by Larry Burkett
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s welfare scriptural? The issue of welfare is very clear biblically; we are to help those in need. There may be disagreements about how much help is necessary and who should receive it, but there should be no disagreement on the necessity to feed, clothe, and shelter the poor. Welfare for the poor is biblical and necessary; the fact that the government has assumed the function of caring for the poor does not negate our responsibility. No one can realistically deny the fact that the church is no longer the prime mover in meeting the needs of the poor—the government is. Nor can there be any doubt that from this base of government welfare the "Great Society" has grown. From this society developed many families in permanent poverty. Because of this, many Christians have become resentful of and indifferent to the real poor. It is time (past time) that Christians assess the needs of the poor and the spiritual benefits of Christianity in meeting those needs.
The Purpose of Welfare
"For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand
John uses the lack
of concern for the
needs of others
as evidence of lack of love,
wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land" (Deut. 15:11). God's Word says that there will always be needs in the world around us. The purpose is twofold: one, to test our commitment to obedience (Matt. 25:40); and two, to create an attitude of interdependence (2 Cor. 8:14). We are admonished to meet the needs of the widows and orphans because they are unable
to meet their own needs. But does welfare stop with the elderly widows and orphans? Unfortunately, in most of Christianity, it does not even include them. Simply because Satan has misused welfare for his purposes does not make welfare wrong. It is impossible to read the Epistles of James and John without recognizing the requirement to help others in need. John uses the lack of concern for the needs of others as evidence of lack of love (1 John 3:17-18). Therefore we know that the true purpose of welfare (meeting the needs of others) is to prove (demonstrate) God's love through us. An outside observer would have to conclude that there is little evidence of God's love in America. That is exactly the conclusion many unsaved come to. The church is more interested in buildings, programs, and promotions than in caring. Literally, we seem to be more interested in teaching the gospel than in demonstrating it. If the purpose for the giver is to prove (test) his faith, then the purpose for the recipient is to experience God's love. In the case of the widows or orphans, that need may be long term. For others, it could be a temporary circumstance such as an illness or job termination.
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Effects of Welfare
It is interesting to see the contrasting objectives of biblical welfare and government welfare. The effects of sharing with others in need out of God's love are threefold: a sense of fellowship and belonging (2 Cor. 9:13); a stronger family unit (1 Tim. 5:8); and a high standard for work, which prohibits laziness (2 Thess. 3:9-10). Unfortunately, the effects of social or government welfare are almost the opposite. Why is this? Because the motivation is not love but pity or, even worse, guilt. When society tries to make up for previous wrongs by providing government welfare, the results will be permanent dependence and poverty. With the best of intentions, our welfare system traps people at the lowest economic level by indiscriminate giving. To qualify for support, most recipients must show only that they are not working, not that they cannot work.
Additionally, most welfare recipients resent the system and ultimately the society that supports them. Why? Because of the degrading method by which the funds are distributed and the stigma attached to "taking someone else's money." Welfare must be voluntary to express any kind of caring. Government welfare recipients must adopt an attitude of "you owe it to me" to justify receiving the money even if they have legitimate needs. After only one generation, a "welfare mentality" and permanent dependence develops. The temptation of "free" money attracts more and more recipients until finally there are fewer "givers" than "takers."
Origins of Welfare in America
Prior to the Great Depression of the 1930s, providing welfare was the function of the church. Not even the most wild-eyed Liberals of that day would have believed that tax dollars would one day be used to support families. The function of the government was to protect our freedom from external attack. No government that engaged in social welfare had ever escaped the ravages of a "welfare mentality." It was acknowledged that welfare was a responsibility of the church. The New Deal administration ended that principle once and for all in American politics. Once the government got involved in social programs (CCC, WPA, breadline, etc.), welfare became a political tool. In 1964 the "Great Society" launched a massive welfare program that forever trapped those who learned to expect it. There are now literally millions of
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potentially productive Americans who have nothing more to hope for than a monthly government handout. Does this abuse of welfare justify the lack of concern (action) on the part of God's people?
Christians are given clear and absolute direction about welfare in God's Word. Fortunately, the standards for welfare are also given. Indiscriminate welfare traps the recipients by making them dependent. Biblical welfare meets needs and always looks toward restoring the individual back to a position of productivity.
Qualifications for Welfare
Poor— In Scripture, being poor literally meant those who were unable to
mce the government got involved in sociol programs, welfare became a political tool
meet even the most basic needs. Those who were poor, not lazy, were worthy of support (Deut. 15:7-11, Prov. 19:17, etc.).
Diligence—There are many people who are lazy by nature. They do not qualify for support and in fact require a good swift kick for motivation. Supporting these people is just as unscrip-tural as not supporting those with legitimate needs. "He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him" (Prov. 16:26. Also Prov. 19:15, 20:4, 24:33, 2 Thess. 3:10, and so on).
Widows—A qualified widow is defined as a woman 60 years or older, whose only husband has died (1 Tim. 5:3-10). In the first century it was acknowledged that families took care of their own widows. In our generation the qualification could well be extended to those who cannot get help from their own families (divorcees included).
Orphans—Interestingly, in the entire Bible the term "orphans" is used only once (Lam. 5:3). Being parentless
is a nearly impossible situation, not because natural parents do not die, but because all children belong to God's family. If Christians fulfilled their function, every child would have parents. Even if we cannot adopt them all, we most assuredly can care for their needs (material and emotional).
Benevolence—This is nothing more than material "obedience." Welfare means long-term care; benevolence means meeting immediate needs. In-James 2:15-16, we are admonished to help those in need. It does not qualify them as "poor" or "widows," but only as "destitute of daily food." Such temporary needs can easily be the result of illness, imprisonment, unemployment, and so forth. Benevolence means giving to the obvious needs of another.
Lifestyle—Legitimately, many Christians ask what constitutes a need in another's life. The Scripture seems to indicate a moderate lifestyle, but not one of poverty. "For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened; but by an equality" (2 Cor. 8:13-14). Reason would indicate that a need is relative to the society and times. A Cambodian's needs probably do not include an automobile. But for many Americans, a car is necessary for earning a livelihood. Since there are no absolutes on this issue, God seems to allow individual discernment. However, the need for food, shelter, and clothing to survive are absolutes, and unfortunately there are many people in our world who are dying for the lack of these "things."
The truth is that Christians are doing a miserable job of caring for the physical needs of the poor. If we cannot meet the needs of those around us we will not meet the needs of those in other countries. Few churches today have any organized program for helping the poor of their own fellowship or community. Some have a "benevolence" fund to help meet some emergencies, but nothing to meet continuing needs. Obviously, vision and leadership come from the top down. If the church does not practice the "body" concept of Christianity, certainly it will never reach the unsaved community.
At present, the governments of the world account for nearly 95 percent of all the care to the aged, ill, and impoverished, and the evidence shows they are using this aid as a tool to spread atheism. Is it any wonder that the unsaved are rejecting Christianity? In the
matter of caring, it has become just another religion rather than a "faith." (Obviously, there are exceptions, and many Christian organizations do a great job of meeting the physical and spiritual needs of others, but they are few in comparison.) It is not a question of ability or direction. Christians in America have the resources to do at least 10 times what we are presently doing for the poor, with little or no alteration of lifestyles. Many Christians are going to be very ashamed to face the Lord and explain how they hoarded money for indulgences while others went hungry at the same time. "And he said, This I will do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow
all my fruits and my goods_ " But
God said unto him, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" (Luke 12:18,20).
What Can We Do?
Welfare was transferred from the church because the church neglected it. It can be recovered and the church can become a leader in caring about personal needs. This is not an option
from God—it is an imperative. "He that giveth to the poor shall not lack: but he
fthe church does not
practice the "body"
concept of Christianity,
certainly if will never
reach the unsaved
that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse" (Prov. 28:27).
Committed Christians should encourage their church leaders to establish a body life ministry. A portion of every church's budget should be designated for needs in the fellowship and
in the community. There should also be an outreach to starving people in other countries. If the denomination does not have a "care" program, then support a good, independent ministry that feeds the hungry. Each church should have a resource committee set up to counsel families in need to determine who does and does not qualify. There should be such an atmosphere of sharing and caring that members would feel as free to share a financial burden as they would a physical burden. Ultimately, within the Christian community there should be health and child care centers, vocational training centers, employment agencies, and the like, so that when faced with needs from the Christian or secular community, we could respond without relying on government "help."
■ Larry Burkett is director of Christian Financial Concepts, Inc., Dahlonega, Georgia. He has authored several books on financial concepts for Christians and presently teaches seminars on the subject throughout the United States. This article is adapted from Your Money in Changing Times. Used by permission.
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