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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, July 22, 2005

Rich Man; Poor Man: Examining the Values of the Christian Alliance, Pt. 4

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me... Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Matthew 25: 34-40)

It has been a little while, but I wish to return to reviewing the values of The Christian Alliance for Progress. The group believes Christianity has been taken over by right wing kooks, in a similar manner that Islam has supposedly been taken over by fanatical, right wing kooks. The members of CAP have had it with their precious faith being smeared by radicals like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, so they want to reclaim the Christianity Jesus taught and promoted. Interestingly, as I have been noting in previous reviews, it is a faith minus the truth claims Christ made concerning His person and work, as well as the authority of scripture being the source of true faith.

I turn our attention to the 3rd value, Compassion for the least of these. The value is stated like this:

Jesus said that our lives as Christians will be judged on how we treat "the least of these," how we serve the hungry, the poor, the ill. Jesus also loved the "little ones," the children, and said the kingdom of heaven was for them (Matthew 19:14). Throughout his ministry, Jesus cared for the poor, welcomed the stranger, fed the hungry, healed those ill in body or spirit. Jesus tells us that, he himself is among "the least of these." To love and care for them is to love and care for Jesus. He taught, by word and by deed, encompassing love and compassion. We believe that today Jesus continues to call us to "love your neighbor as you love yourself." (Mark 12:31) We seek to follow Jesus' often-difficult commandment to care for all people, not just some people, not just our kind of people.

I have to be honest, especially in light of what I have seen published at the CAP website. The values on compassion are the basic appeal to the NT for supporting the leftist urban legend of class warfare and the redistribution of wealth. The rich cruelly oppress the poor, the poor are beaten down and have it so bad they may have to turn to criminal behavior or living on the streets to survive, but a "good" Christian will be prepared to help these poor against the machinations of the rich who only seek to become more wealthy in spite of hurting the poor. According to the leftist agenda, the "Christian" should be willing to be sacrificial so as to help these people, and better yet, be prepared to support heavily taxing the mean-hearted rich oppressor in order to supplement what cannot be covered by the sacrificial giving.

We recently saw a secularized version of this agenda promoted by a rather large and vocal group of hypocrites with the G-8 concerts held around the world in various locations. I call the participants hypocrites, because even though they insist that wealthy nations forgive the debt of the poorer, 3rd world nations, the majority of these multi-million dollar rock stars do little if any thing on a personal level to financially help these nations. Moreover, they have a self inflicted myopia toward the greater source for 3rd world poverty, that being dictatorial regimes who squander funds and brutalize the weak in their societies to maintain their power, along with dysfunctional religious superstitions that demoralize and enslave its adherents. In fact, these G-8 rockers will be the first to protest any war effort by wealthy nations to outset a dictatorial regime and free the people. There would certainly be harsh criticism of evangelical, missionary efforts to get the people to leave their bogus religion. I could say a lot about these dinosaurish ideas, but I will point folks to a couple of articles written by Steve Camp who did a good job of placing the whole G-8 rock festival into perspective.

Coming back to this CAP value,

First, I am once again annoyed with the judgmental tone expressed in the concluding sentence. The author (who ever he or she is) writes, We seek to follow Jesus' often-difficult commandment to care for all people, not just some people, not just our kind of people. The obvious implication is fundamentalist, right wing Christians do not care for all people, just a select few - and their all white and republican. Certainly this must be the thinking on the part of CAP's members or they would not be writing out a clarifying value statement. But, I believe this is a phony exaggeration. The real issue is their disapproval with how right minded Christians apply Christ's difficult command to care for all people. I am sure in the minds of CAP supporters, the conservative Christians are not as accommodating toward the sin of these folks. Those fundamentalist, right wingers tend to ask too many personal questions, make value judgments, talk about morality. They step on toes and meddle in other people's affairs.

But, in my worldview, a biblical worldview, that is the showing of true, genuine love. You see, Bible believing Christians have the conviction that more is at stake with a person in poverty other than meeting his immediate "felt" needs. Yes, we want to cloth the naked and feed the hungry by all means, but there is the greatest of all needs to have the person restored to a right relationship with his or her creator. A Christian (not a fake "Christian" with a political agenda - either right, or left) believes it is a biblical mandate to confront and rebuke the sinful lifestyle habits the poor person has allowed to take root in his or her life that have brought him to poverty. Such an approach, however, of confronting personal sin - sin which has 9.5 times out of 10 ensared the poor to his or her current impoverished condition - involves true courage. It also involves time spent in discipleship and counseling with the person. Are the members of the CAP prepared to go this distance, or do they just want to spread the tangible goodies around which in effect still leaves the person in the condition of poverty once he has eaten all the goodies (or sold it for whiskey).

Secondly, here we have another fine example of egregious abuse of scripture. Matthew 25:34-40, the parable of the sheep and the goats, is quoted - I guess as a proof text - in conjunction with this value (see top). A good Bible student is familiar with this section in Matthew where Jesus speaks on the final judgment when the nations of the world are separated into two groups before the Lord: The sheep on one side and the goats on the other. The sheep have their good works noted and inherit eternal life; the goats have their bad works noted and are cast out from the presence of the Lord. The CAP folks use this passage as proof text for how we must be treating the poor. The problem, however, is the typical missing of the context.

A couple of things. First, Jesus does not throw this parable out to His audience in an off-the-cuff manner as if it is not tied to anything specific. He most certainly is not telling it as an illustration on how to model true compassion. He gives this story at the end of a two chapter discourse on His second coming, the destruction of Jerusalem, the end of the age and eternal judgment. It is an eschatalogical passage. We cannot divorce His words from that context.

Secondly, the CAP seem to appeal to this parable as an illustration of how one gets into heaven. Back in the value statement, the first sentence reads, Jesus said that our lives as Christians will be judged on how we treat "the least of these," how we serve the hungry, the poor, the ill. But, notice this is not what the parable is suggesting at all. Jesus has already established two categories of individuals at the beginning of His parable, sheep and goats. Those being judged by God are already either a sheep or a goat. What marks their identification as either one or the other is the works they perform. Sheep are always identified as God's people, the goats as those opposed to God. Sheep will always serve those in need as if serving Christ. The goats on the other had do not have this perspective. If Christians are judged by how they treat the least of these, then according to this value, a person can be cast out of God's presence as a goat for neglecting his duties. This is terrible theology, suggesting a Christian must work his or her way into eternal life, and any eternal life earned can possibly be lost depending upon how the Christian treats, or mistreats, the "least of these."

There is always a place to exhort Christians to show more compassion and to love those in need. This is especially true of believers in need. The Church must cultivate a stewardship mindset and I personally would suggest starting with Christians putting away wanton consumerism that regularly grips Christians.

But, we do not show compassion to meet external needs without addressing a person's heart condition. James writes that the expression of true religion is marked by two things: visiting orphans and widows, indicating the two groups in society that are often times helpless, and keeping one's self unspotted from the world, meaning a personal pursuit of holiness (James 1:27). The showing of true, Christian compassion cannot be separated from a life restored to fellowship with God by Christ. Both go together. A person who claims Christ, but does not show compassion has a dead faith. A person who shows compassion, but has no true faith has dead works. Moreover, people cannot be forced to show compassion by redistributing their wealth, or forcing the rich in society to redistribute theirs, as the CAP seems to suggest. Stealing from the rich, even mean hearted rice, through bogus taxation and legislation is still theft and is just an abhorrence to God as a lack of compassion.

I believe societies need to take care of the poor among them, but concern for the poor has to spring from a heart willing to meet those needs. This is where the Christian community must rise up to influence men's hearts by preaching the gospel and modeling Christlike compassion.

There is a hint of arrogance on the part of the CAP suggesting the fundamental right lacks true, Christian compassion. I would be curious to know their thoughts of George Mueller, the 19th Christian evangelist who maintained orphanages in England. There is no doubt he was a right wing, fundamentalist in todays vernacular. There are dozens of more examples I could probably name. Does the CAP scorn the work of these right-minded, fundamentalists? After looking over their website, something tells me they just might.

Monergism has an extensive collection of articles addressing wealth, money, tithing and the Christian. Those believers who really desire to know what the Bible says on these matters so their lives can be shaped toward genuine, Christian compassion, will do themselves good to review some of these articles.

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