The Myth of Christian Charity

Many people view charity as something that is not necessary, but shows good character. Dictionaries consider it “benevolent giving”; out of the goodness of your heart.

For Christians this view of charity just isn’t consistent with the history of our faith or the Bible itself.

I recently posted this picture on a social networking site…

Jimmy Carter on tax dollars going to the poor.

Jimmy Carter on tax dollars going to the poor.

The image caused some argument about the role of government in serving the poor, but where I was most disappointed was the attitude of other Christians.

There is no doubt that caring for the poor is a central pillar of Christianity. It is a theme throughout the Old and New Testaments. Jesus sets it as his own mission statement in Luke 4.

The problem I’m finding is that Christians think that the government has no place in legislating care for the poor. Deeming charity a “work” that does not have the power to save souls. They argue that legislated charity sidesteps the point of having a gift given from a gracious heart. That if people begrudgingly give money to serve the poor among us, it will somehow taint the effect.

While I understand the concern… NOTHING could be further from the truth.

Reason being, we don’t understand what charity is.

In the Jewish faith (the Mother religion of Christianity) the closest thing to charity is called TzedakahTzedakah does not mean “benevolent giving” as we have grown accustomed to in the United States; it more closely is related to justice, righteousness, or fairness. Tzedakah means giving the poor what they are owed.

In the Old Testament God commands (legislates) exactly what food is owed to the poor. The “first-fruits” or first part of our harvest (paycheck) are to be offered to God to feed the priests and poor. We are also to leave our fields “ungleaned” or not completely harvested so the poor may search for food there also (giving in excess of our tithe after our own needs are met).

In Micah 7 God speaks of the “Total corruption of the people” who have left no “first-fruit” and have completely “gleaned” their fields. Those people neglected the poor; and what does God say about them..? “Their hands are skilled to do evil; the official and the judge ask for a bribe, and the powerful dictate what they desire; thus they pervert justice.”

When we choose ourselves over serving the poor, we are perverting justice.

The word charity doesn’t even show up until the New Testament. Derived from the Greek word caritas, charity is used to describe God’s character and how we, as humans, manifest those characteristics (most notably in 1 Corinthians 13). Serving the poor is simply one example.

In order to properly execute justice for the poor, we must serve them in the same capacity of God. This requires us to give up EVERYTHING! Only two coins were required from the poor widow, but the rich young man had to sell everything he owned.

When we fail to live up to God’s commands, we force the Lord to use earthly governments in our place. If we really are offended by the U.S. Government giving food, housing, and health care to the poor among us, we can only blame ourselves.

If U.S. Christians simply tithed the recommended 10% we would have an EXTRA $168 billion dollars to serve the poor around the globe. Basic nutrition, water, health care, and education for the world would cost an estimated $28 billion… If the government needs to be involved in feeding and caring for the poor, we as Christians are failing.

Christian charity as benevolent giving is a myth. The true act of charity is enacting justice whether it is by our own free will or through a governmental mandate. Serving the poor is part of God’s character and it should be part of ours as well.

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