Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Hope Of Millions Of Enslaved Peoples

In my post yesterday on Evangelicals and the poor, I mentioned that giving money isn't the only way to help the poor. Let me expand upon that point with some other examples. Then I want to address another subject raised in David Platt's sermon.

Around Thanksgiving, churches often collect food to give to the poor. And some charities accept donations of clothing. Some accept computers, furniture, or other items. People who work in homeless shelters or other facilities intended to help the poor often do things other than giving money. They spend time with the poor to help them with a drug or alcohol problem, to teach them how to read, to present the gospel to them, etc.

What about our development of technologies, medicine, and other non-monetary products that benefit the poor around the world? When American doctors teach doctors in other parts of the world how to perform a particular type of surgery, for example, don't they act, at least in part, out of an interest in helping the sick in other nations, including the poor? When we give other nations our technology, our medicine, our methods of producing food, and other such things, aren't we intentionally benefiting the poor (among others)?

America has also been a major source of missionary work around the world. Much of that work has benefited the poor.

I mentioned that the United States military will often help the poor to some extent in a nation like Afghanistan or Iraq. A couple of other examples, involving more than just our military, would be our efforts to defeat Nazism and Communism. What we did, through our military and by other means, benefited many millions of poor people around the world. Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor who spent more than a decade in a Romanian prison camp, wrote:

Every freedom-loving man has two fatherlands; his own and America. Today, America is the hope of every enslaved man, because it is the last bastion of freedom in the world. Only America has the power and spiritual resources to stand as a barrier between militant Communism and the people of the world.

It is the last "dike" holding back the rampaging floodwaters of militant Communism. If it crumples, there is no other dike, no other dam; no other line of defense to fall back upon.

America is the last hope of millions of enslaved peoples. They look to it as their second fatherland. In it lies their hopes and prayers.

I have seen fellow-prisoners in Communist prisons beaten, tortured, with 50 pounds of chains on their legs - praying for America...that the dike will not crumple; that it will remain free. (cited in William Federer, America's God And Country [Coppell, Texas: FAME Publishing, Inc., 1994] pp. 705-706)

In his Farewell Address, Ronald Reagan commented:

I've been thinking a bit at that window [in the White House]. I've been reflecting on what the past 8 years have meant and mean. And the image that comes to mind like a refrain is a nautical one -- a small story about a big ship, and a refugee, and a sailor. It was back in the early eighties, at the height of the boat people. And the sailor was hard at work on the carrier Midway, which was patrolling the South China Sea. The sailor, like most American servicemen, was young, smart, and fiercely observant. The crew spied on the horizon a leaky little boat. And crammed inside were refugees from Indochina hoping to get to America. The Midway sent a small launch to bring them to the ship and safety. As the refugees made their way through the choppy seas, one spied the sailor on deck, and stood up, and called out to him. He yelled, "Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man."

A small moment with a big meaning, a moment the sailor, who wrote it in a letter, couldn't get out of his mind. And, when I saw it, neither could I. Because that's what it has to -- it was to be an American in the 1980's. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again -- and in a way, we ourselves -- rediscovered it....

But life has a way of reminding you of big things through small incidents. Once, during the heady days of the Moscow summit, Nancy and I decided to break off from the entourage one afternoon to visit the shops on Arbat Street -- that's a little street just off Moscow's main shopping area. Even though our visit was a surprise, every Russian there immediately recognized us and called out our names and reached for our hands. We were just about swept away by the warmth. You could almost feel the possibilities in all that joy. But within seconds, a KGB detail pushed their way toward us and began pushing and shoving the people in the crowd. It was an interesting moment. It reminded me that while the man on the street in the Soviet Union yearns for peace, the government is Communist. And those who run it are Communists, and that means we and they view such issues as freedom and human rights very differently....

The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still....

And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

I don't think it's accurate to describe Americans in general, much less conservative Evangelicals in particular, as the rich man of Luke 16. We've always been a nation that's had a significant amount of concern about the poor and have benefited many poor people around the world. That's due largely to our Christian heritage.

And that brings me to something else I want to address from David Platt's sermon. Why do we give so much attention to issues like homosexuality while, allegedly, neglecting the poor? I've explained why I don't think we neglect the poor as much as David Platt suggests, though I do agree that we should be doing a lot more. But why so much attention for an issue like homosexuality? Part of the answer is that this nation seems to be more at a turning point on the issue of homosexuality than it is on issues pertaining to the poor. There isn't a prominent movement of people arguing that we shouldn't be concerned about the poor, comparable to the prominent pro-homosexual movement. Thanks largely to our Christian heritage, there's an American consensus that we should be concerned for the poor. Despite disagreements over how to best help them and disagreements over just how much of our money and other resources we should give, there's widespread agreement that we should help the poor and should do so in many ways and to a large extent. The comparable consensus that used to exist on homosexuality has been rapidly deteriorating in recent years, and that deterioration has implications for other issues (polygamy, how we view human sexuality, the raising of children, etc.). There's good reason to give an issue like homosexuality more attention than issues of poverty in some contexts.


  1. I'll offer additionally that there's a spiritual connection between issues like homosexuality and poverty. To follow Christ in submission to God even as he submitted to the Father is diametrically opposed to the self-centered pursuit of any sin, including homosexuality. True concern for the poor is found in the love of God. Lose the message of the love of God and support for the poor will dwindle as a vague shadow of the truth. So to expend resources keeping the message of the gospel in the public square is a large part of keeping the needs of the poor in the hearts of men as they realize their salvation in Christ.

  2. Jason Engwer: "There's good reason to give an issue like homosexuality more attention than issues of poverty in some contexts."

    One context was the Manhattan Declaration.



  3. Jason, there is much I would like to respond to as pertains to some of what you wrote, but do not have the time to do that. I would recommend you listen to the last 4 sermons of Platt's "Radical" sermon series. "The Gospel Demands Radical Giving" is the 1st of these sermons. I've been studying this area for the past year now, reading books, blogs, looking at videos, and listening to sermons. I've just got done reading you're two blog post, having meant to already have read the first after you posted a link to it from the BTW blog. I think Platt is hitting at an area of greatly needed reform in the American church. From monitoring the blogs it seems this area is beginning to cause some disagreement among reformed believers, or disagreements are becoming more visible because it is being talked about and discussed more. To me it is an area that needs to have more thought placed into it, especially by examining the Scriptures, but also reading and listening to some of the ones who have spoken and written in this area so we can see if what we believe is correct or not, and improve the mission of our churches if we find this to be a need. I would say I would have put forth arguments similar to yours a year ago, but after all I've read, seen, and heard I no longer would and see the change in my position as an area of sanctification I've gone through in my thinking and actions over the last year. I would encourage you to listen to more of Platt (applicable James sermons and ones listed above), read Tim Keller's writings on this area- his book "Ministry of Mercy" and his paper from summer 2009 called "The Gospel and the Poor", some of Matt Chandler's sermons from Luke are applicable to this area (Bigger Barns). Others who have a lot to say to this area of thought are John Piper and Francis Chan. Read about the plight of orphans around the world- see Russell Moore's book "Adopted For Life" and Jason Kovacs blog- and link from his blog to other resources, blogs and videos. More believers in the church need to become aware of people like Katie Davis ( who lay down and sacrifice their lives for the sake of others- orphans, poor, and sick in her case. The book, "The Hole In Our Gospel" is an eye opener to what is going on around the world and also "Too Small to Ignore" by Wes Stafford. Randy Alcorn's "Money, Possessions, and Eternity" is also a helpful read.

  4. Continued from above: As for me and my wife, we have come to the conclusion that we were pursuing "the good American life" while ignoring the poor of the world and the need for more resources for the advancement of the Gospel through missions. This has resulted in us saying "no" to varying wants that are not needs so we can free up money to give, changing future plans "to move up" in society, beginning the process of adopting two to three children from Ethiopia, and sponsoring two children through Compassion International. We are very passionate about this area and think the Christian church needs to be much more. We as the American church have been given much. We do not need to go spend it on bigger and better cars, houses, etc. I'm learning this myself, and it is sometimes painful, especially this time of year. I do not have to have everything I want- a smart phone currently. I can love others by sacrificing my wants and desires for the sake of others needs, and therefore lay up treasure in Heaven. I mean, think about it, 15,000+ kids die each day from preventable causes. It has been estimated that if we as "American Christians" would care, give and sacrifice we could make a major change in the sad stats around the world- just the SBC itself could do some unbelievable things. We can save lives both physically and spiritually. We need to become aware of the needs around the world and the great need for the spread of the Gospel, especially among "unreached people groups". There is great need for more resources to these areas I've heard and read. Lets not deceive ourselves- faith without deeds is dead. Most of the people who I know- mainly ones I work with- who say they are believers are in hot pursuit of the "good American life". We as believers have to be counter-cultural when it comes to how we live, give and love.

  5. Michael Boyd,

    I'm glad that you're concerned about issues like how people should use their money and helping the poor, but your comments are mostly vague and don't interact much with what I've said.

  6. I realize this I'm coming to this very late compared to the dates of the last posts - but I got here doing some research on David Platt. One thing that I don't think I have yet to see mentioned anywhere in the discussion that Christians should having caring for the world's poor as a primary concern - Jesus never gave any money to any poor person to help them in their poverty. He gave them no provisions, no shelter, no clothing, nothing. The only thing he ever did was to at most heal them physically and then only to point them to the reality of their spiritual sickness - and to demonstrate that he had the authority and power to deal with that.