Report of the Committee to Study the Principles of Diaconal Ministry
From the Minutes of the Fifty-first General Assembly (1984), pp. 135-167.
[Note: General Assembly reports (whether from a committee or its minority) are thoughtful treatises but they do not have the force of constitutional documents—the Westminster Standards or the Book of Church Order. They should not be construed as the official position of the OPC.]
I. Mandate and History of the Committee
This committee was erected by the Forty-seventh General Assembly (1980) and given the following mandate:
That the Assembly erect a special committee to receive Supplementary Report (2) and to present to the Forty-eighth General Assembly a report that will present principles grounded on the exegesis of Scripture leading to positive attitudes and actions on which the church may base its diaconal ministry; and further that the committee he composed of four members, two elected by the Assembly and two members of the Committee on Diaconal Ministries chosen by that committee; and further that the committee have a budget of $750.
Messrs. James C. Petty, Jr., and Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., were elected from the Assembly and Messrs. John H. Skilton and Leonard J. Coppes were appointed from the Committee on Diaconal Ministries. Mr. Gaffin declined to serve on the committee due to other heavy commitments at the time.
This committee of three has met as needed over the last three years and two reports were written by committee members in an effort to articulate the insights of what appeared to be two distinct emphases in the Assembly and on the committee. Although progress has been made the issues were not substantially resolved and so those two reports have gradually evolved into a committee report (hereafter called "the report.") and a minority report.
II. Scope of the Report
This report seeks to set forth scriptural principles. It does not address questions regarding the severity, causes, or extent of world hunger or other forms of poverty. Nor does it suggest a specific strategy for our church in meeting this challenge. Those issues are important but are relevant only after a biblical position on the warrant and nature of diaconal ministry has been satisfactorily established. The paper takes the form of a series of scripturally related theses organized under nine different headings and it concludes with a section of recommendations. This form was adopted to facilitate study, discussion, and debate, and emphasizes the need for clear formulation regarding these emotional issues. The study thus intends to provide the church with a clearly articulated position with scriptural references—rather than an exegetical or theological study that would necessarily be of book length if justice were to be done to such a broad subject.
SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES RELEVANT TO WORLD DIACONAL INVOLVEMENT
A. The General Relationship of Evangelism and Deeds of Mercy
1. The most important task Christ has assigned his church with respect to the world is the proclamation of the gospel—the good news of salvation from sin (Mark 1:14, 15, 38; Matt. 11:1, 2; 28:19, 20; Luke 10:1, 2; 24:47; John 20:21, 22; Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:1-6, 9, 14-16).
2. The preaching of the gospel to the world is not designed by God to take away from diaconal ministry, as if the two were competing ministries.
3. On the contrary, the grace of God in the gospel is the "wellspring" that nourishes and drives the church's diaconal compassion (Deut. 10:18, 19; 24:17-22; Luke 6:32-36; 7:47; 14:12-14; John 13:14, 34, 35; 2 Cor. 8:9; Eph. 5:1, 2; 1 John 3:16-18; 4:10, 11, 16, 19) as well as its evangelism.
4. As we are faithful, God will always provide adequately for both ministries (as in Acts 6:1-7), so that an abundant spiritual outpouring of compassion for the needy is never a threat to evangelism. It should rather be encouraged, even in the face of limited resources, so long as the outpouring itself is a product of love for God's grace in the gospel (Luke 7:45-48; 19:8; 2 Cor. 9:13-15).
5. This emphasis on the proclamation of the gospel may appear to our secularized age to be a diversion from the serious business of feeding and clothing the needy. But in the preaching of the cross there is a deeper wisdom of God (1 Cor. l:20 ff.). God takes the "foolishness of preaching" and rejoices to accomplish through it a ministry of compassion of such quality that no amount of human dynamic could have produced it (Act 2:42-47; 4:32-37; 1 John 3:16).
6. This dynamic plays such a necessary role in God's economy that churches and individuals who profess the gospel but are unmoved to meaningful compassion are often disciplined (Isa. 1:17-20; 10:2; 58:3; Rev. 3:2) and are even cursed (Deut. 27:19; Matt. 25:41-43; 1 John 4:19, 20).
7. On the other hand, a tender-hearted people who respond to God's mercy with mercy to others are promised exalted covenantal blessings (Luke 6:35; 11:4; Isa. 58:8-12; 1 John 3:12).
8. This ministry of mercy powerfully reinforces and supports the ministry of the Word. Good works constitute a powerful apologetic (Matt. 5:16; John 13:35), silent opposition (1 Pet. 3:16; 2 Cor. 11:1-33), unify the church (Acts 2:44-47; 2 Cor. 9: 12-15; 1 Cor. 13; Eph. 4:16; 1 Thess. 3:11-13) and strengthen the heart of church leaders (Phil. 2:2-4, 17; Col. 1:3, 4; 1 Thess. 3:6-8).
9. In conclusion, the gospel itself is the source of diaconal compassion and under the Spirit's blessing flows from it by such necessity that the church can boldly confess that the ministry of mercy is as equally necessary as the ministry of evangelism, even though the latter is more foundational, ultimate and important in the church's task.
B. The Proper Objects of Diaconal Ministry
1. "Deacons are called to show forth the compassion of Christ in a manifold ministry of mercy towards the saints and strangers on behalf of the church" (Form of Government, XI, 1). Thus both believers and unbelievers are the proper recipients of the church's diaconal ministry (Gal. 6:10).
2. In its zeal to do good to all men (Gal. 6:10; 1 Thess. 3:12; 5:15), the church is especially to remember the household of faith. This is in line with the strong biblical emphasis on the brethren loving one another and caring for each other (Lev. 25; Matt. 25:31-46; John 13:35; Acts 2:44-46; 4:34-5:11; 1 Cor. 8:1-13; 9:1-15; John 3:14, 16; etc.).
3. Other factors being equal, the deacons should distinguish between those who have taken refuge under the covenant of grace and those who have not. Therefore the diaconate owes primary allegiance to the cause of ending poverty and need within the church, the sphere of God's saving rule. Biblical benevolence has a distinctly covenantal thrust.
4. Yet the compassion of Christ cannot be fully manifest without the church seeking opportunities to show mercy to aliens, refugees, immigrants (Deut. 10:18, 19), widows and orphans (James 1:27)—the needy—wherever their cry is heard (Ezek. 16; Prov. 21:13; 29:7; Isa. 58:6-12; Matt. 15:21-28; Luke 4:18), and even to the enemies of God's people (Gen. 14:21-24; 18:16-33; 26:19-29; Matt. 5:43-48; Luke 22:51; 23:34; Acts 7:60; Rom. 5:10).
Therefore, diaconal mercy is unlimited in that it seeks to reach out in Christ's name to all types of needy people in all types of situations, yet is selective because the poor of God's people must be cared for as a primary responsibility.
5. Galatians 6:10 summarizes this principle by the phrase "as you have opportunity" to describe the specific sphere of the responsibility of the people of God—both as individuals and as a corporate body.
6. The concept of "opportunity" implies that Christ leads his people into particular diaconal ministries by blessing their efforts to locate and serve the needy within the particular relationships, connections, and geographical areas that he, in his saving rule, provides for them. Opportunity consists of two factors which must both be present: God-given knowledge of the needs and God-given resources to meet the need.
C. Diaconal Responsibility towards the Saints
1. One major responsibility of the universal visible church in its diaconal ministry is to seek diligently to remedy poverty within the worldwide covenant community. This was always God's desire and stated plan (Deut. 15:4).
2. In the Old Testament God structured Israel's social legislation to ensure that the poor family had access to the necessities of food (Exod. 23:11; Lev. 19:10; 23: 22), loans (Lev. 25:35-39; Deut. 15:7-11; Exod. 23:25-27), land (Lev. 25), fair and prompt payment for labor (Deut. 24:14, 15; 15:7-11), freedom from undue debt (Deut. 15:1-4) and freedom from more than temporary bondage to an Israelite (Lev. 25:39-43) or to a wealthy non-Israelite (Lev. 25:47-55).
3. In the Old Testament, compassion for the poor was not only commended generally (Zech. 7:10), but structured into the theocratic social order in such a way that its violation resulted in divine judgment (Amos 4:1-3; Isa. 3:11-15; etc.).
4. Because of sin, this goal was never, and will never be perfectly fulfilled until the parousia (Deut. 15:11; Matt. 26: 11).
5. The lack of detailed social legislation for the poor in the New Testament church does not reflect a decreased concern for the poor on God's part, but rather reflects the higher way of freedom opened by Christ. In the age of the Spirit even better care of the poor is achieved without detailed legislation through the free response to the surpassing love of God in Christ (Acts [3:3]; 2 Cor. 8:9). The Old Testament functions today even more effectively, as the general example, since the law is now written on hearts (Jer. 31:31-34; 1 John 3:17).
In the New Testament age, for example, it is sufficient for the Holy Spirit to command Paul to "continue to remember the poor" (Gal. 2:10). Paul is very zealous to do that very thing and responds by spearheading the famine offering for the saints in Jerusalem.
6. The New Testament is replete with "diaconal commands" of this general spiritual nature (Luke 12:15, 21, 32, 33; 14:33; 6:34; 9:2; 18:29, 30; Matt. 5:42; John 13:14-16; Rom. 12:13; 2 Cor. 8:7, 13-15; 9:6-11; Gal. 6:10; 1 Tim. 6:17, 18) as well as specific examples of Spirit-led provision for the poor (Luke 11:30-37; 21:1, 2; 18:18; Acts 2:44-47; 4:34, 36; 6:1-7; Rom. 15:27; 2 Cor. 8:1-6; etc.).
7. Therefore, based on these commands and examples, the covenant community of the New Testament is clearly under a gracious obligation to seek to see to it that every disciple of God has the necessities for a quiet, dignified and temperate life.
D. Diaconal Responsibility to the World
1. The church's diaconal attitudes to those outside the bounds of the visible church must be patterned after God's own attitudes to those same people. God is good and generous to all (Psalms 8, 104; Matt. 5:45; Luke 6:36; Acts 14:17; Rom. 1:20). This general benevolence is not so much a product of his strict justice but of his free generosity to sinners that they might know him and repent (Acts 17:27; Rom. 2:4). In such passages as Matthew 5:44-48 and Luke 6:27-36 our Lord clearly calls his covenant people to reflect in their life his own generous character.
In these passages goodness towards the enemy, the unjust, the unbelievers, is the heart of Christ's command. We in order to show ourselves as sons of God are obligated to be generous and compassionate with particular reference to the world. There is no warrant here for saying that it is improper for the church corporately to reflect these particular aspects of God's existence. To be sure the church corporately as well as believers individually have other more important callings (evangelism), but the reflection of God's generosity in his people is a biblical base for that very evangelism. Jesus says, "Let your light shine before men [as a city set on a hill], that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). These "good deeds" are proper for God's people in their highest expression—the church—so long as they are truly good deeds and do not obstruct but rather give way for functioning of divine institutions such as the family or state or the institution of labor. Yet the church is the only purely redemptive institution, so its commitment to a corporate demonstration of God's love to those undeserving of it is particularly appropriate.
Paul the apostle continues this theme, where he commands the church "not [to] become weary in well doing, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Gal. 6:9, 10, NIV). The basic obligation is to do good to all men. The qualifier calls us to do it especially to believers. The emphasis on good works towards the church is quite proper so long as it is not allowed to obscure the force of the "all men.." Generosity and compassion in Christ a name are the obligation as we (plural) have opportunity towards all men everywhere (1 Thess. 3:12). This reflects and fulfills the theme from the Old Testament that God's covenant people were to show compassion on both saints and strangers, remembering the release from bondage in Egypt which lies at the root of all their obedience. Since the church is now scattered in the whole world and the world (through large influxes of refugees) is scattered within the church, we should conclude that God is himself through providence opening up vast opportunities for compassion in Christ's name, and that corporate compassion and the diaconal ministry that flows from it are quite proper and should be encouraged in the churches.
2. Christians as individuals and as groups should also use whatever political rights and influences they may have to move civil authorities to use properly state resources for the benefit of the poor. As Christians we should be a people known for pleading the cause of the widow, the orphan, the destitute, the prisoner, after the pattern set down in Scripture (Prov. 31:9; Isa. 1:17).
Because citizens of western democracies are enfranchised with civil authority—authority to vote, petition and organize politically—Christian citizens share in the political responsibility that God grants to the state and its magistrates (Rom. 13:4; 1 Pet. 2:14). Christians should use such authority for the promotion of public justice and the protection and welfare of the people. American Christians have a unique responsibility in view of the vast wealth and international influence of the United States. As we earnestly pray for those in authority and those in need, our Father will hear such cries and our petitions to rulers will have true force.
3. Even though it may be deduced "by good and necessary consequence" that the diaconate is obligated to relieve specifically the members of the visible church, the Scriptures do not usually (Rom. 15:27) approach the questions of "Specifically whom must I help?" or "Specifically upon whom am I obligated to have compassion?"—as opposed to those for whom it is optional or not necessary. Compassion and mercy ask instead, "How much am I able to do?" and "Whom may I help?" God is our model. God is love, yet he was not obligated to love the sinners he saved. He was motivated to choose his people by free compassion—not obligation. Mercy by its very nature does not function only by reference to obligation (Deut. 33:18; Rom. 9:14-16).
4. In the same way the Bible does not directly approach the question, "Is the church and the church alone obligated to relieve the needs of every individual on earth?" Though debate has raged over this question in recent years, the Scriptures not only do not answer it but Christ in Luke 10:25-37 shows it to be an improper question. In this parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus responded to an expert in the law who expected eternal life by obedience to the moral law (verse 27). Luke points out that in a desire to justify himself (verse 29) he asked Jesus to define exactly who constituted his neighbor. To justify himself by the law the lawyer must narrow down or at least specifically define the circle of his obligations to the point where he can confidently confess he has kept the whole duty of the law. His motive to restrict his obligations was sinful.
Jesus does not help him narrow or define the specific limits of obligatory love. He instead reverses the question of "Who is my neighbor?" by asking the man to identify which of the three travelers in the parable proved to be a neighbor in the situation. The lawyer, probably not wanting to say the word "Samaritan," simply but correctly answered, "The one who had compassion on him." Jesus then commands him to be a neighbor by letting mercy and compassion control his involvement with others; not calculations limiting obligation. Jesus in effect asks him, "To whom are you showing compassion, thus proving to be a neighbor?" One does not assign another to the status of "neighbor" but rather proves himself either to be or not be a neighbor in his life situation. The compassionate man is the true neighbor—no one else is or ever will be a true neighbor.
5. There is a further difficulty with posing this question of obligation. To say on the one hand that the church is obligated to feed and clothe every individual on earth creates a false guilt, for the believer is forced to feel sinful until the last person is cared for. To say on the other hand that the church is only obligated to care fore restricted group can create a false righteousness, because the "obligations" created by compassion and opportunity are not optional and in God's providence often involve those outside a restricted group no matter how it may be defined.
6. The Scriptures give examples of compassion (Luke 10:25-37; Job 29:11-17), question the salvation of those who are not characterized by it (1 John 3:17), and present great rewards to those who do have it (Isa. 58:8-12; Jer. 22:16), but do not give a formula that enables the people of God to classify those to whom love is obligatory as opposed to those to whom it is only optional or even unnecessary. In short, the love of compassion does not need a formula but only an opportunity. The reality of biblical compassion is indeed the fulfillment of the law and the answer to false dilemmas generated by improper questions.
Therefore a properly motivated diaconal ministry will pursue all the opportunities Christ affords for meeting the needs of world hunger and poverty in ways consistent with the principles of Scripture. This position has been summarized by the Fortieth (1973) General Assembly in the following statement:
"The primary duty of the Church is to witness to the gospel, to celebrate the sacraments, to seek man a sanctification, and above all, to seek God's glory. To this end, Elders were appointed and ordained. The Office of Deacon was established to relieve the Elders of certain time and energy consuming tasks in order that the Elders might devote themselves more fully to prayer and the ministry of the word. As part of the diaconal ministry, the Church has asked the Deacons to oversee the work of God's people as they provide fully, with love; first for their fellow Christians' needs, and afterwards to the needs of the world. We have an obligation to provide for the poor both within and without the Church; but the primary concern must be for those within the Church. It is, therefore, after the preaching and prayer ministry, a primary part of the responsibility of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to assist in meeting the temporal needs of the people of God, both within and without its borders.
"The principle tabs observed is that general benevolent operations to all men should not be allowed to significantly dilute the preaching and prayer ministry. Proper interpretation of this statement requires that we remember always that God is properly glorified only when we freely minister to the needs of the poor. (Refer to and read Mark 7:10-13 on corban, Mark 12:28-34 on interpreting the law, and Matthew 25:31-46 on the criterion of final judgment).
"We cannot say 'be filled with the Spirit' to a man whose stomach is empty when our pockets are full. Neither can we 'hide our light under a bushel' while we go about feeding the poor in the humanistic fashion so popular today and neglecting to give to them the Bread of Life. A proper motive will cause us to make a proper allocation of our strength and our fortunes to each ministry in its proper order of primacy—always to God's glory" (Minutes, 39th G.A. [sic], p. 129).
E. The Resources for Expanding Diaconal Opportunity
1. God (2 Cor. 9:11) promises that there will be enough diaconal resources available (time, money, skills) within the visible church substantially to heal poverty in the church so that there will be a rebirth of hope and life among the poor who cry to the Lord (Deut. 15:14; Neh. 8:10; Psalms 9:18; 10:17; 35:10; 68:10; 72:12-14; 108:41; 109:31; 113:7; 132:15; Prov. 13:25; Isa. 14:30; 25:4; 29:19; Matt. 11:5; Luke 1:53; 4: 18; Acts 2:46, 47; 4:34; 2 Cor. 8:15) with an overflow to others (Deut. 15:6; 24:14, 15, 17; Gen. 45:7; Gal. 6:10; 1 Thess. 3:12).
2. This provision of God for the poor is of such a nature that it does not constitute a financial burden to the givers of mercy but rather by the Spirit's work is seen as a joy and privilege (Neh. 8:20; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:7).
3. This provision does not impoverish those who provide for the poor but instead gives them hope for an increase, and not a decrease, in their ability to give (Deut. 15:10; Prov. 19:17; 28:8; 2 Cor. 9:6-11). The believer who cheerfully and sacrificially gives to the poor has every hope of increase in both righteousness and material blessings for further stewardship (2 Cor. 9:10). In short, God "pays the bill" with a generous commission for his human agents of mercy.
4. In the Scriptures, poverty is never caused by unrestrained generosity to the poor. Among other things it is caused by God's judgment (1 Sam. 2:7, 8) on laziness (Prov. 21:17), oppression of the poor (Amos 4:6; Prov. 22:16, 23), seeking the favor of the rich (Prov. 28:8), and seeking to get rich through usury (Prov. 28:8), as well as causes often beyond direct human control such as injustice, oppression, famine, widowhood, and calamities, all under the control of the secret purposes of God (Gen. 45:6; Job 1:18-22; Luke 13:1-5; John 9:3).
5. The diaconal needs of the people of God today are as vast as they have ever been because of the large number of Christians. The needs of the general world population are even vaster. Yet the Scriptures teach that God's resources are vaster yet. They are equal to all the needs of God's people (Matt. 6:28-34). They are also equal to the full compassion and zeal of God's people towards the needy wherever the church is involved in Christ's name (2 Cor. 9:8-11) without detracting from the ministry of the Word (Eph. 4:11, 12; see also Acts 6:1-7).
F. The Resources of Accumulated Wealth
1. A major resource in God's provision for the poor among his people has always been the accumulated wealth, estate or capital of those he prospers. In the Old Testament this was primarily done through the institutions of Jubilee. In the Jubilee year, land was returned to those who had had to sell it to live (Lev. 25:10, 14-17, 23, 24); Israelite slaves were released to return to their families (Lev. 25:39-43); and both land and slaves were to be redeemed earlier than Jubilee year if possible. Loans were to be provided for the poor to prevent their becoming slaves and tenants (25:35-38). All this involved the exchange of capital, accumulated wealth, or portion of someone's estate for the benefit of the poor.
2. In the New Testament, Christ proclaims a renewed Jubilee (Luke 4:18, 19). In his way of speaking, Jesus does not distinguish sharply between spiritual and material Jubilee as we are prone to do in our age. Such a distinction was not needed and would actually be misleading because through the work of Christ both levels of Jubilee would occur. In this basically spiritual "revolution," signified by his miracles, Jesus would increase, not decrease, the power of a material Jubilee for the needy. Is it not true that the great hindrance to Old Testament Jubilee was "the evil eye" of covetousness (Deut. 15:7-9) and a lack of openhandedness (Deut. 15:10, 11) among the rich (1 Cor. 13:3)?
3. The release of Luke 4:18, 19 was extremely relevant to the poverty-stricken covenant people. Though the material blessings of Jubilee would no longer be specifically legislated, those material benefits would now flow freely from renewed hearts—without detailed legislation. The poor would no longer be forgotten (Gal. 2:10) but those who "gathered more" than they needed (Exod. 16:18; 2 Cor. 8:13-15) voluntarily shared with those who "gathered less" than they needed. This biblical definition of equality is not the socialistic and oppressive equality of numerical equivalency. It is rather the result of a deep loyalty between rich and poor Christians such that those who have more than they need to fulfill their calling in life share out of their own internal motivation with those who have less than the necessities for life and self-development.
4. This vision is central in Jesus' dealings with the wealthy, though in characteristic New Testament fashion, Jesus applies it in different ways to each situation. The rich young man of Luke 18:21 was commanded to sell everything and give to the poor. In Luke 12:13 ff., Jesus illustrated the foolishness of accumulated wealth (Luke 12:21) when one is not rich toward God (cf. 1 Tim. 6:18, 19).
5. In Luke 12:32-34, Jesus expands this theme. He says to his disciples, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor, provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out.... For where your treasure is, there is your heart also." This selling of possessions did not involve Jesus in setting a uniform standard for material lifestyle but rather for standards of heart commitment. The disciple should sell whatever is not necessary for his service in the Kingdom (Matt. 6:33); he should sell whatever he does not need to be rich toward God (Luke 12:21). The rest he should give to the poor (Luke 12:33). In the same way, Luke 14:33 reminds us that everything we possess must be given up to the service of Christ's kingdom. Thus the man of great possessions will find it difficult to enter the kingdom (Luke 18:24, 25). Yet Christ promises to those who do consecrate everything to his service that they will receive many times more than what they gave up—beginning in this life (Luke 18:29, 30). Because of the sharing between believers, the full resources (material and spiritual) of the community of the kingdom (church) are for the benefit of every believer—in this life. This is the heart of Christ's vision for a fulfilled Jubilee among his people in the age of the Spirit.
6. This "Jubilee generosity" was brought to practical expression not only through Christ's earthly ministry but also in the life of the apostolic church. The directives of compassion, the principles taught by Jesus, and the uniqueness of each situation provided the rationale for the specific styles of sharing that took place (Acts 2:44-47; 4:33-37; 6:1-7; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 1 Tim. 6:3-15; 6:17-19). Yet the vision was the same. The kingdom of Christ was a healing refuge for the poor, the hungry, and the widow—a place where God and his blessings dwelt.
7. Therefore, individual believers, whether wealthy or not, should be encouraged to consecrate all their possessions to God's service and ask whether God's Spirit has put within them a desire to donate a part or even all of their assets for healing among those whom they love (1 Cor. 13:3) and among those to whom a responsible and fruitful diaconal program is in force.
8. A policy of freedom must be maintained to minimize the temptation for "dictated" generosity rather than freely cheerful giving by those whom God equips and motivates to sell "houses and fields," stocks, etc., to give to the poor. The obligation faced by all believers is God's command to share generously and loan as he did. Each one must determine what that means for him or her.
9. Therefore believers should not seek to accumulate wealth for themselves but should view the fruit of their labor as primarily a means of giving generously to the total work of the kingdom (Eph. 4:28) while at the same time meeting their families' needs for the necessities of a quiet, dignified and temperate life (the same kind of life they desire for the poor). For most of God's people, testamentary and deferred gifts will be the primary way in which they can share the resources of their accumulated assets.
G. The Communion of the Saints
1. God allows diaconal needs to arise and places diaconal gifts within the body to meet those needs (as in Rom. 15:27) with the communion of the saints in the church universal (Form of Government, II, 2) as a controlling pattern (John 17:20, 21; 1 Cor. 12:21-26, 28; 2 Cor. 8:13-15; Eph. 2:19-22; 4:9-15), and not only the communion of the saints within one ethnic, cultural or denominational group (Acts 10:36; 15:19; Gal. 2:11-14; James 2:1-9; Rev. 5:9. 10). This in no way denies the latter model but sets it within a larger framework.
2. Therefore God expects his providentially placed resources to be shared across the cultural, ethnic, geographical, economic lines that now divide Christ's true churches (Rom. 15:27; 2 Cor. 8:13-15). If this does not happen those resources will never touch the needs they were given to alleviate.
3. The visible universal church is defined as "all those persons, in every nation, together with their children, who make profession of saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and promise submission to his commandments" (Form of Government, II, 2). It therefore may encompass particular churches within many different denominations and groups—baptistic, independent, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, etc. This definition also may exclude many churches and denominations in those same groups due to their unbelief in the basic doctrines of Christianity required for a credible profession of faith. The great divide today is between churches holding to the basics of saving faith and those not holding to them.
4. Ways must therefore be found to bring to visible expression the diaconal communion that true churches of Christ have with one another—without compromising the convictions of those churches, without producing parachurch "buffer" organizations of limited convictions, and without denying but rather respecting the God-given responsibility of the officers in those churches for their own flock. Deacons and elders in a "giving" church should therefore recognize and work through the deacons and elders in the receiving church.
5. An attitude of mutual thankfulness (1 Cor. 1:4), respect (Phil. 2:3-5), and love (John 13:14-17) for each other must characterize the relationship between churches (and their leaders) if diaconal aid is to be a source of praise to God (2 Cor. 9:12-15) and not a form of emotional servitude of one group to another (Rom. 15:27).
6. It is therefore permissible to give to and receive diaconal aid from churches that are true churches (as defined above) but with whom we do not presently have fraternal relations or official ecclesiastical fellowship. This level of fellowship involves a simple recognition that the church is indeed a true church of Jesus Christ.
H. Methodology and Control
1. The ordained diaconate of the visible church, under the general oversight of the ruling office (Form of Government, XI, 5), should be the normal means for the interdenominational, international or intercultural sharing of diaconal resources (Acts 6:1-7, Form of Government, XI, 7).
2. Para-ecclesiastical relief groups, while serving a crucial purpose at present, should actively implement a practical plan for the transfer of their ministries to churches—either through regular diaconal channels or through diaconal evangelism ministries to unevangelized populations of suffering people.
3. Responsible deacons (Or elders) from both the giving and receiving churches should be involved in the distribution process (2 Cor. 8:20, 21), so that firm godly discipline will insure that the offerings (i) are acceptable to the recipients (Rom. 15:31), (ii) are fairly distributed to them (Acts 6:1-7), (iii) are not given apart from church discipline so that the church neither subsidizes sin (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 2 Thess. 3:6-14) or fails to encourage the example of diligent work (1 Thess. 2:9) (iv) are not producing "rice Christians" by a neglect of the requirements of discipline and holy living within the covenant people (John 6:26-27), and (v) are accompanied by an appropriate witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:13-16) both to believers and unbelievers.
I. Diaconal Evangelism
1. The deacons are to take leadership in the ministry of service in order to free the elders and ministers for the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:2). They are not called to do all the diaconal ministry but to oversee and lead it (Acts 6:3). Thus, as individual Christians minister the mercy of Christ to non-Christian individuals, they should receive the help, encouragement and, if necessary, the direct assistance of the church's deacons. For example, an individual would be hard pressed to muster the resources to put a roof on a widow's home, but the local diaconate could easily muster the needed resources. Thus, it is impossible to separate the charity of individual believers from the work of the diaconate. In short, the deacons should aid, assist and support believers as they love their neighbors and their enemies.
2. The deacons should also be involved with non-Christians as a part of the evangelistic outreach of the church. The question of whether or not we must witness in connection with diaconal ministry is hardly worthy of comment. It is not just that we must, but that true Christians can and do. Christians can ultimately do no other. Direct verbal evangelism brings opportunities for a ministry of mercy. Conversely, direct diaconal assistance brings opportunity for a ministry of the Word. Which edge of the sword goes first does not ultimately matter. What is important is that both edges be used always and that the ultimate purpose be the fulfillment of the evangelistic, church-planting and discipling task of the church (see Section A.l). Matthew 5:16 teaches this: "Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." To be the "salt of the earth" means to saturate the world with both the Word and deeds of the gospel. Often Jesus began with teaching; yet at other times he began with deeds. In many situations a well-planned diaconal mission will be the very means for establishing channels for the communication of the eternal Word. In disaster relief or economic development situations, this is particularly true. In needy areas where there are churches, every effort should be made to work through the local church. The local deacons and the local ministers and elders are naturally involved. This would be the case if our denomination sent young people to work in needy areas as a kind of Christian Peace Corps. They must function as part of the body of Christ in that area.
3. If there are no churches in the needy area through which to work, then diaconal efforts must be diaconal-missions effort. It is important that ordained persons be sent because spiritual discipline (with economic consequences; 2 Thess. 3:10) must be used to avoid the production of "rice Christians." Christians must not be afraid to leave or reject a person, culture, or family if they prove substantially rebellious to the claims and ways of God. To stay might well be to subsidize and make comfortable their escape from God. Yet one should never leave the needy to go no-where, but only to go to a place of greater receptivity to the gospel. This area of "discipline" is one that needs close attention by the officers of any church that attempts diaconal missions. Surely Satan will do his best to destroy the evidence of the good works of the church—which are a large measure of her glory (Rev. 19:8). Easy, make-shift answers will easily be discredited by our great enemy. We must commit our best men (Acts 6:5) to this effort until the love of God is seen in history—by word and deed in the face of all the nations.
The Committee recommends
- that the General Assembly receive this report and send it to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod for its information.
- that the General Assembly commend this report to the churches for their information and study.
- that the General Assembly commend the Committee on Diaconal Ministries for their earnest endeavors to meet the needs of members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church that are larger than that which local churches can bear and that it be urged to continue this fine record.
- that the General Assembly recognize that as a fellowship of churches, God in his providence has chosen to bless us with a large measure of freedom from the curses of poverty that have adversely affected many Christians both here in the United States sod abroad and that in the light of this situation and on the occasion of the report of this Committee we are glad to affirm explicitly our zealous commitment to "remember the poor" among God's true people outside the boundaries of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and to explore in appropriate fashion practical ways to implement that commitment.
- that the General Assembly request the Committee on Diaconal Ministries to investigate particular and significant opportunities for such diaconal involvement and that the Committee seek to develop a strategy and general guidelines for such diaconal involvement and that it report the same to the General Assembly.
James C. Petty
John H. Skilton
Report of the Minority of the Committee to Study the Principles of Diaconal Ministry
I. A Statement of Basic Principles of the Diaconal Task
This report sets forth the diaconal task as one side of biblical salvation. The states of Eden and heaven are seen as models governing all human history with reference to the enjoyment of full-orbed salvation (Gen. l-2; Deut. 7:12-16; 12:9; 15:11; Isa. 32:1-8; Ezek. 36:30; Neh. 4; Rev. 22:1-5). Hence, since the blessings of salvation fall to those under the covenant, or in the kingdom, diaconal aid is essentially and primarily covenantal aid; i.e., aid to covenantal members. This means that diaconal aid is to be covenantally contextualized and disciplined (Deut. 7:12-16; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Tim. 5:9-16).
The care of the poor and needy falls upon the family and the individual (Deut. 21:17; Luke 12:33; Matt. 6:1-4; 1 Tim. 5:9-16), the state (Psalm 72:1-2; Ezek. 16:49; Dan. 4:27; Prov. 28:15; 29:14; 31:9; Deut. 17:9; Ruth 4:1-2; Prov. 31:23), and the church (Matt. 12:48 ff.; 16:18-19; Acts 6:1-2; 11:28-29) respectively though the order of responsibility does not necessarily proceed in a direct line. Responsibility falls upon the group with which the object of aid is in covenant (the state being conceived as a covenantal bond).
The Lord requires families and churches to aid the brother in good standing if at all possible (Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 2:45; 2 Cor. 8:4, 13-14; 9:12; 1 John 3:17). The governing rule is the basic Old Testament economic structure as it is restated, assumed, and/or developed in the New Testament. This rule entails the assumption of private ownership, the possibility of amassing wealth, the obligation and privilege of rendering the tithe, and the call to presenting sacrifices to the Lord (Exod. 25:1-9; Deut. 14:22; Neh. 13:10; Mal. 3:8-10; Matt. 23:23; Neh. 7:1-10; 1 Cor. 9:12-13; 16:2). One should give cheerfully and liberally, for the Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).
We recognize that the Bible focuses benevolence (diaconal aid) on church/covenant members with whom we are in public covenantal relationship both in the sense that our aid goes to them first and in the sense that our responsibility is more comprehensive and pressing toward them (e.g., we should carry insurance and retirement policies on Orthodox Presbyterian ministers but not on all men, and we should redeem an Orthodox Presbyterian from losing his home but not all men). We also recognize a special responsibility toward others in public covenant with God (i.e., other churches).
On the other hand, we recognize that God commands us to help non-covenantal persons under many circumstances (Matt. 5:38-48; 8:28-34; Mark 7:26; Luke 10:27-37; Gal. 6:10; cf. Lev. 19:18 and Deut. 18:19). Special emphasis is given in the Scripture to helping the non-covenantal person with whom one is in physical contact and whose needs are of emergency proportions (Law. 19:18; Luke 10:30-37). The practice of God in the Old Testament and his Son in the New Testament comprise the model for such aid. Although the extending of such aid may be an effective evangelistic tool and may legitimately be used as such (Matt. 11:23), the church should be cautious of using it as a major evangelistic tool inasmuch as neither Jesus nor the early church did so (Mark 1:37-38; John 5:3, 5-9; 1 Cor. 1:22).
II. A Study Paper
A. What is the Diaconal Task?
The diaconal task embraces everything committed to the church except those tasks reserved uniquely for the eldership with special focus on alleviating physical miseries or need.
1. The Origin and Nature of Physical Misery or Need
Physical misery or need originated with the fall of man. When God created man be placed him in the garden of Eden where all his needs were met. The fall occasioned change in man's relationship to Eden, to wit, he was driven from Eden with all its blessings and barred from it. The fall also occasioned a change in man's relationship to the soil; no longer did it yield its produce freely. Henceforth, the soil yielded thorns and thistles (weeds) more freely than food. So man had to work hard (by the sweat of his brow) for food. The fall occasioned the introduction of the death principle into creation so that sickness and death descended upon man as a result (Rom. 5:12).
It is most important at this point to understand properly the relationship between grace and nature. To be in the Garden of Eden was to be under divine care and to enjoy fully all that nature was. To be evicted from God's presence was to be absent from his blessings both in the realm of grace and the realm of nature. Therefore, the promise of judgment on the serpent (the devil) entailed the restoration of a right relationship with God and a return to the condition wherein God provided for all man's needs. Thus, in Revelation 22:1-5 the New Jerusalem, the final redemptive state, is depicted in Edenic terms involving the river of the water of life and the tree of life. These symbolic instruments mediate and symbolize the absence of all physical need. Hence, the tree of life yields constant fruit and a balm healing every sickness. Finally, the curse shall be no more. The curse, brought upon man by the fall and involving the principle of death with all the oppression, poverty, and want, will he no more (Rev. 22:3).
Therefore, spiritual and physical need are essentially one so that in Eden and in heaven man's need is met fully. This essential interrelationship between the spiritual and natural is a major biblical theme that should contextualize our concept of the nature of the diaconal enterprise. At the same time this interrelationship should not lead us to ignore the difference between nature and grace.
2. The solution to Man's Problem of Need and Pain
a. After Eden
As previously indicated the ultimate solution to the problem of need and pain is the introduction of the eternal state. Our interest focuses on the status of matters between the fall and that final state. In Genesis 3:15 the promise of judgment upon Satan points to the ultimate state to be introduced by the seed of the woman. Here the period between the ministry of Christ and the ultimate state (1 Cor. 15:25) is telescoped as though it were a single act. The final judgment of Satan and the restoration of man establishes the conclusion of the period of our concern. During this period (from the fall to the perfection) God has established enmity between the seed of woman and the seed of Satan. The enmity between woman's seed and Satan's seed is an alleviation of the effects of the fall (God did not utterly abandon his creation). The division between the two seeds establishes a distinction based on election, defined by the covenant grace which entails blessings upon the whole man (i.e., both spiritual and material). There is no chasm between nature and grace. This covenantal relationship looks forward to its perfection in the consummation of Christ's task (1 Cor. 15:25) and the elimination of all the effects of the fall. The promised alleviation, therefore, was to be elective and redemptive. It was bestowed on the seed of the woman even as was the coming salvation implied in the judgment on Satan.
b. Under Moses
The Mosaic economy gives a fuller structuring of the principles just enunciated. Here God is seen to be the great provider/deacon (e.g., Deut. 7:12-16; 8:6-9; 11:8-9, 13-17, 26-28). In bringing his people into Palestine God is bringing them into the land of rest (Deut. 7:12-16; 12:9; 1 Kings 8:56). This rest is one with the eternal rest symbolized and commemorated in the weekly Sabbath (Exod. 20:11; Deut. 5:14), the coming Christological redemption, the final eschatological perfection and the original Eden (Neh. 3; Rev. 22:1-5). The special grace provisions in the land of Palestine entailed the alleviation of all physical and social need. In Palestine there were to be no poor and oppressed (the Hebrew root 'anâ means poor, oppressed, and poor and oppressed). These special grace provisions were involved in the establishment and maintenance of the kingdom of God and the nation Israel (Exod. 19:6). The removal of all poverty was the ideal of this kingdom, contingent on the obedience of the citizenry (Deut. 15:11), and realized only in the final eschatological kingdom (Isa. 32: 1-8; 58:7-8; 41:17; 61:1-11; cf. Rev. 22).
Under Moses removal of poverty and oppression was integral to the kingdom or covenantal structure. God the Great Provider or Deacon designed the kingdom so that all its citizenry would be his agents in alleviating poverty and oppression. The kingdom was ruled and disciplined by its Ring through its elder-judges (Deut. 1:11-17; 16:18; Ruth 4:2-3) and (eventually) a human king (Deut. 17:18-20; 1 Sam. 8:6). This alleviation took the form of (1) leaving the gleanings of the field for the poor and needy (Exod. 23:11); (2) including the poor and needy in fellowship meals eaten before the Lord (Deut. 16:11); (3) extending interest-free loans to those facing emergency situations (Exod. 22:24; Neh. 5:1-13); (4) cancelling the aforementioned loans at the end of seven years; (5) providing a special gift once every three years which might have served to give the poor and needy both immediate aid and capital to help them get started again (Lev. 25:35-38; Deut. 14:28-29); (6) indenturing the chronically poor to the end that they might have regular care and might be prepared (by observation and training) in responsible living (Exod. 21:2; Lev. 25:39-43); (7) sharing of one's food with the poor (Prov. 22:9); (8) returning ancestral lands to the heirs once every fifty years (Lev. 25:8-17); (9) caring for the elderly as a responsibility of the family (especially the firstborn son); (10) seeing that widows' and orphans' rights of inheritance, etc., are properly protected before the law (Deut. 10:18; Psalm 82:3-4); (11) providing equal protection under the law for strangers and sojourners (Deut. 16: 20); (13) providing a means whereby those smitten with serious illnesses might be barred from and restored to the community (e.g., Lev. 14); (14) the establishment of the levirate institution whereby the poor had the opportunity of redemption from indenture (Lev. 25:47-56); (15) providing food and clothing for the alien (Deut. 10: 7-19).
Thus, the Mosaic economy views the care of the poor and needy as a covenantal enterprise—an expression of participation in the blessings of God's kingdom. Nature and grace are not ripped apart but joined together. The theme introduced in Eden is sustained. Is this not why the wards poor and needy can refer to rich Ring David (Psalms 25:16; 70:5)? He is viewed not as one in physical, economic, or social poverty or oppression but as one who is in spiritual need. This is not to say that the alleviation of physical, economic, or social need automatically places one in a proper relationship to God; nor does a proper relationship to God automatically result in the alleviation of all other needs. Rather, the Old Testament presents the covenantal structure as the means by which God's kingdom is expressed among men, and this kingdom as in Eden and the final eschatological state meets all human needs (Deut. 7:12-16). So, the words poor and needy were used properly to represent all kinds of need.
The special design of the covenant is to bring man into a proper spiritual relationship to God. This is evidenced in I Sam. 15:22. God is not saying that he does not want sacrifices to be made; he is emphasizing the relationship between obedience and sacrifice. The entire sacrificial system was intended to establish and work out
proper spiritual relationship between God and man. Therefore, the spiritual had a kind of priority and foundational relationship to the external outworking of the proper covenantal relationship of Israel to God. In Israel there were to be no poor (Deut. 15:4; 7:12-16). On the other hand, interruption of the proper spiritual relationship rendered Israel or an individual Israelite poor and needy.
c. Under Jesus
The ministry of Jesus was carried out under the Mosaic economy. This is established by the fact that he recognized the legitimacy of the Temple sacrifices (John 4:45; 5:1; 6:4; 7:10). The end of the Mosaic economy is marked by the rending of the Temple veil (Matt. 27:51). From that point access to God is directly and openly through Christ (Heb. 4:14-16). Prior to this everything in the sacramental system pointed to Christ. Now the mysterious has been revealed (Eph. 3:1-10); the mystery is manifest. Similarly, the rest of the Mosaic legislation spoke of Christ.
Therefore, Jesus came in fulfillment of what was implied prophetically in the lay and explicitly exposited by the prophets. The kingdom he personally embodied (Isa. 28: 12, 16; Deut. 12:9; Jer. 6:16; Matt. 11:29) and openly declared to be present (Matt. 10:7) by his words (Matt. 9:35) and deeds (Matt 11:4-5) was the kingdom promised in the Old Testament. His was more than the Old Testament kingdom renewal, it was the Old Testament kingdom fulfilled. Furthermore, his was a kingdom in the physical presence of its eternal Ring. To the extent that his eternal glory and almighty power operated directly the kingdom was a foretaste of the final eschatological state. Finally, Jesus introduced the concept of the fulfilled kingdom without the attesting miraculous signs (post-miraculous kingdom). These four themes (Old Testament kingdom, fulfilled kingdom, post-miraculous kingdom, and perfected kingdom) contextualize the ministry of Jesus toward the poor and needy although it is admittedly difficult to assign every particular act to a particular principial application. It cannot be emphasized enough that these are four aspects of the one kingdom of God.
Insofar as he upheld the Mosaic economy, Jesus practiced and upheld the practice of that economy's treatment of the poor and needy. This is not explicitly stated, to be sure, but is assumed throughout and merges dramatically at certain points in his relationship to the poor and needy. For Jesus the care of the poor and needy was covenantally contextualized so that, in principle, there is no nature/grace dichotomy. To be in the kingdom was to live under the covenant and receive all gifts from God—the meek are to inherit the earth (in the Psalms the word for oppressed one, the poor, and the meek are often the same). To the "poor" in spirit belong the kingdom of God and all its blessings. His gospel is a gospel for the "poor." In so saying, he does not distinguish between the economically, socially, physically, and spiritually poor although since he addressed Jews schooled in Old Testament concepts, and since he assumed that they would understand, it is the Old Testament definition that determines the meaning of "poor."
Thus, care of the poor and needy was the realization of the practice of Mosaic directives. To this end, Jesus directed his followers to give alms (Luke 12:33). The giving of alma through regular giving of money to be distributed by the synagogue or Temple authorities does not appear to have been an Old Testament practice. On the other hand, the Old Testament provisions in principle entail the giving of alms, especially leaving the gleanings. In a sense almsgiving was the urbanized form of leaving gleanings in one's field.
Especially relevant to this practice of Mosaic directives is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 20:30-37). It may be understood as a correction of a false interpretation of the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:18 Israel is commanded to "love your neighbor as yourself." The word translated "neighbor" (Hebrew hamith) more exactly signifies members of a restricted group.
It might be argued that if God had intended such love to extend to all men he would have used another Hebrew word (rea') which means anyone who is beside or near you. To some Jews of Jesus' day, therefore, this commandment meant "love your neighbor, the Israelite." The Pharisees understood it to mean "love your neighbor, the Pharisee" inasmuch as "this rabble does not know the law, accursed are they" (John 7:49). The Qumran community reasoned that only their membership were sans of the light and all others being sans of the darkness were to be hated. Jesus' point is that the idea "neighbor" includes men of all races and persuasions—proximity in space made someone one's neighbor. Indeed, in benevolent matters all men, including the stranger and/or foreigner, are one's neighbors (Lev. 24:19-22). The fact that the primary emphasis of Hebrew rea' is a secondary emphasis of hamith should not lead one to conclude that God intends that one should love only his limited group. Thus, Jesus teaches in conformity to Old Testament teaching that care of the poor and needy extends to anyone one meets who is in need. Indeed, the command to relieve the suffering of one's neighbor extends to all feeling creatures (Deut. 22:l ff.).
Second, it is declared that in Jesus the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled. It is especially important to note that these Old Testament prophecies spoke of a day when the perfection of Edenic restoration would be fully realized. In that day there would be no unmet need among all mankind. The picture of the kingdom is universal both in its scope and in blessing. In these prophecies the kingdom of God is telescoped. The ministry of Jesus is depicted in terms of the enunciation of eternal principles upon which his kingdom rests and the temporary application of those principles during his lifetime. His is a universal kingdom in which all man's need is alleviated (Ezek. 36:30, 35; Isa. 11:4-11). At the same time, his is a kingdom that is covenantally governed. The covenant introduces the concept of election and, therefore, programs the extension and limitation of covenantal blessings. The ministry of Jesus, therefore, brought the eternal blessings upon those chosen to be the recipients whether they received spiritual (regeneration), physical (healing), social (reinstatement to the covenantal community, e.g., John 8:1-11), or economic aid (Matt. 17:24-27). Thus, just as the spiritual gift was not universal, neither were other applications of the breaking in of the eternal Eden. Furthermore, in the application of the eternal Edenic state perfection was withheld so that, spiritually speaking, men who received regeneration had to await the final eschatological state before they enjoyed full human spiritual perfection. Similarly, Jesus' healing, feeding, etc., was but a foretaste of the eternal Eden.
Third, Jesus enunciates certain principles upon which the post-miraculous extension of the kingdom should be pursued. This age in which we now live is especially to be governed by Matthew 25:34-36.
What then according to the Gospels comprises the ministry to the poor and needy? This ministry is a temporal application and outworking of the ultimate Edenic state. It is to be a living out of God's revealed covenantal directives that guided the ministry of Christ and set forth the extension and limitations of Edenic blessings.
What kind of aid did Jesus extend to man? He healed them of their physical infirmities; he provided them with food (Matt. 14:19-20; 15:36-37; John 21:9-13); he protected them from physical harm (Mark 4:39); he gave justice to the socially outcast (John 8:1-11); he provided for clothing the unclothed (Matt. 5:40); and he saved their souls. These were not multiple ministries or two ministries—one in the realm of nature and the other in the realm of grace. This was a single ministry with multiple aspects with every aspect enunciating the presence of the final eschatological state and every aspect covenantally structured. Jesus extended to men the presence of the final Edenic state.
d. After Jesus
The early church continued the message and ministry of Jesus toward the poor and needy. They, too, declared a full-orbed salvation that ordinarily and invariably focused on the alleviation of spiritual need, the focus of which was sometimes communicated by means of economic, physical or social aid. They recognized that man's need was universal. Thus diakonia, although covenantal (see below), was in view of the world and in contact with the world as the church expanded. The universal call of the gospel summoned people into covenant fellowship with all its benefits. Indeed, wherever the gospel was preached men were touched by the kingdom and its blessings. Under the New Covenant people are pictured as being reached by the outward flow of the gospel.
This ministry took many specific forms. The early church, instructed and informed by the Old Testament (2 Tim. 3:16) and the life of Christ, practiced the Old Testament covenant applications of aiding the poor and needy. Specifically, we read that they sometimes healed those who were in need (Acts 14:3, 8; 16:18; 19:12-17), gave aid to the distressed (Tit. 3:4), provided for widows and orphans (Acts 6, James 1:22-27; 1 Tim. 5:9-16), fed the jobless (2 Thess. 3:6-15), provided hospitality for travelers (l Peter 4:9), provided emergency relief (Acts 11:27-30; Rom. 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9), ministered to the needs of the homeless, jobless, and hungry (Acts 2, 4), ministered to the needs of the saints (Rom. 16:2; Neh. 13:17), gave alms through the Temple (Acts 24:17; cf. 20:3, 5), and aided the poor (Gal. 2:10; 1 Tim. 6:17-19) and needy (1 John 3:17).
B. Who Should Do It?
1. According to the Old Testament
In the Old Testament the task of caring for the poor and needy fell upon the individual citizen (and citizens acting together), the family, and the civil authorities (the state).
The individual covenant member was charged with certain responsibilities toward the poor and needy (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 10:10; Ezek. 18:10-18). He was to help the responsible poor in every way he could and in emergencies help every sensating creature regardless of the determination of responsible action on his part (Deut. 22:1-4).
Perhaps the most extensive of the Old Testament injunctions to care for the poor and needy was directed towards heads of households as the managers of the family's assets. The family was responsible to care for the aged. The firstborn son received the double portion and was responsible to provide for his parents in their old age and to see that they received proper burial (Deut. 21:17). The family was to include orphans and widows under its roof. Alma were to be given in the form of gleanings from field (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22). sharing food with the poor and needy, the stranger and sojourner (Deut. 10:17-19), paying the third year tithe (Deut. 14:28-29), etc. The third year tithe was a familiar responsibility insofar as it was the contribution of those who owned goods. The fellowship meals were also a familiar activity. These meals commemorated God's provision of food in the promised land (the land of rest; Deut. 12: 9). The heads of households who presided over these meals were responsible to see that the poor and needy were included when there was room at the table (Deut. 16:11, 14). The meal was eaten before the Lord and as a sacrifice was disciplined by the priests. This latter aspect of the fellowship meals was Levitical, but the choice of participants was familial. This was distribution of aid to the poor and needy by the Levites.
The civil authorities (the state), humanly speaking, were responsible to see that the poor and needy were taken care of properly (according to the directives of God's covenant). There appears to be no responsibility at all laid upon the organized church to aid the poor and needy. The Old Testament pointedly holds the state (in the person of the king) responsible for aiding the poor and needy (n.b., Psalm 72:1-2, 12-13, 16; cf. Deut. 17:18-20), Even pagan kings are explicitly admonished to care for the poor and needy although they are not explicitly admonished to accept the entire Mosaic legislation (Ezek. 16:49; Dan. 4:27; Prov. 28:15; 29:14; 31:9, 11). (Is not this civil provision a common grace provision?) Who was responsible to see that the poor and needy throughout the kingdom were cared for properly? Clearly the answer is the king and the local governmental authorities, the elder-judges (cf. Prov. 29:14; Deut. 17:18-19). The messianic king (as noted above) was to provide this care perfectly (e.g., Isa. 11:4-5; 55:1-5; 58:7; 61:1-3; Psalm 72:12-13). This function was tied immediately and inextricably to the Messiah's office.
Furthermore the elders (civil authorities) appear to have been directly involved in a kind of civil welfare program. It would be wrong to identify this program with the modern welfare state, but equally wrong to ignore the direct involvement of the civil authorities in public welfare. In the ancient world the non-Levitical elders (Deut. 1:15, 16; 16:18; 17:9; 2 Chron. 19:8-11) were responsible for civil matters while the Levitical elders were responsible for ecclesiastical matters (cf. Gillespie, Aaron's Rod Blossoming). These elders sat at the gate of the city where they held court when the need arose (Ruth 4:1-2; Prov. 31:23). Every third year Israelites were to deposit a tithe for the poor and needy (called the third tithe) at the gates of the cities in which they lived (Deut. 14:28-29). This raises the problem of distribution which probably was in the hands of the elders.
We conclude that elders distributed the third tithe for several reasons. First, note that the cities ('ir) in view here are the gated and walled cities. These stronger fortified cities were not always large but were ordinarily the places people took refuge when they were being threatened by invaders. They were the safe places, the refugees. Secondly, these would naturally tend to be the central cultural points of any given area. Third, the dwellings in these cities would be more secure and, therefore, the cities were the most likely places for the rich to build their homes. Building there would minimize the danger of physical harm to themselves and their families and of plunder of their worldly goods. Fourth, construction of such cities required a greater investment of resources and this would require investments by the rich. Those who paid for the construction of a safe place would probably live in that place enjoying its benefits. Fifth, non-Levitical elders were chosen from among heads of households who had distinguished themselves as family and community leaders (Deut. 1:15). Sixth, such distinction would not be forthcoming to one who had proven himself incompetent in business. Seventh, the elders were those who were sufficiently wealthy to have time to sit at the gates of their city as judges and counsellors. Eighth, the third tithe to be "laid up at thy gates" was mandatory upon all Israel. Ninth, it was specifically to be brought to the gates of the cities where the elders sat (Deut. 16:18). Tenth, the elders ware responsible to guarantee that the poor and needy received their just due before the law (Deut. 1:17; 16:18-20; 24:17-18). Therefore, we conclude that the tithe deposited not simply within the cities (and villages) but deposited at (in) the gates of the fortified cities was given into the hands of the elders (there were no Levitical elders ruling every city) who were responsible to distribute it equitably among the poor and needy. This ancient procedure of giving financial or other gifts to the elders to distribute among the poor and needy is repeated in the New Testament (Acts 6:1-2; 11:30).
2. According to the New Testament
In the New Testament the agents charged with carrying out God's care of the poor and needy are the individual believer (and groups of believers), the family, the state and the church.
a. The Individual
There are many passages that summon the individual believer to concern for the poor and needy. Jesus admonishes the individual to give his clothing to those who ask it of him (Matt. 5:40), to give alms for the poor (Matt. 6:1-4), and to give emergency aid to the critically endangered (Luke 10:30, 37). Paul instructs the individual believers to minister to the needs of the saints (2 Cor. 9:1), to remember the poor (Gal. 2:10), to be generous and ready to share (1 Tim. 6:17-19), to "engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs" (Tit. 3:14; 1 John 3:17), to do good and share (Neh. 13:16), to do good to all men and especially to the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). In fact, the individual is to love his neighbor as himself (Matt. 22:39) and to do toward others as he would have them do toward himself (Matt. 7:12).
b. The Family
The family's responsibilities include giving alms (Luke 12:33; cf. the Old Testament practice), providing hospitality for the saints who were traveling from place to place (1 Peter 4:9), and caring for widows (1 Tim. 5:9-16). In addition, the many tasks implicitly and explicitly assigned to the family in the Old Testament may still properly be done by families or groups of responsible individuals. Some tasks may be too large, expensive, or complicated for a particular family to pursue by itself and, therefore, may require that families band together to pursue them: e.g., hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, half-way houses for addicts and criminals, training centers of various kinds, centers to care for the distressed, unmarried mothers, etc. Such enterprises assigned to the citizenry in the Old Testament were civil rather than ecclesiastical in nature. Therefore, groups of Christians doing such tasks do them as citizens within God's kingdom. These activities must be determined and controlled by God's covenantal directives.
c. The State
One of the most argued aspects of caring for the poor and needy is the involvement of the state. It has already been shown that in the Old Testament this task was the responsibility of the citizenry and of the civil authorities. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36), and, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (i.e., the state's; Matt. 22:21). Some would say that we have no scriptural guidance on this crucial question: How do we know what is rightfully Caesar's? That does not appear to be the case, however, since the Old Testament speaks both of church and state responsibility suggesting the areas wherein these entities have sovereign rights and responsibilities (Lev. 17:8-9; 2 Chron. 19:8-11).
These areas are not always clearly delineated but in the matter of aiding the poor and needy the teaching is conclusive. In the Old Testament there is no responsibility at all laid upon the organized church to aid the poor and needy. While some have suggested that diaconal concerns are an extension of Levitical (organized-church) functions, in the Old Testament there is no clear evidence that the Levitical office was involved in such matters at all (except, perhaps, in the Levitical cities). The various provisions for the poor all exclude the organized church (including the Levites) as the responsible organ (cf. above).
Where then did this idea that the diaconal functions were a Levitical function or Levitical (priestly) task originate? It seems to have originated in a theological construct used to interpret Scripture, viz., that the three offices of Christ find a continuation in the three offices of the church (and all are a reflection of the Trinity). The direct evidence offered for this view stems from the intertestamental era where Levites seem to have distributed funds to the poor and needy, run hospitals, conducted schools, etc. In addition diakonia is identified with blessing and it is noted that the Old Testament agents of delivering God's blessings were the priests.
There are some additional reasons for concluding that the New Testament diaconate is not a Levitical function (i.e., in addition to the Old Testament emphasis that it was a civil/social task). First, the early church (Acts 6) had not yet severed itself from Judaism and acted as a synagogue in many respects. (For example, they worshipped in Solomon's Porch [Acts 5:12] and in the Temple proper [Acts 2:46; 3:1]; their warship service was patterned after the synagogue [cf. Luke 4:16 ff. and 1 Cor. 14],) In the synagogue genealogies were very important and great care was taken to guarantee that Levites did Levitical work. Yet in Acts 6 there is no mention at all of the Levitical ancestry of the seven and no explanation of why such tasks could be assigned to anyone in the congregation whom the congregation deemed worthy.
Also we should be aware that from the earliest times Levites were used as teachers (cf. Lev. 10:11; Deut. 33:11) and fulfilled civil (state) functions (judging: cf. Deut. 17:9; 2 Chron. 19:8-11; civil service: 1 Chron. 26:29-32). Their functions were not limited to "priestly" functions but spread aver into "prophetic" and "kingly" functions as the need arose. In other words, Levites were servants of the congregation as a whole and not simply of the congregation as a worshipping community.
Under the Old Testament their primary function was priestly and they had nothing officially to do with diaconal functions; these were the responsibility of the state (civil) authorities and of the family. During the intertestamental period the highly respected Levites who had previously engaged in teaching and certain civil responsibilities were logical choices to fulfill community needs formerly the business (almost exclusively) of civil authorities. This is especially true of those functions that required full-time involvement. Historically the eldership was an unpaid function whereas the Levites were directly supported by the congregation (when they were engaged in Levitical functioning). Since the congregation understood that the Levites were fulfilling diaconal functions in their secondary role and as a matter of expedience rather than of principle and since they knew it was the role primarily of the elders (as representatives of the state) so to function, it is altogether reasonable that the first Christian congregation did not consider Levitical ancestry in appointing the seven.
Secondly, same would argue that the deacon is a continuation of the chazzan—an office in the synagogue. The chazzan was an assistant to the president of the synagogue, "the executive officer in the practical details of running the synagogue." Unlike the president, the chazzan was paid for his services. He acted as the "master of ceremonies throughout the whole liturgy." He prepared the scrolls for reading, brought them into the hall, and "gave the actual invitation to the nominees who were to be the community's spokesmen in the prayers and the readers of Scripture." As a rule there was only one such dignitary in each synagogue. There were also chazzanim responsible for strictly civil duties; these were also paid for their work.
It is not clear if the chazzan was also necessarily a Levite. The differences, however, between the chazzan and the deacon are manifest: there is to be a plurality of deacons in each congregation; the deacons did not assist in the worship service (they were not given to the ministry of the Word), etc. In many regards the Roman Catholic and Anglican deacon parallels the chazzan more closely than does the Protestant (and biblical) deacon. It appears that the non-cultic duties of the chazzan were molded by expediency: some chazzanim served as city officials (treasurers) and in isolated areas the chazzan could "also function as a judge, public speaker (preacher) or schoolmaster." In other wards, the Jewish community did not view civil matters (matters belonging to the Old Testament state, e.g., "judge") as limited to Levites. One such matter was the care of the poor and needy. Therefore, it could be assigned to those who may not have been Levites (cf. Acts 6).
Therefore, diaconal functions are not Levitical functions but civil functions (as study of both the Old Testament and intertestamental material shows). We conclude that the state has the responsibility and right to provide for the needs of its citizenry. If biblically the state has that right and responsibility, then the citizenry has the right to enjoy the provisions made by the state. This, of course, includes Christian citizens. This is God's common grace provision for the poor and the needy.
d. The Church
In one sense the church's role is to provide aid in the absence of state aid. It is the state's responsibility to provide for the poor and needy among its citizenry, not the church's role to provide for every citizen of the state. Even when providing for its citizenry state aid is secondary to family aid; i.e., the Bible holds the family as the first "diaconal" agent (after the individual). If the family is unable (or unwilling) to fulfill its duty the state stands as the next responsible agent and if the state fails the responsibility falls upon the church. This line of responsibility is not direct, however, since the body of Christ is also a "family" (Matt. 12:48 ff.) and a "kingdom" (Matt. 16:18-19). Because of this we should be cautious against being too dogmatic. It is probably clear to all that the family proper has first responsibility to help its own poor and needy. Beyond that one should be aware that (1) the state is not trespassing and usurping the church's role when it provides welfare (although the particular program and/or the extent of state aid may not be in conformity to biblical norms), and (2) the church should do all it can to see (a) that its members are provided for, and (b) that the gospel is spread. The first of these duties might be fulfilled properly by providing emergency relief for the needy until state aid arrives or when there is no state aid the church might provide the necessary help.
(Certainly the church, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in particular, with its limited resources can hardly assume all the legitimate welfare needs without establishing a large diaconal staff responsible to discover and process requests for aid and without, therefore, greatly curtailing and jeopardizing its ministry of the Word.)
Careful advice regarding the responsibility of aid recipients should be given to Christians. The church has a responsibility to make sure such recipients (even when they receive state aid) are not acting in a non-Christian fashion deceiving the state into giving them aid. Also, they should clearly understand that the consistent pattern of Scripture is that the godly support themselves (and their families) if at all possible since ordinarily only offerings of one's own labors are pleasing to God. If one accepts state (or other) aid and is able (by strength and opportunity) to support oneself then his offerings and his lifestyle are not pleasing to God.
Christians should do what they can to bring justice to the state welfare program. This involves refusing aid extended on unbiblical grounds, seeking to get Christians to support themselves, entering the difficult task of gleaning from the Scripture the principles that should govern the state as it renders such aid, proclaiming those principles in our teaching ministry, and stimulating Christian citizens and lawmakers to work for the translation of such principles into state programs.
Within the church the elders are responsible for the care of the poor and needy (Acts 11:28-29; 6:1-2). When the total service (diakonia) to the church is more than the elders can handle these diaconal responsibilities may be delegated to others especially set apart as deacons.
In understanding the office of deacon a false nature-grace dichotomy should be avoided. All too often the nature of the diaconal task is considered to be less spiritual than that of the elders or not spiritual at all. That the diaconal task is essentially spiritual is evident from the attributes that qualified one for office (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim. 3:8-10). Above all these individuals were to be spiritually mature. Furthermore, the particular kind of task assigned to those who aided the apostles in Acts 6 was primarily administrative and related to caring for the physical needs of church members. It soon became evident that those assigned such tasks were involved in the total ministry of the church (Acts 7). Since those individuals functioning as deacons were, above all, spiritual men, leaders in the church, and participants in the total ministry of the church, it seems incongruent to limit their responsibility to caring for physical needs. Much more in keeping with their qualifications is the view of their task that makes them administrative assistants to the elders. As such, they can properly do and should do all those tasks of the church except maintaining proper discipline, pure doctrine, and proper observance of the sacraments—i.e., under the direction and authority of the elders. Therefore, in addition to the jobs they should be doing as the agents of God's kingdom blessing in the realm of physical need and properly advising about and relating people to state programs, church deacons may engage in a great number of tasks relating to (1) worship services (administering nurseries, ushering, etc.), (2) the care of the church properties, (3) participating in the spiritual nurture of the congregation as Sunday school teachers, youth advisors, etc., and (4) church expansion through evangelistic endeavors.
C. Why Do It?
There are many reasons why we Christians should pursue the task of aiding the poor and needy.
1. General Principle
One general principle underlying all Christian activity is that it is "more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). This relates to all manner of Christian service (diakonia)—the service of the Word and prayer and the service of tables (Acts 6). This blessed giving is an imitation of the divine relationship to man.
2. Divine Example
Christian benevolence is in imitation of divine benevolence. God gave salvation to man. This salvation as set forth in Old Testament was salvation both in nature and grace. Therefore, the Mosaic covenant provided both the sacrifices with the grace relationship depicted and worked out in them and the kingship of God with the nature relationship mediated through it. God's provision of the bounty of the land was a caring for the poor and needy Israel which had been oppressed (poor) in Egypt (Deut. 10:17-19). This divine prototype finds its mandated type in the covenantal provisions for the poor and needy among Israel. Christ the fulfillment of this typology gave salvation to his people (Matt. 1:21), a salvation that extended both to the areas of grace and nature, but he came to his own and his own received him not (John 1:11). Yet the purposes of God were in no way frustrated. The covenant people with reference to those responsible to keep the covenant were all those who had received the sign and seal of the covenant—circumcision. On the other hand, the covenant people with reference to those who most assuredly received salvation and all its blessings were those elected unto eternal life. The first group called "his own" in John 1:11 rejected him and continue to reject him and were cut off (Rom. 11:17). The latter group received him and continue to receive him and to enjoy all the blessings of the covenant. The covenant people of Jesus' day, to whom he openly displayed covenantal blessings, and upon whom he poured Out countless "diaconal" acts were the Jewish people who were subsequently "cut off," Jesus, in keeping with the activities of his Father recorded in the Old Testament, abundantly provided "for his people" (Luke 22:26-27; Heb. 12:1-3; Eph. 5:1-2). He is the leader whose example we should fallow.
3. Apostolic Example
The early church extended great diaconal acts toward one another. They, too, are among those who have gone before and stand as examples that the task can be done and examples of what we ought to do (Heb. 11; Eph. 5:l ff.). They poured out themselves to the Lord and for one another. The apostles command those who serve one another to do so as unto the Lord (Rom. 12:7).
4. Divine Command
To believe in Christ is to become his servant (John 14:26, Rom. 1:1). Believers are to bear fruit in keeping with their profession (Matt. 3:8; 5:16). This is the natural result of being spiritually united to Christ (John 15:4). Specifically, there are commands to pursue our calling in the area of diaconal service (e.g., Eph. 4:28). In the judgment rewards will only came upon those who give such aid to fellow believers (Matt. 10:42; 25:45 ff.; 16:27).
5. Divine Provision
God has given Christians great blessings which they are to share with others. Specifically, he has promised every blessing in abundance if we see to proper diaconal ministry (2 Cor. 9:8).
This section is much more abbreviated than it might be since most Christians agree that we should be fulfilling our responsibility in this area. The problem usually is not our lack of knowledge; it is often our lack of doing what we know we ought to do.
D. How Much Should We Do?
The answer to the above question is at once easy and difficult, simple and complex. It is not difficult to see that inasmuch as Christians are stewards of all God has given to them (Matt. 25:14-30) they should do as much as they can in the area of relieving the poor and needy. However, a study of the scriptural structuring of this activity reveals that the answer is also difficult and complex.
1. The Old Testament Pattern
What were the pious of the Old Testament to do, especially monetarily, as stewards of God? With reference to the overall work of the kingdom there appear to have been three circumstances governing their giving. First, there was emergency or special circumstances in the church that elicited special offerings limited only by the outpouring generosity of hearts thoroughly thankful to God (Exod. 25:1-9). Second, there was the regular circumstance or on-going ministry of the church which was supported primarily by the tithe, the first fruits, as God's due (Deut. 14:22; Neh. 13:10; Mal. 3:8-10). This was supplemented by special gifts and offerings in the form of goods (or monetary gifts) in proportion to one's sinfulness (in the case of sin and guilt offerings, these also constituted a restitutory payment to God) and in proportion to one's gratitude to God for his blessings (fellowship and peace offerings, etc.). Finally, there were the circumstances of the poor and needy. These circumstances ware not ordinarily met with huge outlays of money and goods although there was to be a constant outpouring of concern and aid (e.g., protecting their rights before the law, etc.). The ordinary provision was the gleanings and sharing one's bread with the poor, the stranger, and the sojourner.
In extraordinary circumstances the poor were given interest-free loans (Exod. 22: 25; Neh. 5:1-13). Presumably only responsible individuals were to receive these loans. Surely it was not God's intention to produce a class of welfare recipients who lived off of the responsible citizenry by contracting endless loans with no intention of repaying them and allowing them to be cancelled at the end of seven years. Citizenry under God was stewardship and stewardship was responsible living. Also, the third tithe was to be distributed among the poor and needy every third year. These provisions required the poor to work extremely hard to eke out a meager existence for himself and his dependents (Gen. 3:16; Ruth 2). Everything appears to have been gauged to guide the poor and needy in responsible stewardship, while at the same time protecting their dignity as divine image bearers. The Old Testament system was no socialistic system but a capitalism divinely structured to get every able-bodied citizen working for his own keep while making special provisions for those unable to work or smitten with unforeseeable tragedy.
2. New Testament Pattern
a. Non-diaconal Giving
New Testament stewardship is to be understood against the background of Old Testament stewardship. With this in mind Jesus commended the Pharisees for their scrupulous tithing. At the same time he chided them for their false nature-grace dichotomy whereby they gave God his due materially but not spiritually (Matt. 23:23). The corollary of this is that one is equally guilty if he purports to give God his due spiritually while neglecting him monetarily. According to Jesus the tithe is God's due.
This is more interesting in view of Hebrews 7 which argues that apart from and prior to the existence of the Old Testament kingdom of God (established at Sinai; Exod. 19:5, 6; cf. Gen. 12:2), and of the Old Testament sacrificial system, the tithe was God's due paid to his priest Melchizedek as a type of Christ's eternal priesthood. Thus, it has been argued that the tithe continues to be Christ's due since he continues to be our heavenly priest. The primary function of the tithe under the Mosaic economy seems to have been to provide for the on-going ministry of the church.
When speaking of evangelists (3 John 5-7), teaching elders and apostles, the apostles pointedly parallel them to the Old Testament ministers (priests and Levites) as those the church is responsible to support (1 Cor. 9:12-13). The admonition to support teachers is especially interesting in view of Christ's own practice and direction to his disciples. He had no place to lay his head (Matt. 8:20), no money to pay the Temple tax (Matt. 17:24-27), and no coin upon which he could point out Caesar's imprint (Matt. 22:19). Thus, he had no home of his own and seems to have had no regular income. He summoned his apostles to imitate his lifestyle, to leave their homes and jabs and to itinerate with him, to forgo the comfort of a place to lay their heads and regular income. On the other hand, there was the common purse out of which needs were sometimes provided (John 12:6; 13:29). The money seems to have been gathered through gifts from adherents and followers (John 12:5-8).
Once the church replaced the Temple the obligation of church members (covenant people) to support those ordained to use all their time in pursuing church work falls upon the church members just as the same obligation fell upon Temple members under the former economy. The absence of any command to support Christ and his apostles while he ministered on earth is consistent with the understanding that the tithe (ministerial support) belongs to those ordained by the church as its leaders.
As in the Old Testament the tithe is not only man's duty but it is an expression of grace toward the poor and needy. It was their assurance from God that when they had cheerfully rendered to him the tithe, showing their responsible involvement in his covenant, they had pleased him. On the other hand, those especially blessed with this world's goods were responsible to give cheerfully but abundantly as the Lord had prospered them. Even the poor were not forbidden, however, to give special offerings to express their commitment to the Lord. Thus, Jesus commended the poor widow who gave her all to the Lord (Mark 12:41-44). This should not be used to urge people to give their all to the church treasury but serves as an example of the kind of sacrificial giving that pleases God. This too is in keeping with the Old Testament pattern. Indeed, inasmuch as Jesus lived under the Old Testament economy, it was the Old Testament pattern he was expositing by word and deed. In the post-resurrection age it may be assumed that the practice of cheerful sacrificial giving to the on-going ministry of the church is still one's duty.
Although there is no explicit New Testament discussion the fact that the Old Testament was considered to be profitable for instruction in godly living (2 Tim. 3:16) leads one to support the practice of giving special offerings to meet special needs in the church (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2).
d. Diaconal Giving
The matter of how much one should give to alleviate material and physical ills is complex. It is made complex by several considerations: Jesus' admonitions to give all to charity, the fact that most New Testament admonitions to give relate to diaconal giving, the Pauline instruction regarding long-term aid and regular diaconal giving.
(1) Jesus' admonitions. A difficulty is occasioned by three texts: Matthew 19:21, Luke 12:33, and 14:33.
First, the word to the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:21): "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and came fallow Me."
In Luke's account Jesus said to all his disciples (cf. 12:13, 22): "Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, and unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near or moth destroys" (12:33).
Compare also Luke 14:33: "So, therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions."
Surely no one would deny that Jesus upheld the Old Testament directive that one do everything within the covenant structure to aid the poor and needy. As stewards of God we are responsible to manage all our goods to his glory (Matt. 25:14-30). We are to recognize that ultimately all our goods are his and from him and that we are to he willing to render them all up to him if he should ask us (Matt. 19:21). Whatever we invest in obeying our Lord (in our church, in our family, etc.), in working out the righteous commands of his covenant, is laid up for us in heaven (Matt. 6:19, 20). This is especially true when we give to the poor and needy (Matt. 19:21; Luke 12:33; 1 Tim. 6:18-19). We are, therefore, to give cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7) and wisely as good stewards.
The problem is raised by Luke 12:33 and 14:33. One of Jesus' teaching tools was hyperbole—overstating or exaggerating his point for effect. Thus, in Luke 14:26 he told the crowd, "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." Certainly Luke 12:33 and 14:33 might be understood as hyperbole. On the other hand, the twelve disciples did leave their occupations and homes. They did not concern themselves about working to provide food or a place to sleep (Luke 12:22-31). They trusted Jesus and he provided for them.
When Jesus sent the twelve out he directed them to carry "no staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money" but to depend on those to whom they would preach and minister (Matt. 10:9-15; Luke 9:3). They needed nothing except trust in God—he would supply their every need (Eden restored!). He gave very similar instructions to the seventy before they were sent forth (Luke 10:4). These are no hyperbolic statements speaking to attitude only. Instead these were directions to be followed literally. In a similar way Christ directed all his disciples to take no heed for clothing, food, etc., but to trust in God's provision (Luke 12:22-32). Moreover, he told them to sell their possessions and give to charity (12:33). This speaks not only about attitude toward possessions but is a command to actually sell everything (cf. 13:33).
Since Jesus' declaration of the kingdom of God was a declaration that the Old Testament prophecies of the kingdom were being fulfilled, and since those prophecies specifically related to the restoration and perfection of the Edenic state (Jubilee), it is also a declaration of heavenly perfection. In heaven God will meet every human need as it arises. There will be no need for men to work and save, etc. So while Jesus was on earth he miraculously provided for the hungry (Matt. 14:13-21; 15:32-39), healing for the sick, etc. In him the kingdom of God was present. Therefore, his disciples need not plan for present or future needs but were to sell all and give to the poor, Thus, Christ's admonitions (Luke 12:33 and 14:33) were at once situational and ideal.
These admonitions were in the minds of the apostles and early converts when they sold "their property and possessions" and shared "them with all, as anyone might have need" (Acts 2:45).
Also note Acts 4:34-35: "[F]or there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them, and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet; and they would be distributed to each, as they had need."
After all, was it not what Jesus commanded as an ideal and did he not promise to take care of them (Matt. 6:19-34)? (Cf. Luke 12:22-34.) Because total liquidation of one's resources served to indicate one's total dependence on God, it also served to express godliness. Thus, Barnabas is expressly marked by this act as a godly man (Acts 4:36-37). Ananias and Sapphira attempted to gain the esteem of the brotherhood by pledging all their earthly goods but, being too attached to money, were unable to relinquish the proceeds from the sale when the time came to do so (Acts 5:1-11).
The events of Acts 2-5 indicate that liquidating one's assets was not mandatory (cf. Acts 5:4). Yet it was practiced and was viewed as a desirable and ideal act of Christian godliness. This is consistent with the practice of Christ's followers during his earthly ministry. Selling everything and giving the proceeds to the poor or leaving home and employment was the practice of only a few (Jesus, the twelve, the seventy—temporarily). After Christ arose from the dead in the first flush of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, perhaps expecting the soon return of Christ to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), and stimulated by the presence of thousands of new converts who had come to Jerusalem prepared for only a short stay, the early church literally practiced what Jesus had commanded. Even then, however, this act of faith was not mandatory for Christian communion.
Why should not the church today recommend this approach to benevolent or diaconal giving? First, we recognize the difference between Jesus' hyperbolic forceful commands and the voluntary practice of his followers and of the early church. This difference tells us that the apostles did not take such an act as mandatory. Second, it is not recommended (even in many emergency situations) because it worked financial havoc an the early church by making the Jerusalem church overly dependent on the Gentile church (cf. Rom. 15:26-27, etc.)—and the church should take every opportunity possible to keep its membership employed (2 Thess. 3:6). Crises such as the famine found the brethren in Jerusalem with no financial reserves when it struck. Third, 1 Corinthians 16:2 expressly commands Christians regarding the anticipated emergency in Jerusalem: "On the first day of the week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper." This is not the same principle commanded by Jesus and practiced in Jerusalem, but marks a different stage in revelation. Fourth, in 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul encourages the Corinthian church to "freely supply the needs of the saints" (in Jerusalem; 9:12) and yet neither repeats Jesus' statements nor offers the example of the Jerusalem church as a model of Christian benevolence. There is not, therefore, in this later directive any incipient Christian and ecclesiastical socialism. Christians are to give as freely as they can in view of the blessings of God upon them. Fifth, Jesus himself instructed his disciples to change their lifestyle after his departure (Luke 22:35-36).
One might remonstrate that the Jerusalem situation was a unique emergency situation and required special emergency action. But does this not ignore the evident similarity between their action and Jesus' statements? We think it does. Further, what intelligent contemporary Christian can deny that across the world Christian brothers are facing emergencies threatening and often taking their lives? If emergency need triggers liquidation, the church should be preaching liquidation. But in Jerusalem at least two elements were at work: Jesus' teachings and the situation then.
Others might object that this exegesis accuses the church of being unwise. First, there is no reason inherently to withdraw from that conclusion. The church has often been unwise wrongly applying what divine revelation stipulates. This lack of wisdom is evident in the early church; e.g., when they congregated in Jerusalem, they were propelled into the missionary mandate (Acts 1:8) by persecution (8:1-4), and when they showed such great hesitation to preach to Gentiles and acknowledge them as brothers (10:44-45; 11:2-18). Second, it is by no means granted that this exegesis is accusing the early church, above all, of acting unwisely. The twelve apostles when they followed Jesus did so wisely under the circumstance of his divine presence. They were only practicing what he commanded them. After the resurrection not only the apostles but many other believers pursued the same lifestyle. Later revelation (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8-9) advanced their understanding. What they did at first was a temporary measure connected with the physical presence of Christ. Permanent measures were structured differently.
We suggest, therefore, that Jesus' instruction to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor was not mere hyperbole but an indication of the lifestyle all believers would practice in heaven. That is, they would live with no need to provide for themselves; each would be fully and divinely supplied as his need arose. Furthermore, it was an indication of the lifestyle disciples were to pursue while Jesus was here on earth—a period of time especially recognizing the presence of Jubilee (the acceptable year of the Lord; Luke 4:18-19), the introduction of Eden perfected. This experience of Jubilee (Eden) was less than that which will be experienced in heaven inasmuch as in heaven all the needs of all God's people will be met, whereas while he was on earth Jesus did not provide food, clothing, freedom from death and sin, etc., for all his followers all of the time. On the other hand, this experience was more than the condition persisting between Jesus ascension and return inasmuch as this interim period sees no miraculous provision of physical-financial needs and the absence of Jesus' physical presence. Inasmuch, however, as we enter into salvation, we enter into Christ's eternal perfect Jubilee. Only in heaven will we experience this Jubilee completely.
(2) New Testament Admonitions. One of the issues any treatment of diaconal giving should face is the fact that most New Testament admonitions to give monetarily relate to diaconal giving. Several points ought to be noted here. The New Testament being written against the background of the Old Testament as the inspired and received Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16) presupposes and at points directly refers to the Old Testament tithing system with regard to the Christian pattern of giving to the church. Therefore, diaconal giving relating to extraordinary conditions summons forth special pleas to give. These extraordinary conditions persisted in Jerusalem after Pentecost and were made more pressing by the oncoming famine. Therefore, there are repeated pleas in the New Testament to help the saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9, esp. verses 8:4 and 9:1; Acts 11:29). These pleas and others like them (1 John 3:17) are elicited by pressing needs among the brotherhood. Not to meet such needs is to defy the essence of the faith (1 John 3:17). The Edenic ideal, that no one properly related to God should lack the essentials of life, was a very important underlying principle in this mandate to meet the needs of the brothers (2 Cor. 8:13-14). Therefore, we conclude that the relative absence of admonition to give to the on-going ministry of the church is due to the assumption that this was the responsibility of the church membership and to their practice of supporting the church, which practice was carried over with them from Judaism into Christianity (1 Cor. 9). Thus, there was only need to mention special causes (diaconal causes) so that the saints could meet them.
c. Long-term Aid
Now we come to the matter of long-term aid. In non-emergency situations that persisted for an extended period and were extremely trying, benevolence was covenantal benevolence as we see, e.g., in 1 Timothy 5:9-16. Only widows who were believers were to be aided. Moreover, Christian widows were to be aided only if they were exemplary, etc. Those who could work should work (in terms of the New Testament society this meant remarriage). Those who were not exemplary were not to be supported despite obvious need. Some Christians might urge that this passage speaks of an office of "widow" rather than a class of recipients of support. But it appears that an office is not in view here inasmuch as Paul says that any widow who can be supported by someone else ought not be enrolled. Furthermore, Acts 6 probably sets forth the background and historical precedent of this passage, and the widows in view in Acts 6 formed no office. On the other hand those who were supported by the church seemed to have rendered certain services in return. (Many have suggested that 1 Timothy 3:11 has to do with non-ordained women servants in the church.) Hence, covenantal blessings (benevolences) were tied to covenantal obedience.
Our point is further strengthened by 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. This passage is especially interesting since it specifically mentions "eating." Under what conditions should the church feed the hungry? Paul offers his own actions as a model (verse 9). He did not "eat anyone's bread without paying for it" (verse 8). The payment was in terms of money he earned with his own hands. As we suggested above, widows who were supported by the church to work for their food, i.e., to serve the church, That work may be either work to earn money or something else that could be exchanged for food, or it may be service to the church in exchange for food. If they are able but unwilling to work they are not to be fed (verse 10). Since the entire admonition deals with treating the believers leading undisciplined lives, it says nothing about individuals unable to work. 1 Timothy 5:9-16 teaches what this passage suggests—that those unable to work must be faithful to the Lord if they are to be fed. Anyone unwilling to receive this instruction is not to be fed ("do not associate with him"; verse 14). It is noteworthy that "doing good" or providing food for the hungry is so closely tied to obedience to God's covenantal commandments and lifestyle (yes. 13-15; cf. Tit. 3:14).
These two passages (1 Tim. 5:9-16, 2 Thess. 3:6-15) underline what was suggested in the Old Testament: recipients of benevolence should be responsible individuals.
d. Regular Giving
Benevolent giving involves giving more than money and goods. It involves giving time and talents. The New Testament is especially clear that an attitude of self-sacrifice and love should constantly be extended to all men (Matt. 5:38-48; Luke 10:27-37; Gal. 6:10) just as Moses commanded (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 10:19). When giving money the rule seems to be that responsible giving should be extended only to responsible receivers. To be sure there are cases where one cannot discern if the receiver is responsible (Luke 10:27 ff.), but this is a special case. It can hardly be argued that Christians should give the Lard's money to someone who would squander it away gambling, etc. Responsible giving, therefore, might involve giving financial counsel and seeing that it is followed as a condition of receiving funds, getting someone a job, or even withholding funds from someone who has proven himself to be irresponsible and shows no evidence of changing.
In conclusion we affirm that the New Testament patterns of giving money and goods recall those of the Old Testament and that, therefore, the proportion of benevolent giving of monies and goods from one's overall income under ordinary circumstances was not very large. Neither Testament proposes a kind of sanctified socialism either in practice or principle. Therefore, there is no basis for making believers feel as though they are not truly faithful unless they lower their standard of living, i.e., assuming they are seeing to regular and emergency needs in a way that is consistent with God's covenant. The tithe was an instrument of God's mercy whereby people could judge that they had met their obligation. The giving of alms (e.g., gleanings and the third tithe) was not burdensome. Primarily, benevolence giving was in keeping with the rest of the priorities set forth by God.
e. Priority Giving
Determining how much money, goods, talents, etc., one should expend in diaconal work is not an easy task. The Old Testament pattern gives one some idea of what proportion should be allocated. Although proportionately diaconal giving was a relatively small part of the overall income of the family or the nation as a whole, yet the total giving amounted to a great deal—if each one obeyed the Lord. God spread the burden over the total population and did not single out any particular level of society to bear more of the financial load. On the other hand, special provisions for the poor were to be made by the rich (Job 29:12; Prov. 22:9). The New Testament adds its voice to this pies to the rich to help the poor and needy (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Special emergency needs, however, summoned special sacrificial giving (2 Cor. 8-9).
As a rule, the biblical design for giving to the poor and needy is not structured to jeopardize other important divine assignments. In the Old Testament these assignments included the support of the on-going ministry of the church and of the family. In the New Testament there is a clear emphasis placed on the Great Commission, i.e., spreading the gospel and instructing the covenantal (baptized) members (Matt. 28:18-20). Furthermore, there is an implied and sustained (from the Old Testament) emphasis on the family. These two priority items (and there may be others) entail a great many particular tasks involving the expenditure of money: e.g., foreign missions, home missions, Christian publication and education, Christian day schools, colleges, and seminaries, establishing and maintaining a home, etc. We may disagree as to how these particular tasks should be ranked in importance (which should we do first?), how large a portion of our resources they should receive, and in some cases, if they are even necessary (e.g., Christian day schools, church buildings); but many of us view them as legitimate tasks and even priority tasks within the Christian community.
Many of these same tasks were pursued by the early church and/or suggested by biblical revelation seemingly without conflicting with the diaconal task. None of the tasks became the exclusive task as could happen, e.g., with foreign missions. They were all (including the diaconal task) balanced together. God's people were encouraged to give of their resources regularly, proportionately, joyfully, with thanksgiving (especially in the case of pressing needs), and sacrificially. Church tasks (including the diakonia) received priority ranking in accordance with the decisions of church rulers (Heb. 13:17).
The Bible does not teach that being financially rich is evil (Deut. 8:8; 1 Chron. 29:12). Evil may be seen in ungodly ways of procuring wealth (Luke 19:8), or in ungodly attitudes toward wealth and its use (Luke 12:15; 1 Tim. 6:10). To be rich is a blessing from God and places upon one great responsibility to use wealth properly and wisely as God's steward. Christian giving should not be understood in such a way as to remove automatically and implicitly the possibility of procuring and enjoying financial wealth. Nor should it be designed so as to remove the wealth—provided one is giving proportionately, sacrificially, etc. What is true of Christian giving in general should be true of diaconal giving in particular.
These observations serve to underline the difficulty of assigning priorities within the family budget and church budget. As is evident there are many variables. It has been observed that American Christians have generously funded church tasks, including the diaconal task. Yet church leaders have noted that materialism and ungodly hoarding of wealth, including tithes and alms, is for too common among us. We all need to examine our patterns of giving in the light of biblical instruction to see if we are being faithful stewards.
Some emergencies are of such magnitude that they should become the first priority and, therefore, receive the church's fullest attention and financial assistance.
E. For Whom Shall We Do It?
1. For Church Members
No one would deny that the Bible emphasizes that covenantal members are proper objects of diaconal concern. This arises from the basic nature of the origin and solution of human need. Human need finds its provision in God. God's provision is a constant and progressive realization of Eden restored. Thus, those who are in his kingdom enjoy the benefits/provisions of that kingdom. That kingdom is structured by the covenant which programs the relationship of its members to God and to one another. The Old Testament pattern evidences that providing for covenantal members was a duty of the kingdom citizenry who lived under the covenant. Therefore, to be in God's kingdom under the covenant is to be responsible to provide for one's fellow-citizens' needs. This is why providing for these needs figures in the very nature of one's faith (1 John 3:17) and in the final judgment (Matt. 25:31-46). Faith without works is dead (James 2:17) or, in diaconal terms, faith without caring for the poor and needy among the brotherhood is dead faith.
In the Bible true belief entails responsible church membership. Hence, in the Old Testament and New Testament covenantal disobedience may result in being excommunicated (e.g., Lev. 17:10; 20:3, 4). Excommunciation separates one from the blessings of the covenant (from kingdom blessings and diaconal blessings) (2 Thess. 3:6).
Responsible church memberships therefore, stands as a test in many situations as to whether or not one receives aid. This too may be applied to every one who calls himself a Christian. In a day when sin so divides the church it is not always easy to determine if a confessing Christian does belong to the (true) church or if he is a responsible member of the church. Those who do not belong to the church forfeit the privileges of covenantal benevolence. In heaven, the final Edenic state, where covenantal benevolence finds its perfection, only citizens of that blessed kingdom enjoy the privileges of the kingdom. There is no nature-grace dichotomy here. Today, the church, God's kingdom on earth, is the earthly organization by which the spiritual organism is to find expression. So, covenantal (diaconal) blessings are one's within the church.
But which particular churches are the true churches? First, the tests of the true church are: (1) preaching the gospel, (2) administering proper discipline, and (3) properly observing the sacraments. Those groups that fail to meet these tests are no churches at all (biblically speaking) and their members, being outside the church, are outside the covenantal membership. Second, the question of whom we shall aid diaconally parallels the question of whom we shall help establish mission churches. There is a sense in which we should aid anyone preaching the gospel. Yet we correctly send missionary offerings to our own missionaries. This is not to say we never help any others. It is just that in view of our limited funds we, ordinarily, and as a matter of priority, aid those missionaries whom we deem most likely (because they are under our discipline) to best spread the gospel. In a parallel manner we should aid diaconally (ordinarily) those who are under our discipline. Aid to other confessing Christians hinges upon our estimation of the discipline under which they live. The closer that discipline to ours, the more responsible we are to help them.
Emergencies, of course, cast a new light on all this. It is difficult to lay down specific rules. So in general, individuals and churches must determine their response to emergencies by their estimation of the nature of the emergency, the state of their own ability to extend aid, and how they are meeting other priorities.
2. The Non-churched
There have arisen at least four responses to the question, "What is the church's diaconal responsibility to the non-churched?" First, there are those who agree that individual Christians and groups of individuals should do what they can to alleviate mankind's needs but that the diaconal institution is an in-house organ designed to help only church members (particular benevolence). Second, same would see a parallel between what the individual may do toward the non-churched and what the body of Christ (church) should. They would stress that giving aid to church members has the priority and that aid is to be given primarily to church members (covenantal or priority benevolence); the dimensions of the Great Commission set the dimensions of diakonia option. Third, there are those who urge that aid should be given first to church members but that aiding the non-churched should occupy a major portion of the church's time and efforts just as preaching the gospel does; the dimensions of the Great Commission determine the dimensions of diakonia obligation. Those holding this position would insist that such aid always be accompanied with a clear verbal gospel witness (general or universal benevolence). Fourth, some urge upon the church the responsibility to aid the non-churched, the whole world, even if it is not possible to do so with a clear verbal gospel witness (indiscriminate benevolence). We hold the second (priority benevolence) to be taught in Scripture.
a. Why should one reject the first position (particular benevolence)? Adherents of this position have many New Testament passages to which they can point for support. Especially prominent are (1) Jesus' statements concerning diakonia and the judgment which pointedly seem to limit responsibility to "the brothers," i.e., to fellow Christians (Matt. 25:31-46); (2) the practice of the early church where so many admonitions expressly designate diaconal offerings to be for the saints (e.g., Rom. 15:26); (3) the New Testament teaching that only exemplary Christians receive church aid (1 Tim. 5:5; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15); and (4) the overall theological significance of diakonia Edenic, heavenly, covenantal, ecclesiastical blessing (see above, section I). The weakness of this position is that, first, it runs contrary to the command of God. The Old Testament society as a society was commanded to aid the un-churched, the non-covenantal member (Deut. 16:20; 10:17-19). Second, it does not recognize the practice of Jesus who extended diakonia aid to Greeks and barbarians (Mark 7:26; Matt. 8:28-34). Third, it does not properly consider the relationship between the actions of Jesus and the actions of the body of Christ. In the Old Testament the individual's diakonia relationship to the ungodly found its corporate expression in society, and society's diakonia relationship to the ungodly found its particularization in the individual. There is no clean line between individual and corporate responsibility; e.g., in leaving the gleanings, in the third tithe, etc. Finally, this view insists that one understand Galatians 6:10 in a way inconsistent with the three previously stated theses.
b. Why would one reject the fourth position (indiscriminate benevolence)? This position inadequately accounts for the priority of the Great Commission as the task of the church. (1) The Great Commission is accomplished by pursuing the practices of Jesus. Primarily, he came to teach or preach the kingdom of God (Mark 1:38). Benevolent or diaconal acts were always part of that preaching. When people began to focus exclusively on the diakonia, be left them (Mark 1:37-38). The focus of every diaconal act done by Jesus was to bring men to repentance (Matt. 11:23). Gospel proclamation and diakonia are interrelated in such a way that where there is no opportunity to gain a hearing for the gospel, diakonia is withheld. (2) The Great Commission is pursued by following the instructions and imitating the practices of the apostles and early church. The New Testament letters and epistles are permeated with evangelistic and intrachurch themes. The contact with the world is seen in terms of their relationship to the gospel proclamation. (3) The New Testament letters and epistles give only slight mention to extending diakonia to the unchurched (Gal. 6:10). (4) Finally (although much more could be added), this view runs counter to the overall purpose and procedures of God, viz., the destruction of the devil and the curse (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 22:3) and the restoration and perfection of Eden (Rev. 22:1-5).
c. Why would one reject the third position (general or universal benevolence)? (1) First, there is much to attract one to this position since it retains the biblical necessity and priority of gospel preaching and seems to suit well "love your neighbor as yourself." This position views the parable of the good Samaritan (see above) not as a corrective of Judaistic distortions of Old Testament diakonia but as a correction of the Old Testament. The Old Testament pious were to extend diakonia to anyone they met. There were two tests for them: physical proximity and an individual's need. This view is arguing that every opportunity to help anyone in need carries with it a responsibility to meet that need. Therefore, need plus opportunity, in general, are the new standards. (2) This third position may also argue that preaching the gospel and diakonia are parallel and mutually interrelated so that wherever there is the preaching of the gospel there should be diakonia. In other words, diakonia should be extended to whomever we preach the gospel with the same abundant generosity. Therefore, it is contended that just as preaching was extended to all the world after the resurrection so diakonia was extended to all the world. They are parallel responsibilities. Thus in Galatians 6:10 the command to do good to all men is understood to set forth the general responsibility of the church while "especially the household of faith" is held to mean: first take care of the church's needs. So the church is responsible to help all the world to the degree we know about the needs and have funds to meet them. (3) Third, same argue that diakonia should be modeled after God's common grace. Just as God in common grace brings blessings upon all men so through the church's diaconal ministry he designs to bring diaconal blessings upon all men. Thus, the church should do good to all men but especially (first) to the household of faith.
Those who reject this view point out: (1) Does the parable of the good Samaritan set forth a new standard for benevolence? Do we now look to opportunity in general (e.g., any knowledge of human need) rather than helping the ungodly with whom we come into direct contact (proximity)? As we argued above it is not necessary to see in this parable a new rule since the parable conforms entirely with Old Testament teaching. There is nothing in the context of Jesus' teaching or in the parable itself that requires seeing such a shift in principle. On the contrary, the lawyer specifically cites Leviticus 19:18 in reply to Jesus' question and Jesus tells him that he has given a correct answer. This parable is presented by Jesus as an exposition of Leviticus 19:18. Then, too, Jesus practiced what the Old Testament teaches, that diakonia should be given primarily to covenant members, primarily to those in one's proximity, and even to non-covenant members in one's immediate presence (Matt. 15:21-28; cf. Mark 7:24-30). Jesus did not extend diakonia to the whole world. Indeed, he did not extend it to all Israel (the lost sheep to whom he had been sent; Matt. 15:24; cf. Luke 4:16-27). The Jews in Rome, Alexandria, not being where he was, received no diakonia from him. This was in spite of the fact that he, being omniscient, knew of every need of every man in the world. Surely there were Jews in Egypt or Italy who were hungry or suffering from serious illness. He had the knowledge of those pressing needs but he did not meet them. He was also omnipotent and, therefore, had all the necessary resources to meet those needs were he inclined to do so.
But Jesus did not practice universal benevolence toward the Jews. His message went out to all Judaism because he preached to the pilgrims at the annual feasts (who took that message home with them); but his miracles (diakonia) only went where be went. If this parable teaches that diakonia is to be extended to all men about whose needs we know then Jesus taught what he did not do (cf. esp. Luke 4:23-27). Finally, he taught what the early church did not do. It is proper to assume that unless we are told otherwise the early church did what the Old Testament teaches and what Jesus did. There is no evidence in the biblical record dealing with the post-resurrection period stating that the church helped any unbelievers except those with whom they came into direct contact. Even then this aid was in the form of miracle. Non-miraculous aid was extended to saints only so far as what is recorded in Scripture. Were it not for Galatians 6:10 there would be little to indicate that the early church in conformity to the Old Testament and the practice of Jesus extended some diakonia to non-covenant members.
(2) Does the dimension of the Great Commission determine the dimension of benevolence? Those who answer negatively may offer the following rejoinders: (a) First, diakonia in the Old Testament is part of the entire socio-economic structure; it is part of the cultural mandate. As such it was the task of, and was administered by, society as such and/or by the state. It is altogether proper for society as a whole or for the state (and therefore, for individual Christians acting in such capacities) to care diaconally for the citizens of the state. Perhaps the issue would be more clearly drawn if we were to talk about restructuring the state or the system that produces oppression and poverty. After all, Old Testament law includes a governmental structure intended to produce peace and prosperity. Is it the task of the church's diaconate to seek to restructure society, government, etc. (if necessary by forcing everyone to conform to Christian standards)? If this was the task of the church, why did Jesus not set it more clearly before us either by his own example or by explicit instruction? Why did not Paul and others in the early church pursue this task? It is not the job of the church to restructure the state (although it is the job of individual Christians acting as citizens) to provide diakonia for all its citizenry. To propose that the church is responsible for the whole world is to replace the state with the church.
(b) Second, the New Testament era as an initiatory period concerned itself primarily with initiating the kingdom of Christ, and focused an the evangelistic task and theology with brief (albeit highly instructive) flashes and indirect references to the cultural mandate. This is why the church must turn to the Old Testament for such things as instruction concerning Christian day schools, the definition of adultery and murder, and the basis for philosophical principles. Indeed, does not Paul mean to say that it is the Old Testament that Is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteous living (2 Tim. 3:16)? The absence (or near absence) of New Testament discussion of such cultural-mandate matters suggests that the evangelistic task was the cutting edge of the New Testament mandate, a task that carried in its wake the cultural mandate but that was not mixed or confused with it.
(c) Certainly the Great Commission itself as enunciated by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 joins together baptism (or inducting one into the covenantal community) and the cultural mandate (teaching everything Jesus had commanded). Therefore, the church of Jesus seeks both to evangelize and pursue the cultural mandate. But we must realize that, in dealing with the world (non-covenantal people) evangelism is the cutting edge insofar as one cannot teach people before they become disciples. (It does appear to be true that technically and officially one became a disciple of John the Baptist and of Jesus when one was baptized. Nonetheless, the commitment to become a disciple, i.e., the commitment that makes one a disciple, preceded baptism. In other words, being a disciple involves both i) heart commitment and ii) an official act and recognition.) The Christian community must live as Christ's kingdom, or the kingdom of God, as a witness to the world. Within that community biblical principles of diakonia must be applied as a witness, but there is no ground for separating one aspect of the cultural mandate (diakonia or covenantal blessing) and putting it on an equal footing with evangelism, as though it too were the cutting edge (or part of the cutting edge) of the church's relationship to the world. This is especially evident in view of Jesus' own approach to the covenantal community in whose midst he ministered.
(d) Jesus' preaching and his extending diakonia were not parallel ministries. Since he ministered almost exclusively among the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" be brought them diakonia in fulfillment of the legal (Deut. 7:12-16) and prophetic message (Isa. 61:1-3). Yet even within that covenant community diakonia was tied to obedience so that those who rejected his message forfeited the outpouring of covenantal blessings (Luke 4:23-27; Mark 1:37-38; 6:1-6). For Jesus diakonia was the blessing of the presence of the realized kingdom among the covenantal community. Rejection of the message was a rejection of diakonia. Again, let us note that although he sometimes initiated the extension of aid yet often the one in need had to ask and even beg for his help. This was not true with regard to his teaching which he extended even when it was rejected; he taught the Pharisees even though they rejected him. Therefore, his preaching and diakonia ministries were not parallel ministries. In general, preaching pointed the way into the kingdom or new covenant and diakonia was a result of being in the kingdom or being in direct contact with it. It is the difference between pointing someone to a door into a room and someone being in the room itself.
(e) Jesus, Paul, and others did so little to restructure human non-Christian society that modern readers informed by some of the implications of the cultural mandate are perplexed (e.g., why did not Paul command Philemon to free Onesimus?). Certainly they did not use diakonia as an evangelistic tool; i.e., they did not go about relieving the sick, etc., using (at their will) their miraculous powers to get people interested in hearing the gospel. If it is true that diakonia is to be used as evangelism was, viz., indiscriminately or universally toward all men, why did not Jesus, Paul, and others so use it?
(f) Paralleling the dimension of declaring the gospel and extending diakonia offers a false nature-grace dichotomy. The overall message of the Bible has to do with the creation, man's fall, and the redemption. That redemption, as we saw above, embraces nature and grace. The declaration of redemption does not automatically place the recipient in the state of redemption. It is precisely the state of redemption to which diakonia belongs. Diakonia is the temporal experience of the eternal restoration and perfection of Eden (Rev. 22:1-5). Therefore, to parallel the declaration of the gospel and the giving of diakonia is to take diakonia out of the realm of salvation and put it into the realm of declaration. This is as wrong as saying that the mere declaration of the gospel automatically grants forgiveness of sin apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
(3) Does common grace determine the dimension of diakonia? This is not a very good argument for this third position since it removes the necessity of a clear verbal gospel witness accompanying the extension of diakonia. In his common grace God gives rain, life, etc., to all men indiscriminately. Although those acts of goodness call all men to repentance they are not joined with a clear verbal gospel witness. To practice diakonia with a common-grace pattern in mind would mean that the church takes offerings and distributes them without even telling the recipients that these gifts came in the name of the Lord. It would mean loading up trucks of food and dumping the food out of the back of the truck and letting the very giving attest to the gospel. Second, this argument ignores that in the Old Testament and in the life of Jesus and the early church diakonia was covenantally contextualized, structured, and disciplined (ordinarily)—in short, it was done in the realm of special grace. Thus, this argument offers us a false nature-grace dichotomy by which one may enjoy the blessings of the covenant without being under or obedient to the covenant. This argument ignores the Eden-restored theme of Scripture as it relates to diakonia, the practice and command of God in the Old Testament, the practice and command of Jesus, and the practice of the early church.
d. Why would one accept the stance that diakonia is to be given first and primarily to covenantal members?
(1) First, let us note that throughout the Scripture God the Great Deacon (cf. Deut. 10:37-18; Prov. 22:22, 23), who has at his command infinite resources and who sees the material-social needs of mankind batter than we do by means of modern technology, not only sent disasters but permitted poverty, etc., both within and without the covenantal community. The Edenic state wherein poverty, etc., did not exist was not restored among men, except by way of covenantal blessings, programs (Deut. 10:10; 15:7-11; 24:14-15; 14:28-29), and promises (e.g., Isa. 11:4). In other words, God's procedure for dealing with material-social poverty and/or oppression was his covenantal program. (If "kingdom" identifies God's people on earth as organized into a kingdom [cf. Deut. 19:5-6, where for the first time Israel is recognized to be a nation] then "covenant" preceded "kingdom" and therefore, since God's program to care for the poor and need [and oppressed] preceded Moses, biblical diakonia is properly called covenantal diakonia or benevolence.) Under that program the poor and oppressed were to be relieved, but that relief was extended only to (1) those who were covenantal members (diaconal relief was covenantally contextualized; cf. Isa. 14:32; 58:1-9; 3:13-15) and (2) those who lived among or came into physical contact with a covenantal community or member. Hence, in the Old Testament there is no responsibility upon God's covenant people to relieve the poverty, etc., or the dwellers in Egypt, Babylon, China, etc. God could have provided the awareness of such needs, resources to relieve them, and a mandate and program for relieving them—but he did not. Therefore, Scripture teaches that God's diaconal ministries are covenantally contextualized—it was a covenantal program.
Furthermore, the words for poor and needy sustain a constant relationship to the idea "humble" and, therefore, "godly." This is no accident of semantics. Scripture teaches that although the ultimate cause of poverty, social oppression, etc., is God (cf. Prov. 16:4; Isa. 45:7), its immediate cause is man's covenantal rebellion, and its purpose is to break man's rebellious pride causing him to bow before God (Deut. 30:1-2; Psalm 83:13-18).
Hence, a rich man is often an arrogant man (i.e., against God), but he may also be a humble or poor man as was King David (Psalms 25:16; 70:5). It is also true, as experience attests all to well, that poverty and social oppression do not always humble a man and lead him to true repentance. In the Old Testament, therefore, the ideal of the covenantal program was the removal of poverty, etc., among covenantal members inasmuch as these were not necessary to true humility and inasmuch as God created man to enjoy paradise and promised its restoration through his grace (Deut. 12:9; 15:4, 50). To that end God repeatedly (and therefore emphatically) and organically joined godliness (heart obedience to the covenant) and material-social blessings (Edenic paradise) (Deut. 11:17; 1 Kings 3:34; etc.). Quite crucial, too, is the recognition that the "poor will always be with you" (Deut. 15:11; Matt. 26:11; cf. Deut. 15:11. "For the poor will never cease to be in the land."); i.e., they will never achieve true humility (poverty) so as to practice perfect obedience and usher in Edenic paradise until the eschaton. At that time God will regenerate them cleansing them from all uncleanness, thus bringing them into perfect obedience which, in turn, will result in such an outpouring of divine blessings that all hunger and poverty will cease from their midst (Ezek. 36:25-30; Jer. 31:33-34; Ezek. 36:35).
The Messiah will relieve the needs of all the poor and needy. His will be a kingdom for the oppressed, a gospel for the poor, an eternal universal eschatological kingdom (Isa. 11:4-5).
(2) Therefore, material-social poverty and/or oppression was (is) not only result of the curse but also a teaching tool in God's hands. Its regular intention was (is) to produce repentance, and its relief was (is) to result from covenantal obedience (cf. above). Of course, this general principle must be evaluated in view of the message of Job. This book tells us that not all suffering seen in poverty, social oppression, and illness was meant to be such a teaching tool or to produce repentance. (Cf. E. J. Young, Introduction to the Old Testament [London: Tyndale Press, 1964], pp. 330-331.)
The alien enjoyed such relief temporarily (though he remained an alien and was susceptible to interest on loans [Deut. 23:20], slavery [Lev. 25:44-46], etc.) as long as he remained among the covenantal community. Absence from the community meant forfeiture of covenantal blessings. The covenantal community state of blessings constituted (1) a declaration to non-covenantal communities that their sinful rebellion lay at the root of their "misery" and (2) an announcement of the goodness of God and the joy of being restored to fellowship with him.
Christ's public ministry and teaching sustained the Old Testament emphasis as to the relationship between the relief of the poor and needy and covenant participation. In this initial period of realized eschatology (cf. Eph. 1:3) there was much emphasis on the "poor." His was a kingdom for the poor, the sick, etc., and therefore, a gospel to and for the poor (Luke 4:18-19; Matt. 11:4-5).
Several things should be noted here. First, Christ like God (in the Old Testament; since Christ was and is God) had at his disposal all power and knowledge. He both knew the plight of every man and had the resource to relieve every man's need. Yet he did not do so. Secondly, like God's benevolence in the Old Testament, Christ's benevolences were "signs" that he was fulfilling the covenantal (prophetic) promises (Luke 4:16-21). Sometimes benevolence was a means of gaining a hearing, not so much as a way to get on the good side of his audience as a means of announcing to covenantal members that the promise underlying all the old covenant (viz., the reestablishment of Edenic paradise) was now being fulfilled before their eyes. His benevolent work was not a prelude to the coming of paradise (salvation) or an evangelistic tool used to draw attention (sometimes he made no immediate reference to himself or his gospel), but a concrete evidencing that paradise (the kingdom of God) was present. It was to bring men to repentance (Matt. 11:20) to be sure, but these were already covenantal members. This explains why Jesus (1) focused his benevolent work or covenantal members and those (even non-covenantal members) with whom he came into direct contact (Matt. 15:21-28; cf. Mark 7:24-30) and (2) walked away from the needy even though he had sufficient resources to help them (Mark 1:37-38; Luke 4:23-27). Did Jesus lack compassion? Certainly not, even though it looks as though he did. Perhaps many would condemn him since he had the resources to heal, feed, etc., everyone who requested it of him. Yet he walked away. He did so because his activity was conditioned by the divine design for benevolence. Christ's action in passages such as Mark 1:37-38 (cf. Luke 4:23-27) shows that this divine design distinguished between evangelism and benevolence. They ware not on an equal footing nor was benevolence used as a precursor to evangelism.
(3) Finally, it seems as though the rest of the Hew Testament assumes and practices what Jesus had done before them. The crisis in Jerusalem brought on by the famine certainly touched more than covenantal members (now church members), yet the offerings were taken specifically for the "saints in Jerusalem" (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1, 12; Acts 11:28-30). Diakonia toward those needing long-term help was also covenantally contextualized and disciplined as we saw above (cf. the discussion of 1 Tim. 5:9-16 and 2 Thess. 3:6-15).
Galatians 6:10 is an important passage in any discussion of Christian diakonia. That the phrase "do good" refers to benevolence is supported by several other New Testament passages (e.g., 2 Cor. 9:8; Acts 9:36; Rom. 2:5-10; 2 Thess. 3:13). The immediate context also establishes this point (cf. verses 6-9). "Especially" could bear the emphasis it might bear in 1 Tim. 4:10: "God is the Savior of all men, especially of believers." Here it may serve to introduce the definition of "all men"—so that "all men" is understood to mean only "believers." However, in view of the Old Testament teaching regarding the objects of benevolence and the practice of Jesus and the apostles (cf. Acts 3:1-10; 14:8-10; 16:36-18; 39:11-13) we see no compelling reason to understand it this way. We view this passage as an instruction to conceive the objects of benevolence as did the Old Testament, Jesus and the apostles and, therefore, to extend same (although not the primary part or amount of) benevolence to unbelievers and the major amount of benevolence to believers.
F. What about Social Reconstruction?
One noticeably missing refrain in Jesus' ministry was the relief of the socially oppressed (i.e., he did not practice and teach the Old Testament instruction regarding the structure or kind of benevolence to be given; there is no attack on the evils of the Roman government, etc.). Some Christians rightly observe that the Old Testament law structure was designed to relieve social oppression. It was the job of the king (and elders) to see that society obeyed God's law, i.e., to discipline benevolence (Psalm 72:2-3; Prov. 29:14; Deut. 17:18-19).
The messianic king foretold by the prophets was to establish social justice as well as material and spiritual relief (cf. Isa. 61:1-3). In this regard, we should emphasize that Jesus apparently avoided the social and structural implications of that Old Testament perspective except in eschatological references (cf. Matt. 19:28; John 14:l ff.). He pointedly refused to defend the kingdom by an exertion of military might but said that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), In reality, this is not to be understood as a refusal to defend the kingdom, only a refusal to defend it in the terms set dawn in the Old Testament. In this statement Jesus radically redefined the kingdom in terms of a non-political (structural) entity. Surely this clear shift in benevolent social aspects cannot be disregarded in our consideration of how we seek to apply material and social relief, and our definition of the "poor" as objects of benevolence.
Because social equity was "enforced" in the Old Testament earthly kingdom, it is quite important to note the far-reaching implications of Christ's statement: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). He did not and would not force social equity, even though he was the promised king (e.g., Luke 1:68 ff.) with all power at his disposal. He declared freedom for captives and prisoners (Luke 4:18) but did not do away with Roman oppression and rule, slavery, etc. Men were freed within, even though imprisoned physically.
Therefore, blessedness is visiting prisoners and not blowing up prisons (e.g., Matt. 25:36). So with slaves (of. Philemon) and the materially or socially deprived (James 2:2, 5, 6), the Lord instructs us to treat them as equal brothers. Changing their socio-economic position is not mandated as a first priority, although Christians in responsible positions are to work to the end that biblical justice be realized in the world.
Diakonia is the evidence and experience of Eden restored, of the kingdom of God introduced by Jesus Christ. Only in heaven will diakonia be perfected and experienced fully. It is the responsibility of Christians as citizens of the kingdom of God to see that within the covenantal community every need is met. To this end we are to give abundantly and cheerfully to genuine diaconal causes. To ignore this imperative is to deny the very nature of our confession of faith in Christ.
But the generosity of Christians should not end with the household of faith. We should do all we can both individually and corporately to manifest toward all men the abundant blessing of being in God's kingdom. Wherever practicable, wherever we have opportunity and properly balancing our several covenantal responsibilities, diakonia should be manifest upon the world.
Our compassion, therefore, like that of Jesus and the disciples (early church), is to be focused on the covenantal community, but those outside that community in dire need and within the immediate proximity of that community may be temporarily helped (cf. Gal. 6:10; even an animal was to be helped in its time of need, cf. Deut. 22:4). This means that there is a close relationship between those who are being evangelized and those who receive diakonia, but the end of diakonia among both covenantal and non-covenantal people is that they may become self-supporting (i.e., as much as possible aid is temporarily and not permanently dispensed and diaconal programs should be so designed).
It is not entirely accurate to say that the objects of Christian benevolence are all the poor and needy in the world (non-covenantal people), but neither is it accurate to limit benevolence to church members only. We should remember the ultimate cause, immediate cause, and design of human suffering. We should not make a false dichotomy between the spiritual and physical (nature and grace), but seeing material or social deprivation as the least deprivation (does not God allow the righteous to suffer, deeming physical deprivation as no evil to be destroyed immediately? Cf. Job.) and noting that true deprivation is that of the soul, we should focus on relieving that deprivation even as God teaches us by his own actions and command.
The covenantal community is obligated to help covenant members to the limit that one helps one's own natural family members, provided the recipients are faithful. There is no responsibility here to rel
- That the principles stated in section I be adopted as the working principles for the Committee on Diaconal Ministries and this be communicated to that Committee.
- That the definition and elucidation of those principles stated in section II be sent to the Committee on Diaconal Ministries for their information.
- That these actions be communicated to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod and that the report be sent to the RES for its study.
Leonard J. Coppes
- Cf., e.g., John 3:10 where Jesus tells Nicodemus that as a ruler in Israel, one schooled in the Old Testament, he should already understand the gospel message.
- For a confirmation of the lexicographical material, cf. J. Kühlwein, "REA'," Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament, ed. E. Jenni and C. Westermann (München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1976), col. 788.
- W. Hendriksen, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), pp. 592-593.
- Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Times of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), pp. 275-302.
- S. Safrai and M. S. Stern, eds., The Jewish People in the First Century (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), pp. 935-936.
- Hendriksen, The Covenant of Grace (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), p. 52.
- Hendriksen, I-II Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), pp. 167-179.