Friday, October 14, 2011

I Timothy 5: the Church and the Occupy Wall Street movement

Tuesday night at a seaside restaurant on the North Shore of Massachusetts, my dinner companion, an old friend from high school and college, mentioned the Occupy Wall Street movement and asked, “what does the Church have to say about it?”

It’s a timely question. To its shame much of the church tolerated the destruction of the American Indians, ignored the rise of Nazism and sat on their hands while civil rights protesters marched. It pleases Christ the Head that His Body neither loves the approval of the world’s movers and shakers, nor ignores pleas for justice, emerging, like the tired old judge of the parables, only when its own comfort is threatened. Instead the Holy Spirit uses prophets and the irreproachable lives of His people to speak redeeming gospel truth to individuals and nations. The gospel message may begin by recognizing and solving the problem at hand, but it always ends with a call to join the Kingdom through the Cross.

My superficial answer to my thought-provoking friend’s question was something like, “in Thessalonians Paul tells the idle men of the church to get a job, work hard, and take care of their own families.” And there is some truth to that rebuke. The American spirit of quiet, determined industry has been corroded (I do not say replaced) by a loud, demanding spirit of entitlement. Say what you want about the illegal immigrants, but they are not occupying Wall Street. They and their green-carded brethren are holding nail guns, not cardboard signs. The protesters are the “real” Americans who have been raised with wealth but a declining sense of family and community support, and now that bad times are a’ comin’, both the government and family safety nets look overused, overburdened and full of holes. These folks are scared, and given their situation I do not blame them. The church can lead by example, being careful to give God the glory in the prayer closet and in public, if it follows some of the direct and implied directions about community support contained in I Timothy 5.

The gist of Timothy 5 is that we love those around us in appropriate ways. Treat old men like fathers, younger men like brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters (with purity). Widows are to be cared for by the church if necessary, but ideally by re-marriage. Americans may miss the impact of these statements because we lack a sense of Jewish family cohesion or Middle Eastern hospitality: “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Whoa! So if I fail to treat everyone in the Body as relatives for whom I am responsible, what does that make me?! In Old Testament times the brother or near male relative of a man who died was obligated to care for the widow and children, thus the concept of the kinsman-redeemer. This was “welfare”, God-style. What if….what if….what if…..I actually practiced something like this? What if I really was my brother’s keeper in tangible, serious ways? No doubt I would have less money and time and living space, fewer “talents” to invest in my personal pursuit of the American Dream. (Oh boo hoo.) But as David Platt in his book “Radical” says, Christ has carried his cross and so must his followers, and indeed Christ through us is carrying the gospel cross until the Great Day when its work is accomplished.  I am reminded of admonition of the King to his servants in Luke 19’s Parable of the Talents:

“Occupy until I come.”

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