The February 27 issue of the 1866 Gospel Advocate contains two short blurbs by David Lipscomb about the poor (p. 141). The first expresses his concern that the poor “should, above all others, feel at home in the church.” The second encourages believers to continually share with the poor.
This first blurb reminds us that our church buildings, our dress and our attitudes should be shaped by an incarnational posture that welcomes the poor. Do we create spaces, relationships and opportunities where the poor feel welcome? Given our upper middle class buildings and fashionable dress and expensive stuff, it is little wonder that the poor are generally uncomfortable. I don’t know exactly what to do about that, but here is a reminder from David Lipscomb.
The poor often feel backward in the church, because in the corruptions that wealth has brought into the church, it has been so changed that they cannot conform to its customs and they do not feel at home there. This is a wrong feeling. The church is the especial legacy of God to the poor of the earth. The poor then should, above all others, feel at home in the church. Should feel they had special privileges there above all others. It is the rich that are out of their element in Christ’s Church. They should feel the backwardness, not the poor.
The second blurb tackles the oft-heard retort that “the poor ye have with you always” as a potential excuse for less attention to the poor than we might otherwise give. Lipscomb does not believe this Jesus saying means less giving but more giving to the poor.
“The poor ye have with you always,” therefore give always and continually. The Christian must cultivate a disposition to give–must so school his heart to giving, that he realizes that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Only then has he brought himself to the true Christian spirit.
The kingdom of God is for the poor; it is the rich who should not feel at home there. Wow! That is quite a statement. It has some biblical roots in James 2, for example, as well as in the prophetic tradition.
Lipscomb’s statement should at least, it seems to me, remind us that while our American churches–for the most part–are oriented toward the middle class and rich, this is not the fundamental orientation of the kingdom of God within the narrative of Scripture.