How Is the Economy Impacting Religion in America?

John ArmstrongCurrent Affairs

Cathy Lynn Grossman, reporting in the March 30 edition of USA Today, says: "Pleas for help—spiritual and financial—are flooding U.S. churches, from tiny congregations to megachurches, as recession woes seep into the pews."

Pastors report that they are distributing benevolent funds in record numbers and that ministries to the unemployed and the fearful are on the rise. Some are even using their own personal funds to help (27%). Nearly two in three pastors (62%) report that more people from outside their church are asking for help. Nearly a third (31%) see such requests from their own church members. The survey, done by LifeWay Research, dealt with 1,000 Protestant pastors. LifeWay finds that 40% of pastors say they have church members out of work and 37% say their church has increased spending to help the needy.

One church, in Overland Park, Kansas, held a special February service where people who lost their jobs could come to be anointed with oil and prayed over. This same congregation has added ministries for the unemployed and will soon hold a baby shower for new mothers from 17 shelters in Kansas City. (What a marvelous response!)

There is a great deal of confusion, left and right, about how Christians should think about, and respond to, the poor. God's revealed intentions are that people not be destitute. The Scripture thus treats those who are poor and in real need with special consideration and compassion.

The causes of poverty and destitution are numerous. Some causes include sins like the lack of discipline and bad debt. But misfortune also brings poverty (Job 1:13-21). And many who of the godly have been poor (cf. 2 Kings 4:1; Luke 16:20; Romans 15:26). Jesus was himself poor (Matthew 8:20), yet his small band of disciples received and handled money for their mission.

Poverty results in ruin, shame, misery, crime and (sometimes) ungodliness. The primary example for dealing with poverty is our Lord Jesus Christ. The early church saw his actions, heeded his teaching, and followed his model. The poor were clearly not neglected by the early church (cf. Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:10 and James 2:15-16). The Bible indicates that the poor were generously helped (cf. Luke 19:8; Acts 10:2 and 2 Corinthians 9:7). This help was never given in an ostentatious or demeaning way (Matthew 6:2).

The Scripture also makes it plain that compassion for the poor will be rewarded (Matthew 19:21; 25:34-36; Mark 9:41 and Hebrews 13:16). I wonder every day if this present financial meltdown could be a dark cloud sent to awaken the church to her deep need in this hour. May it be so. Surely this is not a political issue, at least not when Christians respond to it as they should.