Tag Archives: Christian service

Why Christian Charities Reject Atheist Participation

You may have read some recent articles and commentary about what happens when atheists attempt to volunteer for Christian charities or donate money to them. Christian charities are rejecting both the service and the money atheists are prepared to give.  Atheists find this behavior quite weird, and those who pass for journalists in contemporary culture appear to find it equally dismaying. They cannot imagine that it makes any sense to reject money from any source if the intent is to do good. They cannot imagine why an atheist who counsels a pregnant teen not to abort her baby out of respect for life isn’t doing the same thing a Christian is doing in that setting.

These same people are completely baffled when Christian photographers refuse to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony, or when Christian innkeepers refuse to rent a room in a bed and breakfast to a same-sex couple. 

They are baffled, because they do not understand that for Christians, there is no such thing as some aspect of life and work that is not sacred. There is no such thing as a secular element in the life of a Christian. It is a failure to understand this truth that motivates the federal government to claim in court that when someone enters into commerce, he loses all rights to claim a conscience exemption from a law that conflicts with Christian teaching. 

Atheists who want to give money to a Christian charity almost certainly would protest if they thought their money was being used for “proselytizing.” The atheists who speak up in public all express at least mild distress at Christians who cannot keep their religion to themselves. Those who want to participate in Christian charity seem not to recognize that Christians regard every moment as a moment subject to the call of Christ to share the good news. The reason that neither the atheist nor his money is welcome to participate in what Christians regard as service to Christ is that the atheist is not serving Christ and has no good news to share.

An increasingly secular culture in the US has lured even a significant number of Christians into the belief that it doesn’t matter who hands out soup at a soup kitchen or who folds blankets at a homeless shelter. The secular culture sees serving meals and tidying space as secular endeavors. The culture asks, “Who cares?” about the credentials of service not related to “proselytizing.” The culture simultaneously scorns the very act of “proselytizing” associated with helping people in need. Secular thinking is able to classify some acts as “religious” or “spiritual” and some as “secular.” Christians cannot do that.

Christians learn from the example of Christ that life is like a seamless garment. Everything is integrated. In fact, biblical teaching says, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48 ESV) but a deeper translation of the Greek says, “You will be integrated,” or perhaps, “You will be fulfilled.” The usual translation of the statement sounds like a command, but it might better be viewed as a goal, because the verb is in the future tense. This statement of Jesus in his paramount sermon sets a high goal for Christians – don’t even think about separating the sacred from the secular. You are sacred beings, and you cannot live schizophrenic lives with one toe in the church and one in the marketplace. Be like God – one fulfilled and perfectly integrated being.

When we understand what Christ taught, we understand why an atheist cannot do Christian service. A Christian serves soup as part of the good news that God loves the hungry person and provides for him. An atheist serves soup as a good deed that “gives back” to the culture. A Christian folds blankets at the homeless shelter as part of the good news that God loves the homeless and cares for them. An atheist folds blankets as an expression of obligation to the community in order to “give something back.” The two objectives are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, when the recipient of the charity offered by a Christian asks, “Why are you doing this?” a Christian will respond, “Because God loves you and me, and because Christ died for both of us.” An atheist might respond, “I just think everyone should give back.” That is not the good news of Christ. 

As for atheist money, the same standard applies. If an atheist gives money without strings, it might feel good to accept it and use it any way the charity wished. However, there is no guarantee that the atheist or the government or any other non-Christian source of funds will always be silent about the use of the money. The government already asserts guidelines for use of government money in faith-based operations. How can a charity that believes its reason for existence is the good news of Christ operate with integrity and abide by rules that forbid the use of the money in “proselytizing?” To non-Christians, every mention of Christ is “proselytizing” and to tell the truth, to Christians, every mention of Christ is part of telling the good news, so there is no disagreement on that point. Where atheist donors and Christians part company is at the point where atheists or government or anyone else insists that the charity separate secular services from sacred teaching. 

A Christian must be fully integrated, just as God is fully integrated. A Christian is not sometimes sacred and sometimes secular. Christian charities are meant to be full expressions of Christ’s love and grace. They are intended to tell the good news of Christ to everyone at all times. That is why atheists must be rejected whether they try to volunteer or donate money. Christian charities must reject their attempts to participate, but it is to be hoped that the charities find loving ways to share the good news with rejected volunteers and donors as well. A new Christian is as welcome in the service of Christ as one who has served for fifty years.

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A Hymn for Meditation

hymnalJesus Still Lead On

Jesus, still lead on, till our rest be won;
and although the way be cheerless,
we will follow, calm and fearless;
guide us by your hand to the promised land.

If the way be drear, if the foe be near,
let no faithless fears o’ertake us,
let not faith and hope forsake us;
safely past the foe to our home we go.

Jesus, still lead on, till our rest be won;
heav’nly leader, still direct us,
still support, console, protect us,
till we safely stand in the promised land.

        By Nicolas I. von Zinzendorf

  • Paul said that it was a privilege to suffer for Christ. How does the hymnwriter express this thought?
  • Many people express great thanks and praise to God when things go very well for them and they seem to be winning every conflict. What does this hymnwriter say about days when things don’t seem to be going so well?
  • Verse 2 refers to a foe. When the hymnwriter says that we go past this foe safely, what does he mean?
  • It appears from the hymn that the hymnwriter has experienced an assortment of troubles in his commitment to serve Christ. What is the difference in his view of Christ’s presence in this life and Christ’s presence in the next?

How is Christ Served in a State Welfare Check?

Many of my Christian friends think I am a heathen, because I would answer the above question by saying that Christ is not served in a government welfare check. They say that Christ’s purposes are served when Christians convince the government to take care of “the most vulnerable.” I contend that Christ can only be shared by Christians who are baptized into his body, the church, and who are acting and speaking in service to Christ.

Many of my Christian friends believe that Christ is shared when Christians persuade the government to collect money from everyone, including non-believers, and then persuade the government to make grants to Christian ministries who happen to be doing social work the government also wants done. I agree that if the recipient ministry continues to share Christ in the course of performing the work funded by the government grant, then Christ is shared. I part company with them in my conviction that this is not the way Christ intends for us to bring the kingdom of God near to people.

How are we to understand the whole notion of bringing the kingdom of God near? In the gospel of Mark we read that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near you.’” (Mark 1:14-15) The words “the time is fulfilled” obviously express the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. The important words “the kingdom of God has come near you” express what happened because the Holy Spirit fell into Jesus at his baptism. Jesus was fully God and fully man from the moment of conception by the Holy Spirit, but when the Holy Spirit fell into Christ at baptism, it was a picture of what happens to each of us as well. When we receive Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells us, too. Paul wrote about that in his letter to the Corinthian church:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
(
1 Corinthians 3:16)

Paul was saying that every Christian is sacred space and can never be secular, because the Holy Spirit dwells within. When Jesus came near to people, God’s kingdom came near, and the same thing happens when any Christian comes near to someone. Paul reinforced his statement when he said, “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:17) The delivery of a welfare check does not share Christ with anyone. Christ can only be shared by someone in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.

Government social services, therefore, do not represent the work of Christ on earth. They are well-intentioned, and may do a kindness to many people, but they are not the work of Christ on earth. Government is not the agent by which the kingdom of God draws near to people. Government is not the agent God has ordained to perform his ministries to people.

This is the reason I do not advocate for any government social program. Government has its own agenda with regard to social programs. We who serve Christ have not served his purposes if we use government to provide social services. If we want to serve Christ, we must do it ourselves. The government is not going to do it for us.

Paul wrote “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) He wrote further that the government’s big job is to keep good order. That is the same principle embodied in the US Constitution. The God-given role of government is not social service; it is to protect the safety and prosperity of its citizens. The protection of government makes it safe to do the work of social programs, and the protection of citizen prosperity is God’s provision for the means to finance the programs.

Christians are not the only people who have charitable instincts. Because the creation story tells us that we are created in God’s image, it seems reasonable to conclude that he himself implanted these instincts. Those who write about secular thinking explain that kindness and concern for others is one of the qualities of a mature human being. Increasingly, secular voices are heard both in the culture and in the government demand more and more social programs while simultaneously saying that religion must not be expressed in programs funded by the government. When religion is forbidden to be expressed in a program, no Christian testimony can be expressed there. Christians cannot and must not tell themselves that Christ’s purposes are served when the government feeds the hungry.

Christ’s purposes are served when a living temple, a person who is sacred space, draws near and serves someone in the name of Christ. Any human being can be kind to another human being, but only a Christian can bring the kingdom of God near. We are not working for minimum human standards of living; we work for the kingdom of God.

Christians ought to resist the growth of government in the area of social services for several reasons. The first and most important is that the government not only does not serve Christ when it provides social services, but the most common outcome is that govenment programs demean rather than lift up the people who are the beneficiaries. The outcome of government services is usually the opposite of the intention. There is also the fact that government services generally become so enmeshed in regulations and forms and processes that more money is spent in administration costs than in benefits.  Government program administrators are subject to political pressure and political necessities that overpower their commitment to serve the clients. There are numerous reasons that Christians should work to end government involvement in social services. I’m not suggesting any refusal to pay taxes or to engage in civil disobedience. I am suggesting simply the actions any citizen would take to express his opinions and vision for government to his elected representatives. The evidence in American culture is that private organizations in general, and Christian programs in particular, are better stewards of funds and achieve better outcomes than government programs. However, for Christians, the real measure of any activity is whether it draws people near to the kingdom or not.

Christians have a call to help people individually and via well-organized and faithfully-administered programs. Jesus said we should share what God has provided to us and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to follow him and copy his behavior in our behavior. The first thing he did in his ministry was to proclaim that the kingdom of God had drawn near to people. The last thing he did was tell us to go out and take the kingdom of God near to everyone in the world. We can never do this work as part of any government program, and we cannot pretend we are serving God when we accept government funding out of a lack of faith that God will sustain the work he calls us to do. Nothing must trump our call to be little Christs to everyone in the world. We have one job.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:19-20

 

Your All or Your Leftovers?

Today’s readings: Amos 5:6-10     Psalm 90:12-17     Hebrews 4:12-16     Mark 10:17-31 

In today’s gospel, we read the story of the only report of a rejection of Christ’s call to follow him. It is a startling story. A well-bred Jew comes to Jesus seeking the secret of eternal life. Jesus gives it to him, and he rejects it. The secret is to put Christ ahead of possessions. It is another way of saying what he had already told his followers shortly before his transfiguration, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Back then, the image of the follower dragging his cross along encapsulated the message Jesus gives in today’s story when he talks about his followers being comforted by God with blessings to replace the possessions and relationships they lose when they follow him. Today he says that everything they receive in this life comes “with persecutions.”

Today’s text must be very comforting to people who are persecuted when they choose Christ. The words of Jesus let them know that his followers must expect persecution. They need not be surprised when it happens. They can actually count on it. In many cultures new believers seem  quite puzzling to their families. In some cases the families harass or even beat the new Christian, and sometimes they throw him out. In Muslim communities, Christians will often be refused employment. Worse, non-Christian family members may lose work if anyone in the family is a Christian. Sometimes Christians literally lose house and land when the community drives them out or burns down their homes.

People who live in western cultures are accustomed to legal protection for their rights to express their faith. They have trouble identifying with the idea of persecution. Even though the secular culture rejects and even insults people of faith, this behavior hardly rises to a level that could be called persecution. A suburban housewife who receives dismissive smirks when she misses a Sunday morning tennis match because she is going to church may lose a few social invitations, but neither her way of life nor her livelihood is at risk.

Not so in countries like Sri Lanka. According the International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 the US State Department reports that although “the constitution [of Sri Lanka] and other laws and policies protect religious freedom in Sri Lanka and, in practice, the government generally respected religious freedom” there are continuing attacks on Christians in this predominantly Buddhist country. Cultural pressures tend to create situations in which the government either ignores the attacks or prosecutes false allegations without investigation.In a recent Open Doors devotional there was a story about the price of faith and the replacement of property “with persecutions” that is directly parallel to today’s gospel. The story is true, but because of the danger of cultural and perhaps even governmental retribution the names of individuals are fictional.

Arjuna, a young married man with a family, was part of a team of Christians running an orphanage in a rural village of Sri Lanka. One of the girls from the orphanage was sexually abused by a boy in the village. The police investigated and she identified the boy. The police then arrested the boy.

But the villagers rose up-in-arms saying Arjuna sexually assaulted the girl and she just blamed the village boy to protect Arjuna. The villagers found and forced another girl to say she too was assaulted by Arjuna.

Arjuna was ultimately sentenced to fifteen years in jail where he subsequently led a number of other prisoners to Christ.

One of those men who accepted Christ was Menika. After his release from prison, Menika went to seminary and became a church-planting pastor in a small rural town of Sri Lanka.

Arjuna continued in his prison ministry. He led another criminal to Christ who had committed a capital offense and was on death row. His name was Chandra. Before he was put to death, Chandra said to Arjuna, “I’d like to give the deed to my house to someone in ministry…” It just so happened Chandra’s house was in the same small rural town where Menika was beginning to plant a church.

So Chandra gave his house to the “church-planting” former prisoner, Menika, redeemed by God’s grace through Arjuna’s being falsely accused and sent to prison. Amazing grace!

After six and a half years Arjuna was released from prison but because of the false charge against him was unable to work with children. He now has an ongoing ministry in the prisons of Sri Lanka.

In the USA it is hard to imagine that a person might need to give up everything because he chose to serve Christ. Yet if possessions possess the person, they can prevent someone from putting Christ first. The rich man in today’s gospel simply cannot let go of his possessions. He wants eternal life, but not without his possessions in this life. He walks away from Christ’s invitation to be a follower, the only person recorded in the gospels to have rejected that invitation. He turned away to serve his possessions, and many is the person who has done the same thing.

Every Christian must look into his heart and ask if it is Christ on the throne of his heart or just the security of having possessions. Arjuna’s predominantly Buddhistneighbors felt that his faith was a blot on the community, and his work with orphans was a veiled incentive for the orphans to abandon Buddhism and become Christians. When Arjuna was sentenced to prison, he lost all his possessions, and even his life work, because he had chosen to serve Christ. He ultimately experienced some of the gifts Jesus mentioned, but mixed liberally with continued persecution. He had to be willing to let go of everything in order to follow Christ.

This is a challenge for every person who claims to want to follow Christ. Can he possess his possessions loosely so that they do not possess him? Can he submit his possessions to the sovereignty of Christ, put Christ first, let the possessions fall where they will? Must he actually let go of those possessions completely in order to follow Christ? To follow Christ is more than sitting with other Christians every Sunday morning, the secular definition of being religious. When possessions take priority, service to Christ cannot also be first. If possessions come first, then Christ only gets the leftovers  – leftover time, leftover money, leftover love. What are you giving to Christ – your all, or your leftovers?

 

A Hymn for Meditation

O Master, Let Me Walk With You

O Master, let me walk with you
In lowly paths of service true;
Tell me your secret; help me bear
The strain of toil, the fret of care.

Help me the slow of heart to move
By some clear, winning word of love;
Teach me the wayward feet to stay,
And guide them in the homeward way.

Teach me your patience; share with me
A closer, dearer company,
In work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
In trust that triumphs over wrong.

In home that sends a shining ray
Far down the future’s broad’ning way,
In peace that only you can give;
With you, O Master, let me live.

                              Washington Gladden

  • If you were asked to categorize this hymn, what category would you use? What three keywords would you use to find it in a collection if you did not know the name?
  • In your experience of walking with the Master, what secret gives you the strength to persevere when it is hard?
  • Verse 2 expresses great love and concern for people slow to grasp the good news and those who have wandered off the path. What strategy does it recommend to help these people?
  • Why do those who follow our Lord need patience?
  • How does trust triumph over wrong?

 

Describe a situation in which you saw hope in Christ shine light on your personal path.