The church in responsible to human need
Our world is no doubt progressing well in economy, technology and many other material aspects. Yet, one fifth of the human race is destitute lacking the basic necessities for survival and thousands die each day. What has the church done on the issue?
God concerns Himself with the suppressed and the poor. Throughout the Bible, God identifies himself with the weak and afflicted. We read in Ps. 9:12 that God sympathizes with the suffered and again in Isa. 49:13 our God has compassion for the troubled.
Is there injustice in this world? Are the haves and the powerful unfairly manipulating and exploiting, suppressing and abusing the poor to their advantages and gain? Why it is only a few people in the world are in unprecedented affluence, whereas many struggle and manage to just survive. And most are condemned to absolute poverty. Close to one thousand millions people are destitute with lives at the mercy of malnutrition, disease and illiteracy. Thirty-five thousand children die every day of starvation and diseases related to malnutrition.
What should we do as a church and an individual Christian? Should we position ourselves to help the poor and the sufferers in our society? We see Mary’s Magnificat in Lk. 1:46-55 that Jesus has lifted the humble and filled the hungry with good food. Jesus came to the earth to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and release the oppressed – Lk. 4:19. Jesus Himself performed miracle to feed ten of thousands of the crowd on the mount. The parable of the sheep and the goats reminds us that God expects us to feed and cloth the hungry and the poor – Matt. 26:31-46.
At the same time, the church is also responsible to fulfill human need from the spiritual perspective. The great Commission in Matt. 28:19-20 should leave no one with an excuse not too witness and proclaim the Good News to all nations. And it would be appropriate for me to sum up here in one single plain statement that, “The church is called to response and fulfill the human needs in two areas of physical and spiritual.”
There are few words of caution. Biblical scholars and theologians may push the idea to the extreme recourse to the other side of the coin. Our God is a balance God and not an extremist. He did not create a one sided coin. He wants us to give to Caesar and God at the same time. But mind you, I am not talking about Dualism and the heresy of the two forces of good and evil. But simply the balance that God puts to work in this world to keep things in the right proportion and harmony.
Otherwise, I fear we may get carried away and outdo the good intention God has on us to help the needy. This is clearly illustrated in the unpleasant liberation theology movement in the Latin American during the late century. The sound Biblical teaching to care for those who suffered was pushed too far to the point of social unrest with many people being killed.
A provocative and aggressive demand for justice, freedom and social reform is not at all constructive. I am certain God doest not want the church to involve in a direct head-on collision with any governmental power.
An over generous social program may also backfire on God’s good intention to help the poor. God wants his people to work and sweat for food – Gen 3:19. Paul speaks out too that man shall not eat if he does not work – 2 Thes. 3:10. Hard working taxpayers are being unfairly taken advantages of by people making gain from the loophole in the social security programs. Many people prefer to get paid from unemployment benefits rather then seeking a decent work. Begging is a great profitable career for many in Thailand. Ten of thousands of beggars are getting income much more than as average white collar worker.
It is correct to say that the church has the dual responsibilities to the great Commandment and great Commission to care for both physical need of the poor and spiritual need of the lost souls.
As the church has the two core responsibilities to care for the physical and needs at the same time, how should we go about the two? Is the primary care for the church is to seek and save soul or is it to provide necessity for the desperate? Are they equally important or are they hierarchical? Is the priority to care for the society comes before witnessing for Christ or vice versa? Which is right?
Throughout the old Testament, we see God’s people were to rule themselves both politically and spiritually. In the New Testament, God’s people are required primary to care for the lost souls leaving the physical sphere to the non believer rulers – Rm 13:3, 1 Pt. 2:13-14. The church did gain power over both physical and spiritual areas in certain point of the church history. But there was no social significant improvement during the church reign.
My last observation of the issue is more of a theological one. Those social advocates for a better society are in fact having a post millennialism escatological view. They think consummation will occur only after Christ’s millennial rule on earth. We will have a perfect world during those 1000 years. Thus, our society is in a process of working towards that utopian path. Hence, we need to push for transformation to better our society.
Pre millennnialism, on the other hand, is looking for the great tribulation of war, starvation, injustice on earth – Rev. 6:3-8 They see that no efforts as has been proven by history to improve society. We may do all kinds of development and transformation, but there is injustice and the poor. The poor and the lost will always be there regardless of human efforts. We see it in Genesis through to Revelation. Matter of fact, they are getting from bad to worse and heading for worst according to the Bible despite the best human effort to intervene..
My final conclusion is, the church should care first for the spirit and souls. We should care for the less fortunate only as a mean to fulfill our Mission goal to save the lost. Otherwise we may end up like Martha being very busy but not meeting his call for a more important pressing issue to save the lost world.