Charity’s Purpose

During the week before the July 4th holiday, we vacationed in the Carolinas. We were reminded of the many sacrifices made by those serving in our armed forces. Fort Moultrie in Charlestown was one example. It was the site of one of the earliest colonial victories against the British in our war for independence, and was in service through the end of WW II. We thank those who are, and have been, in the armed services for your service and sacrifice.

The sacrifices made by those serving allow us to make the sacrifices we are commanded to make at home - within our society. Those sacrifices can be summed up in the command to love God, and your neighbor as yourself. In a word, charity. The Old Testament describes who we are to help. It contains the ‘what’ regarding charity. They are the disadvantaged, among them the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner. The New Testament speaks primarily as to the ‘how’ we are to care for them. Charity is considered to be one of the greatest virtues, along with Faith and Hope. These virtues are special as they orient us toward our Creator, toward God.

Their fulfillment is to be found in the love we are to show God and each other. True charity leads to fulfilling the divine law noted in the last article and building of virtue in both the giver and the receiver. If love is ever needed, it appears that now would be a good time to both talk about it and once again practice it. Those things of God lead to both truth and unity, those from Satan envy and division. Which road do we appear to be on today?

Grace and Charity

It works this way. Thomas Aquinas used the example of the kings grace in describing grace itself. The king loves a particular subject. Because of that love the king gives a gift to that subject gratis - expecting nothing in return. From the act of giving, their is a return of love for the king. It is exactly the same with charity. There should be mutual love built within charity’s giver and receiver - in some ways both are receiving. They are both undergoing the type of transformation that comes from making the commitment to follow Christ.

But we are also called to be good stewards and not to waste what we have been blessed with. I myself find this a hard balance to maintain. How does one provide a hand-up and not a hand-out? I do not believe there is a simple answer, but I believe that it begins with charity being an act between two or more individuals. Christ did not go to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and tell the Levites it was their duty to perform charity. Charity was not the church’s responsibility. Nor did he go to the Roman Governor, his advisors, or to King Herod or his court and command them charity was their responsibility. Charity was not the state’s responsibility. Instead Jesus spoke to those individuals who came to hear Him teach. Charity is our responsibility. It can never be performed by the state. Even where the church or private charities step in, they must take care to maintain that individual connection required for true charity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer described a notion of cheap grace. It is basically a form without substance. It is confession without repentance, communion without transformation. It is the same with charity. When institutions become involved, we run the risk of performing acts of ‘cheap charity,’ actions without substance as no true virtue is built within charity’s giver or receiver. It becomes merely about the end itself, a form of weath transfer to insure someone’s notion of an equality of outcomes.

Charity is to be an individual act and it is primarily our responsibility. Charitable organizations were originally created to supplement our individual efforts as often disasters occurred which were beyond an individual family’s resources. Charitable organizations serve as a backstop and should never be charity’s primary provider. That notion is simply unbiblical. The next article will provide an analogy which shows the difference in the two approaches, and these largely revolve around needs vs. wants.
Posted in: Charity


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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.