The consequences of poor theology

In Brian Schneider’s paper, Biblical Help to the Poor, which Jeff Irwin published on his website, there are many critiques that can be made. Jeff made plenty of them himself, but I want to focus on one part, in Brian’s interpretation of Deuteronomy 10:17–19:

God’s love for these foreigners is used in parallel with the command to love. A direct example for how to go about doing this would be to provide food and clothing. They are to do the same, but just as God has not promised his provision to those who set themselves up as his enemies so I don’t think he is commanding the Israelites to do what he won’t. God loves the elect that come to him no matter where they come from, but a Christian’s attempt to provide for those that reject God would only enable them to go on, unaware of their need for Him. God’s love in this passage is likely a referring to the elect sojourners who have come to Israel to worship him and follow his laws. (pages 13–14)

Though the Network confesses its belief in election, a statement such as this misapplies it. The doctrine of election is meant to humble us, as we understand that our salvation is by God’s grace alone, and not of our own doing (Ephesians 2:1–10). Wayne Grudem’s chapter on “Election and Reprobation” in his Systematic Theology also points out that it is meant to comfort us in knowing our salvation is secure (Romans 8:28–30). And, it is meant for us to praise God (Ephesians 1). It is not meant to have us try and guess who the elect are. Obedience to the law and outward displays of worship do not make one elect. The parable of the wheat and weeds makes it clear that the visible church and invisible church are not the same, and the difference isn’t always obvious (Matthew 13:24–30). In the same way, we can’t tell who outside the visible church are elect.

Furthermore, election is not an event that takes place during one’s life. The Network’s own confession states this: “We believe that God acted before creation in choosing some people to be saved.” If this is the case, then there is simply no basis for denying mercy to the poor based on their external status. The salvation of the elect is secure, and providing for material needs in no way jeopardizes that. God can just as easily draw people to himself through acts of mercy. This temporal mistake leads to interpreting Matthew 25:31–46 as Christians helping the poor that they knew or believed to be Christian. It can just as easily refer to poor that later became Christian. Late New Testament Scholar R. T. France argues for this in his commentary, pointing out that the acts of mercy that Jesus enumerates were “perhaps to have been expected on the basis of the duty of hospitality as it was and still is honored in Middle Eastern society.” A far cry, it seems, from coffee and donuts.

Brian also states that he doesn’t think God “is commanding Israelites to do what he won’t.” That is, God is not commanding Israel to care for the “non-elect sojourner” because he won’t care for them. There are two problems with this. First, Brian does not sufficiently show that God doesn’t care for them. It goes without saying that being an enemy of God does not subject one to a life of poverty. In Jeremiah 29:7, God commands the exiles to seek the welfare of the city. Brian did not interpret this passage, but I think it would be a stretch to say that God is only commanding them to seek the welfare of “elect Babylonians.” Second, God shows care for people through his commands. If we fail to follow them, that is our inaction, not God’s. Such a statement confuses God’s will of decree and desire.

It is important to understand doctrine that one purports to believe. Though the Network has orthodox beliefs listed on its church websites, it misunderstands and misuses them in harmful ways. This is just one example.