Essential to Christian charity is the tithe – God's chosen means for making provision for his people through his church. The church's faithful use of the tithe is the proper response to government charity and the welfare state.
The Shepherds’ Failure to Lead
In the time of Ezekiel the prophet, the people of God were floundering and he prophesied against the shepherds of Israel saying:
Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. (Ezek. 34:2-6)
Through His prophet, the Lord declared that the neglect of the covenant by the shepherds (the leaders which included priests, magistrates and the heads of households) had led to the scattering of the sheep (the people of God). However, the Lord does not forget about His sheep, but calls His under-shepherds to fulfill their responsibilities once again.
Good Sheep and the Good Shepherd
In the same prophecy in Ezekiel 34, the Lord addresses the flock, for they also have a role to play. They are, first, to condemn victimization in the flock, second to return to the provision of a faithful shepherd, and third to attend to the implications of renewal for the natural world. Jesus affirmed this in the new covenant when He first identified Himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14) who restores His people, and then declared in the synagogue that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4: 18-19). With these words, Jesus gave the church its marching orders. As they went out and preached salvation, they preached to the poor and rich alike. They healed the brokenhearted, ransomed captives, healed the spiritually and physically ill, and set free those bruised or crushed by oppression. They were the first charitable societies. If the church once again worked to heal the family and bind up the wounds of our culture, what would we see?
The Inadequacy of State-Sponsored Welfare
In Canada today we often turn to the government to meet most of our needs. The poor, especially, do this for lack of alternatives. However, there is a widespread consensus that government welfare is not ideal. The government has stepped up to compensate for the failure of private, family, and church support to the poor, but it is in no way the right solution. “The results of being on social assistance can be devastating. In a 2005 report examining the situation of people on social assistance in New Brunswick, study subjects described the terrible loss of self-esteem and the feeling of hopelessness from being on welfare.”[i] One report in the UK showed how attempts by government to help the poor have failed. More young people are on welfare today than 10 years ago even after a 2 billion pound program dedicated to decreasing joblessness.[ii] Government charity is not a solution, but Christian charity uniquely is. The distinctive of Christian charity is that it is a personal, voluntary act flowing from a heart redeemed by God’s grace, and it creates community bonds and leads to changed lives.
Social Provision through the Tithe
The church must work to once again exercise its God-given responsibilities in education, healthcare, and welfare. For this to be possible, we must first recognize a serious sin that is pervasive in the church and repent of it and make restitution. The book of Malachi speaks to this:
I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from My decrees and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob Me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing Me. (Mal. 3:6-8)
In North America today, less than 5% of Christians tithe.[iii] We rob God of our tithes and contributions. God does not need our money to act, but He has ordained the tithe to make provision for people and to declare His mercy. How can the church care for the lost in our land without this? Because the people of Israel kept back the tithe which rightly belonged to God, they were cursed. However, the Lord promises them that if they repent and present to Him the full tithe once again, He will bring rain on the land and meet their needs. Malachi continues:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. (Mal 3:10-12)
The Right Response to God’s Faithfulness
In 2 Chronicles, the Lord declares: “If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14). Societal change starts with Christians, the people of God. We are to repent and turn to walk according to the law of God once again. If we wish to see our society healthy and whole, we must revive our faith and remain faithful in worshipping Christ, obeying Him, and fulfilling the responsibilities He has given us – all found in Scripture. We must assert the sovereignty and providence of God Almighty and Jesus as the reigning King. Then, as Christians, we must exercise our authority as Christ’s vice-regents, law-defenders, and ambassadors to proclaim gospel healing to our culture and the application of Scripture to every area of life.
[i] Mrozek, A. & Walberg, R. (2009). Private Choices, Public Costs. How Failing Families Cost Us All. (Ottawa: Institute of Marriage & Family Canada), p.9.