Documents of Synod:
SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON SHARING OF ECONOMIC RESOURCES
Elder Rudolph Schmidt presented the following report:
In response to the overture from Delmarva Presbytery concerning our sharing with those in need, both as individuals and as churches, the Committee has sought to present in this report not only Biblical precepts which enjoin us to be a sharing people, but also to cite some of the problems which Christians who seek to be faithful to these directives face today in a modern and principally non-agrarian society.
Practical suggestions for individuals, churches and presbyteries are given, some of which are tried and true, while others may appear novel enough for critics to label as impractical. In no sense are the examples given for universal application.
Those who endure to the end of the report will read of the blessing which the Lord has for those of His own who are obedient to His command to share with those in need.
This passage from 2 Corinthians 8 abounds with principles in this matter of sharing. Giving can come from poverty, and it is not simply something the rich should do. Sharing is a command and a privilege, and true giving means first the giving of one's self to the Lord so that one may give according to His will. Growth in grace is not complete until one also excels in the joy of giving. Although Paul here did not command giving in a particular circumstance, he did not hesitate to compare the giving of some with others, or to include the ultimate comparison to the Lord Jesus Christ who "though he was rich, yet for (our) sakes he became poor."
Eagerness to give is to be matched by actual giving, and one's gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. Responsibility for sharing, therefore, is upon all of us now, not at a future time when it may be more comfortable for us to share.
The Apostle Paul concludes with the most radical principle of all, calling for an equality, especially among churches. In the sharing of resources each church should provide for the necessities of other churches. When do we judge ourselves to have plenty? The only example in this passage is that of the Macedonian churches who gave "in their extreme poverty."
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
The obvious application of this verse is to tell thieves to stop stealing. But the deeper principle is that when one has provided for his own family, he has the responsibility to start sharing with those in need who cannot work for their own keep.
The Christian ought to live in a simple way (Hebrews 13:5) relative to his means, and ought to be generous to all who come within his sphere with an explicit or implicit request (Matthew 5:42). We are not to understand, however, that this giving and loaning is an indiscriminate act, not conditioned by care for the good or harm it does for the person receiving.
Though there is a distinction between those in need within the church and those outside of the church, both are legitimate concerns for the Christian (Galatians 6:10). But the fact remains that there is warrant for a greater concern that the fellow believers be helped (1 John 3:17). The diaconate in the church has as its primary function not universal charity but charity within the confines of the church. The poor there will always be; nevertheless, we must always attempt to meet their needs insofar as we are able even as did the Lord and His apostles (Acts 3:6, Mark 8:2).
The Biblical principle seems to be the relief of the poor who come within our influence rather than a guilt for all the poverty of all the world. This is illustrated in the miracles of healing and provisions recorded in the New Testament. While the Lord might have solved poverty everywhere by a single miracle and healed all the sick everywhere, He rather did those acts of mercy upon people who came into His environment. However, the Scriptures direct us, as obedient children of God, to deal also with the underlying causes of poverty and oppression (Isaiah 58).
The Bible clearly allows Christian men and women to enjoy at least some of the privileges of wealth. 1 Timothy 6:17 informs those who are rich that they have two over-riding concerns. First, they are not to trust in the uncertainty of riches but in the living God. Secondly, they are to use their privileged position to be rich in good works. Herein is contained in generalizations the Biblical position on wealth. Also implied in the verse is the truth that it is the will of God for those who have some of the good things riches can buy, to enjoy them richly.
The command to the rich young ruler (Mark 10:21) cannot be considered normative for all followers of the Lord. A great number of obedient Christians in the pages of the New Testament did not sell all they had. Rather the commandment to this individual must be explained in terms of his incurable idolatry which came between him and God. Idolatry must be seen as the heart of the problem when wealth and material possessions come between us and God and the life of faith.
Several other Scriptures concerning sharing are included below:
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.
Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
"What should we do then?" the crowd asked. John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound in every good work. As it is written: "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busy-bodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ, to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
What good is it, my brother, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother and sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed." but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
The root of the problem in the sharing of economic resources is no doubt a matter of the heart when, in the supplying of the needs of other Christians, we have not "wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which we were entrusted" (Romans 6:17). Complex circumstances often make it easier not to share, and by the very nature of the class structure of most of our churches, the poor can easily remain impersonal and distant. We are isolated from the poor, and so seldom do we find ourselves emotionally involved in their need.
It is difficult to lower our life-style, but somewhere we must find a place between being improvident and being busy building a kingdom for ourselves in this world. It is easy to think of other Christians with even more extravagant life-styles than our own as the ones upon whom the Lord has placed the command to share, but we need to remember that all that we have belongs to the Lord who commanded us,
Do not worry, saying, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
In the face of the inherent limitations of government programs to help the poor, the burden is placed on the Church to be creative and imaginative. Boards of deacons must be concerned with the long-term economic development of poor families who come to their attention.
The magnitude of the task of dealing with poverty has caused many a Christian to retreat from the task altogether. We all too often conclude the situation to be hopeless and consequently find ourselves doing little more than giving quarterly donations to the deacons' fund.
The expedient in Acts 2 - 5 when some of the early Christians sold all they had to give to those in need was probably due to the great expense resulting from having so many out-of-town converts in the Acts 2 evangelistic harvest. It was not communism, for it was neither permanent nor obligatory (Acts 5:4). The underlying attitude which made the temporary expediency possible, however, was that the Christians has a generous and non-possessive attitude toward property and believed in koinonia.
In the spirit of koinonia there are many ways in which Christians may wisely share not only with the poor but also with other Christians who have less than they do. In the latter case, such koinonia should facilitate surplus and allow for increased giving.
Some practical suggestions follow:
1. Congregations should be exposed to literature on the subject on hunger and the poor.
2. Sermons on the Biblical principles of sharing should regularly be given from our pulpits.
3. Congregations should be urged to increase their giving for the relief of the poor both here at home and throughout the world. The Board of Home Ministries is engaged in such ministries and stands ready to hold seminars in our churches to make such needs known. Each church should re-examine its priorities in giving. How much is in the budget for the poor?
4. All of us should check our personal giving to see what share we have in obeying God's commands to give to the poor.
5. Members of congregations could together agree to freeze their current life-styles, in such a way making honest efforts to halt the seemingly upward mobility in standards of living so characteristic of so many Americans.
6. Christians might live in clustered geographical areas for the practical purposes of sharing maintenance and recreational equipment and child-care services. Comfortable life-styles could be maintained at lower cost.
7. Christians can consider having extended families; for example, a single person could be combined with another family unit.
8. Christian organizations and/or businessmen, and perhaps even diaconates, could consider the construction of buildings to provide low-cost housing for needy Christians, the poor and the aged. Such housing could be made available with part of the rent to be applied toward an option to buy, so that the privilege of owning one's own home could be possible for more people. Training sessions in home care and home repair should be part of such an enterprise.
9. Christian businessmen might consider investing in ventures for the purpose of helping the poor become independent of charity by providing honest work for them. Retired businessmen could offer their experience to help establish such opportunities.
10. Churches can establish food cooperatives and child-care cooperatives.
11. With some churches having no poor people while others have many poor, presbytery-wide diaconal banks can be established so that no church need be without funds to help in emergencies. All of the churches of the presbytery would make regular deposits into the fund and all of the churches could make withdrawals as emergencies demanded it.
12. Consideration can be given to opening a Christian vocational school to train men and women in marketable skills.
13. Churches can consider entering group health insurance plans to help those who are high-risk to get insurance at reasonable rates. There should be a way that churches can meet the needs of their uninsured or uninsurable. Group plans with blood banks can also be organized by congregations.
14. We commend one church in our denomination for its program of listing on a bulletin board the resources its members would be glad to share with other members. Thus a good stewardship is made of possessions, enabling others to have more resources to share.
15. Each church could establish a food commissary to meet emergency needs of the poor in a community. One Sunday a month can be established as "Food Sunday" for members to bring staples to be stored at the church for such emergencies.
16. In congregations where there is a substantial number of poor people, the church could schedule more frequent common meals so that those well-to-do could provide better meals with those who can only bring food of less quality.
The committee recognizes that many of the above suggestions are already the practice of some of our churches and of some of the members of our churches.
Included here are just some of the statements from
Scripture which speak to the blessing God has for those who are
obedient to His commands to share:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is is not the share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.
That this report be sent to diaconates, sessions, and presbyteries for study.
2. It was moved, seconded, and carried that the churches be requested to send to the Board of Home Ministries their present practices with regard to the sharing of economic resources, and that the Board of Home Ministries report to the next synod.
3. It was moved, seconded, and carried that the Board o Home Ministries print this report in quantity, provided funds are available, or negotiate such publication through the Magazine Committee.
The stated clekr moved an extension of the time
to adjourn at 5 p.m. This was duly seconded and carried.
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