A photo capturing a group of people engaged in volunteer work, comforting the homeless, and providing food, symbolizing practical Christianity in action.

What Was Practical Christianity

Practical Christianity refers to living out Christian values in one’s daily life through acts of charity, compassion, service and love. Instead of only professing faith, practical Christianity focuses on actively making the world a better place by serving others just as Jesus served those around him.

If you’re short on time, practical Christianity means applying Christian principles like charity and love to actions in one’s daily life.

Origins and History of Practical Christianity

Early Church Practices

The early Christian church emphasized practical acts of service and charity as central to the faith. Christians were encouraged to care for the poor, visit those in prison, provide hospitality to travelers, and meet the needs of fellow believers (Acts 2:44-45, Hebrews 13:2).

Many early church writers like Justin Martyr and Tertullian described Christians as those who showed love through tangible acts of mercy.

An excellent example is a Christian leader named Tabitha in the book of Acts. She was “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). When she died, people mourned because she had cared for so many through sewing clothes and other acts of kindness.

Her story illustrates the hands-on, practical focus of early Christians.

Monastic Traditions of Service

In the 3rd century AD, some Christians began living in isolated communities or as hermits to devote themselves fully to God. By the 4th century, organized monastic communities emerged with a rule of life emphasizing prayer, manual labor, and hospitality.

For instance, the Rule of St. Benedict (written in the 6th century) instructed monks to welcome all visitors as Christ himself.

Over the centuries, monasteries became centers of practical service, providing food, shelter, education, and medical care to surrounding communities. Monks would copy manuscripts, maintain roads and bridges, care for the sick, and feed the poor. Their motto was “ora et labora” – prayer and work.

This monastic legacy shaped a theology valuing both contemplation and active service.

Protestant Views on Faith and Works

During the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther and other reformers reacted against abuses and corruptions in the medieval Catholic church. However, they affirmed the importance of living out one’s faith through good works and acts of service motivated by gratitude to God.

The reformers objected to good works as a means of earning salvation, which they saw as coming through God’s grace alone. But they strongly encouraged good works as the fruit and evidence of genuine faith.

For instance, Luther wrote that “faith is a living, restless thing” that “cannot help doing good works.” This emphasis continued through later Protestant theologians and ministers.

So while Protestantism rejected “works righteousness,” it retained a high place for practical Christianity – demonstrated through commendable professions, community involvement, generosity, and volunteerism motivated by the gospel.

Key Principles of Practical Christianity

Serving the Poor and Marginalized

Jesus consistently served and advocated for the poor, outcast, and marginalized in society (Matthew 25:31-46). Practical Christianity seeks to follow Christ’s example by serving those in need through acts of mercy and justice.

This could involve volunteering at a homeless shelter, donating to charity, pursuing fair housing and wages for all people, or simply showing kindness to someone who is struggling. As Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

Loving One’s Neighbor

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Practical Christianity takes these commandments seriously by striving to tangibly love others. This moves beyond surface-level niceties into sacrificial, unconditional love that seeks the flourishing of others.

Whether through serving our physical needs, emotional support, or spiritual encouragement, practical love changes lives and communities.

Living Out Christ’s Example

At the core of practical Christianity is the desire to live as Jesus did during his time on earth. As the apostle John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6). This means pursuing spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, and worship.

It also means embracing Christlike virtues such as humility, integrity, gentleness, and patience in our dealings with others. Practical Christianity mandates that one’s inner faith results in outward actions that align with God’s character.

By God’s power and grace, Christians can increasingly model the love and wisdom Jesus perfectly demonstrated.

Practical Christian Values in Action

Works of Mercy and Charity

Christians are called to demonstrate God’s unconditional love through acts of mercy and charity. This can include volunteering at soup kitchens, donating to food banks, visiting the sick or imprisoned, providing shelter for the homeless, supporting crisis pregnancy centers, and more.

Scripture encourages believers to “share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13) and care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Churches and Christian organizations mobilize volunteers and resources to meet pressing needs locally and globally.

Missions and Ministry

Obeying Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), Christians have spread the gospel through cross-cultural missions and local ministry. Today, hundreds of thousands of missionaries continue planting churches, translating Scripture, training leaders, educating children, healing the sick, and serving communities around the world.

Churches commission and support missionaries, send short-term teams, and engage locally through mercy ministries, evangelism, discipleship groups, and counseling centers to embody God’s compassion.

Social Reform and Justice

Christians have championed social reforms throughout history, from abolishing slavery and child labor to advancing civil rights and caring for orphans. Religious orders like the Salvation Army and urban ministries are on the frontlines addressing needs for the marginalized.

Believers are encouraged to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8) and “act justly and love mercy” (Micah 6:8). Christians continue to advocate for the oppressed, work to end human trafficking, promote ethical business, defend the unborn, and care for refugees.

The church brings spiritual and practical resources to bear on critical social needs.

Challenges in Practicing Practical Christianity

Apathy and Complacency

In today’s fast-paced world, it can be easy for Christians to become apathetic about their faith. With countless distractions and responsibilities, it’s tempting to push aside time for prayer, service, and community.

According to a 2019 Barna study, less than half of Christians in America prioritize their faith over hobbies and entertainment. This apathy can lead to spiritual stagnation and complacency. To overcome it, Christians must intentionally carve out time for spiritual disciplines and surround themselves with others who spur them on to godliness.

Balancing Works and Grace

Christians understand that salvation comes through God’s grace alone, yet living out their faith requires good works. Finding the right balance can be tricky. Some believers emphasize works over grace, viewing deeds as necessary to earn God’s favor.

Others focus on grace while neglecting the call to serve. The key is recognizing that works naturally flow from a heart transformed by grace. As Ephesians 2:8-10 states, Christians are saved by grace and created for good works.

Keeping the motivation rooted in gratitude, not obligation, helps keep the scale balanced.

Discerning True Needs

An essential aspect of practical Christianity is serving others. However, meeting people’s felt needs versus real needs is not always straightforward. For instance, giving money to someone begging on the street may temporarily alleviate hunger but not address deeper issues fueling it.

Christians striving to help must prayerfully discern each situation, consider consequences, and seek wise counsel if needed. Though not easy, the effort helps ensure acts of service lead to lasting impact rather than enabling detrimental behaviors.

With care and compassion, practical help can point people to the ultimate source of hope.

The Legacy of Practical Christianity

Impacts on Society

Practical Christianity had a significant impact on society in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement emphasized charity, reform, and social justice. Practical Christians established numerous organizations and institutions aimed at improving society and helping those in need.

Some of the key impacts of Practical Christianity include:

  • The creation of settlement houses like Hull House in Chicago, which provided services to immigrants and the urban poor.
  • New charities and charitable organizations like the Salvation Army and the YMCA which aimed to alleviate poverty and provide social services.
  • Advocacy for reforms like improved sanitation, workplace safety laws, compulsory education, and temperance.
  • Support for the abolitionist movement and racial equality.
  • College extension programs to make higher education more accessible.
  • Settlements in urban slums to provide aid and uplift local communities.
  • Support for the Social Gospel movement which applied Christian ethics to social problems.

Practical Christians helped make charity and social reform integral parts of American religious life. Their legacy continues today through organizations they founded which are still active serving local communities.

Continuing Relevance Today

While the prominence of Practical Christianity has faded, its core values continue to be relevant in modern society. There are several ways in which Practical Christian ideals are still put into practice today:

  • Faith-based charities and nonprofits continue serving those in need, a central theme of the movement. According to one estimate, faith-based organizations provide around $20 billion in social services annually.
  • Many churches and religious groups emphasize community service and engagement with social issues from a faith perspective.
  • The notion of identifying and responding to societal needs remains strong in many religious circles. For example, some churches have expanded efforts to address issues like homelessness, human trafficking, racial justice, environmental stewardship and more.
  • Ecumenical and interfaith charitable efforts bring together different religious traditions to work towards common goals of social improvement.
  • Collaboration between government agencies and faith-based nonprofits provides a “practical Christian” model of partnering for the greater good.

While not always overtly branded as such, the ethos of Practical Christianity can be seen today in faith-driven charities, socially conscious ministries, and religious groups that connect spiritual values with humanitarian work.

The legacy of the movement continues through ongoing efforts to apply Christian ideals to real-world needs.


In summary, practical Christianity involves embodying Christlike virtue through merciful works empowered by faith. Throughout history, Christians aiming to tangibly serve their neighbors have made immeasurable positive impacts.

The ongoing challenge for practitioners lies balancing humble service with divine grace. Yet the legacy and model set by Jesus himself continues inspiring practical love today.

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