Christian humanitarian aid at home and abroad is primarily about Christ, the Gospel and faith active in love - not about doing good in its own right. Furthermore we challenge the fundamental principle upon which much of our modern-day humanitarian aid is built, namely that aid is given on the basis of need only, irrespective of ‘colour and creed (religion)’. Closer examination will reveal that this principle is superficial, false and misleading.We deal with a classic case of mainstream churches having taken over the standards and values of the world.
Christians are not called to be the saviours of the world, social activists called upon to respond to every earthquake or other disaster that happens to strike somewhere. Our hearts are bleeding for all suffering people everywherebut our priority lies with the ‘least of Christ’s brethren’, our fellow Christians. That’s the commission Christ gave us. Not that we ignore the sufferings of non-Christians – far from it – but it is primarily through the body of Christ that we help and heal, feed, rescue and redeem in Jesus’ name, not through the secular world and its means and ways.
It is through the ‘communion of saints’ – may I say the Gospel itself – that we are the ultimate healing force: light and leaven in the world, in villages, towns and cities everywhere.
We are not saying anything new, yet these days the very opposite happens far too often. The Gospel becomes disconnected from Christian aid. This happens in world Anglicanism, world Lutheranism, the Uniting Church and some other bodies. This does not happen in most of the growing, mission-minded church bodies of Australia.
Traditional churches often receive government-subsidized millions of dollars from their members for humanitarian aid. We understand that the moment that aid is in any way connected with mission, tax deductibility would fail. The Biblical dimension is simply lost – and churches do not seem to face up to this crucially important issue.
We should note that most of the growing churches of Australia, like the Baptists, Churches of Christ, Charismatics, have not adopted this practice but engage in holistic mission – not divorcing the Gospel from humanitarian aid. Should we not follow them?
We need to do mission and aid work together as our fathers have always done throughout the ages. This does not mean that we want to foster ‘rice Christians’ – tempting people to join the church to get material advantages. We are strictly against this. Nor does it mean, in disaster situations, that everyone working for us needs to be a Christian – or that only Christians can receive our donations. Not at all. See Galatians 6, 10.
Christians – social saviours and activists?
Christians historically have not been social revolutionaries to change society, to plead for the rights of women, to fight poverty and calamity, to abolish slavery but they were people whose primary mission has been to spread the Gospel, to extend the Kingdom, to save people from sin and hell.
However, what was the natural by-product of Christian missionover the years? Rise in the status of women, increase in care and compassion in society, poverty reduction and many other social benefits. Remember how evangelical Christians, for example, have stood in the forefront of the battle against slavery worldwide. But their hearts, above all, beat for Jesus! Of course corrupted churches failed many times as well.
Our very own Western democratic society with its traditional values of liberty, human rights and equality is the envy of people worldwide – in spite of miserable church abuses in history. Our Western civilization – spit upon by many these days - is only imaginable on the backdrop of the Protestant Reformation which ushered in a new age, the modern era, and which, arguably, saved the Catholic Church itself from becoming a pagan body as even Pope Benedict XVI (2005 – 2013) seems to agree. It can be shown that the Muslim nations of today still live in the Middle Ages of old.
We find that the well-meant world-improvement campaigns and good-works crusades of atheists, humanitarians and socialists sooner or later fail because they are not rooted in rich spiritual soil.
The Biblical basis of caring for the poor
Cairns based Lutheran pastor Dr Noel Due writes,The 'back story' of the NT in the matter of "giving and receiving" (Phil. 4:15, cf. Gal. 2:10; Acts 11:29-30; 24:17; Rom. 15:25; 1 Cor. 161-2; 2 Cor. 8; James 2:15-16; etc) is this: In my view the care for the poor was not the poor generally but the poor 'brothers and sisters', as seen, for example, in the care for the Jerusalem church by the Gentile congregations. This ties in with Matt 25 [Parable of the Final Judgment], where the actions of the 'sheep' are towards the 'brothers' of Jesus – specifically the suffering church.
Yet our humanitarian aid practice largely does not reflect this. We don’t focus on our suffering brothers and sisters. Many would see this as anathema and proudly say, We help on the basis of need only.
Apart from anything else, it’s a naive claim and the Hindus and Muslims are laughing. They know how to look after their own – and at times even purposely divert ‘Christian [Lutheran] money’ to their own people in large amounts. ‘Christian money’ has empowered many a Muslim cause! There is indisputable evidence for this. Not infrequently impoverished Christian peasants, the poorest of the poor, have been neglected or bypassed by funding that originated in Christian aid agencies including Lutheran ones.
We cannot simply assume, as the Lutheran World Service does (LWF-DWS), that all is well when we leave our funds in the hands of our various ACT Alliance partners on the spot (Action of Churches Together).
Raising $400,000 to fight Ebola
Here is great news from a little while ago: We believe that ALWS (Australian Lutheran World Service) has raised nearly $400,000 for the fight against Ebola alone. Brilliant! We really support this whether we have questions about implementation or not.
Isn’t it wonderful how sums like that can be donated in a matter of weeks. In certain circumstances the money just flows. Can you imagine what we could do in missions if we had money like that, as a result of some limited campaign? We could move mountains!
LCA missions too are suffering and hurting from this distortion and phenomenon. People don’t even know the difference between ALWS and LCA World Mission. The persuasive, highly professional work of ALWS has largely won the day at the expense of the church itself, Gospel-centred mission in Jesus’ name.
One of the good things ALWS has done us is that the old adage that ‘charity starts at home’ is wrong. ALWS gives us a worldwide focus. We all should know that our church’s national dimensions are never our boundaries. Our brother in Indonesia is no less our brother than our brother next door. This is the church of God!
Through the inspirational witness of St Paul – the Church’s first mission director - the Early Church has taught us this: THE WORLD IS OUR PARISH. Everything we do from morning to evening is for Christ and whatever is done not in faith – no matter how good it may be – is enmeshed in sin. Romans 14, 23.