In churches in churches all across
And certainly, if you are deeply devoted Christian with resources, you will give freely of your money to people and circumstances where there is need. However… Let me repeat… However, charity is not a Christian virtue; it doesn’t make you Christian to give to charity nor does trying to encourage people to give to charity in the name of Christ mean you have really understood what it means to be a Christian. Charity and other forms of giving and advocating for those we see who are in need
Typically, when you hear LCD and you aren’t in math class, you typically think something as
However, let me take Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as a framework for doing Christian ethics. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus says:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.1
What has happened is that the Pharisees, as a party of religious teachers who task it was to guide the people in obeying the Torah, often times seeing to make the seemingly hard to follow commandments, written to a people living in a different context than 1st century Judea, easier to follow. They would teach principles that they derived and developed from the Torah so that people could avoid breaking the commandments, which became known as the tradition of the elder and later the oral Torah in later Rabbinic Judaism. Far from being some legalistic,
So, consequently, they could have made sense of the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself” only extend to the Jewish people, but not necessarily as an attitude towards people in general. While in the 12 century, read these words from Jewish philosopher
And when a person believes in all of these principles and his faith in them is clarified, he enters into the category of Israel; and it is [then] a commandment to love him and to have mercy upon him and to act with him according to everything which God, may He be blessed, commanded about the man towards his fellow, regarding love and brotherhood. And even if he does what is in his ability from the sins, because of desire and the overpowering of his base nature, he is punished according to his sins, but he [still] has a share in the world to come, and is [only considered to be] from the sinners of Israel. But if one of these principles becomes compromised for a person, behold, he exits the category of Israel and denies a fundamental [dogma] and is called an apostate, a heretic and ‘someone who cuts the plantings.’ And it is a commandment to hate him and to destroy him, and about
himit is stated (Psalm 139:21), “Do I not hate those that You hate, O Lord.”3
It is certainly not hard to imagine that in the 1st century, against the backdrop of a world in which the Roman Emperor was spreading injustice and Roman paganism was defiling the nation of God’s people, many Pharisees would have seen a limit to the commandments of “love your neighbor” to not be extended to one’s social and political enemies, including people deemed traitors to Israel’s cause. Instead, what they could interpret the commandment to mean is in line with LCD morality: love your own people, which is what all people do. This seems to be the thrust of the question by the legal scholar “Who is my neighbor?” in response to Jesus’ recognition that loving God and neighbor are the two most important commandments, which is why Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out this LCD ethic, saying there is nothing praiseworthy in following such a widespread, if not universal, moral principle. The ultimate purpose of Torah that Jesus is completing in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17b) is to love like God does, who shows kindness to the unrighteous along with the righteous. However, the Pharisees have made the observance of the Torah, ultimately, about themselves, as Matthew 6 goes into. This includes their actions of giving alms to the poor. Here is where this segues into charity. In the eyes of Jesus, the Pharisees have essentially read the Torah in line with a LCD morality that practically everyone recognizes to some degree.
Then, they obey they take what would be the most basic, fundamentally good actions of moral people in giving and doing this in order to be seen as good people (Matthew 6:2-4). They extend their public piety even further, making a deal about being involved in public prayers (Matthew 6:5-6) or even fasting in
Right after Jesus directly critiques LCD morality in terms of love, he describes the Pharisees giving to charity, which as
Here is my point: giving to charity doesn’t make one a Christian. While it is an action when done for the right purposes, God will honor and remember, being charitable is no more to follow Christ than it is to love your own family. You aren’t following Christ if you refuse to be charitable or take care of your own family, but doing it doesn’t make you distinctly Christian.
The problem that Western Christianity has faced, however, is similar to what has happened with the Pharisees. In trying to lead people, which is a good and noble cause, it has accommodated more so to the LCD of moral and ethical principles that almost everyone who has a moral conscience or wants to appear to have one would agree to. LCD ethics is good for building large, diverse coalitions of people to live together with a basic sense of peace; this is good for nation-building of large, culturally diverse democracies, but you are not being faithful to follow Christ by advocating simply for the LCD. However, many Christians will make their faith so tightly contingent upon how they advocate for such LCD positions, unaware that they aren’t that far off from what the Pharisees did.
This is particularly prominent among progressive Christians in America. Just as the Pharisees made an emphasis on charity in almsgiving, progressive Christians place a large emphasis on such actions. Just as the Pharisees resisted the Roman Caesar in the ways they could and sought the end of his rule so that God’s will could lead to a new kingdom, progressive Christians seek to resist Trump and his administration and look for political progress to come to the US. And sure, while they don’t do what the Pharisees did in limiting the “love of neighbor” because of the importance they saw in disregard those traitorous to their social causes, they do likewise seek to limit and “contextualize” other instructions of Scripture that they deem a political and social injustice on matters such as sexuality or forgiveness in matters of oppression or harassment. Much of what they do isn’t bad: it is obvious to anyone that takes does not bow as the idol of America and nationalism that Trump has committed evil and has spoken evil. Many people today in the West would agree that the abuse LGBTQ persons is wrong and that people who have been oppressed and harassed should speak out and seek accountability for what has happened to them. But these are all matters that approach the LCD of morality, which only seems high and lofty in comparison to those a) who have desensitized themselves from even the LCD due to political and religious idolatry and rationalizations or b) due to differences of culture, practice the LCD moral principles in a different way that is not immediately recognizable to progressives.
I make that whole point about progressives to connect the same point to charity. Being charitable and advocating for helping the poor is good as progressive are known to do, but it is this part of the LCD of human moral principles. You aren’t being faithful Christians because you make this a central part of your understanding of faith. It should never be neglected, and it is easy to
In the next post, I will try to shed light on this way of Christ as it relates to matters of wealth and charity in light of various perspectives in Second Temple Jewish wisdom.