If it is idolatry to look to the government to provide life’s basics, then who is going to help the poor and homeless? How are we to love our neighbor? Whenever someone comes into the church looking for assistance (food, rent money, electric bill, gas) the first thing I ask them is “Do you have any family?” Why? Because just as the government is instituted by God to maintain justice in society, the family is instituted by God to care for individuals in society.
Family is to provide for the basic needs of a person: food, clothing, shelter, etc. Look at what Paul writes in 1 Tim 5:4,8.
4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.
8 If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
Family is the best institution for this kind of care because it is most able to adapt to the specific and individual needs of each person. I care for each of my children differently because they respond differently to discipline, attitudes, even food on the table. One size does not fit all. But when government oversteps its bounds and begins to take on the role that God intended for other institutions, even with good intentions, bad things happen.
It does not take long to trace every social problem to the root. Pick one: poverty, poor education, crime, drug use. The root is simple: the breakdown of the family. Do you know what the #1 cause of childhood poverty in America is? Unwed motherhood.
And what do we do when we see these problems? We say, “the govt needs to….” Government has replaced fathers with a welfare check leaving men in many communities unwanted in the home. Do you know what the most common denominator of men in prison is? No fathers. An act of “compassion” ends up destroying families and locks people into dependency for life. The government has undermined the authority and role God gave to the family. We think we are being compassionate by giving people money, but putting our trust in government has brought more devastation than help.
I have found that in most cases, the people coming to the church have families but they can’t or won’t go back to them for help. They need reconciliation. Think about the prodigal son for a minute. (Luke 15:11-32) Poor, hungry, homeless, destitute. He needs help. He could go to the welfare office and get an EBT card but does that bring transformation in his life? It hasn’t for millions of Americans. It can’t because there is no individual accountability, no care and nurture. His problem only continues.
How can we bring transformation to the prodigal son’s situation? What is his biggest need? Reconciliation with his father. His father is waiting for him to repent and come home. Not only are his material needs taken care of (finest robe, ring for his finger, shoes for his feet, and a beef brisket bbq) but, forgiveness and new life are found as well. That does not happen with a tax-funded government program. All he has to do is swallow his pride and go home. Do you think God is in the business of getting people to swallow their pride? Family keeps us humble. The family is instituted by God and is the most effective and efficient way to care for individuals in society.
But what if they have no family? The second question I ask someone who comes into the church looking for help is, “Where do you attend church?” Why? Because a church family is going to know you! It is still about RELATIONSHIPS.
God also institutes the Church for the betterment of individuals and society. Through the church we have the sacraments to receive God’s grace, the Scriptures to preach salvation and the good news of Christ to society, and to know right and wrong. How is the family and the government to know what pleases the Lord, what is right and wrong if the church remains silent? The church is to be the conscious of the state. To put that in the vernacular, we must speak truth to power. The church is also instituted by God to be agents of mercy. But she has abdicated her role to the government.
James 2 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
We have allowed the government to be the dispensers of mercy and charity. It requires faith on behalf of the church to be able to supply people with needs. The church must look to God to provide, especially when the need is bigger than it can handle. But since we have allowed the government to handle those needs, little faith is required by the church. No wonder the church is anemic and everyone ignores what she says.
So much so that society no longer prefers to use the word mercy. What do we call ministries that feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked? They are not mercy ministries, we now call them “social justice”. Do you know why? Because you cannot demand that people give mercy, but you can demand justice.
The church cannot seize your bank account or throw you in jail if you don’t tithe. But the government can if you don’t pay your taxes to support their mandated charity.
Mercy, in order to be mercy, must be freely given. When mercy and love are freely given they become redemptive and transformational in people’s lives. But if acts of love and charity are mandated, then they are no longer acts of love and charity. You cannot require people to be merciful. When mercy is mandated it ceases to be mercy and becomes tyranny.
Politicians are quick to promise other people’s money to demonstrate how much the care. And we are quick to say, “Look how compassionate they are.” If they were so compassionate they would give out of their own pocket and not take from the public’s money. I out gave the Vice President Biden in 2011 in charitable contributions 2 to 1. I’m not talking about percentage of income (it wouldn’t even be close!), I mean dollar for dollar. But he will go around and tell me that unless I pay more in taxes I’m not compassionate. I recommend you read Davy Crocket’s speech “It’s Not Yours To Give” in Bill Bennett’s The Book of Man, pg. 245. Or you can google it.
But, I have plenty of colleagues that think the Kingdom of God will come through a government program. I had a seminary professor say, “You’d better vote Jesus and not you wallets!” I don’t ever remember Jesus being on my ballot. But what he was saying essentially was I was being selfish and uncaring if I voted for candidates who wanted to cut taxes. He was suggesting that the government would be more compassionate and caring with my money than I would. Really? Think about this for a minute realistically. Who will be more effective with the money God has entrusted to me in bringing about the Kingdom of God in my community? Me or the US Federal Government? Who will bring God more glory with the resources I steward, me or the US Congress?
This is not a political problem it is a spiritual problem. We have put our trust in government and it has given us entire communities without families, a dead church and 17 trillion dollars in debt. My unborn grandchildren will be paying this debt off their entire lives. That is slavery.
You might say, “But Mike, this is too big a problem for broken families and an anemic church. The government has to have some role in providing for the welfare.” Remember the preamble to the Constitution? It says the government is to promote the general welfare. That happens best by allowing the family and church to do what God has instituted them to do and not replacing them. The family and church can handle their God-given responsibility in society when the government doesn’t overstep its role.
Ps. 118:8-9 says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”
Looking to the government to provide for us instead of the Lord is idolatry and God hates it. It is a blatant violation of the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) We must repent and look to Him to be a our source and solution. We do that best in families and the church.