Is social service the work of the Church or that of other institutions?
The Lord Jesus Christ was active in both these areas alike.
He was concerned with the spirit and with the body as well. The Bible says: ” Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.(Matt. 4:23).
He preached on the mount in the desert, in people’s homes, and on the shore of the lake: this is the missionary activity. The Bible also says: ” When the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to Him; and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. demons also came out of many, crying out…” (Luke 4:40-41).
Thus healing the sick was not something beyond the bounds of Christ’s work, and did not conflict with His saying: “My kingdom is not of this world”.
If the Church then shows concern for healing the sick and founding hospitals and health services, it will not have gone beyond its spiritual mission, for the Church’s mission is not only preaching, as we call it, but also to alleviate people’s pains.
Our Lord gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan who, on finding someone who had been attacked, at the side of the road, bandaged that person’s wounds and took him away on his donkey until he came to an inn where, at his own expense, he had the victim put up until he recovered. (Luke 10:30-37).
In this parable, the Lord directed His rebuke towards the priest and the Levite, who both showed no concern for the injured man and his plight. Jesus considered the action of the Good Samaritan to have been one of love and compassion.
Should the Church hold itself back from acts of love and compassion and give as an excuse that these are really the work of the State? No, not at all. Acts of kindness are required from every human being. The State is to do them and the Church too, and also each individual.
We should not consider these things to be just social service, but rather look on them as acts of love which are, after all, among the first fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and upon which depend the whole law and the Prophets, according to Christ (Matt. 22:40).
The Lord Jesus Christ was just as interested in feeding people as He was in preaching.
The miracle of the five loaves and the two fishes is mentioned in all four gospels. How beautiful were the words of Christ to His disciples when He said to them: “You give them something to eat. ” (Luke 9:13).
In this commandment, then, was an order to the Church to feed the hungry. Although Jesus Christ was preaching to the crowds that day, He was not content just to preach, as if He regarded that alone as His kingdom, or His only concern.
When His disciples asked Him to send the crowds away to the neighbouring villages, so that they could buy food for themselves, the Lord answered them firmly, saying that He would not send them away hungry, lest they “… faint on the way. ” (Mark 8:3).
It is a lesson to the Church not to be content just with preaching and words, but to feed the hungry too, not to imagine that in doing so we go beyond the mission of the kingdom, or to go outside the sphere of the religion or spiritual activity.
See what the apostle James says; ” Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)
If the church establishes orphanages, and concerns itself with helping the widows and the poor in their distress, will it be deviating from its original mission?! Would this not rather be the “religion” that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless?! This is the teaching of the Bible, not the teaching of man.
Trying to keep oneself unpolluted by the world is not enough, if one shuts oneself off inside from caring about the poor or the orphan. A priestly father cannot see a needy family and neglect to care for it, by making an excuse that it is the responsibility of the State to care for it! The State itself does not say so…
See how St. James the Apostle rebukes us saying: ” If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16).
Thus we see how the Church has concerned itself with these things right from the apostolic age, just as when the seven deacons were being consecrated because they found that some of the ” their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. ” (Acts 6:1).
In order that the apostles could devote themselves to the ministry of the Word, they appointed seven deacons, laying their hands upon them, so that they could undertake this service. Rather than say that the Church’s work was not concerned with the administering of the provisions, they actually created a group within the Church to perform this function. No one ever ventured to say that this work was not God’s work, but Caesar’s!
The Book of Acts not only says that: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus… “. but also mentions directly afterwards that; ” Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” (Acts 4:33-35). This teaching is the sound and pure gospel word.
The Church cannot hold back from helping the poor and orphans, widows, the sick and the hungry, as if out of some kind of deference to the State, as if it were afraid of offending it by encroaching on its preserves. This would not be to show courtesy to the State, but rather a lack of cooperation with it.
It would also show a failure to obey the commandments of the gospel, and would be a departure from the commandment of love, which the Bible states is the greatest of virtues (1 Cor. 13). To do this would clearly be to fight against the Church and its mission, and would be an attempt to create a wedge between itself and the State at the present time, for the Church is the most loyal institution in the State and the State encourages the charitable works which the Church undertakes.
Let us record here that the Lord Jesus made these actions of love, which could also be referred to as social work, one of the bases of judgement on the Last Day.
He will say to those who stand on His left on the Day of Judgement: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: ‘for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; ‘I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ (Matt. 25:41-43).
Will they say to Him: ‘We are sorry, but that was Caesar’s business, not the work of God, and You told us to give to Caesar what was his and to God what was God’s’?! or will they say to Him: ‘Why are you so concerned about them, Lord, since Your kingdom is not of this world’?! Will they actually go to the fire prepared for them, for having neglected the work of love which society nowadays calls ‘social service’?!
If this service is the duty of every person, how much more, then, should the Church give a good example! For the Church, after all, consists of Christ’s disciples following in the footsteps of their Master and Teacher who first showed the way.
This service which we give to the poor, we are really giving to Christ himself, for He said: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. ” (Matt. 25:40).
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he speaks about the Church’s ministry to the poor, and the cooperation of the churches of Macedonia, Achaia and Jerusalem in this regard, and he said: ” But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” (Rom. 15:25-27).
And he also said: ” distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. ” (Rom. 12:13)
Serving the poor and needy is not only social work, besides being an act of love, but is also a way of protecting the poor person from doing wrong.
It is this spiritual aspect of this service which is the essence of the Church’s activity.
Poverty may drive the poor person to steal, to lie or to cheat, or to complain and blaspheme against God and against the Church, and thereby let his faith weaken. But when the Church gives to the poor person, it is making him aware of God’s love for him, and making him feel that God has sent someone to provide for him, a matter which strengthens his faith.
For this reason, the social work which the Church undertakes has a spiritual character which distinguishes it. The spirituality of the commandment enters into it and is mingled with the word of teaching.
The majority of churches refer to the poor as the ‘brothers of Christ’ because that is what Christ called them (Matt. 25:40), and they treat them as such when it comes to giving to them.
The Church finds a blessing in this service and carries it out in a spirit of a mother church with a father priest looking after their children.
The Church has engaged in these services and organised them since earliest times, and still does so today, and will continue to do so, if God wills.
Only the communist countries have limited the Church in its service, which they have done by confining it to performing the role of prayer only, whilst retaining everything in the hands of the State, because the state does not want there to be any link between the believers and God.
Communist thinking does not agree with the needy person receiving from God’s house, for if he does so he will remember God and the men of God, and will retain his faith.
They do not want a believer to thank God for His grace and His offerings to him. They want any thanks to be given to the state alone, thus God disappears and does not compete with the state.
We meant here to warn against such thoughts lest they should be included unintentionally in any writings or cited or admired by any person not being aware of their danger.
We thank God that we are in a country where God is seen as being the origin of every blessing and every gift. We therefore encourage the people to have a close relationship with God.
The Church never participates in the work of the State, and never gets involved in politics, for politics is the State’s activity.
Pastoral work, however, has a character all of its own, and the Church undertakes its pastoral work and concerns itself with its children. It does not think of religion as merely beliefs and ideas, or just sermons and preaching, for religion is above all, love. Love is that we show concern for providing our children with whatever good things we can.