Biblical Welfare Reform
The Failure of the Welfare State
The very fact that there is so much talk about the need for “welfare reform” is another clear indication of how the present welfare system has completely failed.
The welfare state as envisioned and established by Democrat and Republican politicians is a disaster. The cost of this collapsed experiment of socialism has been enormous. It has had a part in the destruction of countless lives, families, and communities. It has failed the very ones it was supposed to help. It has encouraged immorality, sloth, envy, and hate. It has plundered the wealth of productive citizens and, in many ways, discouraged their further productivity. It has sought to heap guilt and scorn on honest, hard-working, successful people while it has attempted to glorify “bums.”
The only ones who have truly benefited have been the politicians who built careers and bought votes through their “compassion" for the poor, and also the government bureaucrats who took home nice salaries administering the programs. Yes, we certainly need welfare reform! But we must beware that the reform of welfare does not end up being only another form of socialist statism, less offensive and less harmful perhaps, but harmful and offensive none the less. The kind of reform we need is reform along biblical lines.
Christian Reconstructions stand for the Lordship of Christ over this nation and for the authority of biblical law. We see all reform in the context of these truths. True reform is based on submission to Christ and His Law. Therefore, we contend for the reform of welfare according to the principles of God’s law. We are not at all satisfied by Republican tinkering with the current humanistic system of “aid” to the poor. We call for the complete demolition of the current ungodly practice of statist welfare so that we can reconstruct in its place a biblical system of charity.
We recognize that it will take some time to eliminate the current welfare system and to replace it with one that operates according to the principles of God’s law (Ex. 23:28-30). There should be a gradual transfer of responsibility from state agencies to individuals, families, churches, and private charities.
Our country has created a huge number of irresponsible, slothful people who are almost totally dependent on government handouts. This is due to the humanistic policies that have been followed for years. This must be realized, but the policies cannot simply be continued because of this problem. There should be no new recipients of government aid, and those who are on the rolls should be put on notice that on a specific date their assistance shall cease.
The goal must be clear: an end to statist welfare and a return to biblical charity. Perhaps a period of five or six years would be a realistic and workable time frame for the accomplishment of this goal.
Furthermore, people and nations always act in accordance with what they believe and what they think. Therefore, if there is to be true welfare reform, the thinking of people concerning welfare must be changed. This change in thinking must begin in the churches of our country. Pastors must preach what God’s law says concerning charity and poverty. Years of socialist indoctrination need to be overcome. And the church must lead the way in both word and deed.
Biblical Law and the Needs of the Poor
Now, in the remainder of this article, we want to take a look at one of the biblical laws that was given to make provision for the needs of the poor. The law is given in three separate texts (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19-21), and it instructs the Israelite farmer to leave some of the produce of his fields so that this food maybe gathered in by the poor. The importance of this law may be seen in that it is recorded, in slightly different words, three times. It was apparently one the chief means for the provision of the poor in Israel. The law states:
And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God.
There are important principles to consider in this law concerning gleaning and the harvest.
1. This law required the poor to work for the meeting of their own needs.
There are certainly no handouts here! In fact, the work of gleaning was hard and tedious work. Thus, the poor maintained their honor and self-respect. They did not have to beg or seek a handout. The system did not demean them, but actually had the potential of developing their character and lifting them up in the eyes of others. The story of Ruth is an excellent example of the actual operation of this law, and how it displayed the character of Ruth and raised her to a position of honor in the community.
2. This law was “administered” by the owner of the field.
The family (or individual) that owned the field was responsible to determine if those gleaning in their fields were truly “poor” or “strangers.” They had the authority to ban those who did not meet the conditions of the law.
Furthermore, the owner had the opportunity to be generous in his help to his poor neighbors by determining for himself how wide the “corner” of his field was to be, and how many grapes he ought to leave. In other words, there was a very personal aspect to this law. The owner had the opportunity to show love to the poor, and the poor knew exactly who it was that had showed them kindness. This law built “community” by promoting mutual love and esteem.
3. This law recognized man’s dependence upon God for the meeting of his needs.
Both the rich and the poor were equally sensitive to the quality of the crops and the amount of the harvest. If the crops were meager, the poor suffered along with the owner. Therefore, the poor were taught to look ultimately to God for the provision of their needs. They, like the owner, had to pray to God for the conditions that would lead to an abundant harvest.
Note that statist welfare violates all of the principles above! Biblical law requires the poor to work for their needs. Humanistic law requires no work. Biblical law puts the administration of “welfare” in the hands of those who own the wealth. Statist law plunders the wealth of the citizens and administers welfare by an impersonal bureaucracy. Biblical law teaches the poor to look to God for their sustenance. The current socialistic system teaches the poor to look to the state to meet their needs.
Biblical law has the potential for building the character of both the wealthy and the poor. Man’s welfare laws lead to the destruction of charity and moral fiber.
There are, no doubt, more principles concerning the care of the poor that can be “gleaned” from the above texts. What we all must do is meditate on this law day and night so that we will discern all the righteous principles of God’s moral law that underlie these commands. Then, we must seek to apply these principles to our day and to our cultural setting.
There are many creative ways in which the “general equity” contained in these laws on gleaning and the harvest can be applied today for meeting the needs of the poor in a way that glorifies God, builds community, and actually helps the poor man to become a better man. The challenge to each Christian is to determine how, in his own business, church, and family, he can apply the principles of the law of gleaning and harvest for the helping of the poor.
God promises blessing, peace, and prosperity to those who obey His laws, but cursing to those who cast His law behind their backs (Isa. 5:24). If we will obey the law of God in regards to meeting the needs of the poor, then, and only then, will we have true welfare reform.
This is a slightly revised version of an article that was originally published in The Christian Statesman, vol. 138, no. 3 May - June, 1995.