Hey, Mr. Falwell, Read Your Bible

Gleaning.jpgI’m amazed at the comments being made by some evangelicals, in this case the son of Jerry Falwell, that “charity” is purely voluntary and individual, and that charity is not designed by God or by Jesus to be something done by the government. What is happening is that some conservatives are now equating libertarian principles with the Bible and with the biblical world. Libertarian care for the poor is utopian. I quote from Falwell, not because he’s alone, but because he represents a growing trend. Here is a clip from CNN.com:

But a prominent evangelical leader says he, too, is suspicious of churches that preach economic and social justice.

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, a Christian college in Virginia, says Jesus wasn’t interested in politics. He says that those pastors who preach economic and social justice “are trying to twist the gospel to say the gospel supported socialism.”

Jesus taught that we should give to the poor and support widows, but he never said that we should elect a government that would take money from our neighbor’s hand and give it to the poor,” Falwell says.

Falwell says that Jesus believed that individuals, not governments, should help the poor.

“If we all did as Jesus did when he helped the poor, we wouldn’t need the government,” says Falwell, the son of the late evangelical leader, the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

So, let’s consider some basic texts in the Law, which means this: according to our understanding of Scripture, this is God speaking and this is God’s will and this is God’s will for Israel and this is God’s will for a people that was still following that will at the time of Jesus and at the time of the Apostle Paul. Since they never said, “This stuff is verboten, we can assume they thought this sort of law was viable for their world.” That Jesus didn’t speak about electing a government is beside the point; he didn’t have that option. He did live in a world governed by a Torah that let the government have laws that mandated care for the poor. He lived in a world that didn’t just leave it up to individuals. Sure, there was lots of private charity. That too, on top of laws. 

And we ought not to construct our Christian principles on what Jesus didn’t say.

Are you seeing an increasing connection of libertarianism with the Bible? Do you think the Bible is anti-government mandated care for the poor? Do you see a radical voluntarism as the biblical model for caring for the poor?

One more point before we get to a simple case for government-mandated charity: I’m not saying whatever the government wants, the government can have. Our government is getting too greedy, and it is getting its hands into too many pockets, and the government needs to be much more fiscally responsible, but the solution is not to equate libertarian radicalism with what the Bible says and pretend the Bible is teaching our political theory. Least of all, I’m not saying let’s trust the government to take care of all the problems, but the government can protect the poor from the lack of generosity by many who fail to respond to the needs (Michael Kruse pointed out to me that this is “subsidiarity”.)
I want to increase the church’s role in alleviating poverty and working out justice, but libertarian radicalism is not the answer. I’m all for more locally-shaped charity. It appears to me the the solution is two-fold: let’s be Biblical and let’s practice justice in the best way possible, which in our fallen world combines individual compassion and governmental support.
So here’s a set of texts that show that the Bible mandated charity and didn’t leave it up entirely to individuals to make the decision.

First, the law of gleaning mandated — a command from God — that farmers leave a portion of their crops unharvested for the poor. (Think Ruth; without this law perhaps she doesn’t survive.) Sure, they had to choose to do this but it was mandated law not simply voluntary practice. Leviticus 19:

19:9 “‘When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. 19:10 You must not pick your vineyard bare, and you must not gather up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Yes, by all means, again and again, we don’t just transport laws from ancient Israel into our world, but one thing can’t be denied: God mandated charity for the poor as a law, and this wasn’t just voluntary. It was law. It was God-mandated and governmentally-instituted and, probably, privately-enacted.

Second, what of the Year of Jubilee in Lev 25? What can we make of this, if not the mandated return of property in order to prevent excessive accumulation? This is clearly a governmentally-shaped economic-sharing law.

25:8 “‘You must count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, and the days of the seven weeks of years will amount to forty-nine years. 25:9 You must sound loud horn blasts – in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, on the Day of Atonement – you must sound the horn in your entire land. 25:10 So you must consecrate the fiftieth year, and you must proclaim a release in the land for all its inhabitants. That year will be your jubilee; each one of you must return to his property and each one of you must return to his clan. 25:11 That fiftieth year will be your jubilee; you must not sow the land, harvest its aftergrowth, or pick the grapes of its unpruned vines. 25:12 Because that year is a jubilee, it will be holy to you – you may eat its produce from the field.

Release of Landed Property

25:13 “‘In this year of jubilee you must each return to your property. 25:14 If you make a sale to your fellow citizen or buy from your fellow citizen, no one is to wrong his brother. 25:15 You may buy it from your fellow citizen according to the number of years since the last jubilee; he may sell it to you according to the years of produce that are left. 25:16 The more years there are, the more you may make its purchase price, and the fewer years there are, the less you must make its purchase price, because he is only selling to you a number of years of produce. 25:17 No one is to oppress his fellow citizen, but you must fear your God, because I am the Lordyour God. 25:18 You must obey my statutes and my regulations; you must be sure to keep them so that you may live securely in the land.

And, it ought to be observed that most biblical scholars think Jesus evoked Jubilee in his first sermon in Luke 4:18-19. We are dealing here with mandated economic restriction and mandated care for the poor and a society mandated by a concern for economic injustices.

4:16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 4:17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and the regaining of sight to the blind,

to set free those who are oppressed,

4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.

Third, there is law in Israel’s books called tithing that involved mandated and obligatory and governmentally-sponsored care for the poor. Read it, it’s right here from Deuteronomy 14:28-29, and it’s law and that means it’s against the law not to participate. This one is individually-given and then evidently distributed by the villages.

14:28 At the end of every three years you must bring all the tithe of your produce, in that very year, and you must store it up in your villages. 14:29 Then the Levites (because they have no allotment or inheritance with you), the resident foreigners, the orphans, and the widows of your villages may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work you do.

Fourth, the apostle Paul, in a time much trickier than what any North American or European is facing, mandated that the Christians pay taxes to Rome. Godless, rapacious, idolatrous Rome. Let Rome collect taxes; let Rome distribute the money as Rome sees fit. That’s what was happening when Paul said this. From Romans 13

13:5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 13:6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 13:7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

Finally, what do you think Paul means here in 2 Cor 8:13-15, if he does not mean mandatory (and voluntary) charity for others and that, someday, it will come back to you — a kind “social security” in Paul’s day? [The word “equality” is a radical idea of economic fellowship and mutual responsibility.] Perhaps, you will say, “this is for Christians with Christians.” Probably so, but isn’t it mandatory care for the poor? Wouldn’t it be Christian to expand that principle into culture?

8:13 For I do not say this so there would be relief for others and suffering for you, but as a matter of equality. 8:14 At the present time, your abundance will meet their need, so that one day their abundance may also meet your need, and thus there may be equality, 8:15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too muchand the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

"I find it sort of interesting to read many women writing against the Billy Graham ..."

Beyond The Billy Graham Rule
"Previous presidents constrained the Israeli government. Trump has given it a free hand. That is ..."

Rich Mouw, Israel, The Palestinians, The ..."
"Palestinians Wake Up!! File for a divorce. Tell your leaders you are Divorcing them. And ..."

Rich Mouw, Israel, The Palestinians, The ..."
"If he was "an early advocate of what eventually grew into a political hierarchy in ..."

Church Order From God

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Pat

    I do agree with one thing Falwell said, and that was, “If we all did as Jesus did when he helped the poor, we wouldn’t need the government”. I think that statement is true. However, because individuals and churches do not step up and do their part and then-some, someone must step in and care for “the least of these”. I also think that while Jesus didn’t address elections, I would take it from the tenor of His teachings, that He wanted His church to have an influence in the world, which would include the government. So, if we’re praying for our elected officials as scripture instructs, we can hope that they will enact just laws. We can also be good citizens of both kingdoms by voting and researching and applying the right kind of pressure to get government to rethink their policies and do that which is morally right.

  • You are exactly right, and smart to be out front with this.

  • Chuck

    It sounds IMO that Mr. Falwell has gone too far. I agree with your contention that some are equating Libertarian principles with the Bible. Not a good thing. I am one who firmly believes in the concept of limited government, simply because the excessive concentration of power and wealth within government will always tend toward tyranny and make a whole society dependents. One only has to spend some time in Russia to see the fruits of this bad tree. However, it seems proper that the government has an essential (though preferrably minimal) role to play in the common good and welfare of those in genuine need.

  • Luke

    John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus” helped me through thinking about this issue. He actually uses a view similar to Falwell’s (the “it’s just individual & voluntary” view) as a foil to explain exactly what Jesus does NOT teach. I think it’s funny how people say Jesus wasn’t interested in politics, yet they kill the dude for fear of insurrection. It’s not just incidental that Barabbas the insurrectionist was released to have Jesus crucified. They killed Jesus because he was concerned about politics, about justice, about corruption, about social & economic issues. His message about these things (amongst other things) leads to his death.
    Falwell is off his rocker if he thinks it’s all just voluntary. I would like to ask him, “So is giving to your church just voluntary too?” Because one could find a whole heck of a lot more support for economic & social justice issues in the Bible than giving to one’s “local church.”
    In the ideal world, sure, the church should take care of these issues. But as Christians concerned with the well-being of others we should delight when governments seek justice & give charitably to other nations of their well-being
    Look for Albert Mohler’s commentary on Glenn Beck’s comments tomorrow on his blog. In a twitter update he says Beck was “basically right” or something like that. Man, these conservatives just can’t disagree with their boys can they? Good grief

  • Stanley

    I wonder what Jesus would say about a program which mandates that:
    * Everyone buy a product from a private company or be punished either with fines or jail.
    * Everyone pay blisteringly-high taxes to subsidize the built-in higher costs of this mandated care, in addition to their own higher costs.
    * Future generations pay even higher taxes to pay the debts created by this program, in addition to their own even higher costs (this of course gets worse with each generation).
    * Everyone pay for individuals who choose to kill a human life inside of them.
    And let’s not even get in to the completely crooked and perverted way this law has been developed. That’s an issue of process. Let’s just stick to how disgustingly convoluted this plan is.
    It is not “health care reform” any more than the Holocaust was “human rights reform”. It is a destruction of a good, if flawed system, to be replaced with a plan which, by every account (except its creators) will raise our taxes, raise our premiums, reduce the quality of our care, increase our debt and only marginally increase the number of people who receive health care, while greatly reducing its quality for everyone.
    Simply put, it is a BAD PLAN.
    Social justice is one thing: if states choose to have safety nets and, yes, even entitlement programs for the poor (although I’ve yet to see one that actually does more good than harm), that’s one thing. But for our federal government to create one wasteful, bloated, bankrupted program after another, and hide behind Jesus for it, that is entirely another thing.
    That’s not just wrong, it’s blasphemous.

  • Nitika

    On gleaning: It’s so profound to me that this simple biblical concept at once addresses the greed of the rich and the need of the poor. It’s a beautiful practice and one that I’ve found much liberation in. And yet, it flies in the face of modernity’s answer to short fall; efficiency. The answers on both sides of the aisle so often say, “we just need a better system”. On the right, “the private sector is so much more efficient than the gov’t”. On the left, “we just need to mandate away all this waste”. The biblical model is one that is free from attachment, and that’s a challenge to ALL who think WE can fix it if we can just get OUR STUFF organized right.

  • MattR

    Thank you, thank you Scot for speaking out about this!
    This has been building for years… and in fact is what led many of us in the emerging/missional conversation to re-emphasize the biblical call to social justice. Now some say there are those that have gone too far… maybe, but quotes like this from Falwell tell me the issue is still out there.
    The bible does not teach a radical libertarian view of government! And though we can and should argue over the details… as the texts you laid out make clear, there is a biblical call to some form of social/collective compassionate action… including governmental involvement!
    And again, though we can argue the details… to those who say ‘if churches just did their jobs then we wouldn’t need government.’ I say, not so! We live in a big country, with an increasing population… which means big problems often on a structural level… it will take several agencies working together; including churches, government, non-profits, private philanthropists and more to really get the job done.

  • matt

    I never thought I would be saying this but Mr. Falwell is right. Your argument regarding Jesus not teaching about the Gov’t means that we can’t read into what he thought holds no water. You are forgetting the Old Testament. God was to be the Israelites King, but they wanted a human king- just like their neighbors. This was not God’s plan, but ours- and now look at the mess we are in!

  • matt

    One more problem about having the Gov’t be so charitable with our tax money. They like to be “charitable” in areas that really are not charitable. Many think it is charitable to pay for abortions, but that is not what God wants our money to go to. I also think that the Welfare System, althoug a good idea when started, beacme a huge problem in our country. By giving people money all the time they are taking people’s dignity and pride away from them. This also is not what God intended.

  • Harald

    I have to agree with Pat #1: “If we all did as Jesus did when he helped the poor, we wouldn’t need the government”. To be consistent Falwell should be applying the same argument to i.e crime, which I really can’t see happening. “If we all did as Jesus did” there would be no crime needed to fight against, so the government shouldn’t spend money on police and a judicial system.

  • Yan Petrovsky

    How can one practice ‘gleaning’ as a means of sustaining the poor and alien in a society based on paper money, and largely non-rural?
    The jubilee year was for the release of Hebrews that were made indentured servants. The returning of land was in the context of every tribe and family having its own plot of land as an inheritance in the promised holy land. Taking someone’s land permanently away would have been to take away their promised inheritance which God had promised to the children of Abraham.
    These Old Testament practices can shed light on how to love our poor neighbors only by inspiration. There is hardly any analogy, and certainly no direct analogy, between those practices and the state of present day civilization, that can show us how to concretely care for the poor. The inspiration that is shed on us by the scriptural witness of communal love, however, should lead us to reflect more deeply on how best to care for our fellow men.
    The debate over finding the correct balance of government care and non-government care will continue. May God grant us wisdom and charity as we seek to order our affairs for His glory.
    Attacks on anyone named Falwell (as in ‘hey Mr. Falwell, read your Bible) are cheap. For goodness’ sake, please try to have the decency to resist that temptation next time.

  • Tim Gombis

    Yes, I do think that many conservative Christians have assumed that some strong sense of individual responsibility underlies the moral vision of the Bible. This goes hand-in-hand with a simple formula whereby hard work is rewarded. This is a very clean and incomplicated view of the world, one in which there are no other systemic factors — i.e, not the world we live in.
    Why are people poor? On this vision of the world, it is because they are immoral in that they are lazy and will not work hard, or don’t know how to. Government help, then, is complicity with immoral behavior.
    But this is to ignore systemic factors, historical factors, etc., and it completely reads out of Bible all the passages about justice, compassions, social and communal connectedness, etc. Or, at least it reads them in terms of a Western liberal-democratic vision of the world.

  • Tim Gombis

    Yan (#11), perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t hear in Scot’s address an attack. Falwell made public comment and the title is merely an exhortation to note the overpowering biblical witness to doing good, to care for the poor, and to Scripture’s endorsement of government’s involvement in all of this. This stands in contrast to one of our own traditions that shapes our national vision, but this only serves to demonstrate the distance between our culture and biblical values.
    Anyhoo, I didn’t detect any nastiness, but it is Monday morning….

  • Peter

    “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself,” recently reviewed here on Jesuscreed, I believe, is still on my wish list. I have not read it, but from the reviews and the exerpts I anticipate finding significant criticism there for many of our government’s interventions and social programs. As suggested by posts 5 & 9 above (related to health care reform), just because the gov’t identifies a big problem does not mean that any old “big solution” is the right one. Nothing in Scripture would prescribe spending money that we don’t have for anything, but that borrowing money is to be given serious consideration first, lest we find ourselves in need of another’s generosity. I pay my taxes and I’m careful to do it honestly in spite of my mistrust of the system into which I am paying. I do believe that it is our responsibility to support a gov’t that enforces laws related to justice and continually seeks justice, but I do not have the confidence in that gov’t to administer social programs without bringing significant harm in the form of generational poverty and a paralyzing debt. BTW, just how helpful is it to a poor person to teach them that hard work doesn’t profit? Finally, wisdom dictates that we learn from the experience of others (EU, for example).

  • Just one question for clarification from those commenting. Is the assumption here that Israel, the people of God in the OT, and the people whom Jesus is obviously addressing, are being equated with the USA? Are we overlooking the one thorny detail that Jesus is primarily addressing God’s people. Where do you see Jesus giving his thoughts on how he thought the Roman Empire should behave? (Other than that rendering to Caesar thing?) I agree that Jesus was concerned about justice, etc., but there are some huge ecclesiological assumptions at work here in these comments, I would like a little clarification.
    I think Falwell’s comments clearly miss the point, because I suspect he is operating with the same kind of political ecclesiology shared by many here who are responding in disagreement with him.
    Is that last comment unfair?

  • Great points…I’d love to share this at my Messianic Jewish synagogue.
    Yasher koach, Dr. McKnight!

  • Scot,
    I am happy to see an evangelical voice think theologically and biblically through this issue rather than politically. It’s refreshing, and needed. I have seen far too much arguing among Christians that amounts to nothing more than asserting one’s own “rights” (as if they existed).
    So thanks.

  • Tim Gombis

    Ecclesiologically, the USA is not Israel in any sense, but it is the case that from a reading of the Scriptures to derive patterns for behavior, we can at least say that it is not UNSCRIPTURAL for government to help, in some sense, alleviate the suffering of the poor.
    I would certainly not say that we should teach the poor that hard work doesn’t pay. My only point is that a simple worldview (hard work always pays off, so if you’re poor, you don’t work hard) doesn’t always ‘work’ in the real world. We see that big companies fail, and very often those at the bottom get crushed. It’s not a bad thing for the govt. to ensure that there is some sort of ‘safety net’ for those who are stuck in generational poverty and who ARE working hard.
    It’s just a more complex issue than we often make it.

  • Scot McKnight

    We all probably need some clarification on what you are asking specifically.

  • Brian Benenhale

    In reading the comments assigned to Falwell, I do not see where he argues that charitable giving should be “voluntary”. Granted he may reveal this later in his appearance as I am admittedly not familiar with it. His main point seems to be that Jesus was not a socialist and that he is concerned with preaching and teaching from churches that increasingly lean that direction. I readily agree with Falwell on this point. The Bible has much to say on wealth, money, and stewardship. Unfortunately these teachings are so often misapplied. I have the same concerns about pastors who preach this “name it and claim it” prosperity Gospel nonsense as well.
    In one sense, everything we do is voluntary. Christ does not force Himself on anyone. It is clear to me however, that the Bible intends for God’ people to be giving and generous especially to those who are less fortunate. I am hesitant to say that this commandment to Christians is primarily an economic statement. Giving to those less fortunate is a way to show others that we love them and more importantly that God loves them. This builds relationships that allows us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ which, after all, is the Great Commission.
    I fear sometimes we let our earthly materialism cause us to create Biblical debates like this that tend to serve very little purpose. I would posit that the Bible teaches that God is a whole lot more concerned with the type of person you are and the character you show to others than He is with how much money you have in your bank account or 401(k).
    Finally, I must say with respect that it is entirely inappropriate to introduce a topic like this by casting aspersions on another Believer. While we may disagree with one another on points of doctrine we must do so in a way that shows Christian humility. Your insinuation that Mr. Falwell is not reading his Bible is presumptuous and unfortunate.

  • Dan

    Each of the examples Scot gives can be seen in a very different light.
    Gleaning was not a government based, forced extraction of money from one party to be given to others.
    Jubilee made sense in an agricultural society. Maybe forgiving of debts is a good thing. Does that mean the government should seize property every 50 years and “redistribute” as politicians see fit?
    The Levites were public servants. Last I checked, we already are paying our government officials (and our pastors) for their service.
    Nobody is saying there is no place for taxes for programs and service that actually works.
    Jesus words about the “year of the Lord’s Favor” included “healing the brokenhearted” and “giving sight to the blind”. Obviously he was referring to a bloated government healthcare program?
    I’m not a libertarian, but I am a conservative. I believe in limited government and personal responsibility. Some safety nets are fine and needed. But the policies coming from the current administration, while critical of “greed” tend to legitimize envy and covetousness, the desire of some to want what others have earned. Stealing from the rich to give to the poor is still stealing.

  • Scot McKnight

    Brian, thanks for your pushback. Jerry Falwell Jr, as you can see, made a very public statement, even insinuating the word “socialism” in his comments, and so a more public response is in order. And I don’t think his view is supportable by the Bible, so I appealed to texts in the Bible that I think cut against the grain he sketches. Public disagreement about a viewpoint is not casting aspersions so much as disagreeing, and I did say that I believe he represents a trend among conservative evangelicals today.

  • Diane

    Matt, #9: “By giving people money all the time they are taking people’s dignity and pride away from them.” What about inheritance laws? Does allowing a young person to inherit millions and millions of dollars take his or her dignity and pride or do we have two sets of rules, one for the poor and one for the rich? Also, if we don’t raise the minimum wage and offer people good health benefits, how is hard work rewarded, except with grinding poverty? Finally, prior to the New Deal, such as in the early years of the Great Depression, private charity simply couldn’t handle the needs ( eg, Middletown in Transition). Finally, I don’t understand why every kind of gov’t program is labeled socialism. Can someone explain that? We’ve had govt’ programs in Western civilization for thousands of years, including in Rome and parish relief in England, long before Karl Marx or any notion of modern socialism was born.

  • bob

    Do any of you really know what it is to be poor? To work for a wage of 8 dollars an hour, working your butt off, taking on other jobs, just to put food on the table and try to pay an inflated rent. Its not about teaching the poor that hard work doesn’t pay. Its about oppression. We are a nation of oppressed people. It is the majority of our population that you don’t hear about because they have no voice. Not all of us are blessed with great intellect to attend college (on a government loan or mom and dads tab). In an ideal world, the government (for the people, by the people….) would exercise restraints to those who would oppress its citizens. What do you great intellects tell the person who just got home from a 60 hour week, whose back is hurting and his feet are sore with his meager paycheck that wont even cover the inflated rent let alone health insurance. Ha, whats that. Something your employer used to provide until the insurance co.s. through greed raised their rates beyond your reach. Greed is the watchword in our society and the real hardworking people of this country suffer mightily for it. There is only one solution and that is when my Lord comes back in power and judgment.

  • Mark

    Since the congregation of God refused God’s Kingdom, His kind of government with His laws and asked for a king and government like the “other” nations…it’s strange how we have accepted man’s government as something ordained by God. We twist our political and spiritual understanding to argue laws in scripture when most believers don’t even believe in the OT laws or think they should adhere to them in most cases.
    Even before Saul was appointed as the king of Israel…there were rich and poor and as we know the need still continues. Support man’s governments and demand to take instead of living by God’s government and learn to give…I don’t think we’ll learn how to live in God’s Kingdom until we give it back to Him or until He comes to take it back.

  • Kyle J

    I agree wholeheartedly with the basic point of this post: Equating radical libertarianism and Christian values is extremely dangerous. It’s not a coincidence that the modern philosopher who most libertarian thinkers trace their thinking back to, Ayn Rand, was an atheist. Libertarianism, at its extreme, ends up at the same place communism does: the promise of a utopian existence based on man as a purely economic entity.

  • Kyle J

    Also, I posted this in the Glenn Beck thread, but I think it’s actually more relevant here:
    There’s an assumption among many conservatives that government social programs are a direct substitute for private charity. The majority of social spending, however, is better classified as a safety net than as simple charity: Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, public education.
    If libertarians got their wish and government was reduced down to just national defense and protecting public safety, do we really think churches would be able to step in and, for example, provide long-term care for senior citizens who failed to save enough money to purchase health insurance, or provide educational opportunities for children in urban areas whose parents didn’t have the economic resources/will to do so on their own?
    Just as the practice of gleaning made sense in an agrarian society, these kind of social safety net programs make sense in a modern, capitalist economy in which you have big economic winners but also a lot of economic losers. Characterizing the major categories of government spending in the U.S. as purely redistributive isn’t accurate, in my opinion. They help provide a buffer for an economic system that works well in the aggregate (it’s the best we’ve got), but doesn’t work for everyone all the time.

  • _Rob

    I just don’t see the governmental aspect still reigning:
    Sure Paul advocated being good citizens even amidst a wicked empire, but his calls for social justice seem to be directed towards the church and its mission. I think in the Hebrew bible you are correct to see governmentally fashioned social justice, but most of the texts involve a theocracy or a monarchy who, though rebellious (at times), were still related to the nation of Israel founded much differently than our own. I think the governmental comparisons are difficult; especially due to the nature of the nation of Israel. Also, the role of the church, seems to function as the means by which Christ’s Kingdom grows.
    Because of this, I struggle to think that the government ought to be endorsed as the agent of change over or along with the church. To be sure, the church has much more to do before it begins to broach its social responsibility. Personally, I would rather someone (government) do something, than nobody (including the church) do anything. Nevertheless, the church in the GNT seems to be the means by which this social reform ought to take place — The kingdom of Christ over-against the Kingdom of Caesar.
    Maybe I am way off here, but I struggle with the idea that the church should look to the government in order to advance the Kingdom of God.

  • This is just another example of how politics compromises the gospel. Of course believers should minister to the poor and the persecuted, but we should not get involved with what the government says or does. They are not of us, and our kingdom is not in concert with them either.
    The talk show genre, championed by Christians, have polluted the gospel and made the cause of Christ nothing more than a moral crusade and the protection of captitalism.

  • Tim Gombis

    I agree with Bob (#24). Before my family got involved with people trapped in urban poverty, I would never have said that — that many folks are indeed trapped in generational poverty. Yes, there are many people in poverty who chose badly and wasted good opportunities. To give such people money and resources only HURTS them, as one of the posts indicated above. It takes courage to tell such people ‘no’ and to exhort them to take steps to get out of bad situations, even while offering ways of helping once they take initiative.
    But like Bob said, there are millions trapped in poverty. It is an illusion that everyone starts off at the same place or that resources get allocated equally across the nation. The simple fact is this: The Bible has LOADS to say about how nations (not just Israel) are supposed to be involved in all of this. But many of us are blind to these Scriptures because we are heirs of a highly individualized vision of life, one that does not see how Scripture assumes and reinforces our social connectedness and the responsibility (in SOME way and to SOME extent) of nations to bring about equity and justice.
    That is NOT to say that we should throw money at the problem or rob from the rich to give to the poor. It is only to say that we need to listen to ourselves. Do we hear how we sound? When this discussion comes up, and we start crying “MINE MINE!!!” Or, “I earned this and I get to keep it!!” What do we sound like? Disciples of Jesus? Or something else….?

  • Tim Gombis

    I’m not so sure, Rick (#29). I hear what you’re saying. The church MUST be involved and not expect the govt. to do our job. YES!!
    At the same time, when states don’t fund urban police forces the way they do those of wealthier communities, churches can AGITATE and speak prophetically to the government to do what is right. These kinds of inequities need to be addressed and the church can play a kingdom role by fighting for those with no voice.

  • Chris McElwee

    Not sure if I am following you. Are you saying the “programs” of the OT were meant to be adopted by the governments? Or that we ought to try and influence culture with the same type of programs God has suggested to us? Or both?
    Also, I was hoping you would mention Joseph storing up food from the Egyptians to eventually give to those suffering from famine. Seems like non-voluntary charity to me.
    Great discussion, would love to read more thoughts.

  • Falwell is in the same corner as Beck – that being the corner of the politically-motivated and theologically illiterate.
    You cite appropriate references (of which there is no shortage) demonstrating the *expectation* that Christians *live out* an enfleshed theology of compassion, service and sacrifice “unto the least of these”.
    Further, these passages were proffered in an error of totalitarianism. For any thoughtful student of Scripture living in a democratic society (where the government *is the people*) to posit that Christians shouldn’t be motivated to work towards just, merciful and righteous systems of civilization and oppose unjust ones is unconscionable.
    Having said that, the church does this as an “outsider” looking in – detached from the systems themselves but passing judgment and taking action. We don’t advocate a theocracy – where religion runs the state, but neither can we tolerate a state that has no conscience. Stephen Carter’s book “The Culture of Disbelief” is an excellent treatise along these lines.
    Beck, Falwell, et al, twist scripture (or, more precisely, ignore it) to prop up – and you are exactly right here – not *capitalism*, but **libertarianism** – a political philosophy completely opposite to the idea of Christian community.

  • MD

    I find bob’s (#24) words compelling – if in fact he is reflecting his personal situation. I read: “The majority of people are insensitive to the problems that the poor face.” “Government is not doing its job.” “The solution will come with the coming of the Kingdom.”
    I personally will continue to express opposition to government programs that are presented as intended to help individuals, but(I believe)in fact are harmful to society.
    Finally, I would like to see some discussion on how local congregations can address, WHILE COMPARING LOCAL NEEDS TO GLOBAL NEEDS, (a)the needs of the poor within their membership, (b)cooperation among congregations of various economic levels within a given community, and (c)the needs of those in the community who are not affiliated with a local congregation.

  • Jon

    John, you write: “Not all of us are blessed with great intellect to attend college. In an ideal world, the government would exercise restraints to those who would oppress its citizens. What do you great intellects tell the person who just got home from a 60 hour week, whose back is hurting and his feet are sore with his meager paycheck that wont even cover the inflated rent let alone health insurance.”
    John, after 30 years teaching in Elementary, High School, College and even in “Welfare to Work” environments, I can tell you that great intellect is not needed for College. I can tell you that great intellect is not needed to run a business. So, it is not about people with Great Intellect oppressing the rest of us poor morons.
    As far as the Govt “retraining” those who oppress you… Two things: First, are you trying to maintain that your job is in oppression? That no one should be offered a 8.00 an hour job? Please, John. I worked for 1.85 an hour at first. I was 35 before I ever earned above 12,000 a year (about 6.00 and hour). And “no,” that wasn’t a lot of money back then… that was 1989. No one was oppressive to me or needed restraint. It is with ourselves and what we commit to doing that will regulate our business worth and salary. The answer is NOT to take money from those who work hard and give it to you so your back doesn’t hurt as much.
    Second, there are laws against real oppression. Businesses must live by these rules and they face penalties if they break laws. Do you suggest that offering an 8.00 and hour job is now part of that OPPRESSION and needs to be regulated? My daughter (25) lives on less than that and has her own apartment, raises her daughter without governmental aide, buys food, without using food stamps, and maintains her older honda civic. She does not feel oppressed. She does, however, have aspirations for a better future. And she is working hard at finishing her degree *(yes, she does get about half of her education paid for by Gov Grants and loans), and she has plans for her future.
    It is a scary country we have become. A country that sees no value in thrift or dilegent work and planning. No value in education. (Ex: when I was a teacher at a smaller college, it was 10 years before i had a single black male pass my Introduction to computer class… a class that 80% got A’s and B’s in. Though hundreds of black woman excelled. I am going to tred lightly here: I had cacasions and hispanics and others that were of very low intellect and who had troubles remembering even basic proceedures that passed my class… so why couldn’t black males, many of whom had better intellect than I, pass the class? Simple: They didnt do the work and they didn’t attend.) Today this “mentality” has effected our entire society. We don’t want to attend nor do the work nor plan for something better. No, we call rents “inflated.” We call our jobs “opression.” We don’t plan or take personal responsibility because our Government should be doing that for us. It is indeed a scary environment today.
    My plea to all who share John’s view of the world: Start by planning your own future. No, you don’t need to make $XXXX dollars a year to be happy. Find something you can enjoy and that you can build into something that will support yourself and your family. Then do it as unto the Lord. And when the Lord blesses, be sure you are giving back. God Bless.

  • Scot McKnight

    Chris, only that God formed governments and mandated laws that were part of the government’s constitutional framework. I’m not saying that we need to have “gleaning” laws today, but that analogies would be wise and compassionate.

  • Jjoe

    My daughter had to write an essay on Ayn Rand. When I heard about it, I asked her if she realized that Rand’s teachings were in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus.
    It led to some good discussion and she got an A on the paper since she was able to push back and point out the inherent evil in objectivism.

  • Goodness gracious. In Scripture God holds all people accoutable as to how they treat each other, and all nations both with reference to their own and others. As God’s people and salt and light to the world, we should model and do the good for others, particularly the poor and oppressed.
    Yes, I’ve seen this also. Wish I had time to read the thread, but will at least scan it later.

  • Patrick O

    One thing that I see missing in any discussion about the Biblical teaching on charity, government or otherwise, is the issue of corruption. Jesus said to help the poor, but he also railed against the corruption of tax collectors and Romans who abused an imperial system. That’s why I think so much of the present debate is people speaking past each other.
    A non-corrupt federal system to help the poor would be, I think, quite popular. What is happening now is there’s a massive backlash against inherently corrupt systems, that points more towards the excesses in supposedly “people’s paradises” like the USSR or North Korea. These are not places the poor thrive. A winking disregard of consistent, blatant corruption as is currently allowed not only in global charity but also in our own government programs is a testimony of hatred for the poor. For it is the poor who suffer the most from corruption, even and especially if the corruption arises from programs or governments intended to help the ‘poor’. Corruption is not part of the work of Christ, and allowing corruption is a rejection of discernment in pursuing surface-level programs that have rhetoric but not actual results.
    Yet, in the present politics, there’s such an embrace of getting our particular party or candidate in power and staying there we overlook and dismiss such corruption, while demonizing even the hint of such in any political opponent. Beginning with a massive purging of corruption in government and local/global politics would do an immense amount to bring more unified support of actual charitable programs.
    Embracing the tax collectors as corrupt tools of a corrupt government was never part of Jesus’ plan to help the poor. It is when the tax collectors collect fairly, when the local leaders truly do use the funds to help the poor, that we can see the preference towards the poor most fully realized in our actions. Corruption is an evil that should be fought, whether found in social action agendas, government employees, university leaders, or church pastors.

  • Nitika

    @ Bob #24 “…To work for a wage of 8 dollars an hour, working your butt off, taking on other jobs, just to put food on the table…”
    $8/hr & having a table to put food on doesn’t qualify as poor on the global scale. We have many low income earners in America who feel real pain due to the significant difference between their standard of living and that of the affluent, but that does not make them poor. BTW my all time high wage was $8.50/hr. 🙂

  • Nitika

    @ Kyle #26
    Ayn Rand may have been an atheist, but she engaged the issue of morality very sincerely. We would be wise to engage her understanding of morality rather than automatically discount it just because she has not had the same faith experience.

  • dopderbeck

    BTW, check out my post this morning on John Locke’s labor theory, which directly relates to this one.

  • Tim Gombis

    Jeff (#33) — I see Falwell as inhabiting a very similar vision of life as Beck, but I must say that Falwell, Jr. is VERY different in rhetorical tone than his father and certainly worlds away from Beck. He may be speaking from that moral/economic/cosmic/theological vision, but he is not bombastic nor denunciatory. His comments are open to critique, for sure, but I do very much appreciate the more thoughtful tone (even if wrong-headed, at times) coming out of Lynchburg, VA!!!
    Jerry, Sr. wasn’t a bad guy, but his shoot-first, think-later verbal hyperventilating didn’t help him any.

  • Forgive me for not reading all the other comments before responding to Scot’s post. I’m sure some of this is already covered above.
    Scot, the problem with what you’re saying here is 1) all of these commands were given and carried out pre-government in Israel. This law was given to them to run their society, but it was not governmental.
    2) There is no sign anywhere in scripture that the susequent kings saw it as their duty or actually did enforce the laws on gleaning or giving the tithe to the poor.
    3) Everywhere the kings are criticized for their treatment of the poor it is for allowing the courts to discriminate against the poor or personally getting rich by defrauding the poor (e.g., not paying promised wages).
    Re: 2 Cor 8:13-15, if it is, as you say, “for Christians with Christians,” it naturally excludes government involvement. The NT teaches that we should first take care of our extended family, second take care of the poor in the church, and third take care of the poor in our community. The very order of that approach excludes government involvement.
    Don’t take this as me objecting to helping the poor. I don’t even necessarily object to our choosing to do it via government. I object to the idea that the Bible teaches that this is necessary.
    Mr. McKnight, read your Bible a little more carefully.

  • Jjoe

    I couldn’t care less what faith experience Rand had. The fact she is an atheist has nothing to do with it.
    Objectivism states that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest. That morality cannot be squared with the Christian commandment to love God and neighbor as we love ourselves. The two are opposites.
    The Christian infatuation with Rand is simply because, as Americans, we are constantly searching for a moral rationale to excuse our greed.
    So what if our infant mortality rate is 43rd in the world and children without health insurance are 60% more likely to die for lack of proper health care? Our attitude as American Christians can be summed up as “I’ve got my personal salvation, my actions no longer matter because I’ve said the right words and been submerged in water, and if putting more money in my pocketbook means that poor people have to die, then let them die.”

  • Jamie

    I think you are making a mistake when you equate God mandating that the Israelites give directly to the poor with God supporting government charity. The Israelites didn’t have a government in the way that we understand it-God was putting the responsibility on the Israelites themselves, as individuals and as a community, to help the poor. If He had wanted them to establish a government then delegate the responsibility for charity to the government through taxation, then I think He would have said so.
    Your analogy is like saying God said “Don’t Murder”, thus he supports the establishment of a certain criminal justice system. Well, maybe a criminal justice system is the best way to prevent murder, but honestly God is more about the moral precept that we shouldn’t murder. The best way for the government to prevent murder is a pragmatic judgment that the Bible doesn’t have much to say about, just like it leaves the question of the best marginal tax rate to us.
    God does agree that we should give to the poor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to do it through a governmental apparatus.
    It can be wrong for individuals to do something, like not give to the poor, and yet the gov’t shouldn’t mandate it. For example, God clearly thinks adultery is wrong, but you don’t draw from the lesson that the gov’t should imprison adulterers.
    Likewise, your Roman example is a huge stretch. The Roman gov’t again didn’t have aid to teh poor in the way that you envision it. When Paul (and Jesus) advocated paying taxes to the Romans, it was an admission of their authority as a governmental authority, not saying that the government was the best way to distribute charity. The Romans didn’t do charity in anything like a modern context-most of their money went to the provincial governmental system and to pay the legions-worthy enough causes, but not really aid to the poor.
    Now, it may be that the government is the best way to help the poor. But you have to prove that assertion-you can’t just rely on God telling the Israelites to help the poor to prove that nowadays governmentally-provided charity is Christian.

  • LMF

    Chris B #44 —
    Did you seriously want to end your post in this manner?
    I’m not certain your method will incite thoughtful dialogue.

  • Jamie

    also, I don’t think the Bible supports libertarianism either-the point is that it’s not a political document.

  • Chad Holtz

    This discussion reveals a lot. I think we might be asking the wrong questions:

  • Scot McKnight

    Good one! And I even get a “Mr”!
    Let me respond, though I’m not sure we’re going to get far on this one. I’d like you to skim the next two paragraphs and then ignore them because I’d rather get to what I think is probably the real issue here. (I see no reason to debate the points.)
    First, I have no idea what you mean by “pre-governmental.” The Torah was the Law of the Land for Israel. It was Israel’s constitutional set of laws on how to live. #2 is an argument from silence; the absence of kings saying something about gleaning doesn’t prove anything so far as I can tell. #3 seems like important evidence, but I can’t say it says anything about our points: it seems to suggest that the courts should be supporting the poor.
    The par. that begins with “Re” involves your own construction and a hypothetical deduction that you insert. Here is what you say: “The NT teaches that we should first take care of our extended family, second take care of the poor in the church, and third take care of the poor in our community. The very order of that approach excludes government involvement.” I don’t know the NT has that kind of order, but I do think the NT teaches we should take care of family and esp the household of God and the poor in our community, though I don’t know of order. Then you exclude government, but you’ve already excluded it in the terms you’ve given: family, church, community.
    So, let me come back to something that I think is really at the heart of our disagreement: I’m saying the OT laws are mandated for Israel and therefore part of its national legal system. That’s all I mean by government, and the tithing text shows that there’s some governmental involvement in providing for the poor. This is all I really want to point out. If it is part of the legal system, then the government’s responsibility is to make sure it is carried out justly — however that might have occurred over time and all kinds of changes. Solomon’s kingdom, you will remember, had all kinds of retainers that looked after things.
    I think what I’m arguing for is, minimally, the principle of subsidiarity. I have no desire to make the government bigger or the sole basis for charity etc. But I don’t think one can argue from the Bible that government has no place in care for the poor. And my argument is rather simple: if it is law, then it is somehow governmental.

  • Joey

    ChrisB, there is no such thing as a pre-governmental Israel. Monarchy is not the only form of government.

  • I agree with Ted Gossard and others who point out that the O.T. prophets pronounced judgment on ‘Gentile’ nations for their mistreatment of their own poor. God has a heart for the poor and marginalized especially when the poverty and marginalization are generated by the greed and power of those ‘in charge’ of society. The early church was known and affirmed as ‘atheists’ by the Roman Empire was also was known and affirmed by its care of the poor and rejected, marginalized and neglected.
    Falwell and Beck are seeking to link social justice-minded, compassionate churches with a national governmental administration that they do not like, even fear. And I am *not* saying that I endorse all that the current administration is proposing.

  • ChrisB

    LMF, I thought it provided a nice symmetry given how Scot’s post began.
    That said, it probably was a bit more heated than it should have been. I’ve danced this dance so much I’ve begun to lose patience with it.

  • Tim Gombis

    Amen, Jjoe (#45)!! This is the big point: This American vision (embodied, perhaps, by Ayn Rand) seeks to protect my interests and my stuff. The biblical vision for a renewed people, on the other hand, is patterned after the character of God, who is SELF-EXPENDING. God gives himself for the sake of others, for his enemies, for the life of the world. Such a renewed, God-imitating people will have altogether different impulses and desires — they will be zealous to do good, in the words of Paul to Titus, and to care for the poor, as he said in Galatians.
    That Christians fight so hard to draw precise lines and tie up the discussions in terms of whose precise rights are being ever-so-slightly infringed indicates that we’ve got our heads screwed on wrongly here.
    Honestly, the folks I know who went days w/o heat this winter, the single moms who can’t figure out where the next meal is going to come from or if a former boyfriend is going to come over and drunkenly beat the living daylights out of them all–these folks don’t care a whole lot about which agencies do what and the technical debates about dispensations and how the church isn’t Israel.
    Biblical scholarship is what I do for a living and I’m happy to sort all this out in the classroom, but in the neighborhood I’d rather live with an open hand and develop relationships with local agencies to do good than to agitate (along with Beck and perhaps Falwell and Tea-Partyers) that the government keep its hands off my stuff. I’d rather NOT give it to the government, quite honestly, but these agencies DO exist and the church would do well to find out how they can be manipulated and ‘worked’ to do good where they’d actually rather not (government workers are sometimes not very highly motivated to do their jobs).

  • Nitika

    @Jjoe #45
    “Objectivism states that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest. That morality cannot be squared with the Christian commandment to love God and neighbor as we love ourselves.”
    Sure it can. Jesus was teaching us how to move beyond morality into love. Even the pagans know how to do what’s good for themselves.
    Rand saw a moral world as one where there was no “love” at the point of a gun. I admit she wasn’t able to conceive of genuine altruism, but the fact that she rejected it’s possibility because it was rampantly invoked in name but not practice is something that we have to own up to.
    Rand joins the long list of great minds that church couldn’t engage due to our own hypocrisy.

  • Josh

    Let me throw a different view in this discussion:
    Our nation is a democracy – by the people for the people.
    Christians are a part of “the people” and, by the very nature of a democracry are expected to contribute to our nation’s health and welfare.
    We have a say-so in how resources are utilized.
    Is it wrong for Christians to say that resources should be used to help the poor?
    Is it wrong for Christians to criticize the government for mishandling resources (i.e. throwing money at the poor rather than addressing the problems that cause poverty; spending more money on warfare than education; maintaining salaries for politicians that are way too high).
    This is a very polarized discussion that is lacking a lot of commonsense.

  • Insidious – the idea that we couch justice for the poor as something differently than for the wealthy. Justice for the upper middle class and above comes in one form. Justice for the lower classes often comes in another form. Since we the upper class love life as we know it, we don’t want to really hear that half of our society isn’t living like us. So we call it ‘social justice,’ and we hold it as something that is optional for followers of Jesus.
    When we really hear the call of Jesus, we’ll use whatever legal means available to seek justice and mercy. After falling in love with African orphans over the past year, I simply don’t understand how our hearts, minds, and souls are not fully broken for the things of Jesus Christ?
    When we talk about sustainability for the poor, we will not be capable of attaining it without government support of some kind. The poor need safety. The poor need education. The poor need health care. The poor need jobs that will provide food for their families. Without these realities, the church can throw all the money in the world at poverty, but it will end up falling short.
    To acknowledge that governments need to work in conjunction with the church, or state it visa vera if you will, but it is a necessity if we really want to care for the marginalized in our society. There are not other options that will provide sustained hope.

  • Jjoe

    The church couldn’t engage Ayn Rand? She might as well be Jesus II from what I can tell. Any day now we’ll hear about the conference in which “Atlas Shrugged” will be added to the canon. Right after Acts, maybe?
    Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and Ayn. Which one of these is not like the others?

  • I find it extremely hypocritical for many American Christians that side with Beck and Albert Mohler and others of the same philosophical persuasion…
    Just about all the tools and splendor enjoyed in modern society circa 2010 are the result of massively public expenditures — from the interstate highway system to the internet. Pharmaceutical research, weapons manufacturing (which I weep over the immense sums spent on mechanical agents of death and destruction), sports stadiums, etc.… — all on the public dime. The transistor, modem, electricity, etc.… — all accomplished by acts from the so-called “evil” institution of government that “thieves” our money via taxation and gives it too the undeserving “them”.
    The typical conservative American Christian thinks nothing of partaking in these fruits made possible by public subsidy.
    Yet, will howl like a Rand-ian libertarian when government and public funds are used to attack injustice.

  • Nitika

    @Jjoe #58
    Have you read Atlas Shrugged?

  • Paul

    Am I right in saying this is your point?
    The bible does not teach that governmental help of the poor is wrong. Or another way to say it: We as Christians might oppose governmental support of the poor because of political opinions as to the best form of government but we should not oppose it because scripture opposses it

  • Kate

    Dan@21 “Stealing from the rich to give to the poor is still stealing.” Yes, if we’re talking about highwaymen. Government taxing the rich to help the poor is another matter altogether.Jesus did not say “render unto Caesar what Caesar wants to steal”. Taxing is a legitimate function of a government.
    I continue to be amazed and saddened when I read American Christians talking about taxation and healthcare. It seems selfishness has come to a stage where people can believe that not only is it right for them to grab all they can, but the Bible tells them to do this. Presumably Jesus should have said “make sure you don’t let Caesar get his hands on your hard-earned cash”
    America has an expensive and inefficient healthcare system because of this doctrine of small government. To be consistent you should dissolve the police force and the school system. (Why should the poor get an education anyway, those snotty kids might end up competing with ours for jobs)
    Limited government is of limited use. Of course you could go back to a feudal society where the church provides most of the charity and healthcare, and individuals have private armies to protect what they have, but I don’t recommend it, we tried this in Europe a few hundred years back. Now most of Europe has civilised healthcare systems so that sick people can get well without going bankrupt. You can call this “Socialist” if you want, and I suppose that the health industry fat cats would like to keep things as they are in the US, but I don’t understand why anyone else would want to. As the BBC put it, “Turkeys voting for Christmas”

  • Kate,

  • Joe James

    Forgive me for not having time to read every single comment today. So this may be redundant.
    It seems to me that many from the right and left are wanting to have their politics inform their theology. Or to say it another way, they approach theology/scripture expecting it to affirm their pre-existing political assumptions/commitments.
    Unfortunately it does not work this way. Scripture does not fully-affirm anything seeking to sustain the Old Aeon, but is re-imagining a world where God is king, and his glory fills the earth. Any attempt to get a little scripture here and there into our broken governmental systems (be they democratic or otherwise) will be destined to failure.
    It seems to me that this is the general mindset of the Evangelical Right. The Evangelical Right is comprised of largely those who benefit from the status quo of American Politics (not able to speak for or account for those that have not been so rewarded by the status quo) and therefore are willing to fight against anything that threatens that political landscape – even if what is threatening it is from God.
    This, to me, is the danger of reading scripture into our world, rather than reading our fallen selves into the world of scripture.

  • Kyle J

    @Nitika #55
    Really? Rand rejected the possibility of altruism because she’d never seen it in practice? Was she aware of the underground railroad, or those who saved Jews in Nazi Germany, or the American Red Cross, etc., etc., etc.? The church has never, of course, been a perfect institution but history is replete with examples of genuine altruism.
    I’ll confess I haven’t read any of her novels (it’s never been clear to me how works of fiction are supposed to prove a political philosophy works in the real world), but the parts I skimmed from the Ayn Rand Reader before giving up in frustration indicated she rejected altruism simply because it didn’t fit into a very strict ideological framework she had constructed.
    Example: Ayn Rand said it’s immoral to try to save a drowning man’s life because it would discount the value of one’s own life. I think the Bible has a different take on whether discounting the value of one’s own life to save another’s is a good thing.
    You’re fighting a very steep uphill battle here.

  • Peggy

    Those who name Christ as Lord and who live as children of the Heavenly Father and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God are to have a different reality from the world. They are to be renewed from within. They are to be in tune with the Holy Spirit, who reveals truth and leads toward Christlikeness / righteousness. They are to give according to what they have and to trust that God’s love for them works for their best interest — regardless of their circumstances.
    The Kingdom of God is within first before it can be manifest without. It cannot be mandated in any shape or form. Love for God and others is the proper response to God’s love for us.
    I humbly suggest that most people (especially Christians) do not understand what it means to be loved by God and do not trust that God does, in fact, work actively in our lives — as we allow.
    For those who follow Jesus it cannot be about what the law does or does not say. I cannot be “fair”. We must each of us listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit and be willing to trust and then obey. If he asks you to leave all, then leave all.
    I say that the priorities of many are just not really Kingdom priorities. And I say this as one who is processing what it means to live in God’s love and trust him for each step of every day … and turn away from the drive to do and be and plan.
    We need to hold our lives and our things more loosely and hold Jesus more closely.
    That does not mean that I want to see corruption and perverted justice. I have lived overseas and seen a pervasiveness of corruption that is the exception rather than the norm here … although there are pockets of insidious corruption here — and I would agree that government is getting more and more so.
    Power that becomes absolute corrupts absolutely. The farther away from the people’s influence, the easier it is for government to be corrupt. I’m tired of our elected official living under different rules from the rest — so that the laws they pass don’t affect them.
    There is wisdom on all sides of this conversation — and I, along with Patrick O, yearn for less talking past each other and more listening to each other and, especially, listening to the Spirit … who speaks to each of us individually in order for us to be able to discern together what God would have us do.
    Lack of love and disrespect don’t get the job done, friends.
    Better to back up and wait for consensus … God’s restraint (and our impatience with having to wait so long) shows us that we should move slower when our actions have wide-reaching implications.
    …well, that was longer than I expected!
    Sometimes I think that we get bogged down with too many and too complicated questions, Scot. Perhaps asking one question, from one aspect, could bring about a better processing of what the Spirit is saying. These conversations are getting too diluted and go off on wide-ranging tangents … which result in frustration for everyone, it seems.
    Blessings, all.

  • “Genuine Need”
    This is one of the problems with many conservatives today. Somehow they are capable of passing judgment on who deserves help and who doesn’t. There are NO UNgenuine needs! And we, not a single one of us, are able to stand in a place of deciding otherwise.
    “there but for the grace of God…”

  • Nitika

    @ Kyle #65
    “it’s never been clear to me how works of fiction are supposed to prove a political philosophy works in the real world”
    Rand’s philosophy is Utopian! And if you think her economics don’t jive with the Bible, wait til you read what she says about sex! I’m not advocating that anyone adopt objectivism… but it doesn’t help anyone to caricature Rand if you don’t even know who John Galt is.
    The fact that Ayn Rand managed to write a 1000 page best seller tells me she might have something important to say. The fact that she did it in a 2nd language tells me she was a genius. The fact that her novel has moved millions of people two steps to the right tells me that she told the truth about something.
    The truth she expressed was not about what is good or even possible. Atlas Shrugged is the story of what happens under socialism. She wrote what she knew.

  • JoanieD

    I like this paper that Christopher Price published on the internet at:
    http://christiancadre.org/member_contrib/cp_charity.html about Christian charity. I would like to post his introductory statement here, but I haven’t written him to get the OK, so you can just read his paper (it’s not long) to see it.
    For anyone wondering who Christopher Price is (like I was) I clicked on the link at the end which brought me to his page at
    http://christiancadre.org/cpricevirt.html He says he sometimes writes these papers for Christian Colligation of Apologetics Debate Research & Evangelism (CADRE)which you read about at:

  • Kyle J

    @Nitika #68
    I’ll take you word for it. In the end, of course, we didn’t need a work of fiction to tell us what happens under communism. We had the U.S.S.R. to show us.
    It wouldn’t be a problem if her works had moved people “two steps to the right.” It’s a problem when a large bloc of the country has moved so far to the right that a progressive income tax, which we’ve had for 100 years now, constitutes totalitarianism–or that any government involvement in health care (without which only those who are healthy would be able to get health insurance) constitutes socialism.
    And, to return to the original discussion topic here, it’s a bigger problem, IMO, when Christians take up a political philosophy that has its roots in a humanistic ideological worldview.

  • Hi, Scot,
    I apologize for not responding to your question of clarifiation sooner. I posted my thoughts early this morning and only now am able to get back to the computer.
    The discussion has progressed nicely since I asked it, so I am not sure it is any longer relevant in reference to the discussion, but my point simply was in asking that when we read biblical texts, who is the primary audience?
    It seems to me that when Christians start discussing political issues, what we do (and I am referring to both right and left) is we assume that the primary political and, therefore, moral arena for Christians is the state. So we read the Bible’s admonitions to care for the poor, etc. and we understand that as first and foremost a recipe for government action. The left does it with the poor, the right does it with abortion.
    We first need to see these text as ecclesial. They are instructions (and, yes, warnings if we do not obey them) to the people of God to emobody God’s kingdom agenda in this world.
    This does not deny that God will hold the nations accountable. Ted Gossard is right that God will judge everyone in reference to their care for the poor etc. Neither does it mean Christians would not play the role of prophet (which we cannot do well, I submit, if we end up in bed with the Republican or Democratic Parties) in reminding the state by our way of life that they would be a better state if they took care of their poor, and yes, we would in fact be willing to help with that. In reference to abortion, Tertullian said to the Romans, “You’d be a better empire if you didn’t kill your children.” It’s that kind of posture I suggest we take toward the nation, except it will not work if we do not embody what we commend.
    What usually happens in these kinds of discussions is how quickly we resort to arguing over the law. What should we “require” or “coerce” (the language used is dependent on one’s views) from the standpoint of government mandate. We seem to think that the best ways of dealing with poverty, abortion, etc. is legislation. We become libertarian only when the issue up for discussion is not important to us.
    But as Dean Merrill in his wonderful book, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church, has reminded us, the law is a modest helper at best. I find it rather interesting that Christians who believe that one kind of law was ultimately inadequate for our salvation are so quick to turn to another kind of law to get the kind of justice that we think we and others deserve.
    Don’t misinterpret me. I did not say the using the law was unimportant, but for Christians the first question must be embodying the kind of justice (and if you want to put “social” on the front of that, fine) the biblical texts call the people of God to embody.
    It seems to me that without a robust ecclesiology, we Christians can all too often end up reading the biblical texts, not first and foremost as “go and do likewise,” but go and tell the government, to whom these texts are not primarily addressed,” what to do.
    As far as Falwell’s comments, he completely misses the point because he, as a political conservative suffers from the same kind of stunted ecclesiology as many political liberals. He would not make the same claims in reference to prayer in schools, I am sure. He, like the rest of us, as I just said, are libertarians only on issues not of great importantce to us.

  • Gary Bell

    I don’t know that I, a layman, should be telling you a biblical scholar that your interpretation of II Cor. 8: 13-14 is off target, but it seems to be that it is. Paul isn’t talking about government policy in that passage, but an offering for another church. And, he makes it clear the offering is voluntary. In verse 8 he says, ”I speak not of commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.” When governments tax, they aren’t asking us to prove the sincerity of our love, they are commanding us to pay that money or face the full coercive force of government power against you!
    I think your comments about the year of Jubilee are off target as well. As far as I know, there’s no evidence of the children of Israel ever instituting the year of Jubilee. It’s in the Law, but they never did it. Jesus must have known that so it seems unlikely that His remarks in Luke 4 were directed toward the Year of Jubilee. Instead he was quoting an expansive prophecy predicting the nature of His Messianic calling.

  • Your Name

    I’m no intellectual, so help me understand how the following situation is fair and right… My husband and I are both retired, yet we both continue to work out of necessity… he works a full time job and a part time one as well… I work 2 part time jobs… we also produce items to sell at a local weekly market. We live a frugal life with one car (my last car was 15 years old and had over 200,000 miles on it when it died) and an old ratty work truck. I raise chickens, he cuts fire wood and we both raise a garden. Eating out is a treat and we both pack a lunch for work. We tithe and also volunteer our time in the community. We raised 2 producing, tithing, volunteering self-sufficent adults. We just finished doing our taxes and owed the government several thousand dollars. This is our life and I am very happy and satisfied with it…. but here is the flip side that I see on a regular basis… I work with a nice young girl who is a young, single, never been married mom. She works this one part time job and supplements it with unemployment when her hours are down. She uses a link card for her food and takes her child to the emergency room when she has a sore throat, also herself when her stomach hurts. She brings in fast food or instant micro-wave food or she orders out delivery for her meals during work hours. She also goes out and parties at the bars on the weekends. She just got her tax refund back… now she has a new computer and a new cell phone and service… and this is only one of the people that I work with… their stories are similar. How is that right? I might just as well have passed out the money directly to these people. Like I said… help me understand…… ?

  • Jjoe

    Yes, I’ve read Rand. Before I became a Christian, I was a libertarian. Now I’m a liberal. Finding Jesus in my 40s changed my life.
    Personally, I’m a liberal that doesn’t condone abortion. I think that anyone who is pro-life has to be pro-life consistently. Abortion and a lack of public health care are two sides of the same coin. Both kill children because it’s cheaper and more convenient.
    I do find it ironic that conservatives want a government large enough to tell a woman that she has to bear a child, perhaps at the risk of her life, but not large enough to tell an insurance company that they have to insure it at the risk of their profit.

  • Richard

    @72 Joe
    “your own ‘leader'”? He’s the POTUS. He’s every American’s civil leader. Just like Bush, Clinton, Reagan, etc.
    Not to mention that everything Obama states in that video is exactly what theologians and everyday Christians wrestle with- how do we live with Scripture today and apply it in our lives. I’m assuming you don’t wear mixed fibers in your clothes even as you cry out against infanticide, right? And I kind of agree that the DOD wouldn’t survive if we governed according to the Sermon on the Mount. Thought I’m not sure we’d need it at that point 😉
    If you think this is a partisan thing, you’ve missed the boat. It’s not about liberal or conservative. It’s about following Jesus as a Christian that lives in America.

  • Scot McKnight

    Gary, thanks. Here’s what I wrote, just so you can see that I make it clear that 2 Cor 8 is not about government but that it is reasonable to extend such a wonderful principle into culture:
    “Finally, what do you think Paul means here in 2 Cor 8:13-15, if he does not mean mandatory (and voluntary) charity for others and that, someday, it will come back to you — a kind “social security” in Paul’s day? [The word “equality” is a radical idea of economic fellowship and mutual responsibility.] Perhaps, you will say, “this is for Christians with Christians.” Probably so, but isn’t it mandatory care for the poor? Wouldn’t it be Christian to expand that principle into culture?”

  • Joe

    We have somehow forgotten the principles of what this country was founded on. Nobody wants the government mandating our care for the poor or anything else. That’s socialism.

  • Richard

    I wonder if Falwell and other conservatives will back off from their support of Beck after his comments today regarding Jim Wallis after Jim offered to meet for public discussion over the issue of social justice in the life of a Christian.

  • Dan

    Kate 62, I was going to write a detailed response, but post 73 says it all.

  • The separation between the government and the individual is a false one. God’s will seems clear in the OT that he was concerned not only with how individuals treated the poor but the nations as well.

  • Patrick

    I agree with practically all that this writer wrote except one thing: this is Jewish law that applies to Jewish people who believe in and follow their Lord GOD and it also applies to those who were “grafted in” with the Jewish people when The Way grew and in time began to be known as Christians. Just because those known as Christians are the ones who hold the two books (in one) that hold these laws doesn’t mean that the laws are Christian, many of the laws preceded the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as a baby.
    Actually, here’s a radical thought: this is Jewish law that is intended to apply to all who live in this world whether Jewish or not.

  • matt

    Diane #23
    Thank you for your comments. I do think it is different when money is passed down from one family member to another. We can hope that there was some teaching/training/modeling about charity and sacrifice going on before the money was passed down. The teaching the government is doing is that there is no accountability to use the help offered and get back on your feet- thus allowing people to become more and more dependant on the government funds. Along those lines; I don’t think the government is the best teacher of ethics, morals and responsibilities. They do not have the mind of Christ as their guide, and consequently leads funding programs/procedures that go against God’s Law. It aslso leads to more reliance on government (see socialism)and less on God.

  • matt

    Thanks Mark 25. I totally agree!!

  • matt

    One major component we are forgetting in this argument is evangelism. We are to reach out to others in the love of Christ in both word and deed. If the chuch had been doing this the last 50 years or so we probably would not need governement to fill the void that we have made. Christians are some, if not the most (hard to prove), of the most generous people in the world. We understand that religion that the Father accepts as pure is to help the fatherless, the orphoned and the widow. Our problem now is that we are so few that the government has stepped in where we now lack.

  • MikeB

    Kevin DeYoung has a good post relating the two fold mission of the church 1)preach the gospel and 2) help the needy. Check it out!
    Regarding the size of government as big or small – I think Christians can support both positions from the Scriptures. And certainly there can be debate regarding the existing government programs and there effectiveness.
    I think some of the questions that are essential given today’s headlines regarding HCR and the government’s involvement in health care:
    1. As a Constitutional form of government in the USA does Congress/Government have the legal authority to legislate what they are planning/doing?
    2. Does the Bible teach anything about debt and giving? Do these principles apply to government too?
    3. Does a larger more expansive and expensive program mean more people are helped? Can other less expensive solutions that rely on local governments and private enterprise be viable too?
    4. Do the ends justify the means? Certainly the current HCR process as an example leaves much to be desired in crafting of the solution. Certainly a speedily written, behind closed door, and “cram it through” no matter what mentality does little to give anyone confidence of the effectiveness of this bill to achieve what everyone wants.
    Just some thoughts regarding this post.

  • MikeB

    I am not sure that the gleaning passages support all that you advocate in this post. Certainly God has provided a law regarding how people can provide for the poor. Those who owned fields (which are private/family owned) were to leave some of the produce to the poor. The poor were to come and glean what they needed. I don’t see a government institution supported here. The Dept of Gleaning was hardly something that would have existed in the period of the Judges when these laws were first going into effect. The LORD was the King and the Judge – whom the people rejected for an earthly king. He was the One with whom the law covenant was made.
    Lastly to say the commands of God are laws and therefore require the government really assumes to much. Do we really want the government to create the Dept of Evangelization, the Dept of Missions and Outreach, and the Dept of Discipleship? These are all commands given by God. But they are for the church. I see in the NT model the commands to love our neighbor and to be voluntary and cheerful givers as being for the church as well. We are to give because of how much He has given.
    Lastly (for real this time), Jesus commended the widow for giving all that she had – not more than she had. Same principle exists for gleaning which advocates sharing proportionally with what you have – it does not ask the field owner to go into massive debt to feed the poor. Just to share what he has. It does this while also incorporating the principles of generosity, sharing, charity, with the if you don’t work/you don’t eat. The government often fails to incorporate any of these principles into its programs.

  • Richard

    @ Mike B
    Commands given to Israel were the laws of their land. In my understanding, Scot’s point is that Israel was a theocracy and thus the commands were the rule of law for them. His point isn’t that we should be exactly like Israel (i.e. “A Department of Gleaning”, etc), it’s that we shouldn’t be as adverse to the government also participating in the work that God has charged all of humanity with. We tend to make a separation and privatization of faith that is not Biblical but is very American.
    Re: massive debt. If we were willing to have our taxes increased, this could be paid for without severely hindering our well-being. It might limit my family to a single car but maybe we could actually afford public transportation in our cities if the tax base were stronger. This would fit with your emphasis on sharing.
    Of course, if humans were naturally inclined to share, as many on this board seem inclined to believe, we wouldn’t need government welfare, would we? But instead we are debating over the government “taking” what we admit should be freely given…
    This issue isn’t whether there is enough in God’s economy, it’s how we’ve distributed it or hoarded it. We have no record of early believers refusing to support non-Christians but we have plenty of Christian and secular testimony to their willingness to care for anyone and everyone- whether victims of plague or poverty.

  • Gayle

    “But for our federal government to create one wasteful, bloated, bankrupted program after another, and hide behind Jesus for it, that is entirely another thing.
    That’s not just wrong, it’s blasphemous.”
    Amen, brotha.

  • Richard

    Great article from NT Wright entitled “The public meaning of the Gospels”: http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=4862
    The quote most relevant to the ongoing discussion is below:
    “Until the achievement of Jesus, a biblical view of pagan rulers might have been that they were charged with keeping God’s creation in order, preventing it from lapsing into chaos. Now, since Jesus’ death and resurrection (though this was of course anticipated in the Psalms and the prophets), their task is to be seen from the other end of the telescope. Instead of moving forward from creation, they are to look forward (however unwillingly or unwittingly) to the ultimate eschaton. In other words, God will one day right all wrongs through Jesus, and earthly rulers, whether or not they acknowledge this Jesus and this coming kingdom, are entrusted with the task of anticipating that final judgment and that final mercy. They are not merely to stop God’s good creation from going utterly to the bad. They are to enact in advance, in a measure, the time when God will make all things new and will once again declare that it is very good.”
    This is a very challenging perspective to me with my anabaptist roots. Wright goes on to point to the church in acts and the epistles as calling civic leaders to account which leads to their martyrdom for calling out the civil structures prophetically.

  • Jeremy

    The job isn’t getting done by private citizens, full stop. You don’t get to claim that government sucks at doing something when no one else, not even the Church, has been able to do it. It’s fine and dandy to say ‘but that’s our job, not the government’s!’ but you have to demonstrate that we are doing our job.
    I’m not seeing it and it needs to get done, so unless someone has any bright ideas, it falls on the government to do it. Either that or you have to demonstrate that God’s really quite alright with the state of things.

  • Kate

    Jeremy @90 Exactly.
    So say it really is not the job of the government to look after its citizens’ health. Lets have the churches pay for the healthcare of the poor, (but only the “deserving” poor, make it quite clear that we’re not going to stand for any laziness and you can go die in the corner if you’ve made poor choices).
    I just don’t see a large number of Western Christians going for the sort of sacrificial giving that is going to cover the costs involved.
    Given the “Christian” response to any suggestion of raising taxes, how do we think they’re going to react to a 90% tithe?

  • Kate

    …quite apart from the fact that profit makes for bad medicine, regardless of whether or not you can afford the costs involved.
    I’ve worked in both systems, and I can tell you I’d not like to get sick in any place where the healthcare is profit-driven: I want my doctor making his recommendations on the basis of the best evidence, not what brings in the bucks.

  • Kate

    sorry, not “profit” but “the profit motive” makes for bad medicine

  • MikeB


    Re: massive debt. If we were willing to have our taxes increased, this could be paid for without severely hindering our well-being. It might limit my family to a single car but maybe we could actually afford public transportation in our cities if the tax base were stronger. This would fit with your emphasis on sharing.

    Taxes > Giving
    I am not advocating that we don’t pay our taxes or that the government should have no involvement in various areas. I am saying that paying what I owe in taxes is vastly different than voluntary giving from the heart.
    Besides government usually has a lot of waste, fraud, and abuse in its programs and does not have the right incentives to correct these issues and be good stewards with the money if it can just increase taxes.

  • Dave B

    My concern is that our human sinful nature tends to pull back and do less as the government does more. If there were no government programs to feed and care for the poor then families and churches would have to step up. When the government becomes bigger, more powerful and provides more and more to the poor … two things happen.
    1) People do less on their own 2) An entity that is not based in the principles of God makes increasingly greater decisions about how to do it, why to do it and who gets the help.
    I don’t have that much faith in a secular government to make those decisions in a God-honoring way.

  • MikeB

    That should read Taxes > Giving… 🙂

  • MikeB

    Ok last try…
    Taxes do not equal Giving…
    The “less than” sign was not going through…

  • Jeremy

    MikeB, I think you’re after !=
    A lot of what I hear from people smacks of making the perfect the enemy of the good. We would rather do nothing or call to some nebulous (and nearly absent) Christian charity. I’m a pastor’s kid…we can’t get a majority of the Church to tithe, much less fund a private effort to insure the poor or run food pantries.
    Also, who gets to decide who deserves what? There are serious concerns with welfare and charity, but on the flip side, a lot of people have a very shallow and uncharitable view of why people are in the situations they’re in.

  • Gayle

    Churches “suck” at helping the poor so the “government’s gotta do it”???
    Yeah, ummmm…how’s that 40-year-old government War on Poverty working out for ya?
    “Socialism lite and medium haven’t worked, let’s pile on more!! And act all morally offended about it, and stuff!! Yeah, that’ll work!!”

  • Jeremy

    Gayle, no. Are you implying that we should just let people die, starve or otherwise go unattended to avoid the specter of Socialism?
    Socialism is one of the least ideal ways to go. However, I have to agree with the Catholics on the idea of subsidiarity. Things should first be accomplished by private citizens, but their failure to do so does not excuse us from getting the job done.
    What do you propose we do instead? And it can’t be a pipe dream this side of the eschaton. (Man, I’m using that word a ton these days…)

  • Richard

    @ MikeB
    My point was that if we’re so unwilling to have our taxes raised, what are the odds that we’re willing to give enough to make a difference in these complex problems facing our communities?
    As for your concern with government waste, I feel the same way about churches. There is a church in our community that has over a million dollar budget. I know that’s not a lot to many churches but it is in our community where the median income is around 30k. Do we need plasma TVs in the youth room when there are people living under the bridge in the winter?
    Why do we need electronic display billboards outside our churches when families are getting their homes foreclosed? Why not buy out their mortgage and give them their house with the money you’d spend on a sign-think that would bring people to your church? Why does any church-going Christian family own 2-3 SUVs when their neighbor has to walk everywhere? Or 5 computers? Or 5 TVs? It’s just not right. And if we don’t willingly make those sacrifices, what right do we have to complain when someone, God at the Messianic banquet or the government whenever, steps in to take it away from us and give it to the ones we should have been sharing with all along.

  • Excerpting from the blog I link to with this post:
    :The latest United Nations comparative statistics, available at http://data.un.org, demonstrate the point clearly. The U.N. data measure the number of abortions for women ages 15 to 44. They show that Canada, for example, has 15.2 abortions per 1,000 women; Denmark, 14.3; Germany, 7.8; Japan, 12.3; Britain, 17.0; and the United States, 20.8. When it comes to abortion rates in the developed world, we’re No. 1.
    No one could argue that Germans, Japanese, Brits or Canadians have more respect for life or deeper religious convictions than Americans do. So why do they have fewer abortions?
    One key reason seems to be that all those countries provide health care for everybody at a reasonable cost. That has a profound effect on women contemplating what to do about an unwanted pregnancy.”

  • Diane

    An interesting and civil debate.
    Dave B,
    I was a history major as an undergraduate, and learned that even in Christian countries, in the days before gov’t-run aid, destitute people–including children–wandered and begged in the streets. Churches, whether well meaning or not, were unable to cope with the problems. As others have said, the ideal of Christian aid has fallen short.
    Thanks for your comments. I’m curious as to your views of young people inherited millions of unearned (by them) dollars if they don’t come from a family with good moral values, such as perhaps someone who inherits the wealth of their father’s internet porn business. How would handle that?

  • MikeB

    @ Richard

    As for your concern with government waste, I feel the same way about churches.

    The Government just does it on a grander scale… 🙁

    It’s just not right.

    I agree… but

    And if we don’t willingly make those sacrifices, what right do we have to complain when someone, God at the Messianic banquet or the government whenever, steps in to take it away from us and give it to the ones we should have been sharing with all along.

    A lot. The government is not God. Not even close to close. The Scriptures say God is pleased when we sacrifice and do good and share (Heb 13)… not that He is pleased when the government forces you to pay taxes.
    Should the government fill in where we fail in our task to make disciples too?

  • DRT

    Very nice civil discourse.
    A couple of observations –
    I have a big problem with people claiming government corruption is a reason to not have the government do it. Does anyone believe that the churches are less corrupt? The government at least has an ability to force disclosure, not the churches.
    The argument that if the churches were going to do it then it would have been done by now is compelling to me. The churches aren’t going to do it, for whatever reason.
    This topic is begging for labels like the whole pro-life labeling. Perhaps something like:
    – Pro poor rights or dignity vs Anti-poor rights
    – Giving vs. Greedy position
    Which brings up another point. Our country is founded on greed. If you are to believe my hypothesis that the church is as corrupt as the government (if not more) then it is more of a question of poor rights vs. poop on the poor.

  • Your Name

    I agree that comment 72 really nails it. I’m disappointed that no one here has attempted to respond to it.

  • Richard

    Actually Scot was responding to it in comment # 76. There was a previous comment that got deleted that threw off the numbering system by the time he posted. His point was the if that charity is being “commanded/exhorted” then it seems pretty natural to say Christians should want to encourage charity by anyone.
    Re: the Jubilee. even if it wasn’t practiced by Israel, that means we can ignore it? Especially in light of how many of the charges against Israel via the prophets dealt with their lack of care and perpetual injustice against the poor?
    @ 104 Mike B
    I didn’t intend to equate the government with God. My point was that God seems to imply that he’s going to humble the rich and raise up the poor. Doesn’t seem very optional at that point. So if rich Christians can be ticked at the government for “stealing” the property they’re supposed to be freely sharing, does that mean rich Christians in an age of hunger have a right to be ticked off when God levels the playing field in the Kingdom? If equality is his desire there, why not work for it here? There is no justification for me to live the high life while my neighbor suffers despite their hard work and effort.

  • Your Name

    Actually, I messed up. It was comment 73, not 72 that I was referring to in comment 106. That is the situation that I think really nails it. The fact is that government welfare programs punish people who work hard to live frugally and responsibly, and enable those who live irresponsibly and selfishly. I see it every day at the alternative school where I work among both the staff and the families of many of our students, and I have also seen it affect the lives of people like my parents who have worked hard and lived frugally and responsibly their whole lives. It isn’t right, and no society that practices and enables such thinking and behavior can continue to thrive.

  • MikeB

    Not sure follow the last post, but just to be clear I am not advocating that the government has no role in caring for people – just stating that as Christians we can debate the size and role. And there are other factors including the process by which laws are made, the fact that more spent is not equal to better care, and the lack of adhering to principles of debt found in Scripture.
    Some questions:
    1. Based on the logic through the comments it seems that the basis is if we Christians are failing we should advocate that the government take our place. Should not the emphasis be on solid Biblical teaching about our spiritual blessings and roles & responsibilities as Christians?
    2. Given the logic in #2 (if we Christians are failing we should advocate that the government take our place) then I re-ask – should the government fill in when we fail in our primary task to make disciples (Matt 28)?

  • Richard

    @ Mike B 109
    I appreciate that you clarified that you think the government has a role to play in this. It would be helpful to me if you were to explain what you thought that role was. I think that is “social justice.” I also would appreciate some response to the my questions. In the meanwhile, here are some thoughts responding to what you put forth.
    “He says that those pastors who preach economic and social justice “are trying to twist the gospel to say the gospel supported socialism.”
    Jesus taught that we should give to the poor and support widows, but he never said that we should elect a government that would take money from our neighbor’s hand and give it to the poor,” Falwell says.”
    Falwell says that Jesus believed that individuals, not governments, should help the poor.”
    This is the quote that started this. This is a Christian leader advocating that it is the job of individuals (not the church, but individuals who feel it is important) to take care of the poor, not the government and that any church that calls for economic and social justice is twisting the gospel.
    If God is redeeming and renewing all things, Christians should be celebrating all aspects of that- personally and socially. And yes we should be focusing on teaching our people to put this into practice in their daily lives. If we are not, and all the evidence suggests we are not, there are people who are suffering and dying as a result of us not emphasizing these aspects of discipleship. Someone needs to take care of them and if Christians will not, I will celebrate the government doing so and pray that Christians will repent of sinfully hoarding “their” goods that they’ve been given to steward on God’s behalf.
    If Christians don’t want the government taking care of the poor, why do we want them to ban abortions, or any other laws for that matter? Why is it okay for the government to “intrude” in that sphere, but not economic spheres? The answer, many of us as believers view abortion as murder. But is it any better when we slowly choke and dehumanize people in poverty?
    As per your second question. I think we all agree that if discipleship necessitates personal relationship with God (and I realize not everyone on this board would see it that way), then the government cannot handle that by definition.
    Sorry if any of this is unclear, I’m not good at multi-tasking

  • “This is a Christian leader advocating that it is the job of individuals (not the church, but individuals who feel it is important) to take care of the poor, not the government and that any church that calls for economic and social justice is twisting the gospel.”
    It’s important that some context is lent to the discussion here. Richard, when discussing the role of government apart from people, the language is always going to be “the government” and “the individual.” You’re reaching when you claim Falwell doesn’t believe “the church” should aid the poor. I’m certain Falwell was speaking of the individual in the context of the church community instead of through government redistribution.
    There’s nothing wrong with churches preaching economic and social justice. There IS something wrong with churches preaching economic and social justice in a political context and that’s the position Mr. Falwell was speaking from.
    It has been a disturbing trend I have seen over the last 4-5 years. That trend has been for liberal Christians to question the hearts of fellow Christians who just so happen to have more “stuff” than other people. This is wrong. Richard, you did it right here in this thread. So a family has 2-3 SUV’s. How do you know they didn’t donate 2-3 SUV’s to other people? Or computers? Or televisions? I’m sorry, but there is nothing biblical about pretending that having nothing for the sake of doing so is noble. It’s actually self serving and the questioning the hearts of those who have been blessed by God with more things is judgmental. Did anybody stop to consider the reason why some people might be blessed with wealth is BECAUSE they’re good stewards?
    This has extended to areas of government spending and most recently with the health care debate. The common theme has been to question the hearts of those who don’t support the President’s health care plan. This is the danger we risk when we rely on the government to do so much. And when one considers their track record, I’m not sure how anybody could celebrate when they do more. There is a $1.2 trillion deficit. The USA is $12 trillion in debt. The US Government has spent nearly $10 TRILLION on anti-poverty programs since 1964. Yet there are still 36 million people living below the poverty level in the United States. Should the church do more? Without a doubt. Should people do more on their own? Yes. Should people be invoking Jesus as a means for winning a political battle? No. And is there good reason to suspect the government can do something well considering their poor track record? Absolutely!
    All of this talk in the political realm is liberation theology. It’s a theology that I soundly reject as it has no basis in scripture (one that can be supported anyway). And that goes for both the liberation theology of the left which is very socio-political in nature and is seemingly more concerned with the policies of the White House rather than the Kingdom of God and sees wealth as some kind of character flaw. I reject also, the liberation theology of the right which would be the “prosperity preaching” of the day where God just wants to bless us abundantly with all kinds of money and stuff. They both only solve one problem depending on their brand.

  • Ben

    1 Cor. 9:9 and 1 Tim 5:18 illustrate that God ordains men to make a living and earn their pay, and this pay coming into their possession becomes their property. Hence, God ordains us to earn and possess property. Land is property, as much as the money to buy the land is the property. There is but one God ordained role for government which is to protect the citizenry, as defined in Romans 13. Suggestions that property can be taken legally without the consent of the possessor is just as immoral as legalized abortion. No Christian would argue that if rape, murder, child molesting, or bestiality was protected by law that it would be acceptable. Neither should any law that permits the theft of property to another to party, be it government or a local thief. Jesus preaches the parable of division but says that “no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house.” (Mar. 3:27) Jesus acknowledges that property is defended from thieves. This property is rightly the “strong man’s.” A right is only a right if it can be defended, protected, or secured. Salvation is a right from God to those in Christ secured through faith. Property is a right from God to those who work secured through physical protection .If salvation could be taken or lost, it is not a right. Likewise, if one’s property can be freely taken by another, no one can truly have right to anything at all. Yet, we have seen that God has said that the worker has a right to his wage. Hence, the one who works has a right to his pay which upon possession becomes his property. Because it is now the property of the one who has earned it, this is the only individual who has a right to its possession and use. If the worker does not have a right to the wage, the employer could simply take it back or not give it to him at all. Thus, the worker has a right to the wage, which presumes a right to protect, defend, and secure it from any other entity for any reason be it the desperate thief overstepping his God-given desire for food, clothing, or shelther or the power hungry government overstepping its God-given function to protect the citizenry. Note that Jesus said “GIVE to Caesar what is Caesar’s” which is a voluntary release of the property. The property is GIVEN but not taken, which illustrates the right to own property is not relinquished to Caesar but the possession of the property.

  • George C

    No sane person can read the bible and not see that we are commanded to take care of those less fortunate than us, but there is no mention of anyone having the right to punish us for not doing so, other than God.
    Many other things in the law come with the right for human leaders to punish you (rebellious children, adultery, homosexuality, theft), but lack of charity is not one of them.