I started a personal blog here
I've joined the revolution ;)
I will probably still post more formal stuff here, but I'll try to post more just random thoughts on my personal one.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The question of whether or not Scripture is clear is not a new one.1 In fact, it was brought up even before the Word of God existed in written form. The serpent asked Eve, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”2 bringing into question the clarity of God's command.3 It was as if the serpent was saying, “We both know what God said, but do you really know what he meant by what he said?” Within the last decade, this writer has noticed a marked decline in the belief that Scripture is clear, in part because of the post-modern perspective that now exists in America.4 The question is not one that is answered easily, and yet the answer is of utmost importance. For what a person believes concerning the clarity of Scripture will affect every area of his relationship with God. This paper will focus on three historical views concerning the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture. Examining the view of the Roman Catholic Church, then the view of the Emergent Church, the view of Evangelicalism, and ending with a critique of the views and concluding thoughts about this fundamental doctrine.
Clarity and the Roman Catholic Church
First of all, it must be understood that the commonly held belief that the Roman Catholic view is that the Bible cannot be understood is inaccurate. It is true that the Reformers differed greatly from the Catholics, but both held to the belief that the Bible could be understood correctly and is, to some degree or another, clear.5 In fact, one Catholic theologian is explicit in his desire to make sure no one believes that the Roman Catholic Church holds the position that Scripture is completely unclear: “Catholics do not deny that certain basic teachings can be found in Scripture with little difficulty, especially by those who, with a thorough grounding in the principles of Christian religion, follow the analogy of faith.”6
Clarity Based on the Infallibility of the Church
The controversy of how the Catholic Church views the clarity of Scripture centers around how an individual can arrive at the correct understanding. The main premise that the Catholic Church begins with is that heresy exists; therefore God must put something in place in order to preserve the true meaning of Scripture, and to protect it from being twisted and misused.
Biblically, the Catholic Church's view has some merit, for even Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church based his authority on the practice of the church at that time: “But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16). Also, the Catholics refer to Jesus' words to the Pharisees in John 5:39, citing them as an example of the futility of reading Scripture apart from the infallible interpretation of the Church. For they believe that no one can truly understand the Bible, apart from the church because of its complex literal and spiritual senses.7 There is no possible way in their minds for a private reader to satisfactorily “distinguish what is didactic and what is historical, what is fact and what is vision, what is allegorical and what is literal, what is idiomatic and what is grammatical, what is enunciated formally and what occurs obiter, what is only of temporary and what is of lasting obligation”8 That the Bible is inspired only guarantees that what is contained in the Word is true, but an infallible interpretation is the required complement in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church, for an individual to come to a correct interpretation.9
Additionally, the Catholic Church leans heavily on their belief that Jesus established infallibly in the line of the popes, beginning with Peter. In their minds it is inherently clear that “the authoritative determination of the meaning of Scripture in matters of faith and morals belongs, according to the arrangement of Christ Himself, to the teaching office of His Church and that, consequently, no one is ever free to depart from the meaning which the Church has always held.”10 The implications of this teaching are far reaching. And in many ways a sense of pride is felt from those of the Catholic religion, for they feel that their institution has saved the “sacred text,” from, “free examination and private judgment.”11
So the Catholic Church holds to a clarity of the inspired Word, but only one that they alone can interpret. Practically, this means that the Bible is not clear to the layperson, and is only clear to the Church whom they believe Christ ordained to be “the infallible interpreter of that inspiration”12
Clarity and the Emergent Church
Because of the fact that the emergent church is a movement that has no central point of authority like the Catholic Church, and because of its relatively new beginnings, it is difficult to discuss exactly what those in the emergent camp believe regarding the clarity of Scripture (even the terms “emergent” and “emerging” have begun to differ in meaning because of disagreements within the movement).13 But there is one voice, within the movement who rises above most others – Brian D. Mclaren, “the de facto spiritual leader for the emerging church.”14
Clarity is Not Important
The main point in the emergent view is that clarity is an over-rated, modernist invention that is no longer needed for this post-modern age, and therefore should be tossed aside to embrace a faith that is “deep enough for mystery,” as well as, “big enough for their own doubts.”15 Arguments weigh in heavy on the fact, just as the Catholics do, that Scripture cannot be clear because there are so many different opinions on its meaning in the world and throughout history. And not only that, but they add that the only reason anyone ever thought Scripture was clear was because of the influence of the enlightenment and modern science, which places a high value on facts and absolute truth.16
Biblically, the emerging camp views sees the four gospel accounts as proof: “the fact that we have four gospels tells us that we’re better off having four different perspectives because there is no one authorized version of the story...in the biblical world, multiple perspectives are a huge advantage.”17 Asking probing questions of orthodoxy such as, “What does it mean to be 'saved'?”18 is viewed as a good thing, and embracing the unknown is considered the highest spiritual ground. One emergent confesses: “I grew up thinking that we've figured out the Bible...that we know what it means. Now I have no idea what most of it means. And yet I feel like life is big again.”19
Emergents see the youth of America leaving church, and believe that the problem is that the message of the Word of God has been consumed by modernists within the church. They condemn conservative theologians, and join with Stanley J. Grenz, saying that their opponents have fallen “...into step with the assumption that theology is 'the science of God' based on the Bible.”20 The movement believes that the Gospel needs to be taken out of the hands of modernists and placed into the hands of the postmodernists so that the Gospel can continue to reach the world. “This is not just the same old message with new methods...We're rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life.”21 Clarity is for the modernists–the postmodernist needs no crutch.
The Evangelical View of Clarity
Evangelicals are somewhat diverse in their beliefs regarding the specifics of the clarity of Scripture, but most believe that all of Scripture is clear. One evangelical defines clarity as meaning, “that the Bible can be understood by people through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and that people need to search the Scripture and judge for themselves what it means.”22
Clarity Based on the Witness of Scripture
The main distinguishing point within the Evangelical view of the clarity of Scripture is that they look to Scripture itself to come to their perspective, and they would argue that this doctrine is not one contrived by men, but is one that Scripture itself attests to, although, “not to the point that it cannot be misunderstood or is in every point equally simple and clear.”23
They begin at the beginning with Genesis 1:3, showing that God is a God who speaks, even before the world was created – for creation was spoken into existence. Combating the view that was put forth by Karl Barth, that in Scripture “...fallible men speak the Word of God in fallible human words...”24 Rather, they believe Scripture shows that language is not a fallible human institution but rather a gift from God. Therefore, “If God speaks our words, not just as the incarnate Son but in the address of men and women throughout redemptive history, then these words are suitable medium for revelation.”25
When looking at the transfer of power from Moses to Joshua, Evangelicals see another indication that Scripture is clear, for God assumes that what is contained in the book of the law that he gave to Moses is sufficiently clear and understandable because he commands Joshua to “be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Josh. 1:8).26
Even Jesus, Evangelicals relate, had an expectation that because the Jews had read the Scriptures that they should have recognized him as the Messiah, and some did (Matt. 12:3, 5; 19:4; 21:16, 42; 22:31).27 But in observation of what Christ said, just because Scripture is clear, it does not mean that everyone will understand what is written. For though the Pharisees read, they did not rightly understand. Evangelicals refer to Martin Luther when dealing with this problem, who said, “It is true that for many people much remains abstruse; but this is not due to the obscurity of Scripture, but to the blindness or indolence of those who will not take the trouble to look at the very clearest truth.”28 Luther gains this insight from Paul who attributes the veiling of the gospel, not to the unclarity of the message, but to the blinding of the world by Satan (2 Cor. 3:15; 4:3 f.).
Even in the midst of the postmodern thinking of this age, the Evangelical position holds fast to its convictions based on its understanding of Scripture, affirming that “clarity means that the Bible is sufficiently unambiguous in the main for any well-intentioned person with Christian faith to interpret each part with relative adequacy.”29
All the views related in this paper to some degree or another are based upon presuppositions. From a purely critical view, none of the views seem clearly able to articulate its solution to the problem of the existence of multiple interpretations–but perhaps this is because “The Bible is not just another text...The relationship between author and reader (any reader) is different in the case of the Bible to any other text.”30 The topic has immense importance and truly affects every aspect of Christian thought which then flows out into practice. All sides have correctly addressed the issue–problems are easily identified. But when it comes to their solutions there are some difficulties in the mind of this writer.
Critique of the Roman Catholic View
The Roman Catholic Church rests heavily on their belief that Christ set up an infallible tradition through the popes, beginning with Peter. But they fails to articulate exactly why they believe that, at least in their discussions on the clarity of Scripture. Obviously in their minds, papal infallibility takes care of the issue of multiple interpretations, in that multiple interpretations only arise outside the Catholic Church. But what of the inconsistencies within the Catholic church? What of the disagreements throughout the ages popes have had? In the end, the Catholic Church's view does nothing but place the pope as the sole interpreter of Scripture and because it calls him infallible, shoots itself in the foot. They have done what they accused the Reformers of doing, placing the interpretation of Scripture in the hands of individuals – or worse, they have placed it in the hands of one individual: the pope.
Critique of the Emergent Church View
As previously stated, identifying the problem is not difficult, and the Emergent Church sees the problem clearly. But what they fail to see is their conformity to the postmodern system – they fail to critique their own system of thought. They point the finger at Evangelicals saying that they are thoroughly modern, assuming that modernity is evil, yet they think nothing of the fact that they themselves are postmodern. They blindly assume that postmodernism is intrinsically good. Their argument is based heavily on their own cultures critique of Christianity rather than God's critique. Just because people in a postmodern culture do not value clarity, in matters regarding God and his Word, it does not matter what people think, but rather what God thinks. And if we cannot know what God thinks, it is hard to see any value when it comes to trying to have a relationship with him. The Emergent Movement has based their argument on man's ideas and therefore are, in the end, left with nothing – for who is to say that their argument is better than someone else's? Belief in obscurity leaves nothing to believe at all – or at least, leaves no reason to listen to what anyone else says besides oneself. The Emergent Church fails to address the issues in their own system of thought, and because of their assumption that they are right, fail to make a convincing argument.
Critique of the Evangelical View
One of the most significant thoughts of the Evangelical belief on the clarity of Scripture is that of their concept of language as a gift of God. This God-centered view of the world has huge potential in leading one to believe in the intention of God to communicate with his creation and that he would do so in such a way that he would be understood. Their line of thought is seen in Scripture as God assumes that when he speaks, those he speaks to will understand what he has said. There are numerous biblical examples that Evangelicals cite, and firmly hold the majority of the Biblical arguments of the two other positions looked at in this paper. That fact is significant, especially since the subject of the discussion is Scripture, God's Word. Looking at what is actually in Scripture is very useful in coming to an understanding of what God thinks about the clarity of his Word.
While much has been written on the doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture, it seems to this writer that of the works currently available dealing with the issue, there is yet to be one that stands far above all the others. Especially in this day and age, with postmodernism at our door, more effort must be put into defining and clarifying this essential doctrine, in order to scrape away at the current confusion. While the Catholic's have really separated themselves from this argument, because of their basis on the supposed establishment of the infallible pope by Christ, the Emergent Church has not gone so far away from Scripture so as not to have a listening ear. Therefore, more effort should be made to come to a deeper understanding of their views in order to be able to use the light of Scripture to guide them back under the authority of the Word of God by its clarity.
1 G. C Berkouwer, Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1975), 267.
2 All Scripture references taken from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra: Lockman Foundation, 1995).
3 John MacArthur, “Perspicuity of Scripture: The Emergent Approach,” TMSJ 17/2 (Fall 2006): 141.
4 Ibid., 142.
5 Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, 271.
6 Monsignor G. Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology (Westminster, Md: Newman Press, 1955), III:105.
7 Ibid., 100-101.
8 John Henry Newman, “On the Inspiration of Scripture,” The Catholic Tradition, (Wilmington, N.C.: McGrath Pub. Co, 1979), I:257-258.
9 Ibid., 257-258.
10 Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology , III:105-106.
11 Henri Daniel-Rops, What Is the Bible? (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1958), 13.
12 Newman, The Catholic Tradition, I:258.
13 Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006), 22.
14 Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/november/12.36.html (accessed October 10, 2007).
16 “An interview on Christian publis - Brian McLaren,” http://www.brianmclaren.net/emc/archives/imported/an-interview-on-christian-publis.html (accessed October 10, 2007).
17 Eric Hurtgen, “RELEVANT MAGAZINE,” http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god_article.php?id=1012 (accessed October 10, 2007).
18 Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique.”
20 Stanley J Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology: A Fresh Agenda for the 21st Century (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 65.
21 Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique.”
22 Larry D. Pettegrew, “The Perspicuity of Scripture,” TMSJ 15/2 (Fall 2004): 209.
24 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), II:529.
25 Mark Thompson, A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture (England: Apollos, 2006), 76.
26 Ibid., 96.
27 Ibid., 85.
28 Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus, Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, trans. E. Gordon Rupp and Philip S Watson (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969), 111.
29 Kevin J Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1998), 315.
30 Thompson, A Clear and Present Word, 135.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
1 John 2:2 "... and [Christ] Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."
I know that universalism could be argued down from other passages in the NT, but as I ran across this last night, I asked myself why I had never read it so clearly before. At face value, does this passage, in context, advocate universalism? Or at the very least, a moderated universalism?
It literally says, "Christ paid for the sins of the whole world." If the whole world refers only to the remnant from every tongue, tribe and nation, then who is John referring to as "us"? I would think that he is referring to all believers there.
At the very least, Limited Atonement is not compatible with this verse, at face value.
Thoughts? Rebuttals? Papal bans?
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Ok. Here's another question.
Once you get past primary issues of theology (divinity of Christ, afterlife, etc.) to secondary issues (nature of predestination, filioque clause) where there are many opinions on various issues, I want to know: is it better to have an informed opinion?
Let me explain. We could have some opposing scenarios here.
a) In one instance, I am a rock critic for a magazine. I have spent years and years studying and writing about rock and roll. I have written books on the subject. You tell me that you absolutely love the Journey song "Anyway You Want It". If I tell you, "that song is awful -- it is not a good song," does my experience and knowledge make it true? Well, probably not. I could argue that it is not a good song by some criterion or another, but in the end, because a big part of that song's goodness or badness is not humanly knowable, we are both neither right nor wrong.
b) You have been a carpenter for 30 years. You come over to my house and I start boring you to tears with my story of how I made a birdhouse. I say something like, "the best way to make a birdhouse that will not fall apart is X." You respond and say, "No, actually, in my experience it has been Y. You are an idiot, and your birdhouse will fall apart in a month." In this case, you could be justified, because given your experience, you probably know a lot more about carpentry than I do.
c) I am your boss. We are discussing project plans. We come to a scenario where there are two ways the project could go. You feel that one of them would be much more successful, whereas I, as the boss, decide that the other way is better. We do it my way, because I'm the boss.
Now, in an age (much like Luther's) where mass media and education have made knowledge more broadly distributed than ever before, which of these scenarios best illustrates the desired relationship between ministry staff and laity in churches? Or etc., when a disagreement arises?
We had some people leave our church a few weeks ago, amicably -- but they had one view of Spiritual Gifts, that our church no longer had. Or rather, that our pastor no longer had, really. Situations like this are bound to come up all the time ... so what's the right tack to take? Live and let live, or do you as staff (or as laity) have a responsibility to bring those who disagree with you in line, or part ways? Does an M. Div. or Ph. D., or a career in ministry, really mean that you will always understand the Bible better than those around you? Or is it the privilege of church leadership to decide the direction that others will take?
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Do you guys know what that word means? I had to look it up. But once I did, I remembered that it was the intellectual reason behind (or in front of?) the political reason for the Great Schism ... the split of the Catholic and Orthodox churches in ... 1054? The basic idea is this: they took issue with the addition of a clause to the Nicene creed: instead of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father, according to the new (in 1054) clause the HS proceeds from the Father and the Son. This guy mentions, and I am surprised I never realized it before, that this is hardly ever an issue that comes up when protestants/evangelicals have issues with the Orthodox church. And yet, because of it's impact on our understanding of the Trinity, it seems like it would be a more significant question than icons or veneration of Mary.
So ... two questions for all you intellectuals out there ...
1) Do you think there's a significant difference between the two Trinity conceptions? I've heard before that the filioque was merely a pretext for the Eastern church to get out from under the domineering thumb of the Bishop of Rome. Is it a straw man, or a real distinction? How would the Eastern perspective change their understanding of the Trinity?
2) According to this guy, the Western conception of the Trinity is rooted in Augustine and is in conflict with "Sola Scriptura". Is this a just accusation? Why or why not? And no fair putting anything like "Augustine was inspired by God" or "The continuum of church history and theology followed ..." in there.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Friday, July 20, 2007
We talk about the poor - about the homeless. How do we treat them? Do we give them money when they ask? Should we give them money? I mean, they'll probably miss-use it, and buy drugs or something! And besides, most of the homeless WANT to be homeless - we live in America, if someone wants a job, they can find one if they try hard enough, right?
I've had these reactions before - but the thing I want to ask is this: Are these reactions Biblical? Is it really bad stewardship to straight-up give a homeless person $5?
Jesus said, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42)
So why do we (myself included) not give?
There really isn't much else to do, I think, than to look through the Bible as a whole and see what God says about the poor and how we should interact with them. The list is a bit long, but that fact alone should tell us something.
Here we go:
Commands Regarding the Poor:
Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.
Deut. 26:12. When you have finished paying the complete tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied.
Lev. 19:19ff. Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God.
Prov. 31:8ff. Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.
Is. 58:66ff. Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Jer. 22:3. Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
Luke 12:33. "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys."
Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, "Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise."
Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
Blessings God promises to those who care for the poor:
Prov. 22:9 He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.
Jer. 22:16 "Did not your father eat and drink, and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is that not what it means to know Me?" declares the LORD.
Deut. 15:10. You shall give generously to [your poor brother], and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings.
Prov. 19:17. He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.
Jer. 7:5-7. "For, if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever."
Is. 58:10. "And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail."
Luke 14:12-14. "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Luke 12:44. "Sell your possessions and give alms; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
Mt. 19:20ff. The young man said to Him, "All these commands I have kept; what am I still lacking?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
Curses promised to those who do not help the needy and/or oppress them:
Ezek. 16:49ff. "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it."
Is. 10:1-3. "Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who continually record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights... Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar?"
Ezek. 22:29,31. "The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice... Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads," declares the Lord GOD.
Jer. 5:28f. "[The wicked] do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people?" declares the LORD. "On such a nation as this, shall I not avenge myself?"
James 5:1-6. Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. ...Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and with you have withheld, cries out against you; and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
Luke 6:24. "But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full."
Luke 16:19-25. "Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.'
But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony...'"
So that's a bit of a picture on what God says about the poor. What do you believe God's heart desires for us? To give? Or to judge the poor because of the fact that they are poor?
Sometimes we might hear the verse: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) and hear it used to say that we shouldn't give money to someone who will misuse it - but actually in context, Jesus isn't talking about money, He is talking about confronting someone over their sin (right before this verse is the “take the log out of your own eye” passage). Now, I'm not saying that we should blindly give all our money away - because although Jesus did say, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42), He also said, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you” (Matthew 5:29a). So these things must be thought about in order to be understood in the context of the whole of Scripture. And yet - I would say, as American's (and really most everybody else) we fall far from where Christ would have us be in regards to our heart's attitude towards the poor.
If we are Christians - what should characterize our lives in regards to the poor? Well, we should be loving towards them for starters: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Think about God's love for you - when did God love you? When you were a sinner! His love was not based on your actions - rather it was based on Himself! We misuse the gifts God has given to us everyday (and even more so, unbelievers), so why does God keep “casting pearls to swine”? Can we really say that we cannot give money, or food, or shelter to a homeless person because they won't appreciate it or be thankful? Is it really about what the homeless person does with what we give them, or more that we DO something out of love towards them?
There is room for confrontation when it comes to the misuse of gifts - but, as was recently pointed out to me, Jesus never confronted Judas over his habitual stealing from the money bag that he carried for Christ. Jesus knew what Judas was doing, and yet he allowed him to do it. We so quickly condemn others, but is that really Christ-like?
What characterizes the life of a believer in regards to the poor?
Here's some aspects that the Bible highlights:
Prov. 29:7. The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern.
1 John 3:17. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
Luke 6:33ff. "And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same."
2 Cor 9:7. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
Mt. 6:2-4. "When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
Mt. 6:24. "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Money."
1 Tim. 6:10. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.
Gal. 2:9ff. Recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John... gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor-- the very thing I also was eager to do.
Lev. 19:15. "You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly."
Acts 2:44. All those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began to sell their property and possessions, and share them with all, as anyone might have need.
Acts 4:32-35. And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.
Eph. 4:28. Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.
“For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.” (Mark 14:7)
The poor will always be with us on this earth - so is it really about making sure they wisely use the money we give them, or the help we offer them? Or is it more that as Christians we should not be able to contain our love and care (both spiritually and physically) for those who are poor in our midst? What glorifies God more? Giving? Or holding on to the very thing that everyone else in this world is holding on to (i.e. money)? We can give freely because we have been freely given all things (Matt. 10:8). Are we lacking anything? Therefore, may God instill in us the “knee-jerk” reaction of love towards the poor, and the outflow of that love seen in our actions towards them in providing and caring for them.