A WORLD IN NEED
The extent of hunger and deprivation around the world is a reality haunting modern times.
Confronted with disaster, disease, and chronic poverty, relief and development agencies have
provided massive material assistance. Yet for all the resources expended, hunger and deprivation
appear to be increasing. The sad reality is that so much effort has produced little in long-term
This reality calls us as Christians to reassess the work of relief and development in light of Godâ€™s Holy
Word. It is our conclusion that the consistent application of Biblical teaching will require a
reorientation of relief and development practices, and that this may involve a change in our
understanding of human need and in strategies to relieve suffering.
â€œRelief and developmentâ€ is an expression that recognizes two Biblical principles. Relief refers to
the insistence in both Testaments that the people of God must help the hungry and oppressed.
Development stems from the Biblical vision of a people exercising their proper stewardship of
Godâ€™s giftsâ€”of societies that are productive, healthy, and governed justly. Together, relief and
development envision substantial improvement in economic and human well being.
We acknowledge our own sinfulness and fallibility, and we recognize that other committed
Christians may not agree with all our convictions. Nevertheless, we are compelled by Godâ€™s Word
and by the reality of human suffering to share our convictions with Christians and others. We do not
claim to have spoken the final word. Thus, we offer the following conclusions of the Villars
consultation for the research, dialogue, and open debate among all who claim Christ as Lord.
ISSUES OF CONCERN
With this as our goal, we raise our concerns over the following issues:
1. The failure to operate from a distinctively Biblical perspective in both methods and goals.
2. The tendency to focus on meeting material needs without sufficient emphasis on
3. The attempt to synthesize Marxist categories and Christian concepts, to equate
economic liberation with salvation, and to use the Marxist critique, without
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recognizing the basic conflict between these views and the Biblical perspective.
4. The emphasis on redistribution of wealth as the answer to poverty and deprivation
without recognizing the value of incentive, opportunity, creativity, and economic and
5. The attraction to centrally controlled economics and coercive solutions despite the
failures of such economies and their consistent violation of the rights of the poor.
6. A disproportionate emphasis on changing structures without recognizing the
frequency with which this only exchanges one oppressive structure for another.
7. The danger of utopian and ideological entrapment, whether from the left or the right.
8. Neglecting to denounce oppression when it comes from one end or the other of the
9. Focusing on external causes of poverty in exploitation and oppression without
confronting those internal causes that are rooted in patterns of belief and behavior
within a given culture.
10. The need to make conversion and discipleship an essential component of Christian
relief and development work, and to carry this out in conjunction with the local
11. The need to apply the teaching of the Bible as a whole in the areas of personal life,
family, and work, but equally in the shaping of the culture and social life.
12. The need to reaffirm the Biblical support for the family as the basic social and economic
unit and its right to own and control property, and to stand against any ideology that
would diminish the familyâ€™s proper role in any of these areas.
13. The need to oppose a false understanding of poverty which makes poverty itself a
virtue, or which sanctifies those who are poor on the basis of their poverty.
In response to these issues we draw attention to the following Biblical teaching and its
implications for relief and development:
1. God created mankind in His own image, endowing man with freedom, creativity,
significance, and moral discernment. Moreover, prior to the Fall, man lived in
harmony with all of Godâ€™s creation, free from pain, suffering, and death.
2. The devastating reality of sin and evil, hunger, oppression, deprivation, disease,
death, and separation from God is the result of manâ€™s rebellion against God, which
began at the Fall and continues through history.
3. The causes of hunger and deprivation, therefore, are spiritual as well as material and
can only be dealt with adequately insofar as the spiritual dimension is taken into
4. Manâ€™s rebellion against God affects every aspect of human existence. The Fall resulted
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in Godâ€™s curse on creation and in destructive patterns of thought, culture, and
relationships, which keep men and women in bondage to poverty and deprivation.
5. The work of Christian relief and development, therefore, must involve spiritual
transformation, setting people free from destructive attitudes, beliefs, values, and
patterns of culture. The proclamation of the gospel and the making of disciples,
then, is an unavoidable dimension of relief and development workâ€”not only for
eternal salvation, but also for the transformation of culture and economic life.
6. When people were held in bondage to hunger and deprivation by unjust social
structures, the Bible consistently denounced those who perpetuated such
oppression and demanded obedience to Godâ€™s law. The Biblical emphasis, then, is
not on â€œsinful structures,â€ but rather on sinful human choices that perpetuate
suffering and injustice.
7. Godâ€™s ultimate answer for suffering and deprivation is the gift of His only Son, Jesus
Christ, who broke the power of sin and death by His own death and resurrection.
The decisive victory was won on the cross in the atoning death of Christ for all who
would believe Him. The final victory will be accomplished when Christ returns in
power and glory to reign with His people. Until that time, all who claim Jesus as
their Lord are called to care for those in need as the Holy Spirit enables them, and
to share the only message of true hope for a broken world.
Therefore, in light of the issues raised and the Biblical perspective outlined here, we encourage
research, dialogue, and debate among all who claim Christ as Lord, so that we may serve Him
more faithfully and work together more effectively.