Friday, November 29, 2013

Helping the Poor VS. Salvation

I heard an interesting comment on the news this morning. The commentator was talking about Pope Francis and his emphasis on compassion for the vulnerable. In the banter back and forth between the various commentators, this fellow said, "It's just Christianity 101. The basis of Christianity is to help the poor." Obviously this commentator is not a theologian, nor was he an official spokesperson for Pope Francis, so we cannot read too much into what he said. But I do think he has expressed a common idea that many people have, which is that the primary purpose of the church is to help the poor and needy.

While I agree that helping the poor and vulnerable is a key part of how Christianity demonstrates the love of Christ to others (James 1:27, John 13:35), it is not the "basis" of Christianity. The basis of Christianity is about what Christ has done for us. Christianity 101 is that people, by nature and by choice, are messed up. The Bible calls this sin, but if we do not like the word sin, we can call it whatever we want to. All we have to do is watch the nightly news to see the depravity of people, so the reality of sin is all around us, even if we do not like to use the word. But Christianity 101 also says that God loves us despite how messed up we are. God's love is more powerful than man's sinfulness. Christianity 101 goes on to teach us that our messed up condition must somehow be fixed. After all, could a loving God really leave us in our messed up condition? This idea that sin must be atoned for is where our concept of justice comes from. Innately, we know that there is a consequence for bad actions and a price to be paid when a wrong is done. One does not have to be a theologian to understand that. Since thousands of years of human history have clearly proven that we are incapable of fixing our messes ourselves, God sent His Son Jesus to earth to show us a better way to live. Jesus then offered Himself up as the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, thereby satisfying the nature of justice, as well as setting an example for daily life. That is Christianity 101.

Before my readers jump to conclusions and leave harsh comments on this post, I point out once again  that I am not saying that helping the poor and the needy is unimportant. But I happen to think it is Christianity 201, not 101. A person must first understand themselves before they can really help others. A person must first come to grips with their own pitiful situation before they can help someone else with theirs. A person must first find the love of God in their own life before they can adequately give that love to someone else through a compassion that helps, instead of a patronizing attitude that actually hurts.

Perhaps the problem with much of what the church is doing is that we have attempted to help the poor and needy without first finding the help that God gives in our own lives. Perhaps instead of starting with the church's mission of helping the poor and needy, we must FIRST find a peace in our own lives that will empower us to more effectively help the poor and needy. Perhaps we must FIRST learn to walk before we learn to run. Perhaps we must FIRST actually enroll in Christianity 101, before we move on to Christianity 201. Then maybe the church will become what it is meant to be, a place for both spiritual peace and compassionate charity. Either one without the other is an incomplete picture of what the church is supposed to be.

For more devotionals like this one, consider Touching the Footprints of Jesus


  1. Very well said and presented. I am thinking that when going to college, most start off, in your freshman year, with 4 to 7 101 classes. Too many people think that getting a good understanding of Christianity is a one subject or possible a one year program, when to just have a 'good understanding' is at least a 4 year study course. Unfortunately, many who claim Christ Jesus as their all-in-all, know little about the vastness of who He is.

  2. Very good thoughts, Brother Terry Dorsett.

  3. St Francis, it is Pope Francis