Our God-given responsibility
Several countries recently endured a variety of major disasters resulting in heavy losses and extreme need. These times often prompt debate among believers regarding the appropriate response to the poor and suffering, both from governments and the Church.
Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). We must never become so accustomed to the plight of the poor we ignore or even exploit them. Governments, both religious and secular, are not excluded from keeping the needs of the poor in focus.
The duty of government is to make sure the system of laws is fair and equitable. When this system breaks down, the gap inevitably widens between rich and poor. Poverty results more from the failure of governments to follow scriptural principles than from a lack of resources.
The separation of church and state can protect government from undue influence by religion and allows faith groups to operate without undue political intrusion. When we begin to rely on government to do the work of the Church, we open ourselves to a host of problems that thwart God’s ultimate purpose regarding the poor and oppressed.
While some very effective government programs exist, the Church should never resign its God-given responsibilities to secular agencies. Here are several reasons why:
1. Government assistance creates a dependency on an outside force.
When government becomes involved with running the work of the church, imminent danger arises. Recently, “faith-based” assistance from the government has become a hot topic. But we must remember that assistance nearly always comes with strings attached.
We respond to human need in areas of compassion not only because of our concern for the physical needs of the poor, but also because we know their greatest need — salvation through Christ. When a ministry of compassion becomes a separate work from sharing the gospel, its main purpose and emphasis is lost. It risks being viewed as a representative of a government rather than an ambassador of Christ.
2. Assemblies of God World Missions is committed to maintaining a nonpolitical stance.
If a church aligns with a particular government, eventually it will lose credibility.
In Cuba, missionaries took a nonpolitical stance as they worked to establish a national church fellowship. When change in government came, the church was able to continue and even flourish, although the missionaries had to leave. If the church had sided with a specific government or leader, the work in that country likely would have been harmed or even eliminated.
Missionaries go around the world as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, not a political system. The kingdom of God is different from the kingdoms of this world. It cannot be moved by the external affairs of political systems or governments.
3. The requirements of government are exceptionally laborious.
Any type of government aid requires punctilious and exacting reporting. Some parachurch groups estimate that about 20 percent of the funds they receive must be spent to fulfill all the necessary requirements to report on them.
Many of the areas where we conduct compassion ministries lack the equipment and technology needed to fulfill all the government requirements. This opens the door for enemies of the gospel to embarrass not only the church, but also the government providing the money. Such negative attention erases any benefit the aid might bring.
4. The responsibility for meeting the needs of the suffering belongs to the Church.
If the Church had fulfilled its responsibility from the beginning, we would not need government intervention in many aspects of our daily lives. Certainly, we cannot meet all the needs prevalent in today’s world, but anything a church undertakes should be supported by its members. One of the main principles of the indigenous church is to be self-supporting in its outreaches.
Fulfilling our responsibility to meet the needs of the poor applies not only to those serving in other countries, but also to believers in local communities here at home. Government intrusion in the affairs of the Kingdom is contrary to biblical principles and is extremely dangerous in the day in which we live.
5. Government aid is specifically marked as assistance that cannot be used for “proselytization.”
Our primary purpose as missionaries is to share Jesus in everything we do, whether it is a feeding or educational program, medical outreach, or water initiative. Whatever we do must not only minister to the physical needs of people, but also touch their lives spiritually.
Since the government prohibits the use of its funds for religious purposes, accepting its assistance means we cannot legally share in Jesus’ name or implement any type of gospel proclamation. This takes away the whole purpose of what we do.
We go to the far corners of the earth to share Jesus Christ. If we cannot make His name known in our ministry to others, then we have lost our purpose for being.
The Bible makes a case for governments as institutions that develop programs to address the needs of the poor and oppressed. But our source is not a government or the funds at its disposal. God has given us the responsibility to offer people physical help and spiritual hope. Without the gospel, we cannot complete His mission.
L. JOHN BUENO
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