The Church & General Welfare
Posted in Leadership by Benham Brothers | November 19th, 2014
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” – Preamble to the Constitution
Since I’ve been helping my teenage son memorize the Preamble to the Constitution I can’t stop thinking about what the Church’s role is in “promoting the general welfare” in America today. Notice that the Preamble does not say the Constitution is to “provide” for the general welfare but rather to “promote” it. That’s a very important point to note. The government “provides for the common defense,” which is something we cannot do for ourselves in regards to fighting off international enemies. But it only “promotes” the general welfare because this is something we can – and must – do for ourselves.
This is where the Church was meant to step in, to build and bless the general welfare of the nation. One of the main reasons churches in America have tax-exempt status – unofficially since our inception and officially since 1894 – is because the church provides crucial social services to the nation, hence promoting the general welfare. Of course, there’s also the argument that church tax exemption was meant to secure the state from interfering with church activities, but that’s a different topic. My point is to discuss the church’s role in promoting the general welfare and challenge all of us in the church to be a blessing to our nation.
Webster’s 1828 defines welfare as “exemption from misfortune, sickness, calamity, or evil; the enjoyment of health and the common blessings of life, prosperity, happiness, applied to all persons.” Today welfare means something much different in our minds. Depending on which side you’re on, welfare is often defined as either government assistance or government abuse.
Yet the word has become anathema in many churches today. Some churches will fight tooth and nail to limit it, while others pledge their lives to keep and grow it. So what am I as a Christian supposed to believe about welfare? And, more importantly, what am I supposed to do about it?
Let me just say that welfare is a good thing, but it has been abused. It is ultimately the church’s role to distribute welfare according to the Bible (train people how to work and help those who cannot), with the ultimate goal of pointing them to God – to see Him as their provider. If the church was doing its part we would not need the government to step in like it has.
Unfortunately, when the government distributes welfare it points people back to the government as their provider and not to God. As a result, welfare becomes a vital tool to buy votes. Yet this doesn’t mean we throw it out and eliminate it altogether, it means we need to reform it in the government and reinstitute it in the church.
My good friend, Dr. Bob Gladstone, once asked, “If all the paid staff and facilities were removed from the church in America today, would we still have church?” This question sent me on a journey to find out. In doing research I found that nearly 99% of churches in America today spend over 70% of their tithes on salaries and overhead. The remaining 30% is spent on programs and events, with a meager 1-4% spent on evangelism and benevolence. This link is a chart from a recent survey conducted by the ECCU https://www.eccu.org/resources/advisorypanel/2013/surveyreports20.
The tithe was meant to provide for our spiritual leaders, the widow, the orphan, and the poor (Deuteronomy 14:29). Yet somehow we’ve made it a vital revenue stream to prop up our own “organization.” (Note: the church is not an organization but an organism. Although it is organized, it actually has Life).
With this in mind, the question is: Is the church living up to her end of the bargain when it comes to promoting the general welfare in the nation? If the numbers are true, and I have no reason to believe they aren’t, we are not living up to our responsibility. It’s time to make a change. The tithes were meant to support others and not ourselves.
My brother and I spoke at an inner-city public school assembly recently. On our way to the school we saw several good-sized churches with beautiful landscape and architecture. Then we arrived at the school and saw the complete opposite. As the kids poured into the assembly that day our heart broke for them. They were so needy, and so hungry for Christians to sow into their lives. Our hearts were instantly connected. After the assembly I asked the principal if any of the local churches (within blocks of the school) volunteered or helped support the school financially. Her response – “we have one that helps us.”
I want to encourage all of us today to remember that the Church is called to be salt and light in our culture, and we also have a moral obligation to America to promote the general welfare. And we are compensated to do it (with tax-exempt status). It’s time for us to revisit our budgets, ask ourselves the hard questions, and begin sowing back into our cities as God leads us. It is hard to continue to watch the One institution ordained by God to bless others just keep blessing itself. I pray for reform in God’s church, and I pray it happens today.
Image courtesy of ponsulak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net