The scene is all too common. Bell-ringers for the Salvation Army stand outside shopping centers and supermarkets waiting for the pots to ring with their yearly intake of funds. Standing a little further out, people dressed in poor clothing walk up and down speaking with those coming out of the stores with bags of full of goodies, and they are asking for some kind of a charitable handout.
Somewhere in the middle is the average consumer who has more than he or she deserves and feels awkward because they have been accosted once again to give of their plenty. The problem is that this middle group normally falls into two main groups – 1) Don’t care and don’t bother me, or 2) How do I know this person is for real? If I give them a couple of dollars, will they spend it on drugs or alcohol?
The first group cannot really be helped because they only care about one person in life – themselves. The second group finds adherents in the rich, the middle class, and even in those who are maybe just barely in a more fortunate position in life than the one asking for the handout. This second group normally includes Christians, some of whom have a growing desire to help those less fortunate. They are hearing pastors speak about the need to care for the widows and orphans. They hear that we are in the top 7% of the world’s population and that because we have been given so much that we therefore have the God-given responsibility to make sure much of that wealth goes to the bottom 93% in some form or another.
So, with that in mind and for maybe a short period of time, the Christian goes home with a guilty complex. He or she reads another book that espouses the need for clean water, better food, education, medical clinics and more. They do a little searching on some internet search engine, finds the one that appeals most to their own likes or their emotions, and without further ado sends monthly checks to an organization that they really know nothing about. They truly think that the money is going in its entirety to the designated need. In time, they hear that this is not the case, they become jaded in their outlook and may even become cynical. Their passion runs cool and they decide that it is not really worth trying.
Or, they find out the corruption that is found in many “charitable” organizations or the level of funds that is actually kept by the organization for “administrative purposes” and they realize that they have been just as duped as the person standing on the street corner that they had studiously ignored.
On the other hand, the pastor might hear about a particular group that appeals to their emotions or that falls in line with their own philosophies and goals of ministry. The pastor then stands before his people, preaches a message or does a series of messages on the Beatitudes and brings heavy attention to the “Blessed are the poor” passage. With a few songs, bulletin inserts, and a few tear-jerking stories and accompanying stories in a Powerpoint presentation, he manages to convince a few in the congregation that this is the way that God does missions. They then begin a small portion of their finances to a social endeavor and many times these endeavors are actually holding hands with anybody regardless of their doctrine. In the end, churches and pastors are endorsing humanitarian aid to the world’s masses and have rejected the Biblical doctrine of not working together with those who run and believe contrary to the inerrant, infallible Word of God.
Then, one day a missionary with biblical goals and principles comes to town and struggles to raise the necessary support because he doesn’t have a flashy presentation. He doesn’t have lofty goals of raising the standard of living in the country to which he has been called. Standing before each congregation, he speaks as Peter and John who said to the man who was found at the temple, “Silver and gold (or medical clinics, education systems, clean water, better food, etc. etc) have I none, but such as we do have we give to you – in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” The goal of the crippled man was no longer to receive a handout. He was seen walking and praising God. Peter did not then turn to the people and start offering a better way of life. In fact, we could probably say that he failed to win many friends and influence by some of his next words – you “killed the Prince of life…”! Notice that while he offered hope, it was prefaced by the exclamation of Who made it possible – the Lord Jesus Christ! This man is not sent on his way healed in order to give praise and continue worshiping his pagan gods.
What was the conclusion? From Acts 4, we find that the religious groups had the disciples arrested. They then are the recipients of a similar strong gospel message and come to the conclusion (in all their earthly wisdom) that these are just “unlearned and ignorant men.” However, they also noted that they had been with Jesus. They are threatened with punishment and the disciples state that they ought to obey God rather than men.
The entire history of the early church is recorded as being a concerted effort to preach the gospel, train disciples, and to look forward to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. You might ask though how this comes into play with passages like those found in James where we learn that if a man has nothing and we merely say to him, “Be warmed and filled” that we do not have a real faith that works.
I believe the Scriptures and church history shows that the church took care of her own members. Too much that is done today is outside the realms of the local church and this is part of the problem. The truth is that churches should be seeking to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans, but the apostle James is speaking to believers. He is dealing with the problems found IN the local church setting. He is not giving a blanket statement for the church to take on the world’s issues and make sure that the world ends up with good meals and clean water.
Can churches choose to help those less fortunate in their neighborhoods through soup kitchens, or a food pantry, or clothing bins? Yes, and would not be breaking any biblical principles to do so. The problem is that when many seek to help these individuals they will make a point to tell their more zealous members NOT to bring up the name or Person of Jesus Christ unless one of the poor unfortunates asks them, and even then, they are told to keep it short and non-intrusive.
So, how do we know which ones to support? How do we know whether our churches are actually obeying the commands of Scripture in their outreach ministries toward the less fortunate of the world? I believe there should be several things to consider when choosing where to send your money.
First, is the primary objective, first and foremost, to preach the gospel and to reach the lost at any cost? Included in this objective, do their stated purposes include the planting of new churches and training pastors? If not, then I do not believe they qualify as a charity seeking to operate under the command of the Great Commission. Does this mean, for example, that medical missionaries or those seeking to provide humanitarian aid do not qualify? No, I believe providing humanitarian and medical aid is a wonderful testimony of the grace of God to a people who are in need; HOWEVER, I believe the underlying principles of the medical and humanitarian aid staff should be to reach the lost not just with medicine and supplies but with Christ. Christ should ALWAYS come first in the struggle for souls, and not just by “living the story of love” but by telling forth the message no matter what the cost.
Second, how does the group define the gospel? It is the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as found in the death, burial and resurrection of the Savior. If the group does not and refuses to define what the true gospel is, the group is not worth supporting. It would be poor stewardship of the Lord’s money, on the part of the believer who gives and on the part of the church that doles out the funds, to give to any organization that seeks to circumnavigate the gospel message. In other words, we cannot be faithful to the Scriptures while avoiding the passage in Galatians that Paul reminds us that those who teach or preach another gospel are accursed.
Third, what affiliations does the group insist on keeping? Are they in league with groups like the World Council of Churches, or any other ecumenical group that would hold hands with Catholics, Mormons, etc. just to see an improved standard of living? Do a search on the internet for social interaction groups, then call them and see if you would be allowed to work with them? Ask them if you send money, if you are allowed to designate that it only be used in an area where the clear Biblical message of the gospel will be preached? The answer will be NO! These groups will NOT permit this for any reason.
Fourth, are all the funds that are being given being sent in totality to the work that is in need? Most people are unaware that many so-called religious groups and most social gospel organizations will keep up to as much as 90-95% of the received monetary gifts for the upkeep of western offices, high salaries of executive staff, etc., etc. This is one of the biggest issues I have with fundraising. It is disingenuous to raise funds for a cause and then keep any portion of that when you have stated that the money is going to be used for a stated project. As an example, instead of giving $100, call the organization and ask how much they keep for themselves and how much ACTUALLY arrives for the project. If it is 60%, then tell them you will only be sending $40 for the project itself as you choose not to support the administrative offices. I do not believe you will get very far with that request.
Fifth, does the group have a problem with their volunteers or paid staff clearly proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord? If so, it should not be considered a candidate for the money coming from true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sixth, here is one of the biggest issues that we could deal with at great length later, but are the missions endeavors an outreach of a local church? Far too many organizations have risen up and sought to take away the responsibility and the authority from where it rightly belongs. The Lord Jesus Christ taught His disciples to spread the gospel but it was to be done through the local church of which He alone is the Cornerstone. Christians are nowhere commanded to be lone-ranger types when it comes to spreading the message of the gospel. Nor are they commanded to avoid the authority and accountability that comes through being a member of a local assembly. When an organization studiously avoids coming under the auspices of that authority and accountability, they are striving to be like the world instead of following the Biblical mandates for missions and outreach.
In conclusion, there is much that is done in the name of missions that does not really qualify as missions as God sees it. The preeminent focus must be on proclaiming the name of Christ. It does not matter whether anybody else does it. We will not answer to a board of directors for how we spend our money, but we will give an answer to the Lord Jesus Christ. He will not ask how much we dropped each Christmas in the coffers of the Salvation Army bell-ringer who is actually getting paid to stand there in the cold. I believe that we will be called to account as to how we worked to help with the spread of the gospel.
There are a few organizations with the above stated goals and purposes, but the number is growing smaller all the time. Prayerfully seek the Lord and ask Him to help you find a needy group of people in the world that you can help directly through a local church in that area. If you have a desire to help the unreached, then why not pray and see if the Lord would have you to go to that area and preach the gospel for His honor and glory?
Charity is a wonderful gift and should come from a heart of love. However, that heart of love must show forth the truth of Jude 22, “And of some have compassion, making a difference.” The only way we can make an eternity of difference is by the preaching of God’s Word. Romans 10:14-15 concludes, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?”