Why Aren't More Christians Actually More 'Christ-like'?

A look at whose job is it to take care of the poor.

Whenever you see a left-leaning Christian talking to a conservative one about poverty, it turns into a question of who should be taking care of the poor. I found myself in a debate about this the other day, and the gentleman I was talking to fell back on the argument that it was the Church’s job to take care of the poor, not the government's. But is that really true?

Whose “job” is it to take care of the poor?

My first thought whenever I hear this argument is, “Who gave the church this job?” Obviously the implied answer is God. After all, Jesus does talk a lot about his followers’ responsibility for taking care of the downtrodden, poor and oppressed.

If you read his parable about the sheep and goats, it’s easy to walk away with the impression that eternal life rests entirely upon whether or not a person cares for the poor. It’s pretty obvious that Jesus intends for the Church to be in the business of serving “the least of these.”

But does that mean that He’s delegated that responsibility away from non-faith communities and governments?

That seems a little silly.

To tell His followers to be mindful of a particular group doesn’t necessarily preclude the rest of humanity’s responsibility to each other. If I tell my kids to pick up their trash, I’m not sending a message to every other parent on my block that their kids can litter because my kids will pick it up.

Christ’s major point is that He cares about what happens to those on society’s bottom rung. It would be irresponsible for Christians to not encourage everyone to do all that they can to protect them.

What happened to the Christian nation?

It’s pretty obvious that Jesus intends for the Church to be in the business of serving “the least of these.”

In America, there’s a lot of talk about being a “Christian nation.” Typically the people who are the most concerned with viewing the nation as Christian are the same people who don’t believe it’s the government’s job to take care of the poor. And while I don’t believe that a nation can even be Christian, I’m often left scratching my head at what the words “Christian nation” mean to these people.

When I tell them that the word “Christian” isn’t an adjective that you can simply tack on to random nouns, they tell me that “Christian nation” means that the country was founded on Christian principles and its laws were based on Judeo-Christian values. But if that’s the case, then taking care of the poor would be one the country’s primary objectives.

Think about it. When God was running a theocracy out in the desert, welfare was baked into his laws:

Tithes were collected and this was a provision for the Levites, as well as immigrants, widows, and orphans.

Farmers were not to pick their fields clean so that the poor could come through and glean.

Every seven years, creditors had to release their neighbor’s debt.

Every 50 years all of the wealth that the rich had amassed was redistributed to its original owners.

Reading the Pentateuch gives you a real understanding of how particular God was about taking care of the poor. It seems irrational to me to say that a country is based on Judeo-Christian values and then argue that spending tax dollars on helping the poor is “wealth redistribution” or robbery through taxation.

I mean, taking what the rich have accumulated and giving back to the original owners every 50 years seems like an actual example of wealth redistribution—and it was sanctioned by God.

I fear that too often Judeo-Christian values are simply as laws that require “Christian” morals in others, but are expected to keep themselves away from my belongings.

Christians do have a responsibility to the poor.

There’s no question that the Church has a responsibility to the poor. If Christians gave even 10 percent of what they earned to the Church—and it wasn’t being squandered on nonsense—we could actually make an enormous impact. But can the Church afford to take care of all the poor’s needs?

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the average household income in 2014 was $51,939. Now if the population in 2014 was 318.9 million and 83 percent claim to be Christian, that means there are 264,687,000 Christians in the U.S. Now, let’s adjust that for the average family size of around 3.14 people.

That leaves us with about 84,295,222 Christian households. If they all gave 10 percent of their $51,939 income, that would come to about $438 billion dollars. That’s a lot, right? Except the government spends upwards of $668 billion a year on 126 different welfare programs— and that doesn’t meet all the country’s need.

We’re not even close, and that’s not counting the fact that:

The number of committed Christ followers is dramatically smaller than the number of people claiming to be Christians.

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On average, Christians only give 4 percent of their income to the Church.

We haven’t factored in the finances required to keep church doors open, lights on, and staff paid (not to mention the extravagant spending of a lot of American churches).

Christians are called to feel a sense of responsibility for the poor, but they’re not called to live in a fantasy world. The Church simply can’t take care of all of society’s needs, so part of caring for the poor requires that we are to be the conscience of the state.

If we want to live in a “Christian nation” we’d spend more time advocating for charitable spending and combat the percentage of our national income that goes to trusting in horses and chariots (or in our case, drones and bombs).

Put your money where your mouth is.

When push comes to shove, this discussion frustrates me because I know how little the average Christian gives. As I said earlier, on average, people give about 4 percent of their income to the Church. But let’s be honest—that average is only that high because a lot of benevolent Christians are giving so much more.

When I’m having a discussion with a Christian who’s telling me that it’s the Church's job to take care of the poor and not the government's, I’m always wondering how much they give. There’s no way for me to know the truth, but if a Christian truly believe it’s the Church’s job to care for the poor, I would hope that they’re giving sacrificially.

Top Comments

PM

115

PM replied to Todd Stewart's comment

it makes sense to me that we're to help the poor in any way possible, and that includes giving money. We don't want to put the love of money ahead of the love of God or the love of others.

Vicki Hanes

25

Vicki Hanes commented…

I give directly to organizations whose primary objective is to help the poor. My giving isn't being counted among the statistics. Other organizations do a much better job, primarily due to focus. Maybe some of us are redefining what "church" is or looks like.

8 Comments

rhproy

1

rhproy commented…

It shouldn't be one or the other exclusively taking care of our countries poor. We are, in general, a moral society and it is up to each of us to help our neighbor. Your article makes it sound so black and white whereas there is a ton of grey areas to be considered and I can guarantee there's an incredible amount of "double dipping" going on within those 126 governmental welfare agencies... There's plenty of money to serve us all when you get rid of the waste and corruption.

Todd Stewart

2

Todd Stewart commented…

What chapter and verse was it again where jesus gave money to the poor?

PM

115

PM replied to Todd Stewart's comment

it makes sense to me that we're to help the poor in any way possible, and that includes giving money. We don't want to put the love of money ahead of the love of God or the love of others.

Todd Stewart

2

Todd Stewart replied to PM's comment

You cannot serve 2 masters, so given the choice of state welfare or christian charity, I opt for Christian charity. I believe 'christ likeness ' is personal and intimately involved, not delegated to faceless gov't

David Ratliff

1

David Ratliff replied to Todd Stewart's comment

But you don't have a choice. That's a false dichotomy & Christ commands you do both —
Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Besides, doesn't God Himself place our leaders in the 'faceless government ' ??

Jennifer Heberling Krausz

5

Jennifer Heberling Krausz commented…

I believe that your argument is erroneous when you say the church can't take care of the poor. You based your data on averages, but I believe that if the American church as a whole would commit to this task, God would provide incomes way above average so that it could be done. And it's possible that Christians' incomes are already above average, we don't really know that. All I know is that I would trust a church to be a good steward and not waste resources much more that I would trust the government. Besides, in biblical Old Testament times there was no way for women, widows and their children specifically, to irk and earn a decent living, so providing for them made sense. Now, welfare actually seems to do more harm than good by perpetuating dependence, so job training and weaning off the system as quickly as possible is actually much more helpful than indefinite welfare and food stamps.

Jim Smoak

9

Jim Smoak commented…

This article isn't balanced with the perspective of church and state effectiveness. It seems to me that the church is painted in a somewhat ineffective light (i.e., "not to mention the extravagant spending of a lot of American churches"), but gives the government far too much credit. You mention that the government spends $668B in 126 welfare programs, and that they're not filling the need. But you don't talk about how horribly inefficient the government is with money. Did you stop and do a bit of research on how far $668B should go in helping the poor before stating more is needed? It's no big secret that the government is completely irresponsible with money, and our current welfare programs especially. Do you know long it's going to be with current practices before the Social Security fund will become insolvent? Do you know how many billions are wasted in the DoD budget (BTW, we need an efficient, but healthy DoD so your ability to earn money, amongst many other nice things being a US citizen affords, is safeguarded...)? Do you know how inefficient and ineffective government provided healthcare is? You need to look no further than the VA and military healthcare of family dependents and retired geriatrics. Do you know how much money in total our government is ineffectively spending that we don't have, and therefore has to go to China to borrow EVERY YEAR? So, giving money to the government to fix the problem isn't a fix, it's almost assuredly another problem in the making. As much as you would like someone handling the problem if we only pay them through taxes, it most often ends up a very sad story.

Let's step back from the tactics for a second. God wants our heart to be like His heart. He wants us all to love as He loves. He loves us directly. He doesn't love us through some celestial government body. How did the early church do this? They took care of each other directly; almost communally. They didn't appeal to Caesar to take care of their needy for them. Just because today's Christian community isn't what you want or need it to be in this area doesn't mean the solution is to go to the government. Doing so removes our ability to deal with the heart in the matter. It removes us from the problem and reduces the desperately needy to a deduction line item in our paycheck. And if you get what you seem to be advocating for, it puts the responsibility on what has already been proven to be an incredibly inefficient body; in essence, you just made it worse.

Vicki Hanes

25

Vicki Hanes commented…

I give directly to organizations whose primary objective is to help the poor. My giving isn't being counted among the statistics. Other organizations do a much better job, primarily due to focus. Maybe some of us are redefining what "church" is or looks like.

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