Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Friday, April 25, 2008

How Do We Do Social Justice? (VI)

Choosing Secular Ways Instead of Scriptural Ones to Help the Poor
Just last weekend I heard another one of my evangelical colleagues praying for revival. For much of evangelicalism today, revival is the default setting or doxological panic button. For every ill in society, we need revival, so the evangelical mantra goes. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against revival per se, but it seems to me that what we need substantially more is reformation. Once true reformation occurs, then—and only then—should we be talking about revival; and then only about a specific kind of revival. Historically, the Second Great Awakening was thoroughly Arminian and the modern Church is still reaping the saccharine, effeminate whirlwind that it produced. To make matters worse, the modern Church is without a compass when it comes to engaging the culture. Ironically, evangelicals don’t know what’s wrong with the culture because they don’t know what’s wrong with the evangelical church. On fewer occasions have the saved been so lost.
During the Second Great Awakening, revivalists like the now infamous Charles Finney “reviled churches for their formality and openly attacked their piety, liturgy, and clergy…. Finney and his followers orchestrated man-made revivals using techniques and manipulations designed to be entertaining and reproducible at any time and place.”[1]
In his latest book, David Wells issues the same verdict against modern evangelicalism. He writes, “In the last two or three decades evangelicals have discovered culture. That actually sounds more flattering that I intend. I would welcome a serious discussion about culture. We should be exploring what it is and how it works, rather than just looking at polls to see what is hot. A serious engagement with culture, though, is not what most evangelicals are about.”[2] What, then, does Wells believe evangelicals are “about?” “They want to know what the trends and fashions are that are ruffling the surface of contemporary life. They have no interest at all in what lies beneath the trends, none on how our modernized culture in the West shapes personal horizons, produces appetites, and provides us ways of processing the meaning of life…. Pragmatists to the last drop of blood, these evangelicals are now in the cultural waters, not to understand what is there, but to get some movement.”[3]
All of the foregoing is a kind of prelude to what I want to continue to say about Christians “doing” social justice. As often as not, if Christians speak about biblical methods, evangelicals are so steeped in pragmatism and so used to denigrating the Old Testament or ignoring it altogether that the tendency is to throw up our hands and say, “It’s too complex. Too much water is over the dam; you simply cannot reverse the welfare problem in America.” It surprises me that some pastors will take that approach and yet lament the immorality and poverty in our country. Therefore, as a Reformed pastor, I’m going to continue to lay out what I believe the Bible teaches on this matter and let the reader decide.
We have been saying that the Church is under no obligation to dole out money or food indiscriminately. A little later on, we’ll talk more about a difficult term: discrimination, and look at its positive use. It doesn’t always have to connote racism or bigotry. That needs to be said, because anytime Christians attempt to exercise biblical discernment these days, there is always the bleeding heart theological liberal who wants to scream “Foul!” It simply is not the case that the Church must be a spiritualized form of the government.
Calvin Beisner has concluded that 1 Timothy stipulates only two categories of people who are eligible for ongoing support from the Church. He writes, “In sum, Paul considers eligible for systematic financial support by the church only those who (1) have been left alone, unable to care for themselves and depending solely on God (5:5), or (2) are rending service to the church, whether preaching and teaching (5:17, 18).”[4] He continues, “Connection with the church must be seen not as a means of financial gain, but as an opportunity for service.”[5] This notion is all but lost on most evangelical churches today. In fact, it’s a rarity to find a great deal of exegesis or biblical reference occurring in modern evangelical writings. Perhaps that is why David Wells wrote the following concerning classical theological liberalism: “Liberals said Christianity was about deeds, not creeds. They said it was about life, not doctrine.”[6]
This is precisely the mantra of Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Don Miller, Doug Pagitt, and the rest of the emergent tribe conversation thing. The main problem is that the longer the “conversation” exists, the more Bible believing Christians have ample cause for alarm. Most recently, the cardinal Christian doctrines that have been called into question by the Emergent church crowd include the atonement, hell, the Second Coming of Christ, homosexuality, and the questions of inerrancy and infallibility will not be long in coming. David Wells describes it this way: “Emergent—at least those who read theology—seem to have stumbled on the postliberals, and this is what is now driving this new understanding of the function of Scripture.”[7] It would seem that emergents who read theology are truly few and far between. In fact, it is precisely the sloppy or non-existent exegesis that characterizes and typifies the writings of Wallis and the emergents. Even though they might not use the precise words that Wells uses, it is more than patently clear that Wallis and McLaren, especially in Wallis’ and McLaren’s latest books, are more about deeds than creeds, although McLaren in particular has long eschewed any creed after Nicaea.[8] This is a very clear and discernible trend in Wallis and McLaren and it is rather surprising to me that serious Christians even give them a second look; in fact, serious, discerning Christians don’t. The emergent movement is particularly attractive to the children of mega-church adherents, who received no spiritual legacy from their parents, who were busy being entertained to death. Wells is correct when he says that “Emergents are doctrinal minimalists.”[9] In one sense, they are only mimicking what their parents taught or didn’t teach them about how full of doctrine Scripture actually is.
It is essential that we fully grasp the above because a lack of scriptural truth will be crucial for developing any type of Christian notion of social ethics. Part of the major problems with Wallis and McLaren (and others) is precisely their lack of appreciation of Scripture, even though they may make, at times, make tangential, albeit tortured, reference to the Bible. How can we expect to derive anything that resembles a biblical worldview vis-à-vis the many social issues that face us today or, a personal ethics, for that matter? Having said that, I want us to understand the concept of poverty from a biblical perspective. There are many good books on the subject, but it seems that each generation has to look at the data anew. Therefore, let us proceed to our further discussion of what Scripture says about poverty and how it should be handled.

More Principles from the Book of Ruth
We’ve already investigated two principles about Old Testament gleaning from the book of Ruth. As we do this, we will listen to what George Grant wrote a couple of decades ago, but which is still applicable for us today. First, Grant pointed out, it was a law in Israel that required hard work and second, that in ancient Israel charity was almost always done on a private basis.[10] It is his third principle that brings us into a discussion concerning “discrimination.” He writes, “Biblical charity knows nothing of promiscuous handouts to sluggards.”[11] To the modern mind, this sounds harsh, but it isn’t. If Ruth worked, she ate—and so did Naomi; if she sat around waiting for the government to step in and save her, she would be very hungry. This is not unjust, because the author to the letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the following: “For since the message declared by angles proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb. 2:2-3). Laziness is a sin according to the Bible, so that those who chose not to work suffered the consequences of their sinful choices.Moreover, Grant reminds us that biblical discrimination, “far from being a villainous vice, is very often a venerable virtue…. Whereas the Bible explicitly condemns racism, unfairness, and oppression, it condones discrimination.”[12] Examples of divine discrimination are readily available. God chose Abram’s seed and rejected the surrounding nations. He discriminated between Jacob and Esau (cf. Gen. 25; Rom. 9:13). The wolves must be distinguished from the sheep; the goats from the sheep; and the tares from the wheat. That is not to say that we never care for needy wolves, goats, or tares, but that discrimination and discernment are of the utmost importance. Next week, Lord willing, we’ll continue along these lines.

[1] Bradley Heath, Millstones & Stumbling Blocks, (Tucson: Fenestra Books, 2006), p., 74.
[2] David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), p. 3.
[3] Ibid.
[4] E. Calvin Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001), p. 204.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Wells, TCBP, 5.
[7] Ibid., 16.
[8] See for instance, A Generous Orthodoxy where he does this repeatedly.
[9] Wells, TCBP, 17.
[10] See George Grant, Bringing in the Sheaves, (Atlanta: American Vision Press, 1985), pp. 80-81.
[11] Ibid., 82.
[12] Ibid.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

How Do We Do Social Justice? (V)

What Does Scripture Teach about Helping Those Who are Truly in Need?

There are various ways that the Church of Jesus Christ can help the poor, but when we do reach out to them, we should ensure that what we are doing is scriptural and not just a government program with a semblance of a Christian “sauce” poured over it. I promised last time that we would begin to examine what the scriptures teach us about the various means employed in the Bible to help the poor, especially since Jesus told us that we will always have the poor with us until his return (cf. Matt. 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8). His teaching is in keeping with what the Old Testament teaches as well regarding the poor, widow, and orphan (cf. Ex. 22:22-24; Deut. 24:17; 27:19; Ex. 23:6-7).

I mentioned that we’d begin our investigation from the concept of Old Testament gleaning in this issue. A number of texts outline this procedure for us, such as Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; and Deuteronomy 24:19-22. This last text adds as a reminder that the Israelites were to remember their harsh servitude in Egypt. The New Testament Church should remember its harsh servitude to sin and to be willing to aid the poor out of love for God.

It’s next to impossible to consider Old Testament gleaning and not think of the book of Ruth. George Grant has given us some good insights into what is being taught there. It is important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that God is working out his covenant promises in a quite remarkable manner in the book, but for our purposes today, we want to acknowledge that God is doing that, but shift our focus to examine the nature of gleaning.

We do this with a view to asking what the Church can do about the “war on poverty.” Part of the answer is that the first thing the Church needs to do is to stop acting like our nanny-state government. The biblical answer to poverty involves more than throwing money at the problem. Simultaneously, and this won’t be popular, church members will need to give to provide sufficient funds for the Deacons to perform their works of mercy and take an active role in their respective churches. For some this won’t be a problem; for others, it will require a huge alteration in their lives. Third, rather than having the government get more involved in the war on poverty they need to get out of the way.

One economist put it this way: “Let the government get out of the way of the productive energies of all groups in the population—rich, middle-class, and poor alike—and the result will be an enormous increase in the welfare and the standard of living of everyone, and most particular of the poor who are the ones supposedly helped by the miscalled welfare state.”[1] The Church has become so accustomed to the government handling this part of life that if she wishes to be obedient to the Lord in this area of church life, she will have to develop a new paradigm for “doing church.” There will have to be less and less of the glitz and entertainment factor and more spiritual elbow grease applied to this problem.

If what I am saying is perceived as a slam against McLaren, Wallis, Yoder, and the emergent crowd, it is. What they are proposing is little more than following the new ultra leftwing Democratic Party and just raise taxes and control the American people more and more. Their solutions are no real solutions at all because they are satisfied to maintain the status quo and keep taxing the American people to death while they pontificate about junk science like global warming. Their care for the poor lacks substance other than the economically ridiculous idea of raising taxes in order to stimulate the economy. The exact opposite occurs.

In Dr. Grant’s book, he provides us with some helpful insights that will aid us in building our outline of how the Church can aid those who are truly in need. He writes, “Biblical charity does not attempt to help families adjust to their situation. It attempted to change their situation. Biblical charity does not strive to make poverty and dependence more comfortable. It strives to make productivity and independence more attainable.”[2]

The Old Testament laws regarding gleaning in the fields required the landowners to leave the edges of their fields unharvested and any overlooked sheaves had to be left where they fell. The poor and alien were allowed to follow the harvesters and gather the grain left over. There are a couple of key principles here that need to be highlighted. First, the gleaners didn’t sit at home waiting for the “gleaning check” from the government or their Hebrew food stamps to arrive in the local mail so they’d have something to eat.

Second, and this is a corollary to the first point, the gleaners had to get out into the fields and in that sense work for what they received. They were welcome to gather the grain, but they had to work to get it. Ruth, who was from Moab, was not performing the work that Hebrews wouldn’t do. No, this was subsistence level living and often arduous work (comp. Ruth 2:2-7).

Grant’s first point for us then is that “recipients of Biblical charity must be diligent workers…”[3] This is a far cry from the scam artists that prey on churches as “soft touches.” They breeze in, get a handout, and breeze out never to be seen again, but sure to pass on where their friends can go for “free” food and/or money. To my mind, the practical outworking of this principle would go something like this: a male or female arrives at the church and needs assistance. The pastor explains that food is available, but that there is no cash on the premises. In order to receive some food, however, there is first some work that needs to be done around the building in terms of vacuuming, washing floors, carrying out trash, or the like. There should also be something in place that requires the person requesting aid to sit down and to listen to a presentation of the gospel prior to them receiving the food. Then the food should be given cheerfully and in the Name of Christ.

This approach has several advantages. I said last time that regeneration is the foundation of social stability. That is to say, poverty is not merely a monetary problem, but has much deeper roots into the spiritual condition of man. Any government handout does not take into account the presence and reality of sin. The Church knows better from Scripture and must attempt to minister to the whole man or woman. That will include speaking clearly about the gospel, teaching the virtues and values inherent in a disciplined work ethic, and instructing about what God says vis-à-vis family life and the responsibilities that parents have to their children.

The second principle learned from gleaning—and we’ll stop here for today—is that “Biblical charity is privately dispensed by the landowners, not by an overarching state institution (Ruth 2:4-16).”[4] Put in other terms, we will be hard pressed to find a government institution dispensing “welfare” in Israel. The closest we come to anything institutional in nature is when the Levites would grant certain tithes to the poor. In Deuteronomy 14:28-29 we read of a three-year tithe that was paid to the sojourner, fatherless, and widow, “who are within your towns.” Now we all know what the emergents are going to do. They are going to push the doxological panic button and get their shorts in a knot stating that the sojourners were the same as our illegal aliens. No, they weren’t. Besides, even if they were—and they aren’t—they would have to be known by those in the locale. Otherwise, how would those aiding these poor people know whether or not someone was an orphan or a widow?

The Old Testament Church was to manifest biblical love to others because they were to remember that they were once sojourners themselves (Deut. 10:17-19). It would seem that widows and orphans are especially helpless in this scenario because of their lack of husband or father, even though other family members might be around. This was certainly the case with Ruth. Thus, in addition to gleaning, the Lord God interjected a special tithe once every three years to prevent the poor from “going under.” In our next issue, we’ll delve more into the notion of gleaning and, Lord willing, we’ll draw some more principles for how we can administer social justice in the New Testament Church.

[1] Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty (NY: Macmillan, 1973), p. 184.

[2] George Grant, Bringing in the Sheaves, (Atlanta: American Vision Press, 1985), p. 80.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 81.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Do Girls Still have Cooties or What?

Public Schools and Insanity

Up until the age of about 12 or 13 when the hormones became “industrial strength” and went haywire, I was a convinced believer that girls had cooties. We even made “cootie catchers” by which we could taunt the girls. They thought we are all ridiculous and we couldn’t understand why they didn’t like dodge ball, tadpoles, and frogs. Today, young kids miss out on all that fun and back-and-forth male/female banter because what the politically correct, social do-gooders, and other nosy people are doing to rob them of their childhood.

I’m reading a book now entitled Leave Us Alone. Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives, by Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform. The title says it all, and it says it all for me as well. I am beyond tired of the government reaching its long tentacles into my life as a free American and trying to regulate and tax me to death.

I tell us all this because Mark Steyn had an excellent column on public education in the April 18th edition of The Orange County Register (“Attack of the preschool perverts.” Commentary). He chronicled the case of a young boy named Randy Castro, who attends school in Woodbridge, VA. Last November during recess he slapped a classmate on the back side. Now if I had done that as a kid, the playground teacher would have reprimanded me on the spot and that would probably have been the end of it. If it were an egregious swat on the buttocks I would have ended up in the principal’s office and maybe dad and mom would have been notified. Then I really would have been in trouble! Randy wasn’t so fortunate. The teacher on duty took him to the principal—so far, so good—and school officials called the cops!

Do you want to know what tops that piece of lunacy? At the age of 6, Randy Castro has been declared a sex offender! That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! The report accuses him of sexual harassment and it will remain on his record for the rest of his school days! Unbelievable. Do we as taxpayers actually pay people to be this stupid? With all the problems we have to deal with, a 6-year-old boy swatting a classmate on the backside ranks pretty low to normal people.

A 4-year-old boy was suspended for sexual harassment when he gave his teacher a hug before boarding the school bus home and was seen with his face touching her breasts. Well, the indignation of it all! We all know what perverse thoughts 4-year-olds carry around with them these days! Why the little “perv” was probably on Viagara or Cialis. Last year, the state of Maryland suspended 16 kindergartners for sexual harassment. Only 3 preschoolers were suspended for the same reason. They only had to taser 4 or 5 of the worse ones. It’s nice to know that our public educators and “school officials” are so “with it.” Next to the “Gun Free Zone” and “Zero Tolerance” signs they might consider adding a third: “Zero Wisdom and Sanity.”


AB 2943: Become a Criminal for Spanking Your Children

A Silly-Sally Piece of Legislation

Sally Lieber (D-Mountain View, CA) is the architect behind a proposed state bill (AB 2943). Effectively, she has reintroduced a bill (it was previously AB 755) that states that a parent who spanks his or her child would be placed on probation for a minimum of four years and would be forced to attend a nonviolent parental education class. In addition, the child would receive a criminal court protective order protecting the “victim” from further acts of violence.

In essence, therefore, Ms Lieber’s bit of politically correct, nanny-state social engineering dumps parental disciple of their children into categories that were previously only reserved for “child abuse.” Do you follow the liberal mindset here? Ms. Lieber—who, by the way, has no children. Surprise! Surprise!—believes that she knows how to care for your children much better than you do. Moreover, if you belong to a religious tradition that prescribes corporal punishment your particular belief in God does not come into play. Her bill reads this way: “Existing law makes it a crime for any person, under specified circumstances, to willfully cause or permit a child to suffer, or to inflict on a child unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.”

Oddly—intentionally?—any cogent definition of the precise meaning of the word “suffer” is left out of the bill. The same holds true for phrases such as “unjustifiable physical pain” or “(unjustifiable) mental suffering. I’ll say more about my attempt to get an answer from Ms. Lieber’s office in a moment.

No child under three years of age may be spanked. Ms. Lieber’s bill would make the spanking of a child three and under Illegal. Illegal immigrants are considered undocumented workers, but spanking a child is illegal. Current laws on California’s books adequately deal with special abuse problems. This makes one wonder what Ms. Lieber is really aiming at in her piece of legislation.

A spokesman for the Solano County, California Republican Party, Meredith Turney said, “There is contempt in the legislature for Judeo-Christian values and AB 2943 is the most blatant evident of this attempt to take away our freedom to raise children according to our beliefs.”

In a very real sense, the bill is unenforceable. What two-year-old is going to call 911 and report daddy and mommy? Looked from another perspective, however, this is a chilling piece of legislation. It is simply another attempt for government to step in and talk the children away from the parents and to usurp parental responsibility. For Christians, Scripture is quite clear that in certain cases corporal punishment is not merely recommended, but required. (cf. Prov. 22:15; 13:24). The last text from Proverbs does not say, as conventional wisdom has it, “He who spares the rod spoils the child.” No, the correct wording is, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son…”

Someone needs to give Ms. Lieber something substantial to do with her time. With Californians facing a $14 billion budget deficit, an illegal immigration influx that is off the charts, and state government spending and taxes off the charts, it seems that the last thing citizens of the Golden State need is another childless social engineer telling people how to raise their children.

Please give Ms. Lieber’s office a call (650.210.2000) and tell her staffers just how ludicrous and meddling this bill really is. When you call, do not expect to be treated fairly or civilly. Even though your tax money pays the salaries of the staffers, you are an annoyance, an inconvenience, and an inconvenient truth.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Pre-Order "Reforming or Conforming" is now taking pre-orders for the book that Gary L.W. Johnson and I edited. It will be an excellent resource for understanding and critiquing the Emergent Church.
There is a wide variety of contributors and an introduction by David Wells. I also contributed an article on Herman Bavinck's notion of "community," which is integral in the Emergent conversation.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

How Do We Do Social Justice? (IV)

What Can the Local Church Do?

In the March 20th issue, we noted that Scripture delineates four noteworthy characteristics or reasons of what often leads to poverty: laziness (or sloth), greed, being foolish (as opposed to being wise), and shortsightedness (or poor or no planning). The upshot of all these reasons for poverty is the adage that a poor man has poor ways.

As we reflect upon poverty and what can be done, there is an excellent opportunity for the Church to become engaged in reducing poverty, if only the Church will think and act biblically; Christianly. One of the greatest detriments to aiding the poor today is that far too many churches have an ineffective, non-functioning, or underfunded deaconry—or, all three taken together.

The purpose of biblical charity, as we shall see, must be to combine, wherever possible—scriptural charity with evangelism and discipleship.[1] Please note: evangelism and discipleship (equipping the saints cf. Eph. 4:11) belong together. As often as not, this is not being done in modern Christian churches. One of the biggest reasons why churches are not functioning as they should is due to the fact that they have no biblical plan of how to deal with biblical charity, which is more than just a little ironic.

For those of us who still believe that the Old Testament applies to the Christian life—and I do—, we can apply the following principle to our discussion: God promises prosperity and blessing to individuals and societies that abide by his Word (Deut. 4:5-9; 30:19-20; Ex. 23:25-26). Conversely, those who reject or ignore his Word should expect misery and judgment (Deut. 11:26-28; 28:15-68; 2 Chr. 24:20; Isa. 65:11-14).[2] Not surprisingly, the poorest nations on the face of the earth are those where there is not a noticeable Christian presence. Cal Beisner writes, “Un-biblical worldviews, seeing reality as disjointed, the gods as capricious, and power and wealth as achievable through luck or magic or karma rather than through hard and wise labor and cooperation, underlie the poverty of the Third World.”[3] Beisner adds, “…in general, the poorest nations are those least Christian and most spiritist, animist, Buddhist, Confucianist, and Hindu—the worldviews most radically inconsistent with Christianity.”[4] If this is true—and it is—then Christian churches should be hesitant, reluctant about sending a lot of money to Third World countries without a great deal of accountability. Without good accountability, a lot of money suffers under the law of unintended consequences, i.e., it never gets into the hands of those who need it most.

But rather than setting our sights across the globe, we’re interested here with what the modern Church can do about poverty in her specific, local setting. There are, in reality, a large number of things that she can do, but let me begin by giving you a basic, elementary outline.

First, the local church must decide and act on the fact that helping the poor through charity is not, in the first and foremost place, the government’s job. Despite the fact that hundreds of billions of dollars have been thrown in the direction of poverty over the course of several decades, the average rate of those who are at the statistical poverty level has remained steady somewhere between 13-15%. Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” did nothing—nothing—really and tangibly to change the percentage, even though his utopic “Great Society” spent billions of taxpayer dollars attempting to remedy the problem. Extraordinarily large amounts of taxpayer dollars were placed in the budget of various bureaucratic welfare agencies only to see the percentage rates of poverty remain—for all intents and purposes—the same. The American taxpayer worked long and hard yet received little, if any, bang for his or her tax buck. Government aid is not the solution; in fact, it is the problem.

The next step, after deciding that charity is not the government’s job, is for church leadership to determine, according to Scripture, who is actually eligible for charitable aid. For some, this will sound somewhat odd, since we are accustomed to giving aid to anyone and everyone, especially the scam artists who make their rounds and prey on the sensibilities of the local churches or the druggies that take church food boxes and sell the contents for drug money.

This is not to say that we should turn people away who are genuinely in need, but we should be wiser and more circumspect about how we use God’s money. We are called to be good stewards with it and not to be accomplices in promoting irresponsibility or in squandering what God’s people have provided. Whatever particular need confronts us in the local church, we need to ask ourselves this: Are we being good stewards with God’s money? If we’re not, we are, in all likelihood, following the worn out paths of the secular government or an ill-devised scheme of doling out money willy-nilly.

We shall take a look at some of the biblical tools at our disposal to do this in just a moment. For the present, it should be noticed that typically charity and service are quite often—but not always—linked in Scripture. Moreover, there are texts that limit those who are to be the immediate recipients of Christian charity.

Once it is decided that there is a general outline in place about who specifically will receive charity from the deacons, the next question to be answered is: How much should the qualified recipients be given? 1 Timothy 6:6-8 provides us with a helpful guideline. Verse 6 speaks to us about Christians and contentment. The same principle should apply universally to mankind. Verse 8 states that the essentials in life are food and clothing. Interestingly, there is nothing alluded to here about money changing hands, but Scripture does speak about providing two necessities: food and clothing.

In a more fully-orbed explanation, Beisner offers the following: “The standards of churches’ charitable giving, then, are three: (1) It should go only to those who cannot support themselves and cannot be supported by their families. (2) Its aim is to provide food and covering sufficient for basic survival and health. (3) Recipients must serve the church in return for charity insofar as they are able.”[5]

Therefore, with this basic outline in mind and in place, we want to ask ourselves how the Church can genuinely participate in the biblical war against poverty. We are called upon to reflect on what it is that we want to achieve as we actively, practically follow the commands of God vis-à-vis the poor. Clearly, our reflections must include various levels of how the Church of Jesus Christ can begin to administer true, biblical aid to those in need. This will necessitate us having a plan in place for those who are not truly in need, but who want us to believe that they are.

For example, the leaders of a local congregation should have thought through, and have in place, a plan for the ubiquitous “scammers” who prey on churches with their lies. At my home church, we make it plain to callers that the pastor or secretary has no cash in the building and that the caller will need to speak personally with one of our Deacons. The best way to do that is to attend worship with us and to speak with one or more Deacons afterwards, who will then make a decision whether or not the request is legitimate. This initial response typically ends the call, although not always.

If the scammer persists, their next ploy is to plead that they need the money immediately, and would love to come and worship with us, but they are from out of town and need the money to continue their journey. At this point, we suggest that in the case of an immediate need they should contact the Salvation Army. The usual reply is that they have already tried that and that the Salvation Army said that they cannot help. If you have taken the time to contact the Salvation Army by phone previously, the good folks over at the SA will inform you that they can always help someone in immediate need. At this point, it’s important to impress upon the caller that they are lying to you because you have talked with the Salvation Army and they will help. If they persist even further, tell them they need to go to the closest police station and they will help them in some way. That will terminate the conversation.

From time to time, we can get an odd assortment of druggies who drop by for a handout. You can usually see that they are on drugs by looking at their eyes and listening to their speech. I know because I’ve had a lot of practice with my Session. Just kidding. This is always a situation that I handle and not my secretary. With the rampant use of PCP and Meth these days, this type of caller can be particularly dangerous and the pastor must remove a woman from such a person’s presence, even if the person is a female druggie. Our standard operating procedure for this person—remember: you’re talking to a drug and not a rational, reasonable, cogent person—is the same for the previous example: come back Sunday, worship with us, and talk to a Deacon. If they come back and need food, of course we give it to them. What we’re thinking about now, however, is having the person receiving the food do some work around the church, such as vacuuming, cleaning the restrooms, arranging chairs, or dusting to earn their food rather than simply having them be accustomed to receiving a “freebie” handout.

I have also had it where a person came to our congregation and said that they needed money for food. We don’t do that. I did offer to take the person to a restaurant and buy them a meal. One person took me up on it. We went to a restaurant and I paid for their meal and got a cup of coffee for myself. While they ate and enjoyed their meal, I presented the gospel to them. And that is precisely what we are looking to do: combine our Christian charity with a presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Regeneration as the Foundation for Social Stability

While the secular government may have its myriad, multi-tiered welfare programs, our belief is this: “Regeneration is the only foundation for social stability and growth. Quiet, private piety that makes no difference in outward behavior and society is not the goal of the Christian life.”[6] This seems to be the clear injunction of Jesus’ Great Commission (cf. Matt. 28:20) and what Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 10:5. As I mentioned above, we are aiming at evangelizing the person seeking aid and not merely giving them something for nothing.

There is at least a two-pronged approach here. The pastor, his fellow-Elders, and the Deacons have the task of making personal and family financial counseling a part of their regular ministry—both within as well as outside the congregation. Far too many churches today have nothing in place in this important area of the Christian life and in Christian stewardship. We have programs and support groups out the wazoo, but little or nothing for our members or outsiders dealing with hard work, budgeting, saving, investing, comparative shopping v. impulse buying, tithing, staying out of debt, and biblical contentment with what God has given you.

This is one of the reasons that so many church people’s finances are in enormous disarray. We’ve been so busy entertaining them and making them feel good about themselves that we have failed to instruct them about what Scripture has to say about financial stewardship. It is an all but forgotten biblical maxim that people cannot prosper financially over the long haul by accepting handouts and “freebies,” especially if the handouts are taken coercively by the government and given to others. There will be no sense of “ownership” and we see this constantly in the way subsidized government housing is abused and trashed. Why should people care a great deal about something that is not theirs; about something where they have no sense of ownership?

Our caring social engineers and some evangelicals have worked hard to create the impression that people have a “right” to basic sustenance. In the process, however, they have not adequately—and in the case of the evangelicals, biblically—defined precisely what constitutes “basic” sustenance. Does everyone have a right to a car? To health insurance? To subsidized housing? Why or why not? What are the criteria we use to make such a judgment? Who decides? If we disagree with the decision is our money taken from us coercively anyway? Scripture is clear that throwing money at a situation irrespective of the other person’s productive activities is not caring; is not biblical (cf. 2 Thess. 3:10).

In other words, when people accept charity without rendering service in return, to whatever extent they are able, they choose a life of dependency that will impede their spiritual and economical growth. The modern Church in particular must be taught that it is a part of basic Christian maturity to be as self-supporting as possible and that they share in government’s violation of the eighth commandment when they accept government subsidies—whether to the poor or to the wealthy.

There are a number of ways that the local church can give to the poor, but they must all comport with biblical principles and not with pragmatic, secular solutions. In our next installment, we will begin to examine some of those forgotten principles and their application for Christian stewardship in our time. It is essential that we reflect upon these matters as members of Christ’s Church because the mega-church is imploding as we speak. Even its strongest proponent, Bill Hybels, has admitted that his “experiment” was a failure. Just think of the number of people that invested their lives in a Madison Avenue style of congregation only to hear the pastor say after thirty years, “You know, I think we did it all wrong.” That’s comparable to our governor out here in California looking at a $14 billion budget deficit and saying, “I think we’d screwed up a little,”—which he did. Thanks Bill and Arnold, but it’s just a little too late and the harsh reality of bankrupt souls and bankrupt state coffers has set in.

The Emergent church movement has zero to offer, unless you’re interested in becoming a Marxist. If the mega-church was satisfied with being entertained and amusing themselves to death, they passed that wonderful, rich spiritual legacy along to their children, many of whom are in the Emergent church if they haven’t jettisoned the faith altogether. If the mega-church constituents came away with precious little in terms of spirituality, the Emergent church has even less!

Does the Bible have guidance for us about financial stewardship? Yes, it does. Next issue, Lord willing, we’ll begin by examining the Old Testament concept of gleaning and what biblical principles we can deduce from that for our purposes in the New Testament Church today.

[1] E. Calvin Beisner, Prosperity and Poverty, (Eugene, OR, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), pp 205-207.

[2] Ibid., 197.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 198.

[5] Ibid., 205.

[6] Ibid. Italics mine.