Some very short thoughts about evangelicalism and welfare

My evangelical friends, I wanted you to hear this from one of your own. Welfare is not the devil. Quite the opposite, in fact. But do bear in mind: These are very short thoughts on evangelicalism and welfare. I do not intend to say much, so many important related issues are not touched at all.

I frequently see American Christian friends make comments about the welfare state, usually because they think it’s a bad thing. The line of argument is that “giving to the poor is good, but requiring others to give to the poor is bad. It’s Marxism, it’s theft, it’s requiring people to act moral when they’re not” and so on. There’s a quote from Penn Jillette to that effect that gets passed around along with those sentiments:

It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.

I don’t care much for what Penn Jillette has to say on most things. But what I’m becoming increasingly bothered by is that my fellow evangelical Christians lap up this sort of rhetoric with a kind of religious zeal, as though this is a point of view that is especially appropriate for a Christian because it reflects Christian values. They shouldn’t.

Let me be clear: Society would be a much better place if there was no welfare state because no welfare state was required. That would be wonderful. If we lived in a society where individuals were so compassionate that they provided for the needs to the less well-off, that would absolutely be a better society where the less well-off are provided for via centralised welfare. It would be morally better as well as better for people. However, it is no good dreaming about the kind of world we would like to live in while not implementing policies that are needed in the world we actually live in.

I’m already in the process of writing an article on classical liberalism and welfare, so I won’t say anything about that here now, other than to say that I do embrace what I consider to be classical liberal values, I do believe in fairly minimal government, and any attempt to construe what I say as coming from someone who is basically a political lefty at heart is laughable. What I want to say, briefly (and my introduction is already getting too long), is about the evidence that evangelicals seem to be overlooking when they imply that scrapping the welfare state is the biblical thing to do. I want to talk about some of the things the Bible says about society’s role in requiring people to care for the poor.

Evangelicals have no trouble drawing on the moral principles we find in Old Testament law. I think that often Evangelicals squirm away from Old Testament law when they don’t like it, and I often think such a manoeuvre is unprincipled, but I do applaud the fact that Evangelicals do often look to the Old Testament for moral guidance. There, as nowhere else, Christians can find an example, not just of what God thinks is good or bad, but examples of the values that God wants society collectively to care about and take responsibility for upholding. Not every vice should be a crime and not every virtue should be legally required, and in the example of Israel, we get to see which values make it into law – not just the moral law that God wants everyone to follow, but the civil law that citizens were compelled to follow. And one of those values is very clearly the moral value of providing for the poor.

One example of such laws is the law around “gleaning.” Gleaning was the practice of the unwealthy who would scour the field after the harvest, picking up whatever was left behind for themselves and their families. You can read about this in Deuteronomy 24:19-21.

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.

Some of the evangelicals that I have in mind – and I find it awful to admit this, but sadly I’m pretty sure it’s true – as soon as they saw me quote that passage, would start scrutinising it. Is there a way out? Maybe there’s some catch, some limitation, some legalistic way of reading this that will get us off the hook (as though you should want to be off the hook). Look! It says if you forget a sheaf in the wheat field. That’s an accident. So maybe it’s saying that if you have an accident – say, if a can of the cruddiest baked beans that your factory produces falls off the back of a truck, don’t turn around to go and get it. Leave that damaged product that nobody else would want for the poor and desperate. And look, it only mentions primary industries. Maybe it doesn’t apply to products that you’ve spent money and time processing? And look – this commandment only specifically mentions leaving your cruddy leftovers for the sojourners (that is, foreigners living among you), orphans and widows. So if you’re not a sojourner, an orphan or a widow, sorry pal, no free rides!

Apart from being one of the few times when certain conservative North American evangelicals would actually favour poor immigrants who apparently have little to offer the local economy, none of this stands up to a moment’s scrutiny. Those who beat the olives out of olive trees and pick grapes aren’t told that if they accidentally leave some behind, too bad. They are instructed not to take everything so that there will be something left behind. This is extended to the fields of wheat as well in the version of this commandment as it appears in Leviticus 19:9-10, in a chapter that is given the heading (in the ESV) “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.

So this is not a case of saying “If, by accident, you just happen to not strip the field, then leave the dregs for the poor.” It’s a case of saying that you must not use all of the produce that you’ve cultivated for yourself, you have to leave some for the poor. It’s the law. The parallel version of this commandment in Leviticus 19 (and also in Leviticus 23:22) also shows that “sojourner” and “fatherless” were just examples, and the list wasn’t meant to be exhaustive. Leviticus 19 expands it to include all the “poor.” You know, Leviticus 19 – right after Leviticus 18 that condemns sex between men, one of the biblical passages that my fellow evangelicals are less likely to overlook.

This commandment wasn’t a matter of personal choice. This was legislated morality. Producers have to leave some of their products, and not the worst part that nobody else wants, just a part, for the poor. It’s mind blowing to me that we live in a world – I live in a city – where there are homeless people who beg for money to buy food, and at the same time supermarkets and restaurants are literally throwing food away. And that’s that the stuff that nobody wants. Even that, they don’t give to the poor. If those with nothing want even the food that you throw away, they have to degrade themselves further and go dumpster diving for it.

You want laws about marriage that reflect the outlook of the Torah – one man, one woman (and in spite of the attempts by the less well-informed to insinuate that polygamy is just as biblical, it’s not), and yet I don’t see many of my conservative evangelical comrades pushing for laws that require – absolutely require – factories, farms and supermarkets to put aside food to be given out to families who don’t have enough, and penalising those who waste.

But it gets worse (actually, I think it gets better, but some will unfortunately see it as worse). In addition to the above legal requirement about leaving produce for the poor, the people of Israel were taxed to feed the poor. Sure, the Bible doesn’t use the word tax, but the Israelites were required by law to set aside a set percentage of their income each year – ten percent (also called a “tithe”) – and some of that amount was to be given to make sure that those without could be looked after.

You can read about this in Deuteronomy 26 and in Deuteronomy 14:22ff. Here the people of Israel are required to use part of the tithe of their produce to support the Levites (because they spend their time serving in the temple) as well as the poor.

So here are two specific kinds of law in the Torah that required the community to redistribute wealth to care for the poor. This is in addition to the general moral principle – and the legal requirements – of individual care for the poor. In Deuteronomy 15 you can read about the “year of release.” This meant that if people were in debt and they were not in a position to repay their debt by the end of seven years, it was to be forgiven. Remember, this was a legal requirement, which makes it a case of enforced wealth redistribution. And the law goes as far as to forbid the cynical misuse of the year of release:

If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly 1 on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

Now, you might think that you have a sophisticated way of getting around this by appealing to the covenant uniqueness of the people of Israel. After all, the year of release didn’t apply to people from outside Israel (verse 3). My own Masters research in theology was focused on the application of Old Testament law, and I’m happy to go into those details in discussion should you really wish to do so, but in a nutshell, if the general equity (overriding moral principle) of this law tells us anything, it is that we should supply the needs of the poor without begrudging them, and without trying to evade selfless giving. And again remember, none of this was simply a matter of private conscience. This was written into law. Israelites had to live this way or you were a law-breaker.

Again remember, I’m a classical liberal. I want small government, a government that does the basics. But here’s the thing: I don’t just select the bits of the Bible that I want to follow based on my politics. I’m a Christian, and I try really hard to have my political values informed by the most fundamental values of all – my religious values. The question is not how I can find support in the Bible for my political values. The question is what biblical values require of my politics. And it looks to me like the basics that the government should be concerned with is the protection of the most vulnerable members of human society. That includes the unborn and the disabled, so I’m in favour of laws against abortion. That includes the victims of dictators, so I support participation in just wars. That also includes the poor who live among us, so I’m in favour of the biblical principle that the law should require people to support them. This is not the advocacy of big government. It is the advocacy of small government that does the things that government is supposed to do and not all the things that government shouldn’t do.

The upshot of all of this is here: If you are a Christian and yet you don’t think that we should see these principles about obligations of society to provide for the poor by passing laws that take from those with plenty and give it to those with little, then OK, you don’t think that we should follow those commands. But it does mean that you have to self-consciously give up part of your right to think of yourselves as conservative evangelicals. You see, conservatives follow the rules. They want to see those rules imposed. Those who want to shirk off those rules as though they don’t apply – to evade conformity to biblical moral standards – that is to become the worst thing a conservative evangelical can imagine. That is to start sliding towards liberal Christianity, where the Bible is optional. And I’m pretty sure that’s the last thing my evangelical fellows want to do.

There, I said it. Have at thee.

Glenn Peoples

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76 thoughts on “Some very short thoughts about evangelicalism and welfare

  1. Good post Glenn but I do think you did a disservice to your brethren by not even briefly mentioning what many of us see as the real problem: a great many of the people on welfare are needy on purpose and thus take away from the truly helpless. You make a very uncharitable almost spoken insinuation them about the motivations of many opposed to Welfare. Not to mention that even a brief article needed to mention that the Bible also says not to discriminate against the rich. The taxes or obligations applied to all. The rich would give numerically more as their base “harvest” was larger but it was the same “percentage” for all.

  2. a great many of the people on welfare are needy on purpose and thus take away from the truly helpless.

    I think the gleaning laws give guidance as to how a Christian view might mitigate that problem. Those who gleaned still had to do the harvesting themselves. The laws did not say to give away prepared bread and wine, but to allow the poor to glean the wheat and grapes to make those products themselves. I see a view that enforces some sort of work requirement for receiving welfare as in keeping with the original intentions of the gleaning laws. It gives an added dignity to the recipient and cuts back on freeloading.

    As to the original article, thank you for writing it.

  3. The concept to provide for the poor is correct, we should do that. Where conservatives get heartburn is the perception that many poor choose not to work and live off the efforts of others. Gleaning at least required the poor to go work and get the food. We have removed all work requirements from welfare. So now the lazy can steal from the needy and conservatives are painted as greedy for pointing that out… As for the percentage, we now have a society that wants far more that gleanings, they want 35% of the orchard.

  4. I agree with all the above, and I also ask (on the road, do not have a Bible at hand) what was the civil punishment if one did not leave gleanings or pay their tithe?

  5. In OT law there were multiple tithes that when addedup equate to about 25% of annual income, these were compulsory ( ie not “giving”) and hence effectively taxation to run Israel. Provision for the poor and widows was included. The provision for “gleaning” was effectively a specialist tax on agriculture, not everyone had fields to harvest. Again not an accident but compulsory, you had to harvest you fields in a manner that left crop to be gleaned.
    I believe the “lazy poor” achieve a prominence in peoples eyes and minds that is not justified by their actual numbers relative to those who genuinely need some help. They become an excuse rather than a valid reason for not wanting to contribute.

  6. Jeremy thank you for knowing my motivations. NOT. My knowledge of welfare abuse is first hand and not exaggerated.

    What part of the alleged 25 was designated for the poor?

    WHAT WAS THE CIVIL PENALTY FOR NONCOMPLIANCE .

    I care about the legimitately helpless who could be radically helped but for the leeches in the system.

  7. Oh and the rich were taxed at a higher percentage right? Oh that’s right they weren’t – it was equitable and not based on perverse class envy.

  8. These concerns are fair enough – people who intentionally avoid working for their keep and who exploit welfare should not be regarded as in the same boat as those who are poor and generally can’t avoid it. The area where I work means that I see the worst of that (and for professional reasons I just can’t delve into this).

    As for punishments – nothing is specified as to what should happen when people refuse to obey these laws. What would a wise judge do if a complaint was brought to them that so-and-so intentionally broke these laws, stripped their land bare and didn’t pay tithes? I don’t know. If I was such a judge I would probably fine them to make sure they didn’t get away with not paying their share.

    I would also be careful about saying that if everyone paid the same percentage then that must be considered “equitable.” A man with ten dollars who pays, say, twenty percent has a much heavier burden placed on him than a man with two million dollars who pays twenty percent. I also don’t know how much confidence we can have that the poor obviously paid the same percentage as he rich. If they could, I’m sure they did. But the impression I get (yes, terribly subjective I know) is that the tithe was provided by those who were able to pay it, and used to provide for those who simply weren’t. But that is to get away from the specific concern of welfare. My overriding concern here is that evangelicals absolutely should believe in legally required provision for the poor out of the produce of society. As is the concern over not discriminating against people because they are rich (or poor). That’s a fair concern, but it’s not quite the concern I want to draw attention to. That’s a concern that I can see being very popular with my evangelical brethren already. Welfare, not so much, which is why I wrote this.

    J. Perry, American welfare spending is about 14% of government spending. So it’s not through the roof at all, it’s modest.

  9. IOW there is no civil penalty because it IS A RELIGIOUS LAW, and so, your comment about not being able to say we are talking about a radically different thing. As such you have in appropriately vilified that quote by not reading what the concern is. Using government CIVIL force to COMPEL CHARITY.

    Thus I believe your argument fails. It is not the job of a centralized government to perform under threat of force.

  10. I guess I don’t see the impact of that argument. There are obviously “religious” laws in the Torah that do have penalties explicitly set out. I don’t know of any good principle that says if the legal response to non-compliance isn’t set out then it’s not based on a basic moral principle and it’s somehow “religious.” So I don’t see the force of the objection at all. What’s the best response in any given case of non-compliance with this legal requirement will be determined on a case by case basis.

    Let me also just add this as a partial explanation of why I didn’t address the concerns that people might raise (for everyone reading this). I share the concern about those unwilling to work and intentionally getting a free ride (not that being on welfare is much of a ride). I share the concern about government waste and the wider concern about government getting bigger and bigger. I acknowledge that what I have said doesn’t address the question of the most just or efficient way of gathering and distributing welfare. There are probably other valid concerns and questions that I didn’t address.

    I deliberately chose to exclude these concerns for a good reason. Conservative evangelicals tend to already agree that these are concerns, so I have no need to persuade them to care about them. But a number of conservative evangelicals do not, I think, have the right insincts about centralised welfare in general. This article was intentionally short and intended to target that instinct and nothing else. I want my fellow evangelicals to develop a basic instinct towards welfare in general that says: YES, it is right and there are even explicit biblical grounds for it. That’s what I’m targeting, our starting point. Once we’re all ont he same page in regard to our starting point, then sure, have the conversation about the possibility of abuse of the system, or efficiency, or the type of taxation that we should have to faciitate basic welfare etc. But let’s get on the same page morally first. That’s why this intentionally short article didn’t even address those secondary questions.

  11. .@Dee Dee, keep your hair on, did i say anything about your motivations in particular, rather i made a comment in general based on my observations ( including people i know of who complain a lot but who can afford a lot). As to which tithe went to the poor and widows, one tithe every three years equals 3.3% or about an eigth of the annual rate. And of course the gleanings.
    Israel was before the kings, a theocracy, as such civil and religeous law were very intertwined and all instituted by God. When the kings arrived no doubt they imposed extra taxes to fund their courts and armies etc. By the time of Christ the Romans were also extracting tax, hence “render unto Caeser that which is Caesers and unto God that which is Gods”.
    My main point was that OT tithing was not voluntary giving, it was the compulsory tax of a theocratic form of govt and it did include welfare. We cannot use the OT as some kind of justification that govt should not be involved in welfare. How much, exactly to whom, and tracking and control in a modern industrial economy are a different set of questions.
    Likewise NT teacing on giving, mostly on the subject on helping fellow believers in need, doesnt really address the role of the state in the care of the poor and needy.
    Technically all civil govt operates based on the threat of force in the absence of cooperation.

  12. It might be worth mention that OT Israel had some other laws that also addressed welfare issues.
    Year of jubilee, land sales were effectively only leases to a maximum of 50 years, prevented longterm alienation of land.
    Debts to be forgiven at seven years.
    Indentured servitude.
    Obligation of brothers (or nearest male relative) to care for (typically marry) deceased brothers widow. First son of such a union to inherit the deceaseds land etc.
    I am guessing that even most Christians would prefer the modern welfare state to a return to some of these rules, especially wealthier Christians.

  13. Jeremy my hair is securely on, though nice attempt to try to paint me as hysterical or irrational. *I* mentioned the “lazy poor” (as you put it–not I), and *you* said:

    I believe the “lazy poor” achieve a prominence in peoples eyes and minds that is not justified by their actual numbers relative to those who genuinely need some help. They become an excuse rather than a valid reason for not wanting to contribute.

    Who is the “people” IN CONTEXT of your comment. Me and others like me. So you want to be able to shoot your mouth off about others but when called on it, you try to claim you didn’t.

    Nice.

  14. Glenn, you don’t see the force of the argument? You said:

    ” Not every vice should be a crime and not every virtue should be legally required, and in the example of Israel, we get to see which values make it into law – not just the moral law that God wants everyone to follow, but the civil law that citizens were compelled to follow. And one of those values is very clearly the moral value of providing for the poor.”

    You haven’t proven it isn’t a morally based law. You haven’t show that citizens were “compelled” to follow, and you must show that. I find it very hard to believe that the Scripture clearly gives DEATH for working on the Sabbath, yet fails to mention any civil penalty at all for this? Seriously? You are guessing about what a judge would do. Sorry your guesses don’t make for good governmental theory.

    You also say:

    “And again remember, none of this was simply a matter of private conscience. This was written into law. Israelites had to live this way or you were a law-breaker.”

    And so was loving your God with all your heart, mind, and strength. Thus all are law-breakers. This is why I find your argument brimming with casuistry.

    The reason I chastised you for not even mentioning the other points is that mostly there is a large context to this discussion that gets boiled down into soundbites that assume the larger context. You cannot rail against conservative opposition without even giving a nod to the larger context and that is that a large portion of welfare, simply isn’t. Birth control isn’t welfare, funding and encouraging unwed child-rearing isn’t, rewarding laziness isn’t…. etc. I can only speak for America but we are an incredibly prosperous nation. There are true poor here, but the numbers are not what is presently on welfare (and I would include social security as part of the welfare budget, and I don’t think your 14% figure dealt with the whole of what American conservatives are talking about when it comes to welfare).

    You have not even begun to prove that a centralized government, for most of us geographically and culturally distant from our local communities are the way to benefit the poor as per the Biblical model.

    All you proved is that God cares for the poor and God’s people should make provisions for them. No true Christian would disagree.

    And this comment interested me:

    “I would also be careful about saying that if everyone paid the same percentage then that must be considered “equitable.” A man with ten dollars who pays, say, twenty percent has a much heavier burden placed on him than a man with two million dollars who pays twenty percent. I also don’t know how much confidence we can have that the poor obviously paid the same percentage as he rich. If they could, I’m sure they did. But the impression I get (yes, terribly subjective I know) is that the tithe was provided by those who were able to pay it, and used to provide for those who simply weren’t. ”

    Of course it is equitable. It is the same burden, unless you are going to argue that the Old Testament says that if someone owned many fields, he had leave more droppings than usual or the burden would be unequal on someone who had just one field. The only way to make it logically equitable if we reduce your argument down is then to set an amount that everyone should have, and force it to be so. And that is pure socialism.

    I do think you are correct on the tithe being for those who were able to pay it. It is just common sense. You don’t give someone charity and then ask for part of it back just to give it back to them again. But once you get above the level of needing assistance, everyone paid the same percentage minimum, though of course one could give more.

  15. “The question is not how I can find support in the Bible for my political values. The question is what biblical values require of my politics.”
    YES.

  16. Dee Dee, I guess what I’m finding a bit strange is the suggestion that while a specific, identifiable action was required by law, there was no real, well, requirement to carry it out in any usual sense of that word. It’s true that there exist some capital offences in the OT, but that doesn’t mean that since no specific response is required when a person doesn’t pay as much as required, or doesn’t leave anything from their produce, that nothing could have been done about it. I don’t see what the comparison is supposed to show. And commandments about loving God with your whole heart – that was really a summary commandment, with specific examples given in the law. These commands on the other hand are specific examples of identifiable actions. We agree – I think – that having a specified penalty vs not having a specified penalty doesn’t mark the difference between what you’re calling “religious” laws and other laws. The Sabbath commandment that you refer to is perhaps a good way of confirming this. That said, there was a fairly clear expression of the fact that people who don’t meet their obligations in this regard were meant to make up for it. For example, if a person wanted to keep part of their tithe (“redeem” it instead of giving it), they were required to add a fifth of its value when doing so (Leviticus 27:31). Granted, you might not really see that as a “punishment,” but it was certainly a financial burden laid on those who didn’t give the whole tithe.

    Maybe the question is – how severe do you think any consequences would need to be before you’d think that actually the people were required to provide for the poor in this way because it was the morally right thing to do, and not some sort of ceremonial act?

    As for gleaning, I can’t really see what the ceremonial or “religious” end here would be. Surely the purpose of requiring people to leave some left over for the poor was simply to provide for the needs of the poor because they don’t have enough. Maybe you could explain a bit more what you mean by calling this a religious duty and not really amoral one.

    Of course it is equitable. It is the same burden, unless you are going to argue that the Old Testament says that if someone owned many fields, he had leave more droppings than usual or the burden would be unequal on someone who had just one field. The only way to make it logically equitable if we reduce your argument down is then to set an amount that everyone should have, and force it to be so. And that is pure socialism.

    That doesn’t seem to me to follow from what I’ve said at all. Up to a certain amount of income, ten percent would make a very large difference, and once people get beyond that, it doesn’t make such a difference anymore. There’s no reason to think that everyone would need to have exactly the same (or even roughly the same) income in order for ten percent to have the same impact. For example – a person who earns a million dollars per year and a person who earns 1.5 million. Ten percent isn’t going to have much of a different impact on either of them. But someone who earns 20K per year – it’ll make a much larger difference to that person. So there’s more than one way to measure how “equitable” contributions at a fixed rate are.

    And I freely admit that my reference to 14% may be wrong, depending on how much is included or excluded as “welfare.” I was referring to this chart (http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/united_states_total_spending_pie_chart), but now as I take a second look I see that the figure is 12%. Some of the other things listed there (e.g. healthcare, education) didn’t exist in an ancient Israelite social spending scheme, so it’s hard to do any sort of direct comparison between one full set of spending stats and the biblical examples we have. I make no pretence to having much knowledge of American government social spending in general.

  17. I’m prompted to add: Please, readers, do not interpret the timing of this blog entry as a comment prompted by the US election. This is not at all an indication of who I would have voted for if I lived there. Full disclosure: The winner of the election would not have received my vote, but we’re not going to discuss American politics. here. 🙂

  18. I agree with Glenn. When you barely have enough to provide for your family, fronting up with 10 % is a significant burden and sacrificial. When you have plenty of income for discretionary expenditure [toys, holidays, investments, opportunity to accumulate wealth ] then 10 % isnt an equal burden nor sacrificial, even if it represents far more money. There is a big difference between having to choose between christmas presents or some new clothes for the kids, and having to choose between a new mercedes or a new jet boat for yourself.
    I am reminded of Luke 12:48……From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked..
    It would seem that if you a blessed generously, you are expected to be more generous in carrying responsibility….

  19. My 2c worth: When I see (often American) conservatives (usually Christians) complaining about the welfare state, it is usually not simply a complaint about the fact that it’s implemented inefficiently or that welfare recipients are lazy, but it does tend to be the same complaint that Dee Dee made earlier: “It is not the job of a centralized government” to engage in require giving to the poor “under threat of force.” Her argument is the common one that I see. But my experience may not be typical.

  20. Sandra, you can’t atomize the argument. It exists in context. It is not the job of the centralized government precisely because it will be abused if it is.

  21. Glenn, you are confusing civil authority with a requirement to carry it out. This is why your argument does nothing but prove that God requires Christians to care about providing for the poor. It does not argue that it is the job of a non-theocratic government to carry it out. There WAS a requirement, but it was a requirement before the individual and God. The society would expect such a person to repent and make the appropriate sacrifices but there is no specific CIVIL punishment given, because it wasn’t the job of the civil authorities to enforce. It was a personal obligation. Of course it was moral. Same as loving God with all your heart, mind and strength is. But just as you started out your article,

    “Not every vice should be a crime and not every virtue should be legally required, and in the example of Israel, we get to see which values make it into law – not just the moral law that God wants everyone to follow, but the civil law that citizens were compelled to follow. ”

    You haven’t proven government compulsion, but God’s law to individuals. It is not the job of the secular state to enforce charity.

  22. Well we have seen that there was an extra financial burden added for non-compliance (some would call that a fine) – but if we’re not going to count that as a penalty of any sort, then I guess that leaves me not sure how to proceed. I do not know how these commands would read differently if they were meant as not just moral injunctions but laws that could be enforced. So I’ll just register that I haven’t been convinced.

  23. No you didn’t show an extra financial burden for non-compliance Glenn, you showed an extra financial burden for someone who was voluntarily complying and wanted to do something differently. There was nothing about what if they said no. It said nothing about those who weren’t doing what they should. I think the fact that you are stretching to find something should let you know that you can’t use your argument as support for secular welfare.

  24. Glenn the laws would read the same as others that had specific civil penalties attached, such as Sabbath breaking.

    The “penalties” would be social and individual and religious. Exclusion from the Temple perhaps due to being an unrepentant sinner and social ostracization. The priests or King didn’t come barging in and take the best calf if they didn’t voluntary give it.

  25. Jeremy, God didn’t put into law a greater percentage for the more well off. So while your ideas are nice and all, I think I will stick with God’s.. You are quite the budding little socialist though, I will give you that.

  26. Actually DD i have voted conservative my whole life, and i am alot closer to retirement than to the start ofwrking life. Whats more i have been self employed or all but 3 of the last 30 years, so no employer provided benefits at all, neither am i wealthy by american or NZ standards so you can forget the condescending attitude.
    You are right though, NT standards are not “law”, they are supposed show the way Christians should be responding toGods grace to us. When the religious right in USA can demonstrate by their generousity that they are voluntarily living up to these standards in meeting the needs of their communities I might havesome respect for the whinging about it not being Central govts job. Perhaps if the most “Christian” country inthe world had really been living like that Central govt wuld never have foun
    d a need to be involved in welfare

  27. No, I wouldn’t think that the priest would take from you what you were supposed to pay – or the 20% fine for not paying as required by the law, either (and this simply covered cases where a person kept all or part of the tithe – you can’t insists that it strictly refers to people who really did intend to pay and who did voluntarily in the end – the law did not limit the penalty to them, it was an incentive to all to pay the full amount). This wasn’t their job – That’s why judges existed.

    But it wouldn’t matter if no penalty or method of enforcement was mentioned at all – and you can see that this is not what’s carrying the argument. After all, you could just come back and say “but what if they refused to pay the 20%? The law doesn’t say how to enforce THAT either.” Let me throw this into the mix to see if it helps: In ancient Israel, if you stole somebody’s sheep, you were supposed to pay them back four times the value of what you stole. The law stipulated that you should pay this (Exodus 22:1). I don’t think anyone has claimed that this was a ceremonial or “religious” requirement, it was just a matter of moral requirement being enforced in law. But there’s the rub.”enforced”? The law didn’t say anything at all about what should happen if the thief didn’t pay. Actually this is true for many Old Testament civil laws. What people were supposed to do under certain circumstances was spelled out, but the consequences of non-compliance never were. And yet, nobody thinks that because the manner of enforcement was never specified in the case of, say, restitution, that means restitution wasn’t really compelled or required.

    This is why the law working as intended required good judges. Exactly how best to respond to non-compliance can’t always be stipulated in law as it depends on the situation being dealt with on a case by case basis. But certainly (I think), the fact that the law doesn’t state what should happen when people don’t meet their obligations on a given scenario is no good reason for denying that a law was moral in its motivation.

  28. Reading this discussion – What? The laws that required the people to make sure that there was adequate provision for the poor weren’t really a moral requirement, just a “religious” requirement?

    It saddens me the extent to which people will go to avoid politics they don’t like. Because clearly, hunger and need were just ceremonial or religious realities, not actual realities. People can religiously starve to death – but not actually starve to death.

  29. Now that i am at a real keyboard i would like to add a few things.

    I agree with Glenn again, in the classical liberal sense of less intrusive govt and less taxation. Also i think DD made a comment about bureaucratic inefficiency, and this has been well demonstrated. A dollar achieves far more through voluntary/community agencies than it ever does through govt bureaucracy.

    A little analysis suggest that OT tithing gleaning laws were in fact progressive rather than flat rate.

    The poor, not expected to tithe if beyond there means, maybe not even the later temple tax.

    Most people, two annual tithes, the three yearly tithe, and the temple tax.

    Landowners, tithes, temple tax, and requirement to harvest in a manner that left gleanings available.

    Only three steps, but those with the most got to bear a larger portion of the burden. “Giving” was over and above these requirements.

    On the subject of giving, Jesus commended the widow for giving generously/sacrificially from her poverty but was very scathing of the wealthy pharisees who gave big time and flamboyantly but only from their excess.

    Last point, as i understand it while moral law is mandated by God across all time and culture, OT civil and ceremonial law was addressed specifically to ancient Israel and has never been binding upon Christians or gentiles in general. Having said that much OT civil law embodies practical outworking of moral law and offers us guiding principles in creating civil law in our own culture and lands.
    Further, Jesus in the sermon on the mount raised the standards by addressing the heart attitudes that the LAW spoke to and which are the real issue with God.
    Consequently arguing that OT civil law did not include a particular function of govt in the way it is manifest in the early 21C is meaningless. The real question is what are the principles involved?
    Are we our brothers keeper?
    Should we love our neighbours as ourselves?
    Are we stewards of what God has blessed us with?
    Is it ours to hold on to?
    Are we being salt?

    I really liked that Jonothan Edwards sermon that Mike referred us to. There was a really good question in it? To paraphrase, What has the sin/failure/laziness/incompetence of others got to do with us obeying God in the pratice of Christian charity [love]?

  30. Kenneth, since I clearly stated multiple times that it is a moral duty I expect your prompt apology for your contumacious slander.

    Do a word search for the word moral if you are having trouble keeping up

  31. Given that USA is not really a Christian nation then possibly the only way to get enough finance to address social welfare issues is through govt taxes and govt operated social welfare, nothwithstanding how inefficient this is. And with a population not necessarily morally committed to caring for the poor [being their brothers keeper] compulsion is probably the only way. Certainly other times and cultures without Christian influence have simply regarded the poor as their own problem, even their own fault and to be despised and exploited. Arguing about whether or not God has mandated central govt run social welfare and progressive rate taxation isnt going to have any influence on a secular [ even anti-Christian ] state.

  32. These are good Scriptures to help focus the issue. My thoughts on their interpretation.

    The provision was for immediate need, laws were given for food. Not certain that clothing was included though God concerned about this as you couldn’t keep garments for security overnight. The poor would have to work harder for the same amount of food (gleanings).

    This is not government provision, it is private provision enshrined in law, and unclear if any civil punishment applied. It seems that God was the poor man’s defender, not the judge (Deut 15:9). You took care of the poor out of fear of God, not concern for a fine.

    I don’t see extra payment for keeping tithe as a punishment for failure to comply, more an extra payment in acknowledgement that the tithe is God’s. You couldn’t keep back from God, but if you wanted to keep an animal for a reason you were able to do so with an extra payment (because the animal was really God’s). I don’t see this a punitive.

  33. It is worth adding that those who want gov. out of welfare are giving at least as much of their own wealth to the the poor. It is not like they are not trying the help the poor.

    And pragmatically, there are many reasons to hate what welfare does to people.

  34. Bethyada, just a couple of comments in reply. “This is not government provision, it is private provision enshrined in law.” This only sounds plausible to you, I think, because Israel didn’t have a central government, and the Temple was the most central point. So it’s as good as it gets to government provision. When the law that is for everyone tells them to do something publicly, it starts to make words lose their meaning to say that it’s really a private action and not one dictated by government.

    As I said earlier, I grant that people might not call it a punishment if a person holds back some of their tithe (for any reason – none is specified), and as a consequence they are required to pay extra. My concern isn’t over what you, for whatever reason, choose to call that consequence. The point is that it is a consequence if you don’t follow the initial requirement – which is what it undeniably is.

    As for the tithe being for food only, actually there was a general provision in Deuteronomy 14 for the tithe to be converted into money, which would have been convenient for many. But that’s a side issue. I doubt anyone thinks that the exact details – right down to the type of goods given and the location they were taken to – can simply be replicated in our world. We would have to think in terms of modern equivalents and what is most workable on a large scale.

    And yes, of course there’s a really important sense in which God takes the side of the oppressed in a whole range of ways – but I sincerely hope that we agree that this does nothing to nullify any legal obligations that might have existed towards them.

    Even a person rigidly resistant to applying details of these laws into modern society must at least see the principle that caring for the poor was not an individual matter alone, but one in which the society as a collective was responsible for in an organised – and required – way. It’s very good that many individuals today, including some of those who want the government to abandon the welfare of the poor – do give tot he poor themselves. But many people neglect this altogether, hence the need for basic legal provisions to see that it happens.

    As for what “welfare does to people,” you do not mean that I am sure. You mean what a particular application of public welfare has done in America or New Zealand. But I really, seriously want people to not think that the way things are done right now in those two places is the only way that things can conceivably be done. And as it turns out – although I did not want to be, I have been on welfare in New Zealand. I think it served its purpose very well – if gave us something to live on while I found work as soon as I could. if there are cases where it doesn’t work well, we need to work out why, and try to improve it.

  35. But isn’t it the case that, at least in the U.S., laziness is not a minimum requirement to receive welfare. Knowing who’s telling lies and who’s telling the truth is more problematic. It’s not as though welfare is simply a fiscal handout. It requires a great deal of work and proofs. If you can’t meet the requirements you don’t get the aid.

    Of course we say what about those who produce false information in order that they meet the minimum requirement? Well that’s where things get difficult. Would we be willing to tell those who truly require the aid that they and their children can starve simply because we don’t know who’s lazy and who’s not?

    Perhaps Israel had an advantage because God swooped down from the sky or dropped a phone call to Moses telling him who’s taking advantage of the system.

    I’m with Glenn, at the base core it seems it’s good.

  36. Bethyada, I am in complete agreement with you. I see Kenneth has not had the decency to apologize. I guess the poor are more important than honesty with the brethren. Yes something is disgusting, and it isn’t my point of view.

    But in closing, I injured my back at work yesterday (as Glenn knows I have chronic back problems and every few years it flares up– -and am hopped up on pain meds and steroids, thus best for me to abandon this conversation in favor of rest)

  37. Public provision and private provision (even if there are legal ramifications) are very different. The leap between them is neither obvious and, I would say from history, turns a good thing into a detrimental one. It removes the contact the givers and receivers have directly from each other. The fact I am not allowed to prevent the poor in general from gleaning my land does not prevent me from preventing a specific obnoxious poor person from coming onto my land.

    I didn’t say the tithe was for food, I said provision for the poor was for food. The tithe is difficult, but in general it wasn’t for the poor, it was to pay the Levites (who tithed to the priests). It was more akin to a tax on increase. The three yearly tithe was for consumption (from memory) in which the poor were to join in.

    There is no doubt God cares for the poor (and more so the oppressed). But that does not equate to legislating everything. God tells us not to covet, but is there a punishment if we do. It seems to me that God wants us to be generous, but I don’t see that he intends to legally enforce this. Possibly because it is no hard to police, or so open to corruption, or because it is a heart issue that is very difficult for others to see. In which case God becomes the defender. And God is very able to judge a country if they fail to care for the vulnerable.

    I do not deny the may be a degree of community, but this is at the level of family and neighbourhood, the connection must be that you know them personally. Any legal requirement to provide I see as limited to food, and generally there is the requirement to work. Though one hopes for a Christlike community that is far more generous.

    Must away so can’t address my concerns with state provided welfare.

  38. My sympathy to DD, too many years farming and my back also goes on strike ocassionaly. The pain is not fun, neither are the drugs. Worse is the impossibility of resting comfortably orsleeping properly.

  39. I know you agree Glenn, I was using the example to say I don’t see that you have shown from the Old Testament that a command not glean to the edges is to be politically enforced as opposed to the poor calling to God and him defending them.

    I strongly believe in fighting for others (as opposed to oneself). I wonder whether double and thorough gleaning is something that a prophet may preach against, rather than, say, a judge ordering the farmer to give 10% of his crop as a punishment.

    I think this passage is most instructive on our ideas about helping the poor and appropriate to appeal to. Interpreting it is where we are coming undone here. If I am incorrect then so be it, best I change my opinion. Though I have increasingly rejected welfare over the years. I now think that neither unemployment nor superannuation should be state funded or provided (relatively extreme for a kiwi, even Act allow for minimal welfare). My exceptions would be food in the situation of famine relief (universal and temporary); and possibly stipends for widows of war (with caveats).

  40. “It would seem that if you a blessed generously, you are expected to be more generous in carrying responsibility….” A recurrent theme in the new testament. The law is supposed to be a starting point, a minimum, not a maximum.

    ” It is not the job of the secular state to enforce charity.” Who says?

    If the secular state isn’t supposed to have christian ideals, who are we to tell them they CAN’T enforce it? Either we as christians have a right to tell them what to do, or we don’t have a right.

    If the secular state decides that’s how they should act, and you don’t feel we as christians should try to enforce our values on the state, or at least influence the values of the state, then we don’t have a right to tell them they shouldn’t.

    While I’m well aware of welfare cheats – my exhusband was claiming an unemployment welfare payment – if you work, it decreases your payment at a set rate (you can keep the first $64 a fortnight you make and then lose 5oc of welfare benefit per dollar you make – or at least that’s what the amounts were last time I looked a year ago) yet he was working full time and not telling the government so he was claiming a full welfare benefit AND had a good job. But it gets better – over here, welfare payment amounts are based on whether you have a partner or not – if you have a partner, you only get around 2/3 what a single person gets.

    When he and I seperated, he shacked up with one of his many long term mistresses. His mistress fakes an illness I genuinely suffer from so that she can claim a disability payment – I battled for nearly 4 years to get my health problems accepted by the government, when I was in and out of hospital and couldn’t even look after myself, let alone work – yet this woman (while she pretended to be one of my best friends and slept with my husband) learnt the symptoms of my condition and exactly what to tell centrelink (aussie welfare government department) to get a disability pension. She’d originally been on a payment when we met – she’d been faking depression but could no longer pretend she was depressed when gloating about how happy her affair with my now-exhusband made her. So she went back and got changed to being on disability from the health problem she’d learnt about from me.

    Both of them continued to claim they were legally single – admitting very publicly they were in a relationship, but claiming they weren’t living together (despite admitting this fact in family court – but this was inadmissible as proof to centrelink). So while he worked, they both claimed benefits and both claimed the much higher single rate of their benefits despite nothing being wrong with either of them – they both were perfectly capable of working, they just believe in suckering the system for as much as they can.

    Does that mean welfare payments are bad or wrong or unchristian because of poor behaviour of people like that? absolutely not!

    In fact, I’m a firm believer that the welfare system here needs a shakeup and offer MORE help to those in need.

    I do find it ironic though, that in the US (and the UK also) I’d actually be eligible for far more assistance than I am here. My health problems would have been a slam dunk in the US for disability support payments instead of a 4 year battle (I’ve actually looked into this a lot). My payments would be a lot higher, and because here our “free” healthcare system does not cover doctors visits, and particularly specialist visits, the options are pay hundreds of dollars per visit OR wait up to ten years just to see a doctor and even longer to get surgery in some circumstances (it took 3 years for me twice to get surgery to allow me to walk without crutches – and now knees are both totally destroyed when a simple operation within a few months would have fixed things entirely, meaning I could work full time instead of being a burden on society financially – and that was with my condition being labelled…

  41. semi urgent – urgent being surgery that is needed to be done immediately – surgery to find out if my precancerous cells had become cancerous, something that is life threatening, took a year to get into see a specialist and 8 months to get the surgery). In the US, I’d be eligible for private health insurance with my disability payments and would get amazing help.

    I had no idea until a few years ago. I thought the US system did very little welfare, but I have a friend in the US who has a few of my health problems, and has a child with autistic spectrum disorder like I do, and she not only gets payments for herself but for her son as well – and in addition to this, she gets support as a single parent. Over here, you can only get one type of support at any one time – it’s sole parent or disability – and in addition to this, she gets disability support for her son as well. All his therapy is paid for, and even things I’d consider optional extras are paid for by the government – both her and her son get free gym membership, counselling, occupational therapy, basically everything imaginable, under government support for her health conditions and her son’s autism.

    I can’t even find a therapist for under half my weekly income for my daughter. We gave up on that long ago. And even when my friend has a partner, she keeps most of her disability benefits. I got married a week ago and I lost every piece of government support I got. We are definitely far from rich, but I can’t even access cheaper doctors and cheaper medications any more. Considering how many doctors I see and meds I take this is quite a blow for me to lose.

    Also, over in the states, they support their single mums a LOT better. Over here, once your youngest child turns 6, you have to be working or studying part time (or proving you’re looking for a minimum number of jobs) to access any single parent help, and once your child turns 8, that’s it, you’re cut off from any sole parent help – even help looking for work. Even if you have a dozen kids and some with special needs, you’re treated the same as any other unemployed person – and if you dare reject any job at all, no matter how unsuitable, you’re cut off from unemployment benefits. Doesn’t matter if there is no childcare (childcare is hard to access here) and there are no babysitters available and it’s illegal (ie you risk going to jail, and you WILL have your kids taken by the state and put in care) to leave a child under the age of 12 at home without an adult to look after them – if you reject ANY job offer at all, you can’t access unemployment benefits.

    I know of far too many mums who are faced with the choice of risking jail and their child being snatched by the state because they are offered a job outside of school hours and can’t reject it without having their only means of financial support cut off.

    We are also not the US – there are no punishments for parents who refuse to pay child support. It is not a crime, and if a man refuses to pay, all they can do is seize his tax return – and many dads have learnt that it’s really easy to either just not file a tax return, or to get their employer to take out less tax so they owe tax not have a refund. They’d rather pay fines to the tax office for tax evasion than pay child support.

    In many ways, the US system is superior to the Australian system. Doesn’t mean their system is good, but all the systems in the western world need a huge shake up. A few cheats like my dead beat ex is no reason to deter people from supporting those who are desperate and suffering terribly. In a western country, no one should have to go without food and/or basic medical care, but sadly many do. I have been one of them, and I will fight for those who are still in that situation.

    Call it a duty as a christian, or call it being a good secular citizen – I see it as both and don’t care who disagrees.

    Just for clarity: there is a small welfare payment (VERY small) for all parents on a low income here in Australia whether they are partnered or single, but receiving child support drastically decreases the small government payment to parents (usually to nothing), so it favours intact nuclear families and punishes sole parents and those who are repartnered.

  42. I am not sure that you can compare the tithe with a state tax, it was given to the priesthood – the church. Israel was a church-state so it seems to be fufilled in the Christian’s obligation to tithe to his local church and not in the state tax system. And gleaning, well, it was only for the primary sector of the economy – you can’t apply it to supermarkets. The book of Ruth makes it clear that landowners could even be picky about which poor gleaned on their land – it definitely looks a lot more like a decentralised ‘workfare’ type scheme since gleaning was not an easy job!

    Having said all that, I think the main priority for the US and the UK is for them to downsize their armies drastically! The bible is clear on this one – a king must not multiply gold, wives or CHARIOTS. They must trust in God to protect their nation rather than having an enormous army, good diplomacy, subsidised trading or whatever else. Remember how upset God was with David for numbering his troops?

  43. I am not sure that you can compare the tithe with a state tax, it was given to the priesthood – the church. Israel was a church-state so it seems to be fufilled in the Christian’s obligation to tithe to his local church and not in the state tax system.

    The same argument works in reverse against tithing: I am not sure you can compare tithing in Israel with tithing to the church. Israel was a church-state, so the parallel obligation today would be giving to our state, not the local church. Truth is, the temple was a central communal point for society, and was the best equivalent that they had for a central distribution point like government. Otherwise we end up dismissing all of Israel’s laws as good models of laws, as they were things that existed in a church state, and so the state can’t carry out any of them today – but the church can.

    Moreover, the the problem with saying that gleaning was only for primary industries is that they didn’t have supermarkets and so on. Primary industry, as far as food goes, was virtually the only industry.

  44. But if the Church is the priesthood in the New Covenant, then surely the Church gains the rights that the Old Covenant Priesthood once had? We are the New Covenant temple and priesthood. Simply stating that the temple was a “central distribution point” doesn’t work. If the Church is the New covenant priesthood, then the Church is now the “central distribution point” where justice and service to the poor are administered. That fundamental covenantal change is not insignificant. A welfare state is a false church and a false priesthood.

    With regards to gleaning, it was only applied to the fields. Crops still have to be harvested in fields, and gleaning laws should still be in place (as they are still in some countries I believe). But you can’t go applying the gleaning principles to crops which have already been harvested! The whole point is that they are unharvested crops which are intentionally left behind. Even with gleaning, you had to work to eat, thus upholding the valuable principle that “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” (2 Thes 3:10)

  45. “But if the Church is the priesthood in the New Covenant, then surely the Church gains the rights that the Old Covenant Priesthood once had?”

    Well if that’s so, then the church gets to have a small part of the tithe – just like the priests, surely. The priests got enough for them individually, the bulk of the tithe did not go to them. Notice that the Levites didn’t get part of the tithe simply because of the holiness of their role. It was because they had no land allotment like the others, so they were int he same boat as the poor.

    “But you can’t go applying the gleaning principles to crops which have already been harvested!”

    Well what we need to do is figure out the best way to emulate the same principle. This is what some theologians refer to as the “general equity” of the law. In the modern world it’s just not as easy to machine harvest a field but not really do it thoroughly. So we may need to be a bit more creative than just observing that the situations aren’t identical and declaring it too hard. Machines take away the manual effort of harvesting and doing most things in producing food, so I see nothing wrong with simply leaving some extra over when the factory is done with it. But fair enough – in some contexts this would involve leaving unharvested food (namely in cases where the food is harvested by hand). There are other factors too – like the fact that in the modern world it is normal for orchards etc to be many miles away from towns, so the poor with no vehicles would have an extra difficulty – we’d have to take all of this into account when working out how best to approach this – but we should certainly approach it.

    None of this will give us pre-packaged answers, we’ve got to think about the best ways to do this in the modern world of course. But whatever the solution – at least one of the principles is that it wasn’t just private affair, it was mandated in law, and the community is responsible to see that it happens.

  46. The problem is that there is no “christian country”. Genuine christians who follow the bible only make up a very small fragment of countries like Australia, the US, the UK and I assume NZ (sorry have never looked up stats for the other side of the ditch).

    The modern church can barely financially support itself – there is no way it can support even a very small amount of the people who genuinely need help.

    However, non-christians and “semi christians” still have values and recognise that many people are poor due to circumstances beyond their control and need help – but they certainly don’t trust churches with their money. So that just leaves a government welfare system

  47. Hi Glenn,

    The tithe is no longer mandatory for all since we are no longer under a church-state system like Israel. Now there is a more settled distinction between the two, as the Apostle Paul seems to suggest in Romans 13. Only Christians need pay the tithe to their Church leaders, who are to distribute it firstly amongst the poorer Christians and secondarily to the other poor in their local area. But the crucial point is that the New Covenant tithe is about the Church and her mission. The taxes to the king are a separate matter and are dealt with in other parts of the law. This is why I take a more broadly libertarian, rather than classical view.

    [As an aside, I think that Christians should still spend some of their tithe on meat, bread, beer and wine etc and share it with one another every Sunday as a love feast to God, of which the Lord’s supper is a part. This seems to be the background to Paul’s understanding of the supper in 1 Corinthians 11. Call it a weekly bring and share lunch if you will!]

    Regarding gleaning, it is still easily possible for harvesters to leave parts of the field unharvested. This seems to me to be the best way of fulfilling the law. For those poor not living in rural areas, they would perhaps consider migrating, although the Church certainly ought to be helping them as best it can (perhaps even helping them to relocate, who knows!). Regarding it being mandated in law, this is certainly the case. However, the punishment for breaking this commandment was not to be administered by the state, unlike for many other crimes (where punishment was enforced by elders – local government). It was to be administered directly by God, in accordance with Exodus 22:21-24.

    Julie,

    You are quite right that there are no Christian countries. But I think that there will be, as the Church disciples the nations, in accordance with the great commission. Perhaps not for hundreds or even thousands of years, but eventually. The modern Church ought to teach its members to tithe to their leaders and encourage groups of Christians to get involved in works of mercy. And it certainly appears that God has raised up a false Church, the welfare state, as a testimony against the Church for failing in her duties.

  48. Chris, you are taking the untenable line that laws about looking after people in a theocracy cannot be required outside that theocracy because we don’t have a church state. You haven’t offered a reason for this, so I want to check: Do you really believe this?

    Further, I pointed out that only some of the tithe was kept for the temple. ergo no neat temple-church equation is possible. It was not all given to the “church” at all. It was given to include provision for the poor in the nation.

  49. They are required, they just work differently under the New Covenant. Each institutional Church is part of a wider Church priesthood, they receive the tithes from working Christians (Melchizedekan priests like us are special and get to have ordinary jobs of course) and they use those tithes to pay the pastors, provide for the poor and many other things. The laws regarding looking after other people are still important (especially the ‘every 3 years’ tithe for helping widows, orphans and immigrants) – but such laws were never enforced by the state, even under the Old Covenant!

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the whole ‘ordinary’ tithe went to the temple (though I can’t find the passage). The temple then distributed it as they saw fit, including amongst the poor. How can you identify the Old Covenant temple and priesthood with a secular welfare state? And how can you argue for state enforced charity when such a thing was non-existent in God’s holy Law? It was certainly commanded but never enforced.

    Not that any of this is hugely important of course. Especially since it is ultimately the Church which governs the world through her ministry.

  50. “They are required, they just work differently under the New Covenant.”

    Chris, the issue that’s going on here is this: Israel was a unique covenant people, yes. But there were also a people. That is, they were a civilization that had to do the same general things that other civilizations had to do. To talk about how something works “differently under the new Covenant” is to take a few logical leaps on the very matters that we appear not to agree on. I don’t even accept that communally caring for the poor was purely a matter of covenant uniqueness, just as I don’t think it’s purely a matter of covenant uniqueness now. I have no moral reason for believing that caring for the poor communally today is just a matter for the church to be concerned about, and I have no reason to think that communally caring for the poor in Ancient Israel was purely some ritual or typological matter or something that wasn’t based in a more general human duty. So this talk of the way it functions now as part of the New Covenant vs the Old just assumes the very way of approaching this that I am not convinced is correct, and I would need to see very plausible arguments before any of that line of thinking seemed believable.

    “Correct me if I am wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the whole ‘ordinary’ tithe went to the temple”

    No, this is the ordinary tithe. As set out in Numbers 18, the Levites took only a small part of it.

    “How can you identify the Old Covenant temple and priesthood with a secular welfare state?”

    I don’t know, but then I never tried to do that, and reading back over this blog post, I certainly never did that. There’s no way at all those things can be equated, because Israel, when these laws were given, was scarcely a state at all. What I am saying, however, is that as a society, the Temple is about as central a rallying point as you could have had in that society. If you wanted anything to point to as the central institution in Israel prior to the monarchy, the Temple was it. But the answer to your question is: I am not, and you misconstrue me if you think that’s what I have said.

    So now it’s my question time: How can you say that as a society we don’t have any obligation to the poor comparable to the obligation that Old Testament Israel had as a society?

    “Especially since it is ultimately the Church which governs the world through her ministry.”

    The church doesn’t govern any nation let alone the world. But that’s an entirely different matter.

  51. “For those poor not living in rural areas, they would perhaps consider migrating, although the Church certainly ought to be helping them as best it can (perhaps even helping them to relocate, who knows!).”

    I’m sorry but this totally ignores what poverty in the western world is.

    Once you remove the lazy sods who don’t want to work, the majority of poor in the western world fall into two categories – those who are unable to work at all and those who make up the “working poor”.

    Those who are unable to work – ie the disabled, people who are full time carers of disabled or elderly family members, sole parents with many young children – giving them the option to glean would be totally useless. They are already swamped and struggled with their illness or caring responsibilities that many can barely cope (or aren’t coping) with what they already have to do.

    And then you have the working poor. Low paying jobs these don’t help make ends meet, and many people are in seasonal or casual jobs where the work comes and go. They do have an income, but it is not sufficient. Moving to rural areas to glean would make them worse off, not better. Gleaning might provide very simple food (possibly), but it doesn’t provide shelter, it doesn’t provide clothes, it doesn’t provide medicine. For the working poor, they are still financially and physically better off in their low paying jobs in the cities than picking up scraps of food in the country.

    Even for the unemployed who are seeking employment, at least they have a chance in the cities. They hope that their unemployment is only for a few weeks or months at worst. In the country, they will simply not be able to find work. Unless you are something like a teacher or a doctor or nurse, it’s near impossible to just move out to the country and get work.

    There is a reason so many people move FROM the country TO the city. There are no jobs, no future no hope. While farmers could leave parts of their field to glean, particularly in a country like Australia so fiercely affected by both droughts and floods on a regular basis, many farmers are finding they don’t get enough from their crops to plant for the next year, many are having to shoot their animals as they cannot feed them, and quite simply, many are forced to give up their farms. They cannot sell them – they cannot even give them away they are so burdened by debts to bank from borrowing to buy seeds and feed for their animals. They just walk away, bankrupt with the bank taking a worthless piece of land.

    I’m not saying they shouldn’t leave some of their crops for gleaning, what I’m saying is many don’t end up with crops to glean most years, and the years they do, they only end up with just enough to plant the next season. If they were to leave any, there wouldn’t be a next season.

    Telling people to go rural isn’t the answer. Western society simply doesn’t have the resources.

  52. Hi y’all!

    “is to take a few logical leaps on the very matters that we appear not to agree on.”

    You’re quite right, I should bring out all of my logical steps much more clearly. Here it goes. The temple, in Israel, was the ‘central distribution point’, where caring for the poor happened. The temple was also the centre of worship. What I am maintaining is that these two aspects cannot rightly be separated from one another. You can only use the wealth distribution which happened via the temple as a basis for a welfare state if the temple’s ministry of service to the poor can be rigidly distinguished from the temple’s ministry of service to God (through sacrifice). Only a priesthood which rightly worships God can be given such a task. That is why I can refer to a welfare state as a ‘false church’ – it is an illegitimate imitation priesthood.

    “How can you say that as a society we don’t have any obligation to the poor comparable to the obligation that Old Testament Israel had as a society?”

    Israel was a ‘Christian’ nation – they were a nation under covenant with God. They could work together in such matters with no issues involved. The Church, however, is called to be separate from the world. Our acts of charity and service are to be our own – just as they were in Acts. The Church is THE society called into the world to help the hurting and the broken. On an individual level, I do think that people should help the poor, I just don’t think that state coercion is a morally acceptable way to go about it.

    I hope that clarifies matters. Regarding the Church as governer of the world, what I mean is that God is enthroned on the praises of his people. Our worship calls down curses upon corrupt governments and sends blessings upon righteous ones. There are many Old Testament themes I could bring in to justify this one. But in that sense, I am confident you will agree that the Church does rule over all, seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Eph 2).

    Julie,

    You are quite right, I haven’t really given much thought to the pragmatics. I am more interested in the theology behind it. Our ultimate aim of course is for the Church to be doing such a good job of helping the poor and broken that none of this is really an issue. And I suppose that is where we ought to begin. The kingdom of God comes through the Holy Spirit, not through politics.

  53. “How can you say that as a society we don’t have any obligation to the poor comparable to the obligation that Old Testament Israel had as a society?”
    Why do you assume that the Government is a good instrument for meeting these obligations? That would not be my personal experience. When I was widowed (with 8 dependant children) I found welfare presented an impersonal poverty trap. I found people (not just Christians) to be overwhelmingly generous and it came in the context of relationship and community. I can’t explain how important friendship and community is, when coping with personal tragedy. I might use the example of Ruth and Naomi to argue that God is interested in more that just providing bread.

  54. That sounds great Tarnya but not everyone lives in such great places. I couldn’t say the same when I lost my first husband. No one was there for us. Not even the church community that I grew up and spent the first 30 years of my life attending.

    I live in a sad community where the church is so focussed on reaching out to people, but after initial contact, they lose all interest. For those who have been there for decades but not part of the inner clique, even those in desperate need are ignored.

  55. Hi Julie,
    You wrote : “No one was there for us.”
    Oh Julie! How did you manage? That is awful to read, because the Bible is so clear: James 1:27.
    I fear that dualism affects the church so much, they reach out to “save souls” and forget about the whole person.

  56. How would the principle of gleaming work today? We are no longer in an agricultural society. Could it mean that each business could have work available that people can do in exchange for money, up to 10% of the business wage bill that would not have to be taxed nor declared for those who are poor ? And for this nontaxed work be available for family members who are caring for those unable to work ?
    Here in NZ the highest marginal tax rates are for the poor on welfare. http://www.ird.govt.nz/resources/c/9/c937c20043b761b68713974e9c145ab7/research-wfftc-report-annex1.pdf
    “In the 2008 tax year, 7% (16,300) of all WFF recipient non-beneficiary families had EMTRs of
    more than 75%, including 1% (3,400) who had EMTRs above 100%.”
    Effective marginal tax rate above 100% ie the more you work the poorer you are!
    Great post, Glenn!

  57. Chris, so we agree that absent a monarchy, the temple served a practical civil function as a central rallying point that was well suited to be used for distribution. Good. But you add to this the claim that since the temple is also where worship happened, it follows (logically?)that the two are inseparable and only worship centres can do this. But this is anything but persuasive, since we’ve already agreed (I thought) that if there was any place that served as a *civil* central rallying point, the temple was it. Trying to incorporate this entirely within the priesthood does not work, as the priests were only one beneficiary of this scheme. The function served by the redistribution was certainly a civil one. The fact that the temple served both functions at this point in Israel’s history doesn’t give us licence to just decide that therefore everything should be subsumed under the religious function of the temple, any more than we can say that everything should be subsumed under the civil function of the temple.

    I suppose one way to put it to you, Chris, is this: If Israel did have a scheme that existed simply to provide for the poor by way of a civil mechanism because that is the right thing to do, and they wanted to use a central distribution point in a way that we as a society could look at and emulate, what *would* they have used? (My answer: probably the temple.)

  58. Since our money belongs to God, and because we have an Biblical obligation to help the poor and oppressed, as does the King, i.e., government, according to the Bible, I wonder about the hardened hearts of those who claim to be Christian and yet oppose government taxing to help the poor. The Christian should not mind since government is a God-given means to ordered society, and because government is in a position to administer to all the poor. If there is fraud, reform the system. If the Christian can be sure that those who are helped by welfare would be helped without it, then sure, oppose the system as redundant, but that is empirically unlikely. Here in the U.S., the food banks affirm that they could not provide food for the poor that come to them without the help of government. I doubt that Evangelical Christians are prepared to provide a program of health insurance for 30,000,000 or more Americans as the Affordable Care Act is intended to try to do. Relying on personal anecdotes is not a sufficient reason to oppose well-meaning government programs. To claim that taxation is theft, as some U.S. Evangelicals do and teach, is heresy as I read my Bible. I try to tithe and I do pay my taxes, and we are content with the remainder. I cannot believe that the Holy Spirit calls on Christians to advocate letting the greedy avoid taxation to help the needy in the name of some current faddish concept of political “freedom” supported by culling scripture out of context.

  59. Quick question David (well maybe two),

    What are your thoughts on Government using your tax dollars to pay for things which may go against God’s will? (I am thinking gender reassignment and abortion here but I am sure ther are other examples)

    Second, do you know how much of your tax contribution is directed into the programs you mention?

  60. As the United States Supreme Court has ruled in taxpayer suits, once your tax money goes into treasury it is no longer your money, so you cannot say your money is being used for one thing or another. If you want to do that arbitrarily for conscience sake, then my money is used for helping the poor, and not things that other taxpayers approve of but are against my conscience as a Christian. Paul and Jesus did not make any distinction regarding use of tax money, and I’m sure there were plenty of things the Romans were doing that could be considered against God’s will. Jesus did not object to the use of tax money to provide a corn dole for the poor in Rome. As I told my sister, you don’t like your money being used for welfare, then you can consider your money to be used for buying arms to kill, or for paying the rent on your Republican Senator’s local office.

  61. Yes, well said David, to both recent comments. And thats a very good point, technically tax monies are not ours once taken and even if we object to how they are spent we are not morally culpable. The option to enter politics or actively lobby remains open to us to try and change things, which is far more than Jesus, Paul or the early church had available to them. Christ’s advice on tax, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s….” [doesnt leave much room for claiming tax is theft].

  62. Fair enough.

    I do think it is important to remember that even though God sets governments over us to achieve his ends, that fact does not make them infallible 🙂

  63. We are also called to be salt, to be the seasoning in society that makes this life bearable, and we are told to pray for our governments. I am reasonably sure that God wants us to pray that govt act in a just and caring manner, and run the country on Godly principles ( whether they know it or not).

  64. Hi Geoff,

    Sorry, I completely forgot about this thread!

    I have no problem whatsoever with the concept of a central civil rallying point. But in Israel’s entire history, it was the temple. You don’t see tax collectors appointed to collect the tithe (as they could have done). Additionally, the tithe was never coerced out of people in this way (though it was certainly prescribed by law). Now that we are living in the New Covenant, I think the tithes and offerings of ordinary people ought to be given to the Church (as part of the fulfilment of Rev 21:24), but not by state coercion. My initial point stands: a welfare state is nothing but a false church.

    So in answer to your question: the judges and later the kings could have appointed tax collectors to gather the tithes and then distribute them. But they chose not to separate ministry to the poor and worship in this way – the two are held firmly together.

    I suppose my throwback question is this: What positive evidence can you bring me that there was ever any kind of civil penalty for failure to pay the tithe?

  65. Oh! This thread exists and I should have answered a question already. A long time ago too, it seems! I probably overlooked it because it said “Hi Geoff.” Sorry. I don’t know if anyone will still read this, but I would just add this:

    “You don’t see tax collectors appointed to collect the tithe (as they could have done).”

    There were no tax collectors, so they couldn’t have done this. But we do have this practice of bringing goods to a central civil rallying point mandated by law, which is as close as it gets to there being a tax collector.

  66. Hi Glenn,

    Really enjoying your current series on human nature by the way. At this point I would argue that the temple had redemptive significance and is fulfilled in the new covenant church. You would probably respond with ‘but not necessarily in this context’ and then we would just go round in circles no doubt. I can’t help but feel that our difference here is a hermeneutical as opposed to merely a textual one. Have you read ‘Deep Exegesis’ by Peter Leithart? It’s a great book and it advocates a hermeneutical approach which I think is better than the kind of interpretative minimalism so prevalent in evangelicalism, yet without drifting into a kind of ‘anything goes’ strange allegorical approach. Are there any others who have greatly influenced your hermeneutical approach?

    Chris

  67. Chris, you could say that the the temple had redemptive significance and is fulfilled in the new covenant church. I agree. But that doesn’t impact at all on the present question: Did the temple also in this instance serve an important civil function? I say yes, and I think the example of the distribution of resources to those who had none is an illustration of this: It’s not part of the cult / sacrificial system and plays a primarily moral and civil role.

    When it comes to hermeneutics and Old Testament Law, two people who have influenced me a lot (not that I necessarily here am saying that I would always agree with them) are Greg L. Bahnsen and Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. One of the insights of which they remind us is that we should acknowledge the redemptive / typological / ceremonial aspects of various commands and institutions, but not at the expense of acknowledging their civil and moral value. So we shouldn’t for example – and this is an extreme example – say that since the law of Israel was given in a covenant context, that means that we can just not listen to it because we’re not in that covenant context (or else it only applies spiritually in some allegorical way via the church).

  68. Well, having reexamined the tithe in the bible to try and understand it’s meaning I think I am less sure than I was before. Certainly in the law of Moses it seems to have a primarily priestly significance, however in Genesis it appears to be both priestly and kingly. Firstly, there is the tithe given to Melchizadek (a priest and a king) in Genesis 14. Then there is the double-tithe paid to Joseph in Genesis 41, which seems to be more kingly than priestly (the mention of wisdom reinforces this).

    However, in the Law of Moses, things look different. In Deuteronomy 14, if you cannot bring it to the temple, you must instead bring it to a special place appointed by God in your locality. Presumably it refers to the synagogues which were to be established for gathering on the Sabbath, but we can’t be sure either way. Deuteronomy 26 is interesting. According to this passage, when the tithe was brought to the temple, certain religious/Liturgical rites formed part of the ceremony in which the Israelite handed over the tithe – the covenant God made with Israel was invoked. To try to apply the tithe to a secular welfare state just doesn’t seem to work therefore. The giving of the tithe was a deeply religious and covenantal act.

    But I think a full study of the biblical tithe would be required to be sure, either way. Thanks for the author recommendations. I think I’ve read some Bahnsen, but not Kaiser – will check him out!

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