response to hunger and poverty
Today (November 22) is World Hunger Day, the Assemblies of Gods
concerted response to the plight of malnourished and starving families
around the world. Evangel readers are encouraged to prayerfully
consider how they can support this effort personally or through
their local church. As the following article makes clear, caring
for those in need is a direct outgrowth of personal and communal
Suppose a brother or
sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to
him, Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but
does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James
The Scriptures speak
clearly in this and numerous other places that believers are to
do their best to meet the needs of those who are without the bare
necessities of life. The history of Christianity is indeed a history
of benevolence. Though the church, especially in the United States,
has gone through periods of time when it apparently had little concern
for the needy, visitations of God in historic revivals have served
to turn the community of faith back to this "second great commandment."
Two independent studies
conducted more than 50 years apart sought to determine the kindest
city in America. In 1940, a survey of 43 major American cities found
that Rochester, N.Y., ranked first in altruism. Between 1990 and
1992, a study based at California State University, Fresno, again
targeted Rochester as the U.S. city where the most helpful people
live.1 To what could this remarkable, ongoing
distinction be credited?
In 1831, what many feel
was the greatest revival in U.S. history took place in Rochester.
A revival primarily among the well-to-do, the move of God spawned
what came to be known as "the Great Eight benevolent societies"
and dozens of others. The impact of that revival is felt in Rochester
and the surrounding area to the present day.
A keystone of the movement
known as the Second Great Awakening, the Rochester revival was led
by Charles G. Finney, the most significant evangelist of the period.
For six months the revival burned, closing taverns and houses of
ill repute, and introducing multitudes to a genuine relationship
with Christ. The converted were largely among the affluent
doctors, lawyers, bankers, judges and businessmen. Finney turned
the resources of the new converts toward benevolent causes, both
official and unofficial; the city even became a stop on the Underground
Railroad, the system that served as an escape route for slaves prior
to the Civil War. One study of the period states, "The most important
factor of this wave of revival was not the number of conversions
it achieved, but the emphasis it placed on the reformation of society
by the Spirit of Christ, operating through the newly regenerate."2
role like the revival itself has largely been forgotten
by most Rochester residents, its influence has clearly been passed
down for generations. The correlation of the nations greatest
revival and most benevolent city is no accident.
The "Prayer Meeting Revival"
called by some the Third Great Awakening that shook
the U.S. in 1857-58, reached the British Isles in 1859. Of this
revival, George E. Morgan wrote in 1908, "The visitation of the
Spirit first taught afresh the lesson of the New Birth; then, living
faith was translated into good works, multiplying on every hand
and producing world-wide results. A host of zealous converts carried
the message of Divine love and practical sympathy into the darkest
abodes of human woe."3 According to Sir
John Kirk, the revival "reached out to body and soul."4
Converts cleaned up slums, founded hospitals, exposed the plight
of those in sweat shops, improved the lot of prisoners and founded
scores of other philanthropic organizations.
D.L. Moody, the most
notable and successful revivalist of the latter half of the 19th
century, himself touched by the Prayer Meeting Revival as a young
man, was responsible for multitudes of benevolent causes that came
to life following his crusades in the United States and Great Britain.
Two major distinctives
of revivals are that they reach out, and they reach down. Jesus
set forth His own mission in Nazareth when He read from Isaiah in
the synagogue: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has
anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim
freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to
release the oppressed" (Luke 4:18). The Christians lifelong
goal of becoming more like Jesus demands that we follow in that
mission. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:5.) In emulating
Him, we are to "consider others better than [ourselves]" and "look
not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others"
Periodically the church
lapses into a social apathy, which has given rise to the dictum,
"They are so heavenly minded, they are of no earthly good." Reactions
to this have frequently driven an artificial wedge between ministry
to body and spirit.
In the early part of
the 20th century, a Baptist minister named Walter Rauschenbusch
reacted to the seeming lack of evangelical commitment to ministry
to the needy. Rauschenbusch, who was born in Rochester, and was
thus impacted by that citys rich history of evangelical benevolence,
became known as "the Father of the Social Gospel in America." The
Social Gospel eventually became a divisive term designating a movement
that worked to improve the social order without emphasizing spiritual
need. It and evangelical Christianity became diametrically opposed.
Evangelicals feared extensive social work would eventually eclipse
the gospel in their denominations as it had in many mainline denominations.
This backlash to the
Social Gospel caused many evangelical churches to focus more on
the spiritual aspects of the gospel, depending on cleaned-up souls
to clean up society automatically. Still, evangelicals and Pentecostals
have been no strangers to meeting the needs of man. During the Great
Depression of the 1930s, for example, Pentecostal pastor/evangelist
Aimee Semple McPherson fed thousands at her church regularly for
a period of years.
Any logic that would
attempt to divide physical and spiritual ministry is flawed. Even
a casual review of the life of Christ reveals His active concern
for the physical needs of people. In fact, this is of such importance
to our Lord that He compared ministry to the poor to ministry to
himself: "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty
and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited
me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked
after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Matthew 25:35,36).
When the perplexed righteous ask when they did these things, He
replies, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers
of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).
Some point to Christs
use of the term "brothers" here as evidence that Christians are
only supposed to care for needy believers. This is a serious error.
After Jesus identified the most important commandment as, "Love
the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and
with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30), He
said the second most important is, "Love your neighbor as yourself"
(Mark 12:31). "There is no commandment greater than these," He said.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus made
it clear that a "neighbor" is anyone in need. Proverbs 19:17 emphasizes
this principle: "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and
he will reward him for what he has done."
The biblical basis for
the Christians ministry to the poor is summarized best in
the verse that Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross in the United
States, counted her favorite: "In everything, do to others what
you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12). These are direct
words of Jesus; we call it the Golden Rule and it is at the heart
of the Christian life.
The church of Jesus Christ
must be concerned both for the physical and the spiritual needs
of mankind. We cannot ignore the worlds hunger. William and
Catherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army, were first and
foremost fervent revivalists. Their early motto was "soap, soup
and salvation." Good works and the gospel must go together. It is
difficult for starving people to hear the sermons of those who care
little or nothing about their physical plight. A genuine revival
will cause the church to reach down to people in physical need.
Its what Jesus would do.
Horn is managing editor of Todays Pentecostal Evangel.
E-mail your comments to email@example.com.
"Our Kindest City" by John S. Tompkins. Readers Digest,
July 1994, pp. 53-56.
2 From Sea to Shining
Sea by Peter Marshall and David Manuel (Grand Rapids: Baker
Book House, 1986), p. 315.
3 Mighty Days of Revival
by George E. Morgan (London: Morgan & Scott Ltd., 1908), p.
4 Ibid., p. 144.