Saturday, 19 January 2008

Objections to Ministries of practical mercy (3)

Objection: “Given that the Bible does command deeds of care and compassion for the poor, the poor spoken of here are within the covenant community. So we must not allow our evangelistic responsibility towards outsiders to be deflected by engagement with their practical needs.


1. The prioritization of the poor in our own family is a good Biblical principle outlined in the New Testament (Gal 6:10, 1 Thess 3:12). However, we should not take this as a de-limiting of our compassion. We do not usually take the need to provide for our own biological family to mean that we do not care about anyone outside of our own family. This issue has to be viewed in light of the broader injunction to love our neighbour (and we know the great error of wanting to define our neighbour too closely! (Luke 10:25-37)). To push it even further, what does it mean to love our enemy?!! This clearly moves beyond the bounds of our church community. Finally, we might remember how the “alien and stranger” are also to be included in the compassion of the church (Lev 19:33-34, 23:22; Matt 25:31-46).

2. Because God is Creator and Judge, He is concerned about justice for the whole world. Our God is a God who sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5:45). We can hardly say, doctrinally, that God does not care about unrighteousness and injustice simply because it is happening outside the church! And how weird it would be to think of a Christian living without regard to righteousness just because he is amongst unbelievers?

3. Well, even if we accept this point, there are enough poor Christians in the world to keep us busy for many centuries. The average Anglican is an African female who lives on less than $2 a day and is related to someone with HIV. What do I think the Lord Jesus will say to me on the last day when I stand before Him, next to my African sister? If we have shown no concern, what will He say about my wealth versus her poverty on that last day? Thus, an obvious rejoinder to the objection mentioned above is: well, what am I doing for my poor Christian brothers and sisters?

4. Evangelical church history is awash with men and women who have campaigned for justice for all regardless of their spiritual status (can we imagine Wilberforce only campaigning for the release of slaves who acknowledged Christ?!!). It is part of the glory of church history that we are a group who do not simply look after our own.