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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.

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.

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23 Comments:

Blogger Calvinist sojourner said...

Ron, I very much appreciate what you say about those who come to churches for aid. It seems to me, however, that your scenario has some potential problems, and I am wondering if there is a better alternative.

I would be concerned to bring a non-believer into the church to work for liability purposes. People concoct all kinds of excuses to bring a lawsuit. Is there another way we can help people to be provided with the proper aid without asking them to work on our premises?

11:47 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

"Potential" problems have not yet (after 27 years) proved to be actuality. If you want to solve the "lawsuit dilemma" then the church can take out a liability policy, which we have. They aren't that expensive, especially if you're concerned about litigation.
Btw, I have written on global warming. It is a recent article and, Lord willing, I will be writing more.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

I'm just wondering if our nation gets out of the way...? How will the church begin to deal with the foreigners within our gates?

I look forward to your reply :)

7:09 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Foreigners or illegal aliens? You continuously confuse the two and they are very different. It is not the church's responsibility to deport those in this country illegally. I do believe that a pastor has a moral obligation to report illegal aliens to the authorities.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

foreigners and illegal aliens? the O.T. nations would have automatically slaughtered those with whom they disagreed... and the Israelites did this at times. Yet, Israel is instructed to treat these people as their own.

Foreigners were strangers, people who didn't belong, people who had no home.

Your use of 'illegal aliens' works well for a legalistic perspective. It keeps right wing politics working for Christians. Yet, it also fails to answer any biblical questions.

Ron... how are you the bearer of 'good news' to the illegal alien with your political bent? I dare bet that your gospel is not good news in any way. Thus, you have no good news to tell them.

So, much for a gospel that has power to transform lives. When you have good news for the 'illegals' as you call them, then the gospel will carry real weight.

I find it so ironic that you allow our govt. to qualify 'illegals' and yet you don't respect our abortion rights nor our tax rates.

The gospel doesn't explicity talk about abortion either, and yet we agree that these lives are worthy of love. Perhaps it's time that the illegals in our midst are also worthy of the love of people who call themselves Christ followers.

Until then, our witness is less than is required of us.

3:40 PM  
Blogger wordsmith said...

The foreigners in Israel's midst were those who had consented to subject themselves to the laws of the nation of Israel. That's quite a contrast to the illegal aliens who disregard our laws not only in the way in which they come here, but continue to flout our laws regarding zoning, driver's licenses and insurance, DUI, hit and run, falsification of work papers and/or social security numbers, gangs, skipping out on hospital bills...

4:28 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

There's another side to this coin. While I will readily agree that many illegals come here for economic reasons, there are also many who come here with the intention of undermining our system. Some are part of the "Raza" movement that seeks to retake the American Southwest for Mexico. Some are part of a concerted effort to totally remove national borders. Some come in as part of terrorist cells.

The Old Testament references to dealing with aliens has nothing to do with our present situation. The Bible also talks about following the law, which illegals are not doing.

While I am at it, the Bible also has strictures for those who do not handle the Word of God accurately. Teachers are especially under stricter judgment. Randy, you continually chide conservatives -- biblical and political -- for their perceived wrongs. What you don't seem to understand is that a conservative viewpoint is precisely what develops when you take the Bible seriously and interpret it accurately.

You have serious issues with hermeneutics.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

The gospel doesn't explicity talk about abortion either, and yet we agree that these lives are worthy of love. Perhaps it's time that the illegals in our midst are also worthy of the love of people who call themselves Christ followers.

Randy,

Do all criminals get off scot-free with you, or only the ones guilty of crimes for which leftists have sympathy?

Let's just replaced "illegals" with another class of criminal that the Bible doesn't specifically talk about:

"Perhaps it's time that the child pornographers in our midst are also worthy of the love of people who call themselves Christ followers."

Do you still agree?

8:16 PM  
Blogger Matt J. said...

Slippery Slope fallacy + Red Herring fallacy + Non Sequitur = Randy.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

"What you don't seem to understand is that a conservative viewpoint is precisely what develops when you take the Bible seriously and interpret it accurately."

Oh my God! Bowing to the American flag is in fact idol worship.

As for the illegals, the disciples asked, "Who is my neighbor?"

This isn't about bad exegesis. This is about our own selfishness, our own insecurities, our own desire to love of nation, and our own desires to follow things other than a gospel that calls us to full submission to a living God.

While illegals may be guilty of being here illegally, we still have blood on our hands for killing millions of babies through abortion. Yet, God has not called nuclear bombs upon us. So, why is our compassion toward 'illegals' less than his compassion on us?

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." Or was he joking when he spread out his arms and died for us?

6:27 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
You really do need to stop ranting and start trying to think a little more.
I've written on the place of the "sojourner" in ancient Israel. It's on here and you can search the archived articles and read it. In short, however, the sojourner was required to live by the laws of Israel. Ruth, for example, had to glean according to the laws of gleaning.
I don't believe that what is being said is that we are to "bow" to the flag. When I served in the military we were to salute our flag. What was suggested is that the Democratic Party has planks in its platform that are clearly unbiblical. The Republican Party does as well, but in the political process, like all ethics, there are gradations of good, better, best and bad, worse, worst.
Since you raise the issue of abortion, I would like to know from you how you--or any Christian for that matter--can vote for a political party that is so clearly and obviously pro-abortion.
While you're ranting about people who are patriotic you might consider that the Dems are pro-choice and that they really haven't done anything to rid this country of poverty; in fact, they've only thrown taxpayer dollars at the problem--kind of like public schools: They are miserable failures and have been for a while, but we throw more money at it year after year. After all, "it's for the kids." Yeah, right.
You make my points for me continually. Yes, the illegals are here illegally. That's why they're called illegals. They are breaking the law.
Send them all back and let them come into this country legally. You might also be a little exercised about what a corrupt country Mexico is. Oh, btw, have you checked their border policies lately? It might be an eye-opener for you.

7:20 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Randy,

You never fail to miss an opportunity to miss the point. "Conservative" in the context of what I said has nothing to do with bowing to the American flag or Republicanism. I am talking philosophy, not politics. Until you can understand the distinction, you'll never understand what I meant.

In terms of theology, liberals love to allegorize, misapply or ignore the plain teaching of Scripture. Conservatives believe Scripture says what it means and means what it says. Conservatives believe words mean things and that ideas have consequences. Conservatives believe that Scripture interprets Scripture. Conservatives believe in a little thing called context and history.

I really shouldn't have to explain this to you. And shame on you for taking the Lord's name in vain.

7:44 AM  
Blogger wordsmith said...

solameanie,

I too was wondering if Randy had ever heard of the third commandment. I guess it's not as important as accusing conservative believers of wrapping themselves up in the flag.

And he chides us for smorgasbord religion!

Let's see...there's a word for people who do what they accuse others of doing....

10:21 AM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Wordsmith,

Yep. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Regretfully too, because Randy and I -- while disagreeing -- have had pleasant exchanges in the past. But of late, his posting here has nearly taken the attitude of what they call an Internet troll. He really doesn't engage. He just taunts and jeers.

For his benefit, I will be the first to agree that sometimes anti-immigrant rhetoric does get over the top among some conservative political and religious commentators. But throwing open our borders willy-nilly and calling out "ollie ollie oxen free" isn't the answer.

Let's start with recognizing the rule of law and that a state has the right and duty to control its borders. Let's begin by encouraging political and economic reform in Mexico and Central America, and holding their systems accountable for the corruption that drives people out of their countries.

Let's also not be stupid and refuse to recognize that a healthy dollop of "immigrants" have another more nefarious reason for flouting our immigration laws.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

Solameanie,

O.K., I apologize for the comment, but I understood it as yes -- republican politics.

You can argue about the third commandment, but my thought was just that --- a cry to our Creator.

I was talking with two farmers this weekend after worship. I doubt either has ever voted for a democrat in their lives. Likely never.

Then they began talking about the conservative position held by the republican party regarding immigration.

They employ immigrants --- immigrants believed to be legal. Here is what one of them said:

"It's an embarassment the way Christians think regarding our current immigration policy."

Once these farmers walk next to their employees, once they take the second commandment seriously, then they have no choice but to fogive ("illegal immigrant" stuff) and see these people as their neighbors.

This is what I can not understand. When the disciples ask, "Who is our neighbor" - Jesus responds by saying the entire law rests upon the first two commandments.

Then, with a 'conservative' perspcetive, we choose to ignore the essence of the gospel because someone is 'illegal.'

There is simply no justification for ignoring the heart of the gospel. In which case, I believe that I stand as a solid conservative.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Kyle said...

Randy,

Being neighborly to an illegal immigrant does not equate to ignoring their law-breaking or ending all immigration control.

7:01 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

The Gospel has nothing to do with illegal immigration. The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead for our justification. 1 Corinthians 15 defines the Gospel. Of course, there are things that are fruit of the Gospel, or outworkings of the Gospel once one is regenerate, but you can't throw everything including the kitchen sink and call it the Gospel. That gets done way too often and it does violence to what Jesus did on the cross. He died on the cross to deal with human sin, not to give credence to a leftist social agenda.

You are also confusing the role of the individual in being kind and generous to the needy with the responsibilities and duties of rulers and the nation-state. I as an individual can give an immigrant a helping hand, however it is the role of the state to enforce the law.

While I am digressing, I am getting very tired of the canard that conservatives oppose illegal immigration because of racist reasons or "hate." Or that opposing illegal immigration is somehow tantamount to genocide or cruelty. These types of charges are a typical bludgeon words used to avoid the genuine issues at stake.

Immigration, like anything else, must have rules and order, otherwise you have anarchy and chaos. There are many things that need to be taken into consideration, most notably assimilation into the culture. These days, instead of assimilation we have Balkanization, and that is a recipe for disaster.

We'd better start actually thinking about this instead of blindly emoting.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

Blindly emoting... it was the far right within the republican party that halted all immigration reform last year.

While we don't agree on methods, it wasn't the middle nor the left that kept the reforms from moving forward.

6:21 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

Another "nyah-nyah" dodge.

Deal with the substance, please.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Randy,
Learn to read. They were not "reforms," just called that and the American people said NO!

12:24 PM  
Blogger jazzact13 said...

--Blindly emoting... it was the far right within the republican party that halted all immigration reform last year.--

Refresh my memory, please. What reforms were there that the Republicans halted?

1:20 PM  
Blogger SolaMeanie said...

I might also add that there were plenty of Democrats who didn't support the so-called reforms. Conservative Democrats, of course. Can you call a Democrat "far right?"

Randy, one of these days I am going to have to examine one of your dressers or closets. If I find tie-dye t-shirts, Woodstock tickets, Country Joe and the Fish records and hash brownies, I will quickly arrange to have you sent off to a re-education camp.

Just kidding.

2:21 PM  
Blogger Matt J. said...

"Once these farmers walk next to their employees, once they take the second commandment seriously, then they have no choice but to fogive ("illegal immigrant" stuff) and see these people as their neighbors."

Randy, I'm glad you said that because I will be looking for a place to live soon. After I break into your home where you and your family live and refuse to leave (using your phone, electricity, food, space, tv, car, etc. -- possibly commit a violent crime, steal your identity, or bring the rest of my family with me), will you simply forgive my "illegal" stuff and just see me as your neighbor or will you call the police? By the way, I demand the right to be treated exactly the same as anybody else in your house with all of the rights you have as the homeowner. Only then will you be a true Christian...

12:32 AM  

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