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Remembering the Poor

by randy on February 11th, 2009

Galations 2:10 “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”

James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

 Often I read verses such as Galations 2:10 and James 1:27 and wonder whether or not we, the church, correctly apply them.  I have been involved in more than one church function where we as a whole cooked up a meal and served it at a local soup kitchen, or gathered old clothes for use in a clothing drive for the, unsaved, needy.  Of course we took part in sharing the gospel and that was a good thing.  But is this what the scriptures are getting at when we are exhorted to take care of the poor, visit orphans, widows, etc…?  This one time acts seem all to easy and are perhaps an excuse for neglecting the consistent and true application of the word in this regard.

I have attended inner city churches for the past six or so years, living in NYC.   Church attendance in Manhattan is never limited to its surrounding and so you would find a diverse crowd of both rich and poor.  Allow me to define rich as those who worked for a living and could afford the necessities with excess; and poor as those who were struggling day to day.

Of the poor you had:

  • those who were capable of working for a living but did not for one reason or another (sluggard)
  • single mothers who worked for a living with several kids and struggled
  • men with mental deficiencies who weren’t taught how to work
  • men who have recently repented of a life that rendered them temporarily useless

It was often the case in many situations that the men who had mental deficiencies, or were legitimately poor were treated as a burden.  They lacked social skills and were for the most part left out of many clicks, conversations, social gatherings.  They were perceived as leeches, always needing money for the train or a ride home from church.

But are these the types of people we should be remembering?  Reading about the sympathy John Calvin had for the poor and indigent I am convicted of the way I have treated them in the past myself.

Jeannine Olson’s able historical volume Calvin and social Welfare: Deacons and the Bourse Francaise is an eye-opening study of Calvin’s impact on Reformation culture, focusing particularly on the enduring effect of his thought on social welfare through the church’s diaconate. (“Celebrating Calvin: Ten Ways Modern Culture Is Different Because of John Calvin”, 2009 Vol 18, No. 1 Modern Reformation)

The deacons cared for a large range of needs, not wholy dissimilar to the strata of welfare needs in our own society.  They provided interim subsidy and job training as needed; on occasion, they even provided the necessary tools or supplies so that an able-bodied person could engage in an honest vocation.  Within a generation of this welfare work, Calvin’s diaconate discovered the need to communicate to recipients the goal that they were to return to work as soon as possible.  They also cared for cases of abandonment, supported the terminally ill who, in turn, left their children to be supported, and also included a ministry to widows who often had dependent children and a variety of needs.

Today’s church could learn from the past; particularly a man who is still hated to this day for his work of Reformation.  The false sladerous report propigated by the enemies of his day are still told by the ignorant today.

From → Application

One Comment
  1. Aw, don’t rock the boat Randy, if your not careful you may provoke me and a whole bunch of others to good works too.

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