A well-known preacher and radio host from the West Coast received the most negative letters of his whole career when he preached on this text from 1 Timothy 5:8: But if any provides not for his own, and especially those of his own house, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel. (King James Version). The Living Bible, which is a more contemporary version, reads: But anyone who won’t care for his own relatives when they need help, especially those living in in his own family, has no right to say he is a Christian. Such a person is worse than the heathen.
As you can imagine, this preacher preached to Christians who were quick to claim that the state should take care of their parents because they could not. But in the Scripture, there is a consistent line of caring for one’s own family and even extending it to those who were a part of the church.
The first major disagreement in one of the most spiritual churches came immediately after the event of Pentecost. It was not over doctrine, but over taking care of the widows. Once widows became Christians, they were not able to receive help from the Jewish temple. As the churches distributed aid, the Grecian widows (Jewish widows who spoke Greek) felt that they were not receiving their fair share. Because of this disagreement, the office of the deacon was created. The noun in Greek means to be a helper to those in need. James later defines religion pleasing to God as looking "after orphans and widows in distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)
In the records of various bishops during the first five centuries of Christianity, one can see that their office had many deacons whose job was to take care of the sick, orphans, and widows. But it is true that Paul’s statement was enforced—if a Christian family could take care of their relatives, then they should not be placed in the care of the church. The other verse written by Paul stated that the one who does not like to work should not eat. Work was honorable and should be done by all able bodies.
During the time of the Reformation, we see a great emphasis on work and taking care of people. The Roman Catholic churches took care of their own and the Protestant churches took care of their own. It is interesting to look at the records of all sorts of people that the Protestant churches of Geneva took care of – the sick, orphans, widows, new arrivals, persecuted people, and immigrants. But during that time in Geneva, some people protested that the church was caring for too many people.
While it seems overwhelming to some to take care of their own, we have a consistent example of believers doing just that in the Amish and the Mennonites. They take care of their own families and have been able to do so for over 5 centuries. They do not seek the help of the government at all.
The birth of the social system to take care of the community started during the middle of the 19th century. Most of Europe was in revolution against the monarchies during those days. As an answer to the many demands of the working classes, the government started providing health care for workers. Some people call German prince Otto von Bismarck the founder of social care/welfare. Many people think of him as someone who fought many battles, but fewer people know about his social concerns.
As someone who has paid into various social systems, observed excellent parental care and awful parental care, and paid for medical insurance for decades, I have come to two conclusions. The first is that we are overcharged by the system, unless one encounters catastrophic situations in their life. Second, this system has become a way of enriching some people and impoverishing others.
These thoughts started when a member of the church came to my office and commented that, in previous centuries, the church came alongside families and helped them to take care of the sick and the shut-in. If we want to take care of the people in our local churches again, there are many things we need to change.