Faith Communities and the Government

President Obama realizes he needs the support of the faith communities if he is to pass major health care reform. This is the gist of an essay published recently in the Washington Examiner,

One thing seems clear to me: the president will continue the Bush policy of using religion to bolster his policies. This includes holding prayer meetings, supporting faith-based initiatives, and seeking the support of leading evangelicals. If you look at American history, you will see that the church bore most of the responsibility for social welfare prior to the 1930s. After the Great Depression, the U.S. government stepped in to relieve the burden. Some argue that this was necessary, that the church was simply too overwhelmed to carry the load any longer. There is some truth in that assertion. But the real problem, it seems to me, is that the church has failed to live up to its calling. Is it really too late for the church to reclaim its earlier social responsibilities? Sadly, the answer is probably yes, unless Christians of all denominations repent of our materialism and misplaced priorities (our giant salaries, lavish sanctuaries, etc.). One often hears that the Bible contains over 2,000 references to the poor. But these references are to the believer’s responsibility, not the government’s. Fidelity to the Scriptures would seem to require evangelicals to expend more effort working to alleviate the grave social needs of our nation by spending less on ourselves. Here’s an essay about one church’s efforts at doing just that.

In my forthcoming book, Christian Archy, I state the issue this way:

It all boils down to priorities. And there is absolutely no reason why our priorities should not change. We must ask ourselves, “How would God have us use the resources He has given us to have the greatest possible impact on the kingdom?” In practical terms, this might mean using the Bible instead of quarterlies in our Sunday School classes. It could mean renting a facility to meet in rather than building an expensive sanctuary. It will certainly mean using all of our resources with a sense of global responsibility. As Paul said, stewardship requires us to ask how we can use the resources God has entrusted to us more equitably (see 2 Cor. 8:13-15). Each of us must examine our lifestyles for wasted resources that could be invested in the kingdom. We must become better stewards of our time, budgets, homes, and physical recourses.

This readjustment process does not mean falling into the trap of legalism. It does not mean establishing additional “programs.” It is the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, who must be at work so that we may see what the church must become as it emerges from its cocoon and into ministry in the world.