Saturday, 19 January 2008

Our responsibility to do ministries of practical mercy

The Bible makes very clear that compassion for the poor is a required fruit of regeneration, both individually and corporately. A lack of compassion for the poor may well indicate that one does not know Christ or that a church is spiritually dead (James 2:14-17, 1 John 3:16-18). Other Scriptures make clear that failure to help the poor will result in judgement and cursing (Prov 21:13, 28:27). It is striking that Sodom’s sin is identified in Ezek 16:49 with a failure to help the poor. Thus, how we deal with the poor will reveal the true nature of our relationship with Christ on the last day (Matt 25:31-46).

The issue is not simply one of compassion, but also of justice. Here I am noting the very strong link between justice and concern for the marginalized in the Bible. Not least, this is grounded in the character of God Himself (Jer 9:23-24, Ps 146:5-10). Righteousness itself is defined in close connection with doing social justice (Ezek 18:1-18, Prov 29:7). The task is, therefore, not simply to take pity, but to demonstrate social justice in our relationships (i.e. limitation on economic inequalities, fair play, no favourtism to the rich/powerful). Doing mercy and justice is thus an end in and of itself and not merely a means to something else (i.e. evangelism).

We must also consider the Kingdom to come. The future salvation we are expecting is a physical new creation of shalom and social justice, ruled by King Jesus (Ps 72:1-4, Isa 11:1-10). This future world is breaking through into our world now through the church and is transforming the way we live, look at our possessions and do justice (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37).

Lastly, our responsibility is not simply local, but global. This kind of global responsibility is clearly shown amongst the first churches (e.g. 2 Cor 8-9), and we already acknowledge our global responsibility in terms of evangelistic proclamation. Further, we already enjoy the fruits of globalization in terms of our own possessions (made very cheaply somewhere else); should we also not take responsibility for the means by which those possessions come to us? If a benefit comes to me at the expense of injustice to someone else, that is clearly ethically relevant for me as a Christian.

" is not simply this part or that part of our theology that compels us to show mercy; it is everything in the whole Reformed system of doctrine. To reiterate: it is not just part of our theology that calls us to mercy ministry; it is everything in our entire theology. We must never forget that every doctrine that is taught in every part of Scripture from creation to the final judgment compels us to show the mercy of God to lost sinners, in the gospel of His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Philip Ryken, Tenth Presbyterian Church)

“Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms and in more peremptory urgent manner than the command of giving to the poor?....I know scarce any duty which is so much insisted on, so pressed and urged upon us, both in the Old Testament and New, as this duty of charity to the poor.” (Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Christian Charity, Section I)

Look below for answers to the objections.....