Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 1

The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 1
The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 2
The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 3
The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 4
The Message of Jesus Has Nothing To Do With Material Poverty - Part 5 

Consider the following quotes from leading Christian leaders and writers. First from Tony Campolo.
The fact is there are 2,000 verses in Scripture that talk about caring for the poor.  And I don’t care what else your into, if you ignore what the Bible is really about, helping poor and oppressed people, you’ve missed the message of Jesus . . . I see you’ve got the white band on Bono, and here is a guy who is a rock singer who has done more to articulate what Christianity is really about than most we preachers.  In fact he says to be Christian is to commit to the poor and oppressed.  The only description that Jesus gives of judgment day is how we treated the poor.  On that day, He’s not going to ask you theology questions . . . Here’s what it’s going to be, 25th chapter of Matthew, “I was hungry, did you feed me?  I was naked, did you clothe me?  I was sick, did you care for me?  I was an alien, did you take me in?  What you’ve failed to do to the least of these, you failed to do unto me because I’m not up in the sky somewhere.  I’m waiting to be loved in people who hurt.  And as you relate to people who hurt, your relating to me.”  There is no Christianity that does not tie us up with the poor and the oppressed of the world. 
Then, from Brian McLaren:
With no apologies to Martin Luther, John Calvin, or modern evangelicalism, Jesus (in Luke 16:19) does not prescribe hell to those who refuse to accept the message of justification by grace through faith, or to those who are predestined for perdition, or to those who don’t express faith in a favored atonement theory by accepting Jesus as their “personal Savior.”  Rather, hell - literal or figurative - is for the rich and comfortable who proceed on their way without concern for their poor neighbor day after day.  As Jesus also makes clear in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), they fail to love their neighbors as themselves and fail to follow “what is written in the Law,” and therefore will not inherit eternal life. -Everything Must Change, 208.
More could be cited, but these will suffice. Christians have often been unnecessarily confused as to what the message of Jesus is. Often it comes down to whether His message was personal or corporate. Was Jesus concerned about the salvation of the sinner or the liberation of the downtrodden from a corrupt society? Both claim they possess the true meaning of "The Kingdom of God."

Obviously such a dichotomy is an oversimplification, but any cursory study of theological liberalism would show a heavy emphasis on social action while their fundamentalists counterparts place their cards on the deck of personal salvation. My concern here and in the posts to follow is to answer the often liberal and secular assertion that Jesus was, almost exclusively, a humanitarian to taught His followers to help the poor.

I am unaware of any passage in the four canonical Gospels where Jesus makes salvation about helping the poor.

Before moving forward, let me state clearly my firm belief in applying doctrinal truths of the gospel to social action. The vertical applies to the horizontal, or, as Jesus stated it, loving God leads naturally to loving one's neighbor. The gospel breaks down the many borders of society like race, gender, nationality, language, and yes, socioeconomics.

In addition, Jesus did mention poverty and the poor throughout His ministry. Jesus grew up, at best, Himself what we would now call today a middle class man. During His ministry He was a King with no home and the Bread of Life without any guarantee of eating on a given day. We should remind ourselves that Judas was the treasure of the Twelve.

My assertion that Jesus never connected the narrow gospel - what the gospel is - to poverty and helping the poor and other social causes, then, is not to argue that such work is unbiblical or wrong. Every Christian should be engaged in gospel ministry that impacts society. However, Jesus' primary mission in life (and death) was not to help the poor financially, but to save the poor spiritual. For if Jesus had come to end poverty or disease or war, He failed miserably.

Moving forward, I will defend this thesis more fully. The above is only an introduction. In future posts, I will interact with a number of commonly cited passages from the Gospels which suggests that the gospel and the Kingdom of God is about poverty and then show how the Evangelists is actually making a very different argument.

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