About 1700 years ago, a certain Roman emperor by the name of Julian the Apostate reigned. He was called the ‘Apostate’ because of his fierce rejection of Christianity and his sometimes brutal attempt to repress it. Julian was smart. He knew that he could not just eradicate Christianity without dealing with the things that made it attractive. He complained:
Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.
In response, Julian The Apostate launched government philanthropic programs in an attempt to render the Christian message impotent.
The astute Christian reader will already see where this is going. We must ask the question: “Do the numerous government programs aimed at ‘helping’ people actually serve to undermine the Christian faith?” Some might argue that that is too conspiratorial. Let us set aside the question of intent then and deal strictly with the question of effect.
In doing this, we might approach a question like government funded welfare not by saying, “This was meant to undermine the Church” but instead by saying, “Whatever its intent, does it undermine the Church?” I would answer the latter resoundingly as a ‘YES!’
For the great many Christians that vote Democratic and have over the decades such a determination probably comes across as a slap in the face. Christians who vote Democratic tend to have genuine concern for the oppressed, the poor, and the desperate. Do we suppose that the Christians during Julian the Apostate’s reign cared any less? So what would be the difference?
The difference is clear: the Christians then used their own money, their own resources, and their own time to help the poor. They did not relegate the duties clearly given to them by God to the government. And lucky thing, too, for Julian would have been happy to take on the task. No happier, I suppose, then the Democrat party is today.
I note again that these duties were given to the Church by God. I trust that I do not need to document this but for example, when the early church was getting ‘bogged down’ with ministering to the poor they didn’t ring up the leaders of Jerusalem to take over the task. They appointed seven godly men from within to take over. (Acts 6)
A sincere Christian might protest that it should make no difference who is helping the poor so long as they are being helped. Wrong. It makes a huge difference.
Consider this one very big difference: the good deeds done by the Church are accomplished by men and women freely giving up their own time, talents, and money; the ‘good’ deeds done by the Government which accomplishes the deed by coercing, by threat of fines, confiscation, and imprisonment, resources from the community.
More succinctly: The Christian Church gives away was was freely given to begin with. The Government gives away what was forcibly taken.
This is all the difference in the world.
From the outset, then, we see that there is no way that ‘helping the poor’ is the same no matter who does it. The Government achieves it by robbing the rich(er). The Church achieves it by the rich(er) joyfully responding to God’s work on their behalf.
There are many other differences, too. For example, the Christian who cares about the poor and believes that the Democrats can help might disagree with the liberals that subsidizing abortion on demand helps the poor.
Too bad! Live by the Government, Die by the Government. You opted to use the Government to do ‘good’ and that’s exactly what it did- ‘good’ as it perceives it. Guess what. Your hard earned dollars are now subsidizing the murder of thousands and millions of the unborn. Oops.
Well, what did you expect to happen? Did you think that the Government was going to be filled forever with stout Christians? Hey, don’t let it bother you too much. Besides subsidizing abortion, you’re also paying your ‘fair share’ for embryonic stem cell research, eugenics, euthanasia, condoms, etc, etc. This is your bed you made. Lie in it.
I would like to briefly deal with one likely objection: “But the Government must help people because clearly the need is there and the Church is not stepping up. It is better for these people to receive flawed help then no help at all.”
Setting aside the problem that in America, the kind of help the government often envisions is EVIL, we find ourselves returning to the issues raised by my citation of Julian the Apostate. If the Church today was doing its duty, there would be no room for the argument that the secular, humanistic, godless, liberal Government needs to be doing it. What Julian had hoped to achieve has been accomplished in our age, with Christians complicit in the affair.
But here is the rub: has the involvement and support of the Democrat party by so many Christians over the decades improved the reputation of the Gospel and Christians? Nope. Ostensibly, supporting these social causes were a manifestation of the Gospel but in fact the effect was to undermine the power and witness of the Gospel.
No other consequence should have been expected. Who needs the Gospel when you have the Government? And why should you believe the Gospel when all the Christians you know seem to be stingy and just as worldly as anyone else? It isn’t like Christians are paying more taxes then anyone else, right? Christian Bob and Secular Joe, living on the same street, are paying the same ‘fair share’ of taxes to support the same government programs. How can we distinguish between their respective ideologies?
It seems like the very opposite of compassion, but Christians need to extract themselves from this vicious cycle of using the Government as the tool to ostensibly carry out the duties that belong to them. This is not a call for being dismissive regarding social issues. It is a call to meet them on our own terms.