Sider and North spar over issue at Gordon-Conwell Seminary.
Should Christians be pushing civil government to take an active role in the reduction of worldwide poverty? Two Christian scholars met April 6 at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, to debate the biblical evidence of civil government’s role in relief of the poor.
Ronald J. Sider, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and professor of theology and ethics at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, charged that the biblical concept of justice demands that Christians work politically to break down the structural causes of poverty. Gary North, president of the Institute for Christian Economics and a staff member of the Chalcedon Foundation, agreed Christians do have a duty to feed the poor. But he argued that efforts should be made through the church, not civil government.
Sider laid out the biblical foundation for the argument that Christians should be concerned for the poor; North agreed with his main point.
The two men were far from agreement, however, on the critical question of what all that means to the church today. Sider argued that while charity and volunteerism are necessary, they are not enough in themselves. According to the prophets, he said, it is not just the individual poor person God is concerned with; it is also the social system that contributes to his poverty.
The prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and others condemn the rich for either gaining wealth by oppression and treachery or for turning a deaf ear to the cries of the poor, Sider said. God never intended there to be a wide social gap between rich and poor, he contended. The jubilee concept laid down in Leviticus is proof that “God does not want such a disadvantage.” When the Hebrews first occupied the land of Canaan, God divided the land equally, and “he wanted that arrangement to remain and to continue,” said Sider, to be sure every person “had an equal share in and means of providing wealth.” The legal return of land every 50 years to its original owner insured that equality, he noted.
The jubilee underlines the biblical basis for an “institutionalized mechanism” for the relief of poverty “rather than haphazard handouts by wealthy philanthropists,” Sider claimed. The Christian’s duty then, he said, is to “demand that civil government design programs” to provide the poorer members of society with the resources they need to earn their fair share of the wealth.
But North charged that the state cannot be trusted with the task of reducing poverty. Confessing he held the Puritan view in a four-centuries-old debate between Puritans and Anabaptists on this issue, North cited atrocities in American history as proving foreign aid often “leads to imperialism internationally.” Money sent to help the poor in the fields, he said, is used instead to build up urban complexes 40 stories high and to create large bureaucracies (e.g., the Bureau of Indian Affairs) where government employees end up absorbing the money intended for the poor.
When Old Testament prophets came upon nations that had strayed from God’s standard, they directed rulers back to the law. The church today must do likewise, North stated. “Christians are to serve as salt,” and, he said, salt had two purposes in Bible times: it was used for flavoring and for destruction. “If we do our task well,” said North, “we’re going to replace the prevailing civil order.” Then Christians can establish a new government that would be “unquestionably geared to justice.”
Meanwhile, the church is to be a model to the nation in working for the relief of the poor and hungry. Christians should tithe a tenth of their income and a portion of that should go to the alleviation of poverty.
But Christians need to be freed from the tyranny of taxation so they can give more freely to charity, North continued. “And the Bible has just the solution. 1 Samuel 8 sets a limit on the amount the state can tax its people according to God’s law, at 10 percent; and that is how it should be done today.”
North also challenged the idea that redistribution of the wealth would benefit the poor for more than one or two years and charged the motivating force of its proponents is envy. Envy, or “tearing down the rich just to get even,” he said, originated with Satan.
Many Christians today feel guilty for having wealth, but if they are tithing, they have no reason to feel guilty, North stated. “If Christians began to tithe, they would change the face of the earth.” God blesses those who follow his law, and his law demands giving 10 percent of one’s earnings to God’s work.
But the models North chose to illustrate this point raised a few eyebrows among his audience of 200 seminarians and professors. He praised the Mormons for building churches without going into debt, and Herbert Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God for its obedience to the required tithe. Of Armstrong’s church, North said, “Look at the blessings God has given to that church. It’s incredible.”
In his summary, Sider said Christians should use “reasoned, intelligent analysis” to make social changes “in light of what the Bible says we should be doing.” But North disagreed. He argued the Bible indeed is specific, and that what was good enough for the Old Testament prophets is good enough for him.
The Legislative Scene
Abortion Factions Skirmish Over Koop Appointment
Congressional supporters of C. Everett Koop are confident they can overcome a legislative roadblock that is threatening his appointment as U.S. surgeon general. Koop, chief surgeon at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital, is a well-known evangelical. Those who oppose him are doing so because of his strong stands against abortion and homosexuality, and they have found a technicality to use against him.
The technicality is that Koop, 64, is six months over the age limit for the surgeon general’s job, making it necessary to pass a bill exempting him. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) attached the legislation onto an unrelated bill (dealing with credit cards), and the Senate passed it. When it got to the House, however, Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill (D-Mass.) found an obscure procedure to strip the amendment and deposit it in the House Health and Environment Subcommittee.
The chairman of that subcommittee is Henry Waxman (D-Cal.), one of the sponsors of a national gay rights bill, who differs with Koop’s conservative positions. Waxman called a subcommittee hearing to open a broad-range attack on Koop, and was further annoyed when Koop did not appear to defend himself. Waxman said last month that “Dr. Koop frightens me. He does not have a public health background, he’s dogmatically denounced those who disagree with him, and his intemperate views make me wonder about his and the administration’s judgment.”
There was plenty of opposition to Koop at Waxman’s hearing. A spokesman for the American Public Health Association said that although Koop was “a distinguished pediatric surgeon,” he was untrained in public health. A spokesman for the National Gay Health Coalition said, “Koop appears to have strongly held beliefs about homosexuality which are not supported by established medical thought, practice, or science.” A spokesman for a women’s proabortion group also criticized him.
Because the House passed the credit-card bill without the age exemption for Koop (as well as five other amendments the Senate added to the bill), a House-Senate conference committee, composed of members of both houses, will meet to reconcile the differences. Koop supporters hope the age exemption will be put back during the conference; if not, they have another strategy. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) has introduced the age exemption as a separate bill. Although it has also been sent to Waxman’s subcommittee. Koop partisans hope to use a discharge petition to spring it out of the subcommittee directly to the House floor, where they believe it would pass easily. The discharge petition, however, is a cumbersome procedure that does not usually work.
Carl Anderson, an assistant to Senator Helms, said, “We’ll do whatever has to be done to get this thing.
Mennonites after Smoketown
A Call To Move Beyond The Peace Issue To Evangelism
Signals keep coming from Smoketown. This was observable at a recent Mennonite gathering in Berne, Indiana, where some 200 pastors and lay leaders talked and prayed about restoring the Mennonite tradition to a firm evangelical footing.
They reaffirmed most of the concerns coming out of the so-called Smoketowr Consultation two years ago (held in Smoketown, Pennsylvania): reaffirmatior of the authority of Scripture, need for renewed evangelistic emphasis, and a reexamination of priorities, with the emphasis on the saving power of the gospel.
A five-member convening group (four of them pastors) planned this second inter-Mennonite meeting, or “Consultation or Continuing Concerns,” as a way to spreac the vision of the earlier one, and to share new concerns. The meeting, in the Berne First Mennonite Church, was open to anyone, whereas Smoketown was a small, by-invitation-only gathering of about 20 pastors, educators, and lay leaders.
A general feeling underlying both meetings was that Mennonite bodies have overemphasized their historic peace and social emphases at the expense of evangelism and discipleship, among other things. Several well-known Mennonite leaders echoed this in Berne, and touched on the broader issue of secularism. Some spoke to the grassroots criticism that Mennonite colleges have lost accountability to the local churches, and are being affected by liberalism.
Albert Epp, Henderson, Nebraska, pastor who, with host pastor and fellow convener Kenneth Bauman of Berne serve the two largest congregations in the 60,000-member General Conference Mennonite church, opened the two-day session with a devotional, pointing out the power of prayer at Pentecost.
When people become affluent or educated, warned Epp, one of the first casualties is prayer. “We have not because we ask not. Prayer can rescue the Mennonite brotherhood from shipwreck. The Holy Spirit can do in a minute what you and can’t do in a lifetime.”
Theologian Myron S. Augsburger, immediate past president of Eastern Mennonite College and presently a scholar-in-residence at Princeton Theological Seminary, was concerned that “academic and cultural pseudo-sophistication not rob us of the freedom to share Christ.” Later in the meeting, speaker Benjamin Sprunger, past president of Bluffton (Ohio) College, was asked what he sees as the redeeming factor for the Mennonite church. He responded: “The Scripture speaks for ancient times, present times, and future times. Out of that presupposition we must find our way and not let that get diluted by secular and contemporary thought. We cannot ignore psychology, sociology, and science, but we cannot let those replace God’s Word.”
In the third major address, moderator Vernon Wiebe of the Mennonite Brethren church praised his denomination for being “unashamedly evangelical and Anabaptist.” He noted, however, that sometimes “we have been afraid to join together in spiritual exercises. We are comfortable with relief sales, but not the study of the Word.”
Eugene Witmer of Smoketown chaired the findings committee, which arrived at a list of 15 concerns. Witmer, also a convener of the Berne meeting, cited in an interview “sharp lines” of concern that prompted the meeting—for instance, the desire to address Mennonites “who place so much attention on the peace issue, but are strangely silent on abortion and alcoholism.”
Conveners said attendance was about 150 percent better than expected, with many persons coming at their own expense. In many respects, the meeting mirrored developments in other denominations, where conservatives are trying to restore traditional, evangelical emphases.
North American Scene
Parents of John W. Hinckley, Jr., the man charged with the presidential assassination attempt, made a Christian commitment in 1978. Since then they have given heavily to overseas relief and development projects, including those of World Vision. Jack Hinckley is a water resources consultant for World Vision, and reportedly had expressed concern about his son to some of the organization’s staff and requested special prayer for him.
Called a devout fundamentalist Christian by acquaintances, Edward Michael Richardson, 22, of New Haven, Connecticut, was indicted last month on two counts of threatening the life of President Reagan. Federal investigators were checking similarities between Richardson’s alleged threats and a letter received by TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. He turned over to the FBI a note he received March 25 with the message scrawled on the back of a ministry fund-raising envelope: “Ronald Reagan will be shot to death and this country turned back to the left.”
An interfaith forum was organized last month in Jefferson City, Missouri, with some observers calling it a new breakthrough for interfaith relations. Missouri leaders of 11 Protestant denominations, and four Roman Catholic bishops, announced formation of the so-called Missouri Christian Leadership Forum. Its purpose will be dialogue and possible cooperation on mutual concerns, such as issues before the Missouri legislature. The forum includes groups such as the Missouri Baptist Convention, and Catholics. The latter had refused membership in the Missouri Council of Churches, which they saw as too liberal and structured.
Groups have a constitutional right to pass out literature at airports without notifying authorities in advance. So ruled the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month. The court called unconstitutional a Portland, Oregon, ordinance that required groups to give one day’s notice before picketing or distributing literature at the city’s airport, and to provide names, addresses, and telephone numbers of those sponsoring the distribution. The decision reversed a U.S. District Court ruling upholding the ordinance, which was challenged by Jews for Jesus chairman Moishe Rosen. He had been arrested for violating the ordinance while distributing literature at the Portland terminal.
A week of prayer emphasizing a call to national confession of sin and repentance is scheduled May 31 to June 7 as a prelude to this summer’s American Festival of Evangelism in Kansas City, Missouri. Festival spokesman Norval Hadley explained, “We are urging Christians to unite in prayer for America. We want God to help us see our condition as he sees it.” Hadley suggested churches provide opportunities for organized prayer during the week: prayer groups, prayer with sister churches, prayer partners, 24-hour prayer and fasting chains, and so on. The prayer week culminates on Pentecost Sunday, the day designated for the annual prayer effort for world evangelization sponsored by the Lausanne Comittee for World Evangelization.
War hero and sportsman Joe Foss was appointed international chairman of the billion-dollar evangelization campaign, Here’s Life, World, sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ International. Foss, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient during World War II and the first commissioner of the old American Football League, succeeds Wallace E. Johnson, cofounder of Holiday Inns, who asked to be relieved after suffering a mild heart attack last fall.
Asia missions veteran Samuel H. Moffett, 65, accepted a three-year appointment as professor of ecumenics and mission at Princeton Theological Seminary. Moffett currently is vice-president of Presbyterian Seminary in South Korea, and a long-time missionary there. He has spent the last several years doing research for a book that will chronicle the history of the Christian church in East Asia.
Academia: Ronald Youngblood, dean of Wheaton College Graduate School, has resigned and will join the Old Testament department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, next fall; James Plueddemann, chairman of the school’s Christian ministries department, was named acting dean effective July 1. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary profesor David M. Scholer, Wheaton College and Harvard Divinity School trained, was appointed dean at 200-student Northern Baptist Theological Seminary near Chicago, succeeding Gerald Borchert, now at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Four out of fifteen Protestant churches in Lyon, France, have been destroyed by arson this year. The latest, a Pentecostal assembly structure that seated more than 500, was set ablaze in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 29. An outdoor baptismal service to have been held on the premises had been publicized for that evening. After the three January burnings, police increased surveillance of the evangelicals’ properties. So far they have no suspects in the acts of destruction, which evidence a common pattern of sabotage.
Pope John Paul II will visit World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, next month. The June 5 visit to Philip Potter, WCC general secretary, and other council officials is the second papal visit. Pope Paul VI paid a visit to the ecumenical center in 1969.
The Helsinki follow-up conference in Madrid has failed to inhibit Soviet authorities in oppression of religious believers. Orthodox priest Gleb Yakunin’s appeal of his 10-year sentence has been rejected, and presumably he has been transported from prison to a labor camp. Boris Perchatkin, a spokesman for the Pentecostal emigration movement who contacted foreign journalists in Moscow, has been sentenced to two years of labor. Eight Baptists arrested last June while operating a clandestine printing press have received sentences ranging from three to five years each, and the press has been confiscated. Keston College also reports sentences for five other believers.
One in every two refugees in the world today is African. This shift may come as a surprise to many who grew accustomed to associating “refugee” with Southeast Asian “boat people.” Poul Hartling, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, points out that Africa, with only 12 percent of the world’s population, has almost 50 percent of its refugees—some five million. Four out of five African refugees have found asylum in countries that are themselves among the least developed in the world. Host countries, says Hartling, have responded with traditional African hospitality. “The problem,” he says, “is that their hospitality is being offered from an empty table. Help from outside is crucial.”
An official Protestant delegation from China took part in an Asian Christian consultation in Hong Kong last month. It was the first such visit outside the People’s Republic since the Communist takeover 32 years ago. The delegation was headed by Bishop Ding Guanxuan (K. H. Ting), president of the China Christian Council and chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (CT, Jan. 2, 1981, p. 46). Among Ding’s statements, as reported in the South China Morning Post:
Only a minority of Chinese are Communists and the majority are both patriotic and theistic. Even though currently unable to meet the demand, the TSPM will not accept help in making Bibles available. The movement’s long-term policy, he said, is to enable every Protestant to own a copy of the Bible, many of which were burned during the cultural revolution. Religious broadcasts into China not approved by the TSPM would be considered unfriendly.
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