I’ve been attending Watermark Church in Tampa off and on for the past several months. I’ve never come away from there unmoved by God’s grace. I recently discovered Pastor Tommy Phillips’ blog and read a thought provoking post there about the church and politics, specifically evangelicals and Republicanism. Since I agree with so much of what Pastor Tommy has talked about in the times I’ve attended Sunday services, in the one day marriage conference I recently attended at Watermark, in the lyrics of the songs he writes and performs, and at his blog, I wanted to dig deeper into this post because it causes me to examine some of my beliefs. I’m always on a quest for truth, and I know that staying in truth means always digging, always examining, always being willing to challenge my deeply held beliefs and even being willing to question God.
In hiw post, Phillips specifically references allowing poor and outcast refugees from around the world to enter the United States. He rightly claims it is the duty of Christians to welcome the poor stranger, to comfort him, to feed and clothe him. I agree. I think evangelicals, whom Phillips scolds in this post, also by and large feel the same way. I don’t think any true Christian is going to disagree with the idea that the church generally and the Christian individual specifically is responsible for caring for the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed.
We are responsible, and we have shirked that responsibility far too often because it is very easy to become insular and complacent in our very comfortable church buildings and very comfortable Christian culture. But I have some further criticism for the church in America: we have become very comfortable with the government.
Too comfortable. As a result, we have abdicated our role as the defender of the poor and orphaned and focused solely on preaching instead of serving others with our hands and our resources. I’m not saying that no Christians are doing this, I am saying that we are not doing enough of it, and the reason is because government programs have taken the place of actual Christian interaction with the poor.
There is a reason Jesus asked Christians to care for the poor and it wasn’t only because of social justice. It was to show God’s grace and mercy. So what happens when Christians can simply delegate that responsibility to a secular government? What happens is that the poor become dependent on the government to care for them. And that is not what Jesus intended. The goal of caring for orphans and widows is to show them how to rely on God for their provision.
What else? Well, when Christians simply pay their taxes to a godless government and call that their contribution to the poor, they have failed to fulfill Jesus’ call to care for the least of these. Even more than that, when Christians actually call for the government to take money from those who don’t even want to care for the poor, they are not fulfilling the call of God upon the church. They are shirking their responsibility. And they are advocating for the government to forcefully take money (steal) from the unwilling for the purported purpose of supporting the poor.
Both the church not giving to the poor, and the government stealing from one segment of the population to “give” to another segment – both actions are anti-Christian. It wouldn’t be that complicated to fix, but it would be difficult. You fix it by the church stepping up to truly care for the poor, and the government greatly reducing forced social programs and entitlements.
The responsibility for caring for the poor should never be forced on anyone. Stealing is as great a sin as not following Jesus’ call to provide for the least of these. God doesn’t force anyone to follow his commands and neither should we endorse such actions. Instead, it is up to each of us as individuals and as groups of believers to fulfill our duty of charity to those less fortunate. This includes refugees from around the world. The government can help in screening those who wish to come to this country, but forced social programs need to be ended, and the church needs to step up and fulfill its role.
When we are called to give an account of our actions to God, we will not be allowed to say that because we called for laws that force the unwilling to “give” to the poor, we fulfilled our duty. God is all about personal responsibility and he wants to know what you did, what I did to directly help. We will not be allowed to say that we advocated for the government to hold no one accountable for their behavior and simply allow anyone who wants to come in to come in and take advantage of “charity by gunpoint” (which is not charity at all but forced taxation, only that which is freely given is charity). We will only be given credit for the things we did ourselves.
We have a complicated situation here in America. But the church needs to stop depending on the government to fulfill its role. Christians should work to end forced “giving” and need to step up and take personal responsibility for those less fortunate.