XBIP is offering another symposium, and the opportunity to write on yet another topic near/dear to my heart is too good to pass up, even if I've already overrun my daily quota of thinking about things. The topic is charity, and no, despite what my title for this post is, charity is not me writing twice in the same day.
The symposium poses five related questions, which I'll tackle in order. For more background, you can read the column that inspired this symposium here. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the article, as I'm not a Davy Crockett specialist, but I found the article to be intriguing independent of its veracity.
What is your definition of Charity?
I believe charity is, as most people would, giving of your resources to those who need them. Whether these resources are time, money, possessions or something else is irrelevant. To be charity, you need to give something you have to others. Most people would probably say that charity involves giving to those less fortunate than yourself, but I think it is possible that someone less well-off than I am could conceivably give to me as I could give to someone with more than I have.
I will make a distinction between missions and charity though. Charity is designed to meet someone's physical or material needs, while missions are designed to meet spiritual needs. Providing either missions work or charity is an act of love.
What is the responsibility of the Church in regards to Charity?
I believe the church is to be active in charitable endeavors, but that is not the primary driver of the church. Our first priority is to preach the Gospel (Matt. 28:16-20). One's eternal destiny and relationship to God is even more important than one's physical condition here on earth. What are 70 years against an eternity, after all?
However, we are to show love to everyone on a practical-needs level, beyond just the spiritual dimension. Again, though, prioritization is in play. Scripturally, the church is to first look after our own (Gal. 6:10) and then the "world." This is not due to a scriptural superiority complex, but rather to keep the "world" from having to provide for needs we should be able to provide within our own family.
Having met our obligations to care for our family members, we are also to show love to those outside the church. We are more than just members of the church. We are also members of communities, and need to exhibit the love of God to all in need.
What is the responsibility of individuals in regards to Charity?
There are two aspects to this question. First, individuals should not seek charity unless they truly need it. Paul makes this point in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 when he says we should work so that we are not dependent upon others.
The second thing of note is that we, as believers, have the same overall responsibility in this area as the church at large. As members of the family of God, and of communities and societies filled with people who have needs, we need to demonstrate God's love. This command is inclusive of our enemies, by the way, and the beliefs of another should not deny him or her our love (Luke 6:27-36). We can disagree in matters of theology, philosophy, worldview or behavior. What we cannot do, as Christians, is treat anyone out of spite, or deny relief from suffering simply because we don't agree with another individual.
What is the responsibility of the Government in regards to Charity?
Here I'm not so convinced that there is a scriptural role for government. Neither, though, am I of the opinion that scripture denounces such a concept. So, I remain rather agnostic on the matter.
That being said, the Crockett article argues a point I find persuasive. Taking money, via taxes, from people who have little and giving it to others who may have more is certainly problematic. And I certainly believe private charity can be much more effective.
I also suspect that the church, were we to practice universal giving (instead of the 80/20 rule style I think is probably more of what happens) there would be little need for the government to step in. I have no data to back this up, but I wonder if, instead of carping about high taxes, we'd be better off making government charity less necessary by taking on more of the burden within the church. Again, I don't have data to back this up, and I certainly don't want to come across as belittling any church's demonstrations of God's love. Many, many good things are done, and much sacrificial giving is taking place, within the church. I just don't think it's heresy to ask if maybe there are some areas where the body could do more.
What can we as Christians do in this regard to help unite the country?
Pray. Speak peace in a loving way instead of insults in an angry way. Hold true to principles and speak the truth, but do not disparage those who think differently from us. Oh, and pray some more.