Inverse Proportionalities

Posted: July 3, 2009 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By Matt HoranChurch and State

          How can we know when we’ve got enough government?  You can’t walk by a newspaper stand or channel surf at all these days without cruising past the debate about health care reform.  On one side, people argue that getting the government more involved will allow more people to have more access to adequate health care.  On the other side, people argue that getting the government more involved will not allow more people to have more access to adequate health care.  What’s the average newspaper reader or channel surfer to think?  How can we know whose facts to believe?  How do we know when we need more government?  How do we know when we’ve got enough?  How can we know when we need a little less?
          I’m reminded of Paul’s climactic meeting with the Twelve Apostles in Jerusalem.  After some disagreement over how much Old Testament (OT) Law was needed, they decided to meet face to face.  Paul and Peter, nose to nose.  After some discussion and weighing of the fruit produced by Paul’s ministry, the Twelve agreed that the Holy Spirit was in the ministry of Paul, and that it should not be handcuffed by following OT regulations such as circumcision.  In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul wrote of the outcome of the meeting, “All that they asked was that we continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians. 2:10)
          The Twelve had an opportunity here to put some guidelines on this growing ministry to the Gentiles, but they only offered one, to remember the poor.  Everything else was left to Paul, but this one thing is a dealbreaker: remember the poor.  And sure enough, this Christian movement spread, especially among the poor that received this generosity.
          There’s no reason to think that this admonition was time limited.  Surely Christians are called to remember the poor today just like they were when Paul and Peter met in Jerusalem in the 1st century.  The poor are the responsibility of the church today, just like they were 2000 years ago.
          However, the debate now rages over what the government will do about the unemployed, the poor, the uninsured.  How did they become the government’s responsibility?  At what point did the church drop the ball and fail to meet it’s responsibilities?
          Christianity Today has some interesting statitics on recent Christian generosity.  Turns out that the less people make, the more they tend to give to religious institutions until salaries get up over $90,000. (1)  What’s more, the traditional standard of the “tithe,” or one-tenth of a Christian’s earnings, is not even close to the average donation of even those in the upper income levels.  (Average giving is less than 2%, and 2.8% for those making $90,000 or more.)
          God’s call was for us to give back the first tenth of what we gain, so that we could pay for the costs of maintaining the church and for the care of the poor.  Since we’re giving back 2-3% instead, we surely can’t afford to do all that we’re called to do.  I wonder how much of a dent in our need for government a fully-funded church might make.
          I guess, if you believe that Christians will be generous enough to take responsibility for the poor, you’ll hope for less government.  If not, then we’ll need more government.  So what does it say about the church these days that there’s such a clamor for more government?

  1. Jason Lewis says:

    I find it especially difficult to teach tithing according to OT laws and yet encourage generous giving in such ways as Paul encourages in the NT.


  2. Matt Horan says:

    Great word, Jason. It’s important to push me on this point.

    I agree that generosity shouldn’t be based on law. Asking “how much do I have to give so I can stop feeling bad” is not really the heart that we’re supposed to have. I love Paul’s words to the Philippians in 4:17, where he says that he’s far more happy for the good that their generosity to him does for them than it does for him. Their generosity helps them to grow. If we’re not generous, then we’ll be stagnant in our spiritual growth.

    Some might not feel able to suddenly bring their giving up to 10%. But is God not pleased if someone takes a step of faith to invest in the Kingdom efforts of His church, moving from, say, 1% to 2%? The bottom line is that people prayerfully explore how they are called to use what God has provided.

    That being said, I continue to see 10% as a helpful traditional baseline. If 10% was the OT standard, does the appearance of Jesus, the New Covenant, and the witness of Paul and the other apostles serve to lower the bar?

    How many people look back on a generous life with regret? “If only I wasn’t so generous, I would have had a better life…”


  3. Lisa Sowry says:

    I believe our government is nothing more than a reflection of the governed, (we did elect them after all) so I want to keep my focus on the gospel, and changing hearts. Yank out the root of selfishness by a life being transformed from the inside out. We make an average of about 80,000 a yr, and tithe over 15% and more in charitable giving. That not to boast but to say it’s a reflection of my changed values. You can’t teach a dead person to live. I give because it’s my joy and privelidge to love the One who loves me. Want to see dead bones live? Teach then of the love and more, the affection of God and His pleasure in His people. It changes the chemistry of the entire relationship. You will want Him to have it all, because it pales in comparison to what you have in Him.
    The church is anemic and lacking power because it has lost it’s first love. Restore that, and the church will begin to function as it ought to, in my humble opinion. Government is a dead institution and we act as if it will fix something and give life to the poor. It will never give life, only create dependance. That’s the last thing this country needs is more dependance on government, and less on God. While serving in a foreign country the last couple years, I’ve noticed that extreme poverty is different than I thought it was. Yes there is hunger,which we are working to aleviate, and obviously health issues that come along with that. But what I came away with was the realization that I was the one in poverty. I had stuff., resources..but they had God, in a way that I didn’t because they HAD to depend on Him. We just need to be the answer to their prayer.


  4. Matt Horan says:

    Hmmm… great point, Lisa. More government will be a lousy substitute for a church of Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit to care for those in need!


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