The Ultimate Goal of Biblical Charity

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, March 22, 2017 0 comments

by David Odegard

“There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes; Jesus died for nothin’ I suppose.” –John Prine, 1971.

There has always been a tradition in the United States and Britain which recognized that there is a certain moral hazard in handing out money, goods, and services. “England’s original Poor Laws, enacted in 1589, sought to ‘reinforce righteousness,’ to strengthen ‘the family bond,’ and to ‘set the poor to work’ and turn the country into ‘a hive of industry’” (George Grant, Bringing in the Sheaves). Because the instillation of virtue was a main part of helping the poor, determined policies were enforced to reduce graft and sloth. The poor laws were never perfect, but they were better in many ways than the current system popularized in the United States.

Last week, I pointed out that collusion with the government involves overlooking the fact that governments steal from people and pocket a heavy “collector’s fee,” sometimes increasing the number of poor. Perhaps you are pragmatic and decide that state sponsored theft is a tolerable evil in the face of doing so much good. We might have a conversation about how much good is being accomplished compared to how much good could be accomplished if we didn’t have to pay the bully, but that is for another time.

Instead, I want to point out one of the first causalities in federalizing charity. Besides making theft foundational, it also removes almost all of the accountability associated with local giving.

Biblical charity works much differently. First, 100% the funds have been given voluntarily. Second, there is a local Christian in charge of those funds who is in some way accountable to the people who gave the money. He must not allow a person who does not meet the criteria of neediness to drain the coffers. “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need” (1 Timothy 5:16).

The Bible sets up criteria to keep the system solvent. The church provides accountability with every dollar it hands out. Not only that, but many times a Christian can discern the deeper needs that a poor person may have. A majority of the financial counseling I do is with people who do not have an income problem; rather they have a management problem.

Other times people are poor because of an ongoing addiction problem like the case of Sam Stone from John Prine’s heartbreaking song. Giving addicts money only deepens the problem. Furthermore, someone had to work and not receive the benefits of that money in order to provide it. You cannot ask that person to sacrifice so that someone else can continue to feed an addiction.

Remember Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32? The younger son wants his inheritance early, and even though this would have put a strain on the rest of the business, the father agrees. The wicked boy goes off and lives the high life in the city with other wastrels. But when he runs out of money, all of his friends desert him. He goes down and down until he is living with unclean pigs in utter despair. His pride finally is destroyed and he repents and returns to his father’s loving and open arms.

But I wonder sometimes what would happen if there was a welfare system that would be willing to maintain that young man in his rebellion and folly. Would he ever have come to repentance if someone came along and began to pay all of his bills? The Bible teaches that some poverty is a judgment of God. The English system of old knew this and tried, albeit imperfectly, to implement poverty relief that was as close to the Biblical ideal as possible.

I see pastors abandoning the spiritual world of the gospel to engage the world in the political arena. They trade the thing that has the real power to transform sinners for a powerless life of social work. Sam Stone’s only hope is the gospel of the risen Jesus; he needs a revelation that Jesus did not die for “nothin’,” but for salvation.

If we examine the current model of government welfare against the standard of the attempt to “’reinforce righteousness,’ to strengthen ‘the family bond,’ and to ‘set the poor to work’ and turn the country into ‘a hive of industry,’” the government fails on each of these four criteria. It reinforces sloth, weakens the family bond, keeps the poor in generational poverty, and does not reinforce righteousness in any way. Government welfare is a failure. It is time to replace it with Biblical charity. I would be willing to support any measure from anyone that only uses money that has been voluntarily given. We can be so much more creative than the bureaucrats in Washington.

If there was one thing that the church could do to regain the mission of Christ in the world, it would be to stop colluding with secular powers and begin to administer Biblical charity. The ultimate goal is to see people restored to a right relationship with God. You are never going to get that from the welfare department, but you will get that in the local church!

Lord, may your kingdom come, your will be done, give us our daily bread, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us—to Thy name be the glory.

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