|Theses on the Kindness of Christ|
|Written by Editor|
|Monday, 08 February 2010 14:29|
These affirmations and denials are intended by the session of Christ Church to provide a theological framework for the various mercy ministries operating under the authority of Christ Church, as well as any related teaching ministry connected to or supported by our church. We write with the average parishioner in mind, wanting to encourage active involvement in the mercy work of our church, and in such a way that simply shows us to be overflowing with gratitude as we live out the implications of what God has done for us.
This statement on these issues represents the current position of the session as a session at the time of adoption. This is a working document, and we invite response and feedback. Individual elders may certainly differ with various elements of this statement, but the statement as a whole represents our corporate conviction. The Scripture texts cited are simply meant to “show our work,” and to demonstrate that we are seeking to develop this statement in submission to the teaching of Scripture. But agreement with this document does not require agreement with the citation of any particular verse or passage. In other words, the proof texts are intended to support this statement, but are not to be considered as a part of it.
The statement addresses five broad, interrelated topics. Our statement begins with the problem, an unbelieving world under Mammon, and then moves to a treatment of the sacrificial violence that overthrew the violence of Mammon's realm. Our statement then moves on to a treatment of the kingdom ethic that believers should embody throughout the course of their lives, first distinguishing sins from crimes, and then moving on to the twin headings of generosity and mercy.
The elders do not intend for this statement to be used in a way that would stifle discussion about these issues in the congregation, or to discourage wide reading or thinking about them. Rather, we simply want the people who support our mercy ministries to know the results of our study and thought, and to know what we consider the scriptural foundation for our work to be. While we do hope to exercise leadership on these issues, we do not want such leadership to be interpreted in a restrictive way.
Because we work closely with Trinity Reformed Church in our work of mercy ministry, these statements were developed in close consultation with their session of elders, and are approved by them as well.
We deny that the fallenness of the world around us creates any necessary guilt as we receive blessings from God. Our place in the world is to function as the future of the new humanity, and we are therefore called to model a grateful use of the blessings that God bestows. The one who gives sacrificially does so to the Lord. The one who gives generously and remains a steward of the rest does so to the Lord.
We affirm that our central duty with regard to our material goods is gratitude to the God who richly provides us with all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). We know that God blesses covenantal faithfulness with abundance. He does this with nations in covenant with Him, filling their vats with wine (Dt. 7:13). He also does this with faithful believers in the midst of ungodly nations, as He did with Daniel in
We deny that this requires us in any way to “explain away” the many scriptural warnings about the seductiveness of wealth. If the Lord says that it is easier for the camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom (Matt. 19:24), we don’t make the problem any easier by multiplying the number of camels. If Amos castigates those who oppress the poor and crush the needy (Amos 4:1), it is not our right to offer them false comfort. If James tells the rich to weep and wail, we do not want to be found telling them to cheer up (Jas. 5:1). If Paul tells us that a greedy man is not qualified for the eldership (1 Tim. 3:3), we don’t want to maintain that holding to this requirement amounts to “peering into hearts” or “judging motives.”
We affirm that mere possession of wealth is not synonymous with Mammon-worship. We define Mammon as money in its capacity as a false god, as a representative of the world, and the worldly way of conducting human affairs. Therefore, those Christians who are rich in this present world are instructed to keep their hope set on God, and not on false idols, and to be rich in good deeds (1 Tim. 6:17-19). So throughout the Bible, the basic antithesis is between the righteous and unrighteous, the elect and reprobate, the obedient and disobedient, the covenant-keeping and covenant-breaking. It is not between rich and poor, black or white, Jew or Gentile, male or female (Gal. 3:27-29). Even though these other divisions can be and have been the occasions of much sin, they are not themselves an expression of the essential division between sin and righteousness.
We affirm that the service of Mammon is to be understood as occupying the very center of the system of the unbelieving world, and so we may define it as worldliness—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). These three lusts summarize nicely the allure that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had for our first parents—it was good for food (Gen. 3:6), it was delightful to look upon (Gen. 3:6), and it promised to make men wise (Gen. 3:6). To serve Mammon is to love the things of this world with an inordinate affection and lust, that is, to love the things of the world in a way prohibited by God. Mammon is a fundamental idol, one that competes with God for our most basic allegiance. But you cannot serve both God and Mammon (Luke 16:13). One must give way to the other in the allegiance of our hearts.
We deny that this means that believers must live in a way separated from all contact with the world of Mammon. Believers are called to learn how to possess and use the currency of Mammon rightly (Luke 6:9, 11). Wealth as such is never condemned in Scripture; it is only in the context of the very common failure to use the instruments of Mammon in the way Christ instructed that we find a scriptural condemnation.
We deny that our payment of taxes places the
We deny that the law of God can be set at odds with itself. While there are greater and lesser sins (Gen. 18:20; 1 Sam. 2:17), to break the law at just one point is to be guilty of breaking the whole (Jas. 2:10). The worldly system of Mammon must therefore be opposed as a system; we must not allow ourselves to drift into piecemeal opposition. Arrogant materialism, sodomite marriages, abortion mills, and jingoistic nationalism, are all different ways the disobedient culture of Mammon has for rejecting the lordship of Jesus Christ. When taking the field against an opposing football team, you play the entire team and not just the left tackle. You respond to all the plays they run, and not just some of them. As the church seeks to respond, we have to remember the principles of body life, wherein each member of the body performs the function assigned by God. Not every member is called to do every thing, but the church as a whole is called corporately to respond across the board.
We affirm that that which triumphs over Mammon is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All that Mammon had to offer was offered to Jesus if He would just bow down to Satan (Matt. 4:8), but He refused, preferring rather to conquer those empires of Mammon through His death on the cross (Jn. 12:31), taking and possessing them for His own, by right of conquest. All the principalities, including that of Mammon, are therefore required to submit to Jesus Christ, and are in principle included in His reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth (Col. 1:16-20). Because Jesus is the Lord of all, the world, by refusing to bow to Him, is attempting a revolution against His lawful kingdom and rule. The true culture of humanity is therefore Christ's, and the world of Mammon is an attempt at counter culture, one that is doomed to fail.
We deny that Jesus refused the kingdoms offered to Him because He did not want them. Because Jesus conquered sin and death, the Father offered Him the nations for His inheritance, the ends of the earth for His possession (Ps. 2:8). His charge to us was to throw down the temples of Mammon in every city center and replace them with sanctuaries of the triune God (Matt. 28: 18-20), in which money, a former god, comes to occupy a place together with us as a fellow servant.
We affirm that believers, as they discharge their responsibilities in vocations that are at times called upon to shed blood, must constantly remember that they answer to a standard higher than the interests of the nation they serve, even if (especially if) that nation is a professedly Christian one. As servants of God, they are responsible to fight in such a way that the blood they shed is consistent with the biblical tenets of just war (Ps. 144:1), remembering that they are called to stand before the Lord with a clean conscience (1 Tim. 1:5). We affirm, in line with the Christian tradition, that a competent authority must declare war, the war declared must have a just cause, the force used must be proportionate, those deciding to declare war must have sought out all honorable and peaceful means of settling the dispute, and the goal of the war must be a just and equitable peace.
We deny that we may keep our consciences clean by simply accepting what the magistrate says about the justice of his cause. As believers work through these issues, we have an obligation to discern the times in which we live, and to make all such determinations on the basis of a thoughtful study of the Scriptures and evaluation of the world around us (1 Chron. 12:32), and not on the basis of a mere acceptance of the propaganda of carnal men, whether for or against a particular conflict, or whether advanced or protested from the unbelieving left or the secular right (Dt. 8:3). In particular, we need to reject and testify against the implicit and explicit violence of a state that allows the wealthy to prey upon the poor through ungodly conquest, rapacious taxation, ungodly use of economic sanctions, inflating the currency, outlawing jobs for the poor through minimum wage laws, collusion between governments and corporations, or establishing millions of well-paid jobs ostensibly dedicated to "relieving" poverty.
We affirm that violence is universally condemned in Scripture, as that word violence is defined in Scripture.
We deny that righteous bloodshed, under the authority of Christ, is violence.
Summary: The gospel fights in this world as the champion of true peace, and all who love that gospel will understand the relationship of means and ends, and the slow, inexorable progress of the gospel through the centuries.
Sins and Crimes
We affirm the distinction between sins and crimes. A particular activity should be criminal if the Scriptures identify it as the sort of evil that should be forcibly stopped and punished by the magistrate. Theft is both a sin and a crime. Covetousness is a sin, to be judged by God at the last day. Refusal to outlaw covetousness is not to be considered as approval of it, but rather as men staying within their appointed bounds, knowing that they cannot see the heart. At the same time, the civil government does not have to be silent about the destructive nature of sin (as distinct from crime). The magistrate is fully within his authority when he honors the righteous (Rom. 13: 3).
We deny that this means that the Church should be silent when it comes to the sinful mistreatment of the poor by the powerful. Manipulation of the weak by the strong should be confronted as part of the prophetic ministry of the Church. Just as sexual lust should never be criminalized, but should still be rebuked from the pulpit, so also with legal mistreatment of the poor. Because such sin will eventually be brought before the highest court of all, the ministry of Christ should declare this reality beforehand.
We affirm that oppression of the poor is a great evil (Jer. 5:19-31; Ez. 22), regardless of whether the perpetrator is in the public or private sector. If that oppression is carried off by means of fraud, deception, rigged monopolies, abusive employers, or a refusal to pay contracted wages, then the Church should be in the forefront of those disciplining her own members, and requiring the civil magistrate to do what God requires—to punish evil (Rom. 13: 1-6).
We deny that the problem of private sector oppression can be solved by giving the state regulatory powers not granted to the magistrate anywhere in Scripture. When corporations, organized crime, or powerful individuals are abusing people, to respond by giving unscriptural authority to the magistrate usually gives the thieves more instruments to work with as they continue to abuse their victims. One thing worse than powerful corporations disregarding the law would be powerful corporations backed by a powerful state as they disregard the law.
We affirm that the tradition of economic liberty under biblical law was one that developed in the Christian West, and that it developed because of the gospel. Because of widespread faith in the triune God of Scripture, a societal expectation developed that valued security for private property, fixed weights and measures, liberty in buying and selling, and liberty for laborers. This provided a basis for true liberty that overthrew the pagan concept of the command economy.
We deny that economic liberty under biblical law can be sustained apart from a genuine, culture-wide faith in Jesus Christ. Free markets are not our savior; Jesus Christ is. Private property is not our savior; Jesus Christ is. At the same time, when Jesus Christ saves us, the result is salvation that is intended to work its way throughout the entire culture. The fruits of salvation should never be looked to as though they were some kind of a savior, as secular capitalists have often done. The liberty we are defending is the kind of liberty that is the result of the Spirit’s work (Is. 61:1; Luke 4:18; 2 Cor. 3:17).
Summary: When something is classified as a crime, then coercion and force are justified in dealing with it. In order to protect society from unlimited abuses, it is therefore necessary to classify as crimes only those practices which Scripture identifies as criminal.
We deny that giving can be defined by predetermined amounts. True Christian giving, according to circumstance, is proportionate to the resources available (2 Cor. 8:10-12). The widow's mite was evaluated on this basis (Mk. 12:42ff); we are not required to give what we do not have. In addition, God's acceptance of proportional giving is calibrated to the presence of a "willing mind" in the giver. God loves a cheerful giver and without that willing mind, a man might give all his goods to the poor without love and have it be considered as nothing (1 Cor. 13: 3).
We deny that recipients of such spiritual gifts need not submit to accountability. We also affirm that donors should seek out accountability as well. True Christian giving submits to accountability gladly (2 Cor. 8:16-24). Judas discovered long ago that the poor are a gold mine (Jn. 12:4-6), and many have sought to imitate him since (1 Tim. 6:5). Resentment of financial accountability for those handling donations because the "cause is worthy" or "because people are suffering while we drag this out" demonstrates a lack of biblical understanding.
We affirm that true Christian giving is to be inspired by and imitative of the death of Jesus on the cross (2 Cor. 8:8-9). True Christian generosity is sacrificial. The particular sacrifice may vary, but the attitude should not. Riches are to be seen as an opportunity to give wisely so that others who are poor might become rich.
We deny that true generosity is ever wasted. The biblical giver loses money the way a farmer loses seed. True Christian giving embodies the principles of planting and harvesting (2 Cor. 9:6-11a). We give in order to receive, but only so that we might be able to give again. God loves a cheerful giver, and a proper cheerfulness arises from this understanding of how the world works. Those who give in faith are therefore putting seed in the ground to be blessed by God. Those who give foolishly or rashly are simply throwing seed away.
We deny that this means that there is no such thing as true guilt surrounding the use of money. But when men sin with their money, the call of the gospel is always to true repentance—and their repentance is not for the fact of the wealth, but rather for the way it was obtained. For example, a thief must repent of his stealing (Eph. 4:28), and must make restitution (Luke 19:8). Whores and dogs must not bring their earnings into the house of the Lord (Dt. 23:18). An employer who withholds wages from his workers must put it right (Jas. 5:4). The prophets had a great deal to say to those who obtained their wealth through fraud and abuse (e.g. Amos 5:12; 8:4, 6). Restitution in all such instances of financial wrong-doing is necessary, but such restitution is not generosity. So we mean simply that the mere fact of wealth as such does not incur guilt, but should nevertheless be a spur to grateful generosity.
We affirm that our goal is to live before the Lord in such a way that a biblical equity prevails, and that none of our members feel the need to apply to secular and unbelieving sources of mercy work, such as food stamps, welfare, financial aid for poverty relief, (Dt. 15:4; Acts 4:34). We further affirm that our mercy work should not depend in any way on these outside sources of help.
We deny that this means that we must have nothing to do with those who are involved in various forms of social work. We seek to coordinate our efforts with those who work in other such agencies, but do so in order to give, and not to receive. We do not want to receive any aid from unbelievers for what we are extending in the name of Jesus Christ (3 John 7).
Summary: Christian generosity is one of the central ways that believers are called to imitate the life of the triune God, embodying the sacrifice of Jesus, giving as an overflow of love and gratitude, and never from a sense of resentment or guilt.
We affirm that mercy is extended face to face, individual by individual, and family by family (Luke 10:29). Recipients of true mercy have faces, and so the Church is to be involved in mercy ministry directly (Jas. 1:27), at a personal level. And at the macro-economic level, the Church is privileged to exercise influence by preaching the gospel powerfully, liberating men from their sins and lusts (Lev. 25:10; 2 Cor. 3:17), therefore establishing the foundation of a righteous economic order. Men who have been freed from their sins will create markets that are genuinely free, and they are the only ones who can do this. And markets that are genuinely free are markets that will generate the kind of wealth in which all may participate, obviating over time the need for ongoing mercy ministries or works of charity. Just as there will be no armies or navies in the latter days, so neither will there be flop houses and soup kitchens.
We deny that there is any tension between faith and works, between true love and true doctrine, between the word and the deed. Sound works of mercy will always be accompanied by the soundness of the spoken and written Word.
As God has richly blessed us with salvation, and has added to this material prosperity, we pray that our response would be one of corresponding gratitude and imitative grace. We therefore encourage all of our people to engage themselves gladly in the work of the kingdom, extending the kindness of Christ to others, just as the Father has extended it to us in the power of the Spirit. Freely we have received, and so let us freely give (Matt. 10:8).