Guthrie's Gospel

Economic justice from a Christian perspective

Category: New Testament

No Christian can support the GOP’s attacks on immigrants and refugees

It is the duty of Christians to welcome and embrace refugees and immigrants regardless of where they’re from and what faith they hold. This is made clear throughout the Bible.

The Old Testament is full of exhortations to the faithful to treat foreigners and refugees with the same justice and compassion we would want for ourselves.

In Exodus, God commands the Hebrews not to mistreat or oppress foreigners:

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.  If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:21-24)

This point is also made in Leviticus:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Deuteronomy tells us that God loves the foreigners who reside among his faithful, providing for their material comfort, and that the truly faithful are to love foreigners as He does:

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:16-19)

Deuteronomy reiterates this point by cursing those who ignore the Lord’s command:

“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.”

Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:19)

The books of the prophets continue to reiterate this central duty of those who worship God.

In Jeremiah, the we are warned against empty religion that does not fulfill the Lord’s teachings:

Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.  This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:1-7)

Zechariah also condemns oppression of foreigners:

And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’ (Zechariah 7:8-10)

Malachi warns that the Lord will put on trial those who deprive foreigners of justice:

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.  (Malachi 3:5-7)

The New Testament continues this theme. In Matthew we are shown that Christ Himself and His holy parents were themselves refugees in the time of Herod:

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  (Matthew 2:13-16)

And in His parable of the sheep and the goats, Christ makes clear the gravity of treating those in need, which certainly includes refugees, with a hard heart:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40)

Upon those who live their faith through practical compassion He will bestow heavenly rewards, but those who turn away strangers Christ will likewise turn away.

Paul too speaks about the importance of welcoming strangers with open arms. In Hebrews, Paul exhorts us to show hospitality to strangers and to remember those, like refugees, who suffer:

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:2-3)

All this is reflected in Christianity’s central moral precept that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39, Luke 10:27). “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’,” as Paul teaches in Galatians 5:14, “for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law” (Romans 13:8).

Those who do not exercise practical love for their neighbor, even their foreign neighbor, even their neighbor who lives beside them without a visa, have renounced Christ and His teachings. It is to them that Christ says “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

Advertisements

The economics of the Didache

The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a pious work that gives a glimpse into the minds of some of the earliest Christians. The Didache probably originates in the latter half of the first century or the early part of the second century. While we certainly can’t accord it the same authority that we grant Scripture, we can use it to see how early Christian understood the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. With that in mind, let us look at how the writer or writers of the Didache understood the proper economic relationships Christians should cultivate.

The text begins by laying out a Way of Life and a Way of Death, echoing Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 21:8, and Matthew 7:13-14. The Didache defines the way of life as Christ’s twofold commandment:

The Way of Life is this: Thou shalt love first the Lord thy Creator and secondly they neighbour as thyself; and thou shalt do nothing to any man that thou wouldst not wish to be done to thyself.

This Way of Life has clear echos of Christ’s teachings in Mark 12:28-31, Matthew 22:35-40, and Luke 10:25-38. The Way of Life also reflects Old Testament readings, including Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18, and Tobit 4:15. The Didache expands upon exactly what it would mean to live according to the Way of Life like so:

Give to everyone that asks, without looking for any repayment, for it is the Father’s pleasure that we should share His gracious bounty with all men. A giver who gives freely, as the commandment directs, is blessed; no fault can be found with him. But woe to the taker; for though he cannot be blamed for taking if he was in need, yet if he was not, an account will be required of him as to why he took it, and for what purpose, and he will be taken into custody and examined about his action, and he will not get out until he has paid the last penny. The old saying is in point here:  “Let your alms grow damp with sweat in your hand, until you know who it is you are giving them to.”

The teaching here is clear: as Christians we should share whatever extra we have with everyone in need because this is what God wants us to do (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9, Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 3:11, 1 John 3:17-18, James 2:15-17, Hebrews 13:16, Tobit 4:7-11, Tobit 4:16, Deuteronomy 15:7-11) . However, Christians should also not con people into giving when the receiver is not in need. The sort of avarice that seeks money even when one lives in comfort is condemned. The condemnation of greed is reconfirmed in more general terms when the Didache states “You are not to be avaricious or extortionate” which accords with St. Paul’s teaching that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

The Didache also tells its readers:

Do not be like those who reach out to take, but draw back when the time comes for giving. If the labour of your hands has been productive, your giving will be a ransom for sins. Give without hesitating and without grumbling, and you will see Whose generosity will requite you. Never turn away the needy; share all your possessions with your brother, and do not claim that anything is your own (cf. Acts 2:44-45). If you and he are joint participators in things immortal, how much more so in things mortal?

Again, the understanding of Christ’s gospel is clear. We are to give to all who need unconditionally and not to view what we possess as our own property. All of Creation is a gift from God, but we are like sojourners passing through this world. What we may have gathered in it is no credit to us, but to God. This is what He taught the Israelites in Deuteronomy 15:1-18 when he declares that every seventh year all debts are to be canceled and all Hebrew slaves freed, in Deuteronomy 24:19-22 when he commanded that those who farm leave some of their crops in the field because it belong not to those who toiled, but to those who could not provide for themselves, and in Leviticus where the Lord declares the Jubilee Year in which slaves are freed and property is returned to its previous owners because “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23). While there may be room for Christians to possess property in private, there is no room in Christianity for private property in the modern sense. All we have comes from the Lord and belongs to our neighbors.

The Didache professes an economic stance that reflects the consistent message of both the Old and New Testaments. God’s people are to be generous and selfless. We are to seek economic relationships with one another that emphasize giving rather than receiving, that places the common good above personal profits. We should avoid, as much as possible, participating in or promoting economic systems that exploit the poor, and we should reject the notion of private property. That is the economy of the Way of Life.

In contrast to the Way of Life, which is characterized by generosity, humility, and selflessness, the Didache declares that the Way of Death is characterized by self-will and avarice, among many other sins, and is walked by those

who persecute good men, hold truth in abhorrence, and love falsehood; who do not know of the rewards of righteousness, nor adhere to what is good, nor to just judgement; who lie awake planning wickedness rather than well-doing. Gentleness and patience are beyond their conception; they care for nothing good or useful, and are bent only on their own advantage, without pity for the poor or feeling for the distressed. Knowledge of their Creator is not in them; they make away with their infants and deface God’s image; they turn away the needy and oppress the afflicted; they aid and abet the rich but arbitrarily condemn the poor; they are utterly and altogether sunk into inequity.

Those who lack charity and generosity are soundly condemned. Those who ignore the plight of the poor and suffering, but who aid the rich and seek their own material benefit are “altogether sunk into inequity” and do not know God, no matter how much they might profess Him with their lips (cf. Luke 6:46-49). Every day we can see those who walk the Way of Death in America. They cut funding for food stamps and welfare. They seek to evict the homeless from their cities rather than helping to provide them with basic necessities. They pass beggars on the street and give them nothing because they think to themselves, “They’ll only spend it on drugs or booze.” They lay in bed plotting their next corporate merger or how much the next round of layoffs will line the pockets of their stock holders. These are the Godless and the condemned. Let us not choose their way, but the way of Christ, the Way of Life.

 

The Tea Party and Ayn Rand versus Jesus Christ

This video imagines what a false Jesus would preach today if he were to stand on the National Mall and espouse the values of tea party Repbulicans and then contrasts those teachings with that of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The video is entertaining and manages to draw a clear line between Christianity and the tea party movement. However, it only tangentially alludes to the root of this difference when false-Jesus calls Ayn Rand his prophet. Herein, I will endeavor to make clear the foundational importance of Ayn Rand to tea party ideology and the contradictions between her philosophy, Objectivism, and authentic Christianity, which many of Rand’s admires still claim to confess.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is inextricably linked to the ideology of the tea party movement, and much of the contemporary Republican Party and many conservative political organizations. Paul Ryan, a professed Catholic, claimed Ayn Rand was the reason he got involved in public service and has said that:

“I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are…It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged…It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding principles are…there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works.” (Audio available here)

Ron Paul, a professed Baptist, said Ayn Rand had a lot of influence on him.  His son Rand Paul, a Presbyterian, calls himself a “a big fan of Ayn Rand.”  Ted Cruz, a professed Baptist, read from Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged during his filibuster against Obamacare. Marco Rubio, a Catholic (or maybe a Baptist), read Atlas Shrugged twice during his first term in office. Ron Johnson, a Lutheran, called Atlas Shrugged his “foundational book.” Michelle Malkin, a professed Catholic, hyped the links between the tea party and Ayn Rand. Rush Limbaugh, a Methodist, is fond of talking about Rand. Many tea party groups promoted the 2011 movie Atlas Shrugged, based on Rand’s most famous novel. The Heritage Foundation hosted a special screening of Atlas Shrugged. FreedomWorks claimed it helped bring the movie to the big screen. Even where these groups draw their ideas from sources other than Rand, they usually manage to find thinkers who largely reinforce a worldview espoused by Ayn Rand and her disciples.

Some of the tea party’s canonized saints, like St. Ronald Reagan the Great, a member of the Disciples of Christ and later the Presbyterian traditions, and St. Barry Goldwater the Forerunner, an Episcopalian, have expressed appreciation for Ayn Rand. Even some more “establishment” Republicans have voiced their appreciation of Rand.

But what is the trouble with Christians drawing on the ideas of Ayn Rand? Surely many Christians have drawn on philosophies outside of Christianity to clarify their faith. While that might be the case, there are two major problems with any attempt to marry the philosophy of Ayn Rand with Christianity. The first is that Rand’s ideas fundamentally contradict the teaching of Christ, his apostles, and the prophets. Jesus taught us to love our enemies (Luke 6:27,35; Matthew 5:44). Ayn Rand said: “I regard compassion as proper only toward those who are innocent victims, but not toward those who are morally guilty” and that “You love those who deserve it.”

Another area where Rand diverges from Christ is on the issue of charity. Charity and giving are central to the Christian faith. Moses taught the importance of charity (Deuteronomy 14:22,28-29, 15:7-11, & 24:19-22). Christ commanded that we “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42) and St. John the Baptist proclaimed “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). St. Paul also taught the importance of giving (Hebrews 13:16) and Isaiah declared that aiding those in need was the form of worship God desired (Isaiah 58:6-7). Furthermore, Amos condemned those who ignored or exploited the poor (Amos 2:6-8) as did Christ in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31 ) and when He warned of His judgement to come (Matthew 25:31-46), St. John also condemns those who are uncharitable (1 John 3:17–18). But Rand told Playboy that:

My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Rand also differs with Christianity on the issue of wealth. St. Paul taught us the desire for wealth is evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10) as did Christ in his parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21). St. James condemned the wealthy (James 5:1-6) as did Amos (Amos 6:1,4-7) as did Christ when he told his disciples  about how difficult it would be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23-24),  and when he declared “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:20). Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged:

So you think that money is the root of all evil? Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?

Christians are called to love all people and to do good for others even if it means suffering or death for oneself. Christ taught his disciples “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:12-13). St. Paul teaches “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). Ayn Rand calls altruism and self-sacrifice “evil,” “immoral,” and “cannibalism”:

The second problem is that Ayn Rand was a vitriolic atheist. She openly hated Christianity and religion. In her novel Anthem Rand proclaimed that people should worship themselves: “And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I.'” She told the pornographic magazine Playboy that she believed faith was a “negation of reason” that was “very detrimental to human life.” In a television interview, she declared she was “against God” and calling religion a psychological weakness:

And Rand’s atheism isn’t some quirky side note of her philosophy; atheism is the corner stone of her philosophy; atheism is the root from which her philosophy grows. Rand once condemned the National Review as “the worst and most dangerous magazine in America” for daring to try and link capitalism and Christianity. Ayn idolized human reason and human wisdom as the wellspring of her philosophy. Rand goes so far as to specifically disparage Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross:

According to the Christian mythology, [Christ] died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the non-ideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.

To preach the gospel of Ayn Rand while proclaiming oneself a Christian is an act of heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy. It is an open rebellion against God. Those who do so are false prophets, the wolves in sheep’s clothing Christ warned about and we know them by their evil fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). The dark, twisted, greed-driven philosophy of Ayn Rand can never be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus Christ, not even if we ignore her atheism. As Christ our Lord taught “You cannot serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). We must either choose Christ or Rand. Let us pray that those who have fallen into the blasphemies of Rand’s Objectivist philosophy will repent and return to the Lord in both word and deed. Let us pray that those in the Republican Party and in conservative organizations across our nation publicly repudiate Rand’s philosophy and work to expunge her demonic teachings from their political goals and political works.

For more on how Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is antithetical to Christianity, check these out:

Christians Must Choose: Ayn Rand or Jesus

Ayn Rand Versus Christianity

Chuck Colson’s Two-Minute Warning: Atlas Shrugged and So Should You:

Christianity versus Objectivism

You Can’t Reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

Satanism and Objectivism

Ayn Rand’s Wikiquote page

Jesus and Obamacare

With all the kerfuffle and brouhaha around Obamacare lately, I thought it was time to echo that famous wristband slogan and ask, “What would Jesus do?”

Despite being the 7th wealthiest nation in the world, according to Forbes, 79 million Americans struggle to pay their medical debts in 2008, in 2009 more than 60% of bankruptcy were due to medical bills, and 47 million Americans lacked health insurance in 2012, while America’s largest insurers have posted enormous profits. As a nation, we our failing our poor, working, and middle classes.

Whatever you think of the Affordable Care Act, (I personally think it has a lot of flaws) it is at least an attempt to alleviate some of the problems that deprive millions of Americans of access to basic health care. Instead of trying to defund and repeal Obamacare, perhaps those in Congress who cynically trot out Jesus’ name every election and then work to increase the suffering of the poor and the oppressed should heed Christ’s call to His apostles to “heal the sick” (Matthew 10:8). Instead of trying to tear down such an anemic attempt to fix our healthcare system, perhaps these self-proclaimed Christians can work to ensure that all Americans, even those our Lord calls the least of these His brethren (Matthew 25:40) have regular access to quality, affordable health care.

Jesus healed. Jesus healed without discrimination. Jesus healed the unclean. He healed outcasts and foreigners. He healed on the Sabbath. Jesus healed, but our current health care system locks the poor out of access to adequate health care or forces them into crushing debt to obtain services that many wealthier Americans take for granted. It is long past time that we remake our health care system in the image of Christ. Jesus would heal the sick. So should we.

Dear Christian conservatives

Dear Christian conservatives,

I understand that you fear big, secular government and that you prefer, in general, limited government and less regulated economics. I do not wish to discuss how the Bible makes no mention of a laissez-faire capitalism and libertarian interpretations of the Constitution or how Jesus said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and Paul tells us in Romans “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (13:7). What I wish to discuss is the reasons our government has grown so much in the last century and what Christians could have done and can do to stop it.

Jesus commands his followers to be charitable. To those who follow this commandment he promises eternal salvation, saying, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:34-36,40).

When the Great Depression struck Christian groups gave aid, but they did not give enough to meet the needs of America’s poor. To meet this need the government had to step in and provide work and support for those who could find none.

Christian groups have done much to aid the elderly, who can no longer work or care for themselves, but again they have not done enough. To meet the needs of the elderly poor, the government instituted Medicare and Social Security.

As America’s poor continued to be unable to find work that would pay them enough to avoid eviction and to feed their families, government again stepped in where Christians had failed to provide and instituted various welfare and food stamp programs.

When Christians failed to heal the sick, as Christ commanded, the government stepped in to try and provide health care reform that would aid those who could not afford basic medical necessities.

I make no arguments that these government programs are necessarily the best solution to the problems they address. I am not even arguing that they are always successful. Nor am I trying to denigrate the work of the many Christians who have worked hard and given of themselves to help those in need. Many have done good work and many will continue to.

What I am arguing is that the government steps in when the needs of the people are not met. The easiest way to prevent government from stepping into peoples’ lives is not to protest and carry signs. It is not to succumb, as many of us (including myself) sometimes do, to un-Christian hate and rage against those we perceive as enemies. It is not to try and tear down government aid programs without offering anything to take their place. It is to heed the call of Christ and provide for the needy. More than two-thirds of Americans identify as Christians, yet at least 39 million Americans live in poverty right now. Those are 39 million hungry, desperate voices crying out for succor and we have not given it.

Instead of protesting the charitable actions of the American government, step up your own charity. Provide for the hungry, the thirsty, the strange, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. Employ those on welfare with good wages, so they won’t have to rely on the government. Open hospitals to provide free medical care for the elderly and the poor, so they will not need to rely on Medicare, Medicaid, or Obamacare. Give money, food, and housing to the elderly so they will not need Social Security. Feed those who cannot afford to buy food so they will not need food stamps. If you want to stop big government, then you must step in and provide the services so many Americans rely on to survive. If you want to stop big government, you will have to act like a Christian, because if we perform our Christian duty, perhaps the government won’t have to.

On Faith and Works

St. Peter of Damascus once wrote:

The fathers … kept the commandments; their successors wrote them down; but we have placed their books on the shelves. And even if we want to read them, we do not have the application to understand what is said and to put it into practice; we read them either as something incidental, or because we think that by reading them we are doing something great, thus growing full of pride. We do not realize that we incur greater condemnation if we do not put into practice what we read … And we should remember what the Lord says about the servant who knew his master’s will but failed to carry it out (cf. Lk. 12:47).

St. Peter of Damascus (The Philokalia Vol. 3 edited by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware; Faber and Faber pg. 169)

Quoted from: Milk & Honey.

St. Peter makes clear the centrality of actions, of works in the Christian life. Too often our emphasis seems to be on personal, spiritual salvation, on faith and prayer. All these things are good and necessary in a Christian life, but we must not make idols of them or emphasize them so much that we forgot that Christ preached a religion of doing for the salvation of all Creation, not just for you or me.

St. Peter reminds us that it is easy to abstract what was written long ago in the Bible and in other pious works into mere words which we do not live out. We read. We declare our faith. But we do nothing. And that is the problem because our faith cannot and does not exist separate from our works. When we read the word of God, but do not do it, we become like the servant who does not do his Master’s will and heap condemnation upon ourselves. One who believes as a Christian must necessarily act as a Christian or deny Christ’s teachings. We all, of course, fall short (I most of all), but it is important to acknowledge that we must try to live by deeds of faith, to fulfill Christ’s commandments to act with love and mercy toward others. St. James the Just taught “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17) and our Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells us in Matthew 25:31-46 that we will be judged by Him for the things we do to others in this life, in this world.

Now, all this is not to say that Christianity is a mere set of actions, that one can curse God with each breath so long as they are charitable and kind. Good works may be done without faith, but faith cannot exist without manifesting itself in good works. This is what St. John the Theologian teaches when he writes, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18). When we have faith in the Lord, God abides in us, but when we do not act according to our faith, God does not abide in us. Faith is not merely hearing the word of God, it is doing the word of God, for as Christ Himself declared to his disciples in Luke 6:47-49, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.” When we do not enact Christ’s teachings through actions, we build our hope for salvation on a foundation of sand.

Good works are the manifestation of faith and are an inseparable part of faith. Faith without works is not merely dead, it cannot exist. If we love Christ, we must feed His sheep (John 21:16) and offer up the fast to God that He asked of us through his holy prophet Isaiah:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
(Isaiah 58:6-7)

A Christian Case for Socialism

Some Christians in America have taken to raging against the threat they believe socialism poses to America and to Christianity.  They see socialism as the antithesis of all things Christian and they are not entirely off base in their fears.  Some movements and countries that have called themselves socialist have been explicitly anti-religious.  The former Soviet Union is a clear example of this.  Religious people (as well as many others, it is worth noting) were oppressed, imprisoned, tortured, and killed for their beliefs.  But even so, does it stand that Christianity and socialism must always be opposed?  No, it does not.  Christianity and socialism actually have much in common.

In the book of Acts, Christ’s Apostles lived in a communal way.  The book states that “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” and “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common” (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32).  Holding things in common, giving to anyone who had need, that seems very similar to the radical socialist notion of mutual aid, often expressed in the phrase “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

The accounts in Acts are born out in the Pauline and the Catholic epistles.  Paul, in 2 Corinthians, reiterates the egalitarian spirit of the early Christian commune, saying, “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened;  but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality.  As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.’” (8:13-15).  In 1 Timothy, Paul condemns greed, proclaiming “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” before exhorting Timothy to “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.  Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share” (6:10, 6:17-18).

And Paul is not alone in his epistolary encouragement of equality and charity.  James says “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (2:15-18).  Peter writes in his first epistle, “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.  As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (4:9-10).  In 1 John, we are again told “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?  My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (3:17-18).

From the Acts of the Apostles through the Epistles it is clear that the Apostles and the early Church believed that charity and a striving for material equality were requirements for being a good Christian.  However, this parallel between Christianity and socialism did not arise from Jesus’ followers, but rather from their faith in God’s teachings.  Christ himself is the wellspring for Christian socialists.

Christ, in His teachings, repeatedly condemns the rich and the accumulation of wealth.  In Luke, Christ declares “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation” (6:24).  In Matthew He states, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” and “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (19:23-24, 6:24).  In describing the final judgement, Christ tells of how He will deal with the greedy by saying, “‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’…And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:41-43,46).  Christ’s wrath against greed also takes tangible form when He drives the merchants from the Temple, crying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” and “Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (Mark 11:17, John 2:16).

By the same token, Jesus extols generosity and sharing throughout His teachings.  In Mark, He tells His followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (12:31).  In Matthew, He tells a rich, young man “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (25:21-22).  In Luke, He advises giving to those who cannot give back when He says, “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid.  But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (14:12-14).  He further promised eternal salvation to the generous, saying “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me…Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:34-36,40).

Through His teachings and actions, Jesus made it clear that to be righteous the prosperous must distribute their wealth to the poor.  This teaching was not some new innovation, but a continuation of God’s teachings as given through the Prophets, David, and Moses.  Indeed, in declaring His mission, Jesus cites Isaiah, announcing “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). As Christians, we must strive to emulate Christ’s example.

On the role of women in the church and 1st Corinthians 14:33b–36

As in all the congregations of the Lord’s people, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

In this passage, Paul is saying that in every congregation women should be silent according to the law. If a woman does not understand something, she should wait to ask her husband until they are home. It is important to understand this passage in order to understand the role of women in the Jesus movement and in order to understand Paul’s views on women.

Taken on its own, the passage places women in a heavily subordinate role to men within worship. It also seems to place husbands as the supreme authority for wives, for it is through their husbands, and not anyone else, that wives are instructed to seek knowledge. Taken in historical context, though the meaning, or at least the authenticity of this passage becomes less clear.

Barr points out that the tone of verses 34 and 35 doesn’t seem to agree with his other letters. In Galatians 3:28 Paul wrote that neither male nor female existed for the followers of Jesus. Paul also acknowledges various women as coworkers in Christ with him. In Philippians 4:2–3, Paul refers to two women who “have struggled beside” him “in the work of the gospel.” In Romans 16:1–2, Paul asks those he writes to assist Phoebe, a deacon in the church of Cenchreae, in “whatever she may require” of them. Barr and the Harper Collins Study Bible both assert that Phoebe was likely the person entrusted to deliver Paul’s letter to the Romans. Barr further notes that Paul greets seven women as coworkers in Romans 16.

As Barr also points out, verses 34 and 35 also appears to contradict other passages in 1 Corinthians. In verse 11:5, Paul refers to women prophesying, but does not condemn them for such activity. Likewise, in verses 11:11–12, Paul seems to emphasize the interdependence of men with women and not the dependence of women on men. Viewed through the context of Paul’s other letters and even through other passages within 1st Corinthians, the meaning of this passage seems either unclear or contradictory to Paul’s views on women.

Barr acknowledges that some scholars view verses 34 and 35 as a latter addition to 1st Corinthians. The Harper Collins Study Bible also points this out, noting the verses’ similarity to the likely pseudepigraphal epistles to Timothy and Titus. Beyond the unusual viewpoint verses 34 and 35 put forward when compared to the rest of Paul’s known writing, there are certain textual ambiguities that appear to lend credence to this claim.

There appears to be some confusion in the syntax of verses 33 and 34. The New Revised Standard Version renders the last part of verse 33 as the first clause of the sentence that continues into verse 34. In contrast, the New King James Version and The Orthodox New Testament translation published by Holy Apostles Convent both treat the last part of verse 33 as the final clause of the first part of 33. If this latter interpretation is correct, the command for feminine silence and submission in verses 34 and 35 is not explicitly connected to the practice of all assemblies, though such a connection may be implied.

There is also a point of ambiguity in the rhetorical questions of the verse 36. While they may censure outspoken women in Corinth, this is not entirely clear. If verses 33 and 34 are viewed as a later addition to the text, the meaning of verse 35 seems to fit clearly with Paul’s admonitions for orderly prophecy in verses 26–33. Such a reading is supported by the Harper Collins Study Bible footnote that says verses 34 and 35 were placed after verse 40 by some ancient authorities. The confusion over where these two verses should be placed in the text seem to support the possibility that the verses were later additions to Paul’s letter.

Additionally, referring to women speaking as shameful (αἰσχρὸν) is harsher language than appears in the surrounding verses, even when discussing the denial of the bodily resurrection, where Paul addresses one who questions bodily resurrection as “Fool.” This could indicate that Paul considers women speaking in assembly as worse than denying what he sees as a fundamental belief or that verses 34 and 35 were written by a different author.

Due to the way verses 34 and 35 contradict what Paul writes elsewhere and the confusion over where the verses should be placed in Paul’s letter, I tend toward interpreting these verses as non-Pauline. As a believer, verses such as this one which seem to contradict the witness of Paul’s writings and of the Gospels, have always troubled me. The general message I take from Christianity is one of love, equality, and charity, and passages that seem as uncharitable as this one have always been hard for me to reconcile. I find some comfort that these verses may be viewed to be non-Pauline and perhaps of lesser authority, although I am not comforted to know that the sentiments of these verses are repeated elsewhere in the canon.

 

Barr in the above works refers to David L. Barr’s New Testament Story: An Introduction

Love

If I were asked to sum all of Christian faith in a single word, I would answer, “Love.” Love is the center of Christian faith, ethics, understanding, and life. As St. John the Theologian tells us in his first epistle “God is love” and only those who know love know God (4:8). St. Paul tells us in Romans that if we love others, we have fulfilled the Law of God:

8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

To understand Christianity, to understand the most holy Trinity, to understand our faith’s ethical commandments, we must look always through the lens of love. Without love we walk in darkness, blundering and lost, but with love we walk in light with Christ as our guide.

St. John Chrysostom outlined beautifully some of the practical effects of true Christian love acting in the world in his 32nd homily on 1 Corinthians:

Wherefore also He saith to Peter, “If thou lovest Me, feed My sheep.” (John 21:16.)

And that ye may learn how great a work of virtue [love] is, let us sketch it out in word, since in deeds we see it no where appearing; and let us consider, if it were every where in abundance, how great benefits would ensue: how there were no need then of laws, or tribunals or punishments, or avenging, or any other such things since if all loved and were beloved, no man would injure another. Yea, murders, and strifes, and wars, and divisions, and rapines, and frauds, and all evils would be removed, and vice be unknown even in name. Miracles, however, would not have effected this; they rather puff up such as are not on their guard, unto vain-glory and folly.

Wherefore, having said, “The first and great commandment is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” he added, “and the second—(He leaves it not in silence, but sets it down also)—is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And see how with nearly the same excellency He demands also this. For as concerning God, He saith, “with all thy heart:” so concerning thy neighbor, “as thyself,” which is tantamount to, “with all thy heart.”

Yea, and if this were duly observed, there would be neither slave nor free, neither ruler nor ruled, neither rich nor poor, neither small nor great; nor would any devil then ever have been known: I say not, Satan only, but whatever other such spirit there be, nay, rather were there a hundred or ten thousand such, they would have no power, while love existed. For sooner would grass endure the application of fire than the devil the flame of love. She is stronger than any wall, she is firmer than any adamant; or if thou canst name any material stronger than this the firmness of love transcends them all. Her, neither wealth nor poverty overcometh: nay, rather there would be no poverty, no unbounded wealth, if there were love, but the good parts only from each estate. For from the one we should reap its abundance, and from the other its freedom from care: and should neither have to undergo the anxieties of riches, nor the dread of poverty.

Therefore Paul saith, that the love which we are speaking of is the mother of all good things, and prefers it to miracles and all other gifts. For as where there are vests and sandals of gold, we require also some other garments whereby to distinguish the king: but if we see the purple and the diadem, we require not to see any other sign of his royalty: just so here likewise, when the diadem of love is upon our head, it is enough to point out the genuine disciple of Christ, not to ourselves only, but also to the unbelievers. For, “by this,” saith He, “shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35.) So that this sign is greater surely than all signs, in that the disciple is recognized by it.

Such is a world ruled by Christian love. It is a world without wealth or poverty, without rulers and laws, without oppression, injustice, or violence. In short it is the Kingdom of God. It is a far cry from the world in which we live, because to our shame, too few Christians practice Christian love. We are easily beset by our own daily cares, by personal differences, by sectarianism, and strife. Often we fail even to show our dearest loved ones true Christian love. We are imperfect creatures in an imperfect world, but Christ gave us his example of perfect love and perfect humanity. It is our duty as Christians to follow his example, to love everyone with our whole hearts, to love even to hardship and death. Only by giving of ourselves to our neighbor, to the destitute, to our enemies, can we put an end to suffering and sin. Only by giving of ourselves can we hope to be worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Only by giving of ourselves can we express our love for God and His creation just as God expressed His love for us when He became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazereth, was crucified, and then raised Himself from the dead, thus freeing us from death. Let us not merely love in word or in tongue, but let us love in deed and in truth, for St. John wrote:

20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 4)