The Barna organizations latest poll, The Crisis of Confidence in the Church. The following paragraph states the issue:
“I’d encourage you to pause and think about the significance of losing people’s confidence. A leader can only sustain forward movement if he/she has the confidence of the people being led into battle. Now, if a church is simply providing a safe comfort station for hurting people, that’s one thing. But if a church is intent upon facilitating a moral and spiritual revolution, recognizing that doing so is a declaration of war on current cultural preferences and values, the loss of confidence is a devastating setback. And – strategically – such confidence cannot be restored by simply waiting for the tide to turn; church leaders must intentionally win back people’s confidence through visionary leadership, holy character, and guiding people in transformational ministry efforts.”
This past weekend before even seeing Barna’s report, this is also one of the main emphasis I was making. You might say it has even been a theme of mine for some time. The church is in a state of confusion and the result is many are not certain what it’s mission and responsibilities are in an increasingly pagan culture. Even reading the comments on Barna’s short article show the lack of biblical literacy on our calling. “B Crump” has a lengthy comment in which they decry the non-acceptance of them by the organized church. There is a lot of truth to that. There seems to be an almost natural attempt to cause everyone to conform to the group. Independence is not encouraged in many cases. If you happened to really be called as a missionary to your culture, you will likely be a round peg in a square hole in many churches. Working with people is messy and churches don’t like messy because it is, well, messy. The ministry of the church in the first century was mostly about training, equipping and comforting hurting people who had come to the faith from paganism. It was a time to be loved in spite of your differences and readied to get back out into the mission field. The Apostle Paul in Romans 14 reminds the Romans to accept one another in spite of their differences.
Some comments imply that Jesus cared not a fig for doctrine. He wasn’t a theologian according to one but we can hardly read the gospels and come to that conclusion. He often appealed to Scripture for what He was doing or derided the religious leaders of the day for ignoring Scripture and even accused them of biblical illiteracy. For example, when the Sadducees tried to trap Him He responded in Matthew 22:29:
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.”
Another of the commenters, Vsheehan, targeted their comment on “Social Justice.”
“Social Justice was what Jesus was all about!!!! The Catholic Church trying to block healthcare for all is a perfect example of how Churches are more interested in shoving their worldview down peoples throats instead of caring for others.”
The first comment I have on this is to point out that we do not find anything in Scripture giving believers the responsibility to force non-believers, or unbelieving governments to take from one segment of society (believers and unbelievers alike) and dole it out to another segment of society who feel it is their due.
Christians down through the generations have been enormously charitable even to the point of sending vast amounts of food, clothes and medical supplies to nations where the dictators let these things sit and rot on the docks or sold them for their personal gain and left the starving to continue starving. Why are those who are calling for Social Justice unwilling to call these evil leaders to task?
Social Justice is a phrase that we hear often these days but will search the Scriptures in vain to find the concept. In addition, Vsheehan, like so many, distort and/or ignore what contributions many churches have made. Whatever our views of the Roman Catholic Church, they have done a great deal in addressing poverty. I believe and have argued that Rome proclaims a false gospel and yet, it is hard to argue with the vast amount of help Catholic Charities has given to so many for so long without expectation from the recipients. The flaws in the claim that Jesus “was all about” Social Justice are more extensive than I can address in this short piece but the core is important. It is an idea that comes not from Scripture but from Marxism. It assumes the world ought to be perfect and since it is not perfect it is our job to make sure every human has not only equal opportunity but equal stuff. The way to work this out is to steal stuff from those who have material possessions and give it to those who lack. Now we are not really talking about charity here but rather an equalization and redistribution of material wealth in an effort to eliminate poverty, sickness and illiteracy.
In Mark 14 a woman brought a very expensive vial of perfume and poured it over Jesus feet. The disciples were very upset and in their indignation pointed out that it could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. His response is quite telling:
”For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them;”(Mark 14:7)
Poverty is not something we will be able to solve this side of the Lord’s return. That doesn’t mean we ignore the poor. As the Lord said, “Whenever you wish you can do good to them.” That kind of charity is done best one on one. The one helping the poor is rewarded by the personal contact, the one being helped is helped and becomes known to those in their community. Relationships are built, caring relationships which are beneficial to all. In the Social Justice environment no one really benefits. The one whose stuff is taken is not happy because they were stolen from, usually by the government. The one who receives is not happy because they think they deserve more. The bureaucrat is the middle man to who gets it from both sides. The result is making all equally poor. The Scriptures show quite a different way of addressing physical need. In the Old Testament, farmers were not to harvest the corners of their field nor glean (pick up everything) the harvest (Lev. 23.22). The expectation was that those in need had to do something, accomplish some work, in order to have food. Here they were given opportunity on the farmers land, to gather and harvest food. They didn’t sit around and wait for someone to deliver it.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 the Apostle Paul clearly stated the same principle when he said:
“For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.“
The Apostle Paul makes a distinction between “widows” and “widows indeed” and gives strict guidelines:
“Honor widows who are widows indeed; but if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day. But she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.
Prescribe these things as well, so that they may be above reproach. But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.
But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.
If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.” (1 Timothy 5:3-16)
What we don’t find here is a women living in a taxpayer provided apartment, collecting a check (or credit card), food stamps, with a Droid mobile phone, color T.V., etc. There are responsibilities to be met before even being considered for church charity. Does she have family who should be taking care of her? Does she live out her faith? How has she treated others? She must stay busy and not be a busy body and gossip. All of this demonstrates that charity is something that should happen locally where the one in need is known and those helping can determine if the one in need has the ability to provide for themselves.
Throughout Scripture, the tenor is one of personal responsibility on the part of the one in need in a community environment and varying levels of responsibility on the part of those around the individuals in need.
I agree with your main point, although I’d like to add something: It’s easy to tell people that they have to do X, Y, and Z to be worthy of being helped, but that’s not what Matthew 25:35 and James2:15-16 teach. We Christians are guilty of refusing to meet people’s needs because it’s inconvenient. Instead we ignore those needs and then attack people who depend on government support.