Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Hardening of spiritual Arteries

Radical Renewal: The Problem of Wineskins Today. Houston: Touch Publications, 1996, by Howard A. Snyder. Chapter three of Snyder’s book attracted me for its theme, expressed in the chapter's opening sentence: “Jesus came preaching the gospel to the poor.” We all know this. We Christians take it for granted; yet, we promptly forget and ignore it.

Dr. Snyder also affirms what some of us already recognize, which is, “The Old Testament repeatedly speaks of God’s care for the poor, the fatherless, the widow, the oppressed.” To that, however, Snyder adds what has become an odd note for too much of the church. He claims: “Radical renewal calls us to hear this biblical concern for the poor, for here we feel the heartbeat of God” (italic added).

Regarding the poor in the Old Testament, the author suggests “The Old Testament reveals several significant facts, surprising facts about God’s attitude toward the poor”:

1. The Lord “especially loves the poor and does not forget them… (emphasis added).
God’s anointed one “delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy” (Psalm 72:12-13).
The Lord “does not forget the cry of the afflicted “ (Psalm 9:12).
God has been a “refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress” (Isaiah 25:4).

2. In the Old Testament social order the poor received an economic advantage (bold print added).
The people were commanded to loan freely to the poor, but not to charge interest (Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Exodus 22:25).
*Part of the wheat and grape harvest was to be left ungathered for the benefit of the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22).
*Significantly, part of the purpose of the tithe was to provide relief for the poor (Deuteronomy 14:29; 26:12-13).

3. The Old Testament insists that God requires justice for the poor and will judge those who oppress them. God’s words by the prophet Zechariah are typical: “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor” (Zechariah 7:9-10; compare Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 16:18-20, 24:14-22; Proverbs 31:9; Amos 2:6-7).
4. Finally, the Old Testament teaches that God’s people bear a special ethical responsibility to the poor. “Remembering their slavery in Egypt was to motivate the Israelites to show mercy to the oppressed” (stranger, emigrant) (Deuteronomy 24:17-22).

Why this concern for the poor? Snyder suggests, “In the Old Testament God’s concern with the poor is consistently tied to God’s justice and the working of justice among God’s people. Thus, biblical words such as the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the sojourner typically have moral content, pointing to God’s requirement for justice” (bold added).

The poor is a moral category. In God’s world there is no human condition which escapes moral significance, and the poor, and the treatment they receive, are strong indicators of the faithfulness of God’s people” (italic added).

Now, we all know Jesus emphasized the poor and vulnerable, but did he play down the O. T. emphasis, or did he affirm it? Snyder offers four statements answering this question.
1. Jesus made the preaching of the gospel to the poor a validation of his own ministry (Luke 4:18-21, citing Isaiah 61; compare Mark 11:1-6).
2. Jesus believed the poor were more ready and able to understand and accept his gospel (Matthew 11:25-26)..
3. Jesus specifically directed the gospel call to the poor (Matthew 11:28).
4. On several occasions Jesus recommended showing partiality to the poor (cf. Matthew 19:211; Luke 12:33, 14l:12-14).
He concludes: “In short, Jesus… the Son of God, demonstrated the same attitude toward the poor that God revealed in the Old Testament.”

From this, Snyder draws this parallel for today: “Like her Master, the Church must place special emphasis on the poor” (italics added). He further observes what I too have observed, “Protestantism is, in general, neglecting poorer people.” This I have experienced, in the white flight to the suburbs.

Snyder’s application for his book is this: “The priority among the poor is evangelism” and he makes a strong case for church planting and evangelism among the poor and letting the power of the gospel raise the level of the people (which it will quite naturally, but we are not to turn our backs on the poor after we ascend economically, as has happened across Protestantism).

This may be a better strategy than moving to the suburbs in a fine, upwardly mobile community that is hard to reach with the gospel. In 1771, Wesley commented, “Everywhere we find the laboring part of mankind the readiest to receive the Gospel.”

My application for this is what Snyder applies as a 3rd implication in ministering to the poor for today. He claims “Christian responsibility toward the poor does not end with evangelism.”

It is my contention that Christians today have a moral and ethical obligation (sense of justice) that demands rethinking political positions and working to repair a broken socio-political system that favors the ways of the wealthy and further burdens the middle and lower income people (much of it in the name of the Christian church and being moral).

If the church is to avoid spiritual and social hardening of the arteries, the church must be growing among the poor. I am walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com

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