c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: CHRISTIAN SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Saturday, January 2, 2016


The ethics of our Christian care for others, known as our social mandate, has been confused by two historical developments that do not reflect the Biblical view.  The first was an unholy alliance between Church and State, beginning with Theodosius, who in 380 AD issued DE FIDE CATOLICA, declaring Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The second was the Social Gospel, a product of Marxist economic analysis spawned by Progressives in the first quarter of the 20th Century.  Within 100 years it dominated the mainline Protestant Churches of America, causing chaos and division, and even infected the Roman Catholic Church with Liberation Theology.  The Social Gospel is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The difficulties with both the ancient and modern false views are these:

1. Scripture predicts the utter destruction of this world and all that is within it, including social, economic, and political institutions (2 Peter 3:1-13).

2. The Church is by definition called out from the world (in Greek εκκησία).  There should be bright lines between the sacred and the secular.  In fact, the chief duty of a priest is to teach the people what is sacred and what is profane (Leviticus 10:10-11 and Ezekiel 44:23).

3. The hope of the world is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  So, the primary purpose of the Church is calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ in order that together believers might inherit eternal life (Mark 16:15-16 and John 3:36).

4. The kingdom is defined in spiritual, not temporal terms, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17 ESV)  The world cannot receive the Spirit (John 14:16-17).

5. Likewise, when [Jesus] was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21 KJV), meaning the rule of the Spirit in our Christian hearts (see John 14:17, again).

6. When we receive the Spirit our heart of stone is replaced by a heart of flesh, that is, a tender heart that is capable of love/compassion (Ezekiel 36:26).  So, hospitality is a universal requirement for Christians (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, and 1 Peter 4:9).  Mercy and liberality are specific gifts of the Spirit that one may or may not receive (Romans 12:3-8).

7. But Scripture does not require all Christians to care for all people all the time in the same way.  Though we should never second-guess the sincere efforts of anyone led by the Father in love and good works, neither should we be shamed into performing what is not in our hearts to do (Romans 14:4).  Nevertheless, there are some general rules to follow.

8. The Christian’s first responsibility is to his own family (1 Timothy 5:8).

9. Next we are required to aid a fellow Christian in need.  Both Matthew 25 and James 2 use the language of fellow believers to describe our obligation, “the least of these, my brothers,” and “a brother or sister,” respectively.

10. The Parable of the Good Samaritan describes emergency care.

11. Yes, we have the duty of universal benevolence, as Scripture says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10 ESV)

12. In light of this duty, though, one might reasonably ask what it is to do good.  Specifically, what is the good that one must do in each case?  The answer to that question depends on sound moral analysis.  Traditionally, the Church teaches two kinds of mercy:

a.      Spiritual mercy is what all mankind needs, that is, the preaching and teaching of the Church.  Much of human pain is self-inflicted and self-perpetuated because of behavior.  Mankind is sick with sin.  People follow their carnal desires unto destruction.  People are oppressed by the devil; they need healing and deliverance.  The world needs first the Good News of Jesus Christ and his great salvation.

b.      Temporal mercy is what we give first to fellow Christians, including funding the clergy, and then in specific missionary activity, led by the Spirit and bearing the eternal fruit of conversions.  Temporal mercy is incidental and secondary.

Therefore, concerning the politics of social responsibility, we must be aware of pitfalls on both the religious right and the left.  Both seek to use government power to enforce private views and personal ethics on others.  Avoid anyone that would sacrifice others to their own piety.

But if specific acts of compassion are so highly personal and complex what is the legitimate role of government?  Government being a blunt instrument, Scripture is clear about its limited powers:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7 ESV; see also 1 Peter 2:13-17)

Notice in the passage above repeated reference to behavior: good conduct vs. bad, doing what is good vs. doing what is wrong, and God’s wrath upon the wrongdoer.  The government’s job is very simple, to ensure that each of its citizens is secure in his or her person and property.  The government is ordained by God to fight crime.  That means to arrest and prosecute perpetrators.

Government cannot guarantee economic outcomes or personal happiness because God does not and will not bless thievery (taking from one to give to another for votes) nor does he share his glory with another.  But the Lord says to us Christians, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV).


Joyce Petrich said...

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Unknown said...