (see company website reference below) presents the perfect example. Around 1865, William Booth took to the streets of London to spread the Good News of Christianity. He and his group of a thousand volunteers and evangelists were on a “Christian mission” when they targeted gamblers, drunkards, thieves and prostitutes. Like Jesus, he inspired changes from the lowest walks of society – and his targets became the mission’s first converts and living testimonies to the power of God.
Between 1881 and 1885, Booth’s followers called themselves “Salvationists,” or “soldiers in Christ” as they launched an offensive that converted 250,000 Christians throughout the British Isles. Their mission eventually spread to America, Canada, Australia, France, Switzerland, Iceland, India, South Africa and Germany.
The Salvation Army still tremendously impacts society. What do they do? According to the Salvation Army, they “meet human need without discrimination;” they “assist approximately 25 million annually;” and they “serve in 128 countries around the globe.”
In addition to health and charitable organizations, Christians have founded numerous high level, prestigious universities. The following four Ivy League Schools owe their origins to the Gospels: Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Dartmouth. Outside of the United States, Oxford was founded by various religious orders around 1096; Cambridge was established in 1209 by Christian leaders; and St. Andrews was founded in 1410 for the teaching and studying of theology.
Harvard was founded in 1636 with the intention to train Christian ministers. In 1692, its Latin motto was “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae,” which means “Truth for Christ and the Church.”
Alexander Leitch (1978) states that the founding of Princeton “like that of Brown, Rutgers, and Dartmouth, was one of the consequences of The Great Awakening, the series of religious revivals that swept the English colonies in America in the eighteenth century. The Great Awakening had other important social and political consequences, too. It brought an upsurge in missionary activities among the Indians and the first important movement against slavery. Of special importance for Princeton, it increased opposition to the Anglican Church and the royal officials who supported it, and created a democratic spirit in religion that was allied to the insistence on political home rule that eventually brought independence from Britain.”
“The Great Awakening is said to have begun in New Jersey about 1720 with revival meetings in the Raritan Valley led by a Dutch Reformed pastor, Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, who emphasized the religion of the heart over doctrine and liturgy. It was carried on throughout the Middle Colonies under the leadership of zealous evangelical graduates of the Log College, founded in Pennsylvania about 1726 by Presbyterian William Tennent. In New England the movement was led by the stirring preaching of Congregationalist Jonathan Edwards at Northampton, Massachusetts. These and other revivalistic activities were stimulated in the years 1739 to 1741 by the tours of the English evangelist, George Whitefield. The activities spread with the preaching of Presbyterian Samuel Davies in Virginia and with later efforts of Baptists and Methodists in other parts of the South.”
…“’Though our great Intention was to erect a seminary for educating Ministers of the Gospel,” one of the founders later wrote in a letter to another clergyman, ‘yet we hope it will be useful in other learned professions — Ornaments of the State as Well as the Church. Therefore we propose to make the plan of Education as extensive as our Circumstances will admit.’ The College, furthermore, was not to be solely for Presbyterians: ‘The most effectual Care is taken in our Charter to secure the Rights of Conscience,’ the Trustee wrote in this same letter. “Persons of all persuasions are to have free access to the Honours & Privileges of the College, while they behave themselves with Sobriety and Virtue.’”
In 1701, congregational ministers founded Yale with the intentions to train men to serve the church and state.
“It may come as surprise that when Yale University was founded on this day, October 16, 1701, it was by Congregationalist ministers unhappy with the growing liberalism at Harvard. It wasn’t called Yale then, of course, but rather the Collegiate School. The ministers donated forty books and declared their objective, that “Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences who through the blessing of God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State” (Graves, 2010).
Dartmouth was founded by a congregational minister called Eleazar Wheelock in 1769 “to bring Christianity to Native Americans.” Its Latin motto, “Motto, vox, clamantis in deserto” is translated as a “voice crying out in the wilderness.” The voice in the wilderness, which was prophesied by Isaiah (40:3), is John the Baptist (John 1:23).
Aside from Christians’ contributions to our healthcare and universities, Christians have inspired reforms in our civil liberties (Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.), prisons (Quakers) and legal systems (Stephen Langton in the Magna Carta). Anti-slavery movements in England and Christian abolitionists in the United States helped to end slavery. And Harriet Tubman, a leader in the underground railroad to free slaves from the Southern U.S. states, epitomized servant leadership and Christianity. For an excellent review on the abolition of slavery in the United States, please click here: https://townhall.com/columnists/dineshdsouza/2008/01/14/how-christians-ended-slavery-n962085
So, when skeptics indicate that Christians have served little positive purpose over our two thousand year history, be sure to point them to our health and education institutions and the many reforms to which Christians have positively contributed.
Thank you for your time.
Buklijas, T. (2008). Medicine and Society in the Medieval Hospital. Croatian Medical Journal, 49(2): 151-154.
Crislip, A.T. (2005). From monastery to hospital: Christian monasticism and the transformation of healthcare in late antiquity. University of Michigan Press.
Graves, D. (2010). Yale founded to fight liberalism. Christianity.com. Accessed April 21, 2018 at: https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1701-1800/yale-founded-to-fight-liberalism-11630185.html
Knowles, R. (2011). The Christian contribution to healthcare. Nucleus: the Freshers’ Edition. Accessed April 21, 2018 at: http://admin.cmf.org.uk/pdf/nucleus/sum16/sum16.pdf
Leitch, A. (1978). A Princeton Companion. Princeton University Press. Accessed April 21, 2018 at: https://etcweb.princeton.edu/CampusWWW/Companion/founding_princeton.html
Lipka, M. (2016). Are churches key to solving social problems? Fewer Americans now think so. Pew Research. Accessed April 21, 2018 at: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/18/are-churches-key-to-solving-social-problems-fewer-americans-now-think-so/
Risse GB. Mending bodies, saving souls: a history of hospitals. New York (NY): Oxford University Press; 1999.
Salvation Army. (2018). History of the Salvation Army. Accessed April 21, 2018 at: https://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/history-of-the-salvation-army/
Seeman, A., Drevs, F., Gebele, C. & Tscheulin, D. (2015). Are religiously affiliated hospitals more than just nonprofits? A study on stereotypical patient perceptions and preferences. Journal of Religion & Health, 54(3): 1027-1039.
Stonestreet, J. (2016). No Christianity, no hospitals: Don’t take Christian contributions for granted. CNSNews.com. August 1. Accessed April 21, 2018 at: https://www.cnsnews.com/commentary/john-stonestreet/no-christianity-no-hospitals-dont-take-christian-contributions-granted