Sunday, June 10, 2012

The benefits of Christian charity

I grew up in the Lutheran church.  In practical/physical terms, I think one of the most harmful teachings I've ever heard is the concept of sola fide, or that believers gain justification by faith alone in God's grace alone.  It's not that I think it's a false doctrine.  But for that "false positives" portion of the church referenced previously, sola fide justifies their laziness.  They feel free to ignore the calls to action in the Bible (and, to be fair to Luther, in his full description description of sola fide) as long as they say "Lord, Lord".  As discussed by Kirkegaard, however, it is clear that true belief carries with it a different approach to life, which is evident by the fruits of one's actions.  Churches looking to keep non-believers in the pews, however, would want to emphasize the easy, faith-only portion of sola fide, since emphasizing the part about actually having to give up anything might turn people off.

I spent much of college as a "seeker", though I kinda hated the term.  While I was never much of a believer, I always identified with passages like 1 John 3:17 and the Golden Rule.  I read a lot of Jim Wallis and Ron Sider trying to find a place for myself in the church that matched with my more utilitarian leanings.  During that phase of my life, I found myself often frustrated by the lack of discussion of charity in the church.  Such a discussion might have prolonged my seeking, and might have even changed the outcome.

Given that there over 2.3 billion Christians in the world, one would expect the world to look dramatically different than it does.  Like everyone else, Christians are imperfect and fallible.  It's not that there has to be a perfect world for Christians to be able to think of themselves as good people.  But current conditions despite 1 in 3 living people being nominally Christian makes clear that many are not in fact true believers.  Although not a believer myself, I think the world would benefit from more true Christians.  I'm enough of a utilitarian to not care if a jug of water and a sack of grain to a starving person is accompanied with a Bible.

Emphasizing the more difficult portions of the Bible would also help change the perception of the church among many.  Much of the current popular perception of the church comes from its views on social issues.  By accentuating charitable action, the church could change its leading faces from the fundamentalist pro-lifer to the life-giving missionary.  If they lose some false positives along the way, so be it.

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