Worldwide it is believed that more believers were martyred in the last century than during the previous 1900 years of Christian history. They were martyred by secular religions like Communism and Nazism as well as theistic ones such as Islam. The numbers were in the millions. The 21st Century is shaping up to be no better. One look at the atrocities now being committed against Christians in the Sudan is a stark reminder of this fact. But one place this slaughter has never occurred is in the United States. We have been blessed for hundreds of years to live in a nation that has allowed us the precious freedom to live out our faith in peace and security. Yes, there has been some persecution against believers here during recent years but such difficulties are not worth comparing to what has been inflicted on the saints in other parts of the world. We are blessed beyond measure to be Christians living in the United States.
But with any blessing comes responsibility. In Luke 12:48 Jesus declares that From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. We who have the privilege of living in this country have been given much. What are we to do to live out the words of our Lord spoken in this passage?
One of the most obvious blessings of which we partake by living in stable America is material wealth. The United States is the richest country in the history of the human race. Even this nations less fortunate are well off by comparison with the poor in places like Bangladesh or Ethiopia. Most American Christians, as with the rest of their countrymen, possess a standard of living that is beyond the wildest dreams of someone struggling for their very physical survival in the most destitute countries of the Third World. In such locales the Church, if present at all, shares in that destitution. This is where we come in.
The pattern of the First Century Church was for the wealthy churches to aid the less wealthy ones. In his travels the Apostle Paul took collections from the more well off congregations and carried them to places like Jerusalem where the local churches were struggling to make ends meet. The idea was that no one church would have too much at the expense of the rest of the Body of Christ. I believe that this pattern is applicable to the Church universally and at any time in history. The wealthy Western Church today has been given much financially. What is asked of us seems clear, to share this blessing with our impoverished brethren around the world.
Of course some of this aid is already flowing. A multitude of both church and para-church ministries in the United States are involved in utilizing our giving for Christian relief efforts around the world. An obvious example would be the various compassion-oriented organizations like Feed the Hungry and World Vision which provide not only economic aid but also Christian instruction as to children and their families in the Third World. But such aid is aimed at individuals and families more than the corporate church. Initiatives aimed at church-building are less visible to American Christians who are compelled, as indeed they should be, by the sight of starving children.
Perhaps it is time to look at tithing as more than the support of our home churches. In a larger sense maybe we need to tithe globally as well as locally. The Church is far bigger than our own congregations. Is our responsibility to give of what weve been given best met by building a new addition to a mega-church here or by donating enough to give a poor congregation in Rwanda a roof over their heads? Should one part of the Body of Christ flourish at the expense of another part? Not if we desire the whole body to ultimately be healthy and not if we want to obey its Head.
If God so leads it may be that a grassroots effort to promote such a Global tithe is needed to educate American believers on both the magnitude of the need and the biblical imperative to meet that need. Leaders and laity must be helped to understand the urgency of helping world churches that are impoverished, persecuted or both. Whether the effort originates in Para-church organizations or from Christians mobilized denominationally is perhaps not as important as getting the effort started in the first place.
When it comes to charity there is, in the United States, a glorification of helping those in our own backyard before giving money to foreigners. To some extent this idea has infected the Church here. It should not be so. In an era when advances in telecommunications and transportation really have given rise to a sort of Global Village, churches in other parts of the world become closer and more known to those here. We can no longer claim ignorance of what is happening to our brothers and sisters in other nations nor can we claim that we do not have the means to help, the communications satellite and the 747 have seen to that. The starving or persecuted Christians in the Developing World are now living, in a sense, right down the street from us. It is our responsibility, and our privilege, to share the blessings that come from being an American Christian with them. Christ bids us to give much for we have surely been given much and, in these last days, it is safe to say that we may be running out of time.
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 5, 2003.]
Shea Oakley has written over 145 Christian op/ed pieces and devotionals that have been published in both electronic and print media. He holds a bachelors degree in English from Nyack College and a Certificate of Theological Studies from Alliance Theological Seminary (Christian and Missionary Alliance).