Plan Now for a Spring Harvest of Souls

Weekend Musings

Garden idea 2 (Salad garden in gutters)
Garden idea 2 (Salad garden in gutters)

Here’s another brief article from Kairos Journal on a better methodology for feeding the poor without destroying initiative. Personally, I would love to see every Christian family who owns a home to carve out space for gardens perhaps 10 foot square and pointedly work to share their bounty with neighbors, poor, street people etc. Get outside. Get some vitamin D from the sunshine. Get out and meet your neighbors. Build relationships. Work on a plan now. Spring is coming.

The days are getting longer. Now is the time to begin to plan and involve your whole family and maybe some neighbors in a community garden enterprise that is radically focused on caring for others. Maybe this example from another generation will help get you started with some ideas of your own. 

Poor Relief the Puritan Way
In his Book of Martyrs, John Foxe describes two visits he paid to Bishop John Hooper. Both times, he saw Hooper’s table “spread with good store of meat and beset full of beggars and poor folk.”1 Upon further enquiry, Foxe discovered that Hooper’s daily practice was to feed the poor of the city in this way. In this, the bishop exemplified the charitable practices of the English Reformers and Puritans.During the sixteenth century, a number of factors contributed to increased poverty in England. The practice of enclosure, whereby common land was fenced off for sheep farming or crop cultivation, meant that much common grazing land was lost. Often rents were greatly increased, forcing tenants out of properties. In addition, the country suffered from high inflation.2 Unemployment and vagrancy were therefore high. The English Puritans sought to address the issue of poverty by applying scriptural principles.The Puritans were marked by a genuine social concern, grounded in obedience to God’s command to love one’s neighbor as oneself, springing from the new birth.3 Nevertheless, the Puritans regarded indiscriminate giving as a menace. They saw it as inefficient: wasting money, and not benefiting the poor. They did not advocate government-led poor-relief. Rather, they were committed to taking individual responsibility for the needy.

The typical Puritan minister asked only for a living wage, but this did not prevent him from being generous: “He opened his purse to needy prisoners, assisted struggling students through the university, and sold his crops to the poor below the market rate.”4 Additionally, they organized poor relief locally, arguing that the local church should care for the poor within its own parish. In this way, the church could access those requesting relief.

The Puritans recognized that long-term unemployment and dependency on charity led to unwillingness and inability to work.5 They distinguished two types of poor person: the incorrigibly idle and the involuntarily unemployed. The former were not to be encouraged by almsgiving, and the latter would, of course, prefer to work if given the opportunity. Ideally, therefore, unless someone was old or physically incapacitated, relief should take the form of employment, rather than alms, as this discouraged idleness, offered dignity to those without work, and benefited society.6

Poverty is a terrible ill, and the Bible calls Christians to be generous to the poor. While the Puritans are often accused of being “other worldly,” they had a biblical strategy for engaging poverty. This approach required individuals and churches to take responsibility for the poor in their area. Those who were financially able provided for those less well off, but in a discriminating way that did not fritter away money. Such charity provides for those in genuine need and offers opportunities for them to learn to provide for themselves.

Footnotes:

1 Quoted in Leyland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 177.
2 Christopher Hill, Puritanism and Revolution: Studies in Interpretation of the English Revolution of the 17th Century (London: Panther, 1958), 216.
3 Ryken, 179-180.
4 Marshall M. Knappen, Tudor Puritanism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939), 344.
5 Hill, 218.
6 Ibid., 227.

One thought on “Plan Now for a Spring Harvest of Souls

  1. Great to see teaching on how to help those who ask for or need it. I’ve always struggled with knowing how to discern what is truly helpful to someone and have made some mistakes in that area. This post is helpful to me.

    Like

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