Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mercy Ministry and the Two Kingdoms, Part One: Pick a Sphere, Any Sphere

The idea that the Church's mandate includes alleviating the woes of the world's poor is axiomatic for many. Part of Bono's appeal for Africa, for example, includes the fact that the Old Testament is replete with references to the poor and Israel's responsibility to care for the disenfranchised within her borders.

But as with most discussions about cult and culture, the issue is rarely as simple as our prooftexts suggest.

Crucial to a proper understanding of this topic is the recognition of the various spheres that God has ordained to meet the manifold needs of his creatures -- these spheres being the Family, the State, and the Church. But it is also important to note that these spheres reflect a "divine reordering" that necessarily took place after Adam’s fall. As Meredith Kline writes, "[From the beginning] the originally mandated temple-city of Adam encompassed the totality of life and activity of humanity within its assigned jurisdiction." Or to de-Klineanize it a little, before Adam's fall, there was one holy kingdom and one holy sphere.

In the postlapsum situation, however, "the… aspects and functions of the original city were distributed among several nonconcentric authority structures that replaced the one original universal kingdom." Thus "along with the institution of the State in this common grace realignment stands the institution of the Family, with its own share of the redistributed functions and its own sphere of authority" (Kingdom Prologue, p. 172).

In short, after the fall the holy aspects of life are consigned to the spiritual kingdom of Christ, while the institutions of the Family and the State are the vehicles for the furtherance of God's temporal, common grace agenda.

So the questions that remain include: Is material aid for the poor a common or redemptive errand? Which sphere(s) -- Church, Family, or State -- bear(s) responsibility for the poor? Is the poor's claim upon the Church only valid if those in need are believing members?

What think ye?