Christ and Poverty

Abraham Kuyper, in his speech at the First Christian Congress, elucidated how Christ Jesus, the Lord, understood poverty in a distinct way, not of this world. Thus, the way forward in poverty alleviation is made clear.

Could it be that the Christian faith, having entered the world, would take no stand against such an evil state of affairs? Surely you know that social conditions in Jesus’ time–conditions even worse than those that keep contemporary Europe and America in a state of tension–prophesied the approaching fall the Roman Empire. A genuinely Asiatic despotism was responsible for a system of extortion and exhaustion in almost every province, against which oratorical heroes such as Cicero protested in vain. Then, just as now, the balance between the classes was lost: defiant luxury existed alongside crying poverty, immense accumulations of capital alongside beggarly poverty concealed in the slums of Rome. Corruption in government followed inevitably from these conditions. Sensuality rather than morality set the tone for public opinion. The masses, carried away by need and passion, stood ready at any time to rebel, murder, and plunder.

Jesus-More than a Social Reformer

Dour, pagan Rome then sank away, as did laughing Greece, into the morass of human misery.[1] But before it sank, a light arose in Bethlehem, a dying cry was heard from Golgotha, and through them a new hope was awakened to all peoples. A new hope, not as might be felt by those who today degrade the Christ of God by casting him as a mere social reformer, but he kind of hom inspired by the Savior of the World, which was his higher, richer, and more honorable title. The blessedness that he brought to humanity contained a promise not only for the future but also for the present life (1 Timothy 4:8), although Jesus always emphasized the primacy of man’s eternal welfare. Soul and body must not be corrupted in hell. The worm that never dies, the wailing and gnashing of teeth in a fire that will never be extinguished these were the terrors that Jesus saw when he looked at poor humanity; these were the nightmares that gave him no rest. The joy to which he called people had to be the eternal joy of his kingdom. The cruelty of the socialist was never found in our Savior. For the sake of bettering the lot of humanity in this short span of temporal existence, the socialist wildly and recklessly cuts off every prospect of glory that shall be eternal. [2] Jesus and his apostles never preached revolution. We are to submit to every constituted authority set over us. Poor Lazarus shall have his revenge, not while he is living from the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, but when the rich man suffers in eternal pain and poor Lazarus is comforted (Luke 16:19-31).

Kuyper continues in a footnote:

Jesus flattered no one, neither rich nor poor, but put both in their place. Exactly on this account Jesus occupies so eminent a position. With our men of influence you generally find either scorn for the poor and flattery of the rich, or abuse of the rich and flattery of the poor. This is in conflict with the Christian religion. Both must be convicted of their sin. But this fact remains: Scripture, when it corrects the poor, does so much more tenderly and gently; and in contrast, when it calls the rich to account, it uses much harsher words. Yet our poor also fall away from their faith if they build their hopes on all kinds of help from he state, and not solely on their Father who is in heaven.

This article is excerpted from James W. Skillen’s translation:

Kuyper, Abraham. The Problem of Poverty. Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 2011.

For Further Discussion:

Nicole Leaman on Effective Methods of Poverty Alleviation
James
V. Schall on: Did Jesus Oppose Poverty?

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The Reformed Conservative aims to reunite gentlemanly virtues with scholarly conversation. Standing in the great Reformed and conservative heritage of thinkers like Edmund Burke and Abraham Kuyper, we humbly seek to inject civility into an informed conversation, one article at a time, bringing clarity out of chaos.