By Jon Wren
In the 18th century, some American cities began placing streetlamps in parks and at busy intersections to provide extra light and safety for their citizens. But the earliest lamps weren’t very efficient and had to be cleaned often due to the soot caused by the flame. In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin watched the lamps being cleaned and had an idea for a new design. He proposed using four flat panes of glass on the sides, a long funnel above to draw up the smoke, and crevices below to allow for air. Franklin’s lamp was brighter, cleaner, and more efficient—but it had one major problem: nobody in town wanted to use it!
After several failed attempts to convince city leaders of the new lamp’s benefits, Franklin decided to try something different. He built a lamp himself and set it up in front of his house for people to see as they passed by. Sure enough, Franklin’s lamp shone brighter and clearer than the other streetlamps. Within a few months, the city began replacing the old lamps with the new. That year, Franklin discovered a powerful truth: no suggestion or argument is as powerful as a good example.
In today’s world, there is no shortage of Christian suggestions or arguments. As believers, we can point to all kinds of books, websites, studies, and whole college courses filled with rational and reasonable arguments for the Christian faith. But if we’re honest, as Christ followers, we have to admit that there are far fewer good examples of people living their lives in a Christlike manner.
That’s why Communion is such an important and persuasive part of our faith. The act of coming together as Christian believers—even when we disagree about many less important matters—is a powerful witness to the world about what it means to follow Jesus. In a world filled with so much division, polarization, and tribalism, the example of Christians all around the world coming together for Communion might be the most powerful example there is! For as Christ himself told us, “You are the light of the world . . .” (Matthew 5:14).
Jon Wren works with the Office of Civil Rights, addressing the impact of gentrification on school desegregation. He loves history, college football, and once got a ticket for driving too slowly.
The reference to Ben Franklin and the street light is a very good one. The lesson is that examples may show some “how” and “why” when so much teaching is just “what” (suggestions and arguments).