amy courts: en route

Is Charity an Act of Will, Obedience, or Nature?

From my previous blogs it’s obvious the common problem many Christians have with the idea of socialism is that the sharing of goods is a requirement rather than a voluntary act of the will.

Which got me thinking, why is it so important that sharing from one’s abundance with those who have lesscharity be voluntary rather than obligatory? And, more to the point, does Scripture ask us to give, tell us to give, or simply say we will give if indeed we belong to Christ?

Here’s what I’ve come to so far (and again, I’m thinking out loud):

This concept that “I shouldn’t be forced to share what I’ve worked hard to earn” is one practiced and understood only in communities whose people have come to depend on their acquisitions as a source of worth, status, and identity. In short, it’s the chief source of Self, of Pride. We believe (consciously or not) that whether acquired by hard work, education, or birth right, we deserve what we have. And conversely, those who own less have earned and deserve less.

This social distinction is necessary so that when we “give voluntarily” to those in need, we acquire in return a sense of goodness for having “chosen” to help. We are champions of the poor and oppressed, who pat ourselves on the backs for giving something away. Our hungry pride is further fed, and the truth of the exchange – that we haven’t actually given anything, but simply made a trade – is utterly lost.

But what if caring for the needy is not a choice?

From what I see in Scripture, most notably in Matthew 24:31-46 (but also elsewhere in the New Testament, where both true love and faith are linked irrevocably to giving of oneself), caring for the needy is neither a choice nor a mandate, but simply the Mark of a true Believer. If we belong to Christ, we will care for the least of these. It’s a matter of definition and identity. Just as a singer sings and a plumber plumbs, a Christian, by definition, gives selflessly from an attitude that says, “If I have something you need, then by virtue of needing it, you ought to have it.” It’s not mine to give, but yours to have. It’s a subtle but significant distinction.

We want and have made it a matter of choice because “choosing” to give feeds our pride.

What I find ironic is that when we do strip away the status of ownership – when all needs and property become shared needs and property – we finally grasp real worth. We find that we’re each infinitely and inherently valued by God and necessary to the Kingdom simply because He marked us with His image and a unique personality and spirit at Creation. My worth is no longer tied to what I have or can give away, but to the simple fact that because God made and marked only one Amy Jo Courts-Koopman, I belong and am utterly irreplaceable.

Inevitably though, when stripped of the stuff and left with the nude self, we can’t help but become painfully aware of our equally inherent deficits. We’re shown in great need of what can only be met by humbling ourselves to receive and learn from those who are rich in the qualities we lack.

In the end, the great irony is that we need giving to be a choice because, in our pride, we cannot fathom being worth what we haven’t earned, and we cannot tolerate having nothing to give but ourselves. And we really can’t stand true equality, because it means we all are equally depraved…or needy.

But if we can give what we have “out of the goodness of our hearts,” at least we have our own goodness to fall back on, which sets us just a step above the others.

I don’t know how this all fits in the context of voluntary love or how it coincides with the fact that authentic love cannot be forced. But I have a feeling that it all comes back to the basic Truth that “we love because Christ first loved us.” I have a feeling the we’re capable of giving love only in response to (or in overflow from) what love we’ve already received.

Which again, isn’t so much a voluntary act of the will, but a natural succession or response…Once I’m filled to the brim with love, my cup runs over into others.

It’s worth pondering…


Was Jesus a Socialist: The Discussion Continues…

A point of clarification I’m allowed to make 30-comments-in, just because I’m the blog owner (and I get to do what I want): While I believe the Christian values of caring for the needy, and the least being treated as the greatest are reflected in socialism, I don’t believe Jesus was an *actual* socialist, or that He would – were He walking among us today – endorse any of the various forms of government. In fact, I believe that since the Devil is currently in charge of the world’s governments (according to Matt. 4:8-10, when the Devil offered Jesus all the Kingdoms of the world [which Jesus turned down, obviously] which implies they were the Devil’s to offer), none will ever earn the endorsement of Christ. I ought to have said that from the start instead of saying “Jesus sanctioned socialism.” I was dumb to have said that…or at very least, not paying attention. But, you live and read comments and learn and amend. Moving along…


I won’t lie: I’m a little frustrated right now. My brother-in-law, who is a pastor in McCook, NE and blogs on theology, apologetics, culture, and more as part of his church’s ministry, responded in his own blog to my post-election thoughts. But that’s not what’s making me nuts. What’s driving me crazy is the fact that I can’t log in to respond to his blog on his blog.

So I’m left with one option: to move his blog over here and continue the discussion. I certainly don’t mind – but in fact, find immense joy – in the conversation.

I just hate technology sometimes.

Anyway, I’d like to respond point-by-point to his responsive blog entitled “Jesus Institued Socialism?” (which I’ll only quote here in red, to save space, but can be found in full here):

[Quoted from my previous blog: What we see happening in Acts 2 is exactly that: socialism, if not communism, even. The equal distribution and sharing of all wealth, goods, and property among all people so that no one is richer and thus more significant, or poorer and thus less significant.]

First, one will notice that Jesus is not even present.

Really!? Jesus wasn’t present with the early Church!?

Forgive the sarcasm. I think it should be obvious that while Jesus may not have been <i>physically</i> present with the early Church, He was most certainly present in their hearts, at the forefront of their thoughts, His principles, values, and teachings foremost in their consideration of how to “set up shop.” To assert otherwise is just plain silly. His promised Holy Spirit was among them, reminding them of Christ’s Way. So while Jesus may not have explicitly said, “This is how I want you to live in community with one another, by sharing everything,” His daily teachings and the way in which He continually engaged with His twelve closest disciples and hundreds of other followers is certainly reflected in their “share all things; have everything in common” lifestyle. They were, indeed, continuing His work in His Way. Whether sanctioned by explicit word or implied by deed, their way was Christ’s Way.

Second, we must consider that the church, not the government, is the primary subject here. There are distinct roles given to church and distinct roles given to government. What is the right and responsibility of one is not necessarily the right and responsibility of the other.

Indeed, the Church IS the primary subject here. However, while it’s not our government’s responsibility to obey Scripture, it is arguably every American Christian’s right and responsibility to vote for the candidate we believe most fully (though will never completely) reflects our Biblical values and makes Christian priorities National priorities (or abstain from voting if participating violates one’s conscience). This doesn’t mean seeking, electing, or promoting a “Christian” President, but supporting a platform that reflects Christ’s heart for people. (And, inevitably, we will often disagree about who’s platform best reflects Christian values.)

Third, Acts is written as historical narrative. It is not didactic in nature so what we find there is a record of what happened, but not necessarily what should be. A good example of this is the life of the patriarchs described in Genesis. Many were polygamists. We cannot make the leap that just because something is recorded that it therefore has God’s sanction. We must go elsewhere for our doctrine of marriage. In Acts we see that people are doing something (sharing their things), but that in no way makes it normative.

First, that Acts is written in historical narrative does not negate its usefulness as a model for the current day Church. In this instance, I believe the early Church is a model for the Church today and forever. Why? Because they lived, breathed, ate, and drank the life and teachings of Christ. Having been born of His death, resurrection, and ascension, and being the only examples we have of people who knew Christ in person as close friend, Savior, and God, it seems obvious by extention that their fellowship without His physical presence would model the fellowship they shared with Him. Theirs are the nearest hearts to (and thus, I’d say, the most reflective of) Christ’s heart for His established Church, all people worldwide, and future of His Kingdom that we can see modeled in action. They were living and setting up shop in the wake of the single most defining moment in the history of the God-human relationship. No doubt they did everything with deliberation in light of all Christ did and taught, explicitly and implicitly.

Second, I find the example of the patriarchs and their polygamy ill-fitting to the context, since polygamy was expressly condemned numerous times throughout the Mosaic Law (most notably in the Ten Commandments). We find no such condemnation – implicit or otherwise – of the Way of the early Church. His endorsement of their Way, though not explicit, I believe is inferred simply by their doing it.

Third, while its record in Acts doesn’t make the sharing of all things normative, the more-than 2,000 commands in Scripture to care for the orphan and widow, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and otherwise treat the least as the greatest certainly support their communistic fellowship as “standard behavior” for Christians. Certainly Christ’s explicit warning in Matthew 25:31-46 in which He describes exactly how He will separate the sheep from the goats – i.e. by whether or not we have fed the hungry, quenched the thirsty, clothed the naked, visited the prisoner, and welcomed the stranger – serves as ample evidence that this is the Kingdom Way: to give selflessly from every possible reserve, whether financial, time, or goods.

Should Christians be gracious? Yes. Compassionate? Yes. But here is the catch: grace cannot be mandated. For grace to be grace it cannot be a requirement. If it is required (such as a wage) it is justice, not grace. The church can therefore encourage its members to live out these virtues, but not even the church can put it into ecclesiastical law.

While I agree that giving and service to the church ought to be a matter of graciousness and selflessness – the deliberate decision of a cheerful giver (which God loves) – the mandate to care for the fatherless and the widow is, again, not optional. I don’t know how to make this more clear than to italicize and embold: True Christ-followers will be known, defined, and separated based on how they actively respond to the greatest commandment to Love the Lord their God with all heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves. (Matt. 23:37-39, 1 John 2:3) Christ’s example, His teaching, and the teaching of His nearest discipes make abundantly and irrefutably clear that ours is a family, a nation, marked by love made evident in service, that the world may come to know the glory and salvation of Christ. We will be known (and judged, eternally) by our love and how its expressed in our selflessness (John 15:13, 1 John 3:16).

This is born out a few chapters later in chapter 5 when Ananias and Sapphira sell their goods and give it to the church (as we saw in ch 2). Their problem was that they lied. Peter makes it quite clear (v4) that they had no obligation to give it to the church. It was their money to do with as they pleased.

The difference here is that we’re not talking about tithing to the church or selling their stuff to give to the church.

We’re talking about the Biblical mandate, seen both explicitly and implictly throughout the entirety of Scripture and laid out in detail by Christ Himself, to care and provide for those in need, both physically and spiritually. This is not a matter of finances, but of how the true Gospel is spread and disciples are made.

If not even the church, as God’s ordained institution for effecting his will on earth, can make such demands on people, how can we legitimately make the leap to the government doing it?

Here we part ways. I believe God has commanded His people to care for and plead on behalf of the poor, impoverished, and desperately-in-need. And I believe my vote for Obama, whose policies reflect the Christian values and obligation to care for the least of these, is as justified by Scripture (I’d even argue more justified) as the votes of so many Believers who voted for McCain “on behalf of the unborn.”

A Summation of My Post-Election Feelings
November 5, 2008, 10:15 pm
Filed under: Culture, Faith and Faith Life, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I wrote the following in a note to a family member, but thought it appropriate to post here as well, in hopes that it makes clear why I have a little more hope today than I’ve (not) enjoyed over the last eight years.


What excites me about the prospects with Obama in office – and intrigues me about the widespread fearful response of so many Believers to his election – is that the system which so many call and fear as “socialist” (implicitly evil and utterly wrong) is actually the kind of community living Christ Himself designed, sanctioned, and ordained for the Church. What we see happening in Acts 2 is exactly that: socialism, if not communism, even. The equal distribution and sharing of all wealth, goods, and property among all people so that no one is richer and thus more significant, or poorer and thus less significant.

As our Nation has progressed in its Capitalist ventures and ideals, we’ve watched a new sort of caste system develop in which the rich get richer (not because they’ve *actually* worked harder, hand-to-steele, but because they’ve lied better, and climbed ladders of people, stomping on others to get to the highest seat where they enjoy great power and wealth but little responsibility) while the poor are brushed aside as unwanted and unworthy, because – for having lost a job or been unable to find one in our “great” economy – we’ve deemed them lazy freeloaders.

I’ve watched a system develop in which – and have even heard dear friends and family say, no holds barred – those who can’t afford things like basic health insurance don’t actually *deserve* it.

I’ve heard health care called a privilege of the wealthy rather than a right afforded to all humans by virtue of breathing.

I’ve heard conservatives rail on about the evils of abortion as part of a so-called “pro-life” community, and yet once the mother does right by carrying to term and having the child, she – and her newborn – are left to fend for themselves, vulnerable to judgement and condemnation when they seek the government aid they need to fill their stomachs and keep a roof over their heads.

I’ve heard pundit after pundit, friend after friend, Christian after Christian, call on those kids growing up in violent, drug-ridden neighborhoods to “buck it up and do something about their situation because it’s their American right and ability to do so,” but unilaterally deny them every opportunity to rise above circumstance. From refusing them proper education to condemning them for their parents’ or neighbors’ sins. We call them out of the life of poverty and crime we’ve abandoned them to, refuse them aid, and then condemn them for continuing the only cycle of life they’ve ever known. As if, put in their situation, we’re certain we would know exactly what to do and how to do it (and have the confidence to achieve it).

Suffice it to say, I’ve watched – horrified – as Christians talk about “christian values” and yet refuse the most basic of rights, like medical treatment and food for the belly, to those they deem unworthy of receiving. It’s especially sickening when these are the very same people Christ deemed worthy of the goods and commanded to provide.

But what I see in Obama’s platform and policies is a return to caring for the least of these – a return to treating the least as the greatest and issuing value based on humanity rather than wealth – as Christ commanded. I see a Leader who could, potentially, turn our Nation’s attention and provision to global atrocities, an ever-growing sex trade, and genocide being perpetrated the world over, rather than allow us who have the money and power to help to sit idly by. I see a Leader who is respected by Foreign Leaders and Dignitaries and can, potentially, dig us out of our international grave. I finally see hope for an end to these wars which have cost us so dearly in soldier lives.

More importantly, I see a Nation of people – and the Church, more significantly – learning to give selflessly for the sake of another, without passing judgement. I see all people of all backgrounds and all economic statuses finally being treated (and cared for) as equal human beings, created by God for His spectacular glory. It has been the Church’s duty thus far, and we have failed so miserably! Perhaps now, whether out of anger to a new kind of government or out of simple necessity, the Church will finally do what has been ours to do all along, so our government doesn’t have to!

I have great hope both in our Nation and in the Church. And while I’m not holding my breath for the Nation, I would for the Church.

But only if the Church actually starts *acting* (read: loving and serving) like the real, Christ-ordained Church instead of like selfish, petulant American children who don’t want to share what God has graciously provided.