How Best To Help The Needy (Acts 11:27-30)
Jan 17, 2011 by Craig Blomberg | 0 Comments
"The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the brothers and sisters living in Judea." (11:19; updated NIV)
I can’t count the number of times in my life I’ve heard some conservative Christian confidently pronounce, “I don’t believe it’s the role of the government to help the poor; it’s the responsibility of the church.” I suspect first-century Christians would have agreed, since, except for the corn dole in Rome, and that only for citizens, there was no welfare in the ancient Mediterranean world.
I can’t help but wonder, however, how often the person who makes such a comment today is basically saying, “I don’t want to pay so much tax to the government,” rather than “I’m prepared to contribute vastly more money to Christian supported ministries to the needy.” You see, in any given year, the U.S. government spends between 50 and 100 times as much on the neediest Americans as do all churches put together. Does anyone seriously think if the government spent dramatically less, that the church would pick up that much slack?
The model of the church at Antioch, after a famine in Judea left fellow Christians there particularly impoverished, was for each to provide as much help as they were able. Intriguingly Karl Marx derived his famous manifesto from this verse, combined with part of Acts 4:35, yielding, “from each according to his ability to each according to his need.” His fatal flaws were that he tried to make it involuntary and irreligious.
Will God’s people do any better following a non-legislated, voluntary model?