Sunday, September 16, 2012

Clarifying Christian Charity

Some readers have expressed concern over what I've written about Christian charity. Their concern is valid and deserve mentioned. I think they are kind-hearted people who want to see a better society where needy strangers get helped. 

Due to their concern, they have come interpret what I wrote in ways that I didn't intend it to be. But I think this is not so much the fault on their part but probably more on my inability to communicate thoroughly and clearly (it is a constant limitation to deal with issues comprehensively in a blog post). Anyway, I would like to try to clarify what I've written in a form of a reply to one of the commentors.


Hi Jeannette,

Thank you for your comment.

You wonder if I blogged to encourage others to follow my example in the practice of Christian charity. Every blogger blogs for different reason. This means that there are bloggers who blog to encourage others to follow their example. Therefore you are right in seeing that what I have blogged in that post can be interpreted as doing exactly that. However, that is not my reason to blog.

My reason to blog is stated at the top right column: To articulate my self-understanding through writing; Hence Saunder Lewis' quote, "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?"

Of course you are not wrong to interpret my post in the way you have. Everyone interprets everything with their own unique experience. Some call this "projection". For example, a child may project his/her impression of his/her own parents onto the teacher. If the parents are abusive, the child tends to be in a tense relationship with the teacher. Likewise, someone who once worked under a horrible boss may project his/her impression of boss to a new boss in a new workplace. The chances for eliminating projection is by getting to know the other person better. So, possibly you have encountered some events in the past that you have come to interpret this post in the way you did. May be you known of bloggers who blog to encourage others to follow their example. Add to the fact that you don't know me and vice versa, when you read this post, you have probably projected that impression onto me. So I hope that we can get to know one another more so as to eliminate such projection. Nevertheless, I'm interested to learn about your experience, have you come across bloggers who are encouraging others to follow their example? If yes, do share more.

I would like to say something regarding my evaluation of Lourdesamy. This may be read in the post, but probably I didn't manage to make my point more clear. What I want to say is that I was consciously witholding judgement when I first met him. I gave him the benefit of doubt, took time to get to know him. So I did not judge him prior to my finding out about the Tamil Methodist church at Bukit Batok. If I have shown pride in my session with Lourdesamy, I repent to God and to him. To the best of my consciousness, I was threading carefully not to fall to that when I talked to him.

Maybe you've come to this conclusion about me due to some experiences you had in the past or something you learned along the way. If so, do share about them.

Regarding giving out money to strangers. In Christian understanding of charity, it is not only about giving money per se. It is also about giving it in the right way to the right person as we understand him/her in our best possible evaluation. In practical terms, this means that Christians do not anyhow give out money before understanding what is going on. There are two reasons for this.

First, money is seen as resource given by God to us. How we manage it is accountable to God. This is implied in the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25). Christians failing to do so does not make this understanding invalid; it only shows that there are people who claim themselves as Christian without knowing what that entails.

Second, Christians have (or ought to have) very realistic understanding of the capability of money as well as the falleness of human nature. That means when money falls into wrong hands, it can be used for wrong reason. Therefore it is all the more important that money is not simply being channelled to strangers; we don't know whether will they use or misuse it. This does not mean Christians do not give money to strangers. We do, but only to people we trust according to our best evaluation. (Of course, there are cases when such trust is betrayed, yet at least in this situation, our conscience is clear.) Our church funds have been channelled to various charitable works and agencies (which we know to our best ability) to help strangers. That's how we have to manage our limited God-given resources. No one can charitably contribute to everyone. Parents with children need to first provide for their own children before giving away money to feed other children or for so-called religious purposes. Likewise, children ought to do the same to the parents (Matt. 15:3-6). 

For futher details, do check out Douglas J. Schuurman's Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life (USA: Eerdmans, 2004), particularly pages 86-96, where the author engages the differences between the position of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas with that of the majesterial Protestant Reformers, Jonathan Edwards and Paul Ramsey on this matter. As Martin Luther crudely reflected,
Christ is not telling me to give what I have to any scoundrel that comes along and to deprive my family of it or others who may need it and whom I am obliged to help, and then to suffer want myself and become a burden to others.
(Ibid, p.88)
And in John Calvin' comment on the love for neighbours and providing for those who are in our immediate responsibility:
Now, since Christ has shown in the parable of the Samaritan that the term "neighbor" includes even the most remote person, we are not expected to limit the precept of love to those in close relationships. I do not deny that the more closely a man is linked to us, the more intimate obligation we have to assist him. It is the common habit of mankind that the more close men are bound together by the ties of kinship, of acquaintanceship, or of neighbourhood, the more responsibilities for one another they share. This does not offend God; for his providence, as it were, leads us to it. But I say: we ought to embrace the whole human race without exception in a single feeling of love; here there is no distinction between barbarian and Greek, worthy and unworthy, friend and enemy, since all should be contemplated in God, not in ourselves.
(Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, transl. Ford Lewis Battles, vol.1 [Westminster John Knox Press, 1973], pp.418-419. Emphasis added.)
You may have different perspective, and I would like to hear about it. Let's say you are a pastor of a church, how would you manage your church limited fund while bearing in mind the two Christian perceptions mentioned above?


Ravi Philemon said...

Because God does not contradict his scripture and because scripture interprets scripture, the parable of the talent is not so much about investing; but about expectation, faithfulness and relationship.

The views and opinions of other theologians on this issue of charity, well, they are only views and opinions - they are not scripture.

The bottom-line is, this person came to you for help and you judged him. He may still need help. I'd appreciate if you'd refer him to the pastor of Jesus Lives Church (link: Thanks.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Ravi,

First of all, there is no such thing as plain reading of scripture. Everyone reads scripture with presupposition. For instead, you presuppose God does not contradict his scripture and scripture interprets scripture. I'm not saying these two presuppositions are wrong, but I'm pointing out the fact that there everyone's reading of the scripture is a view, and it is unlikely to have a situation where one's reading of the scripture is not the person's view of it. When a person makes such distinction, usually it is an elevation to one's own view to dismiss others' view. In your case, you elevate your own view of scripture's teaching as scripture teaching itself, and demote other's view as mere view so that you can dismiss the others' view. Unless we agree on this matter, there is no way we can continue this conversation. The reason is simply because our fundamental presupposition on the theology of scripture is entirely different.

Second, I did refer Lourdesamy to his church not once, but twice. But he refused.

Benjamin Ho said...

Hi Josh, good to hear your thoughts on these issues. Keep up the faith! - ben

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Ben,

Thank you for your comment. :)