The church’s role in handouts

Last week I posted regarding the Government’s role in handouts and that the Bible does not limit nor restrict this in any form. Too often the American/Capitalistic spirit has imprinted itself on our Biblical exegesis causing us to misinterpret, or seek approval or condemnation for something we believe should be there when in fact it is not. This tint has affected our vision so that when we approach the Word we are already biased towards our viewpoint. This is not just in regards to what Government can/can’t or should/shouldn’t do, but also in regards to the church.

I have heard many, regardless of their stance on the Government’s morality in helping (or not) the poor, express the sentiment that the job does rightfully belong to the church first. This is an American principle, rather than a Biblical principle. The Scriptures no where tell the church to care for the poor. I have been guilty of proclaiming this as loud as any other.

The church has specific instructions from Acts 6. This is the first instance of the church helping anyone, but notice who it is they are helping. “there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” The people who were being neglected were the widows, and so the apostles then created the office of deacon. It could be summarized from this passage that the widows were the priority but that these deacons were also under instruction to care for the poor.

Paul clarifies first to the Thessalonians. It is not just anyone poor who is to receive aid. People who are lazy and refusing to care for themselves and their family were not to receive help.”7For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. 10For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.”

Paul further defines the church’s responsibility to Timothy: “9Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man. 10Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. 11But the younger widows refuse:”

Not only does this contradict the social gospel, but it also contradicts what most conservative fundamentalists believe. Timothy was to refuse to care for widows under 60. Refuse care to those that have not been well reported of for good works. Refuse them! Paul didn’t just say, “Care first for widows indeed, and then care for the others.” He said to refuse them.

No where do we see in Scripture that local churches are to have a deacon fund to help the poor and needy. Further, and probably surprising to many churches is the command to not help certain persons.

There is an individual mandate, not from Government but from Scripture, to each believer to care for the poor. The commands throughout Scripture to care for the poor and for those that have need are plenteous in both the Old and New Testaments. When we see someone have need, we are not to shut up our bowels of compassion to them. Christ said:

34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

James says: “15If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”

John says: “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

None of them say, “You saw me naked and called the Pastor and deacons; you saw a need and brought it to the church.” Christ didn’t send those on the left hand to everlasting destruction because they forgot to pick up the phone, but because they did it not to one of the least of these brethren. The responsibility is on them.

This argument of the poor being the church’s responsibility is an argument of shirked responsibility. It is a shifting of blame as old as the garden of Eden. We don’t want to feel that it is our job. We feel better if we can put that on someone else, and even better if we are justified in doing so by our American culture and our Christian influences. When those people we look to as leaders in our circles tell us something that relieves us of responsibility we gladly accept that message. We have taken a false message.

It is no one else’s job but our own. We are to care for the poor. We are to care for the needy. We are to be generous, and take pity. “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.” Proverbs 19:17

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