Who is Responsible? – The Gospel and the Poor (Part 6)

the gospel and the poorIs it the church’s responsibility to address poverty or is that a function of individual believers? DeYoung and Gilbert argue that the actual obligation of moral proximity lies at the feet of individuals rather than the church:

If I am commanded to do justice, does that mean ipso facto that it is the church’s mission to do justice? By the same token, if I am commanded to love my wife as my own body, does that mean it is the church’s mission to love my wife as it loves its own body? What sense would that even make? Our point is simply to say that defining the mission of the church institutional is just not as simple as identifying all the Bible’s commands to individual Christians and saying, “There, that’s the church’s mission.”[1]

But are they right? Is there a difference here between the Church and Believers when it comes to relieving poverty? Timothy Keller anticipating this kind of response notes:

Some believe that all the texts enjoining believers to give to the poor are given only to individual believers, not to the church as an institutional or body… If it is really true that justice and mercy to the poor is not optional for a Christian and is in fact the inevitable sign of justifying faith, it is hard to believe that the church is not to reflect this duty corporately in some way.  But we do not have to go on surmise and inference here…[2]

Keller goes on to outline a list of several Old Testament references such as tithes for the poor, land laws, etc. before turning his attention to the church in the New Testament and highlighting the role of deacons in Acts 6.[3]

Early churches did cooperate in an attempted to alleviate poverty beyond their geographic constraints. The gentile converts of Macedonia and Achaia took up a collection for the poor Jewish saints in Jerusalem. Paul wrote to the Romans, “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Romans 15:25-27 ESV).

While individuals such as in the account of Lazarus and the rich man are responsible to address poverty that churches are also responsible to address poverty as in the case of Macedonia and Achaia sending funds to the Jerusalem saints. The connection between the various churches however, is one of moral proximity.  The gentiles received the gospel because of the dispersion of the Jerusalem church and owed their very faith to the ones who were suffering in need. Akin to grown children providing for a parent who has fallen on hard times the gentile churches picked up the obligation to joyously care for members of the older church in her need.

What do you think? What are instances today where a church may be morally obligated to help relieve poverty in another area?

[1] Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert. What is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011), 233.

[2] Tim Keller, “The Gospel and the Poor,” Themelios 33, no. 3 (December 2008), 10.

[3] Ibid., 11.


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