Martin Bucer on Caring for the Poor

I really enjoyed reading Martin Bucer’s book Concerning the True Care of Souls. It is pastoral theology at its best. His first three chapters are excellent as he discusses what is the Church and how Christ rules in the Church. Here is his definition of the Church from the first chapter:

“The church of Christ is the assembly and fellowship of those who are gathered from the world and united to Christ our Lord through his Spirit and word, to be a body and members of one another, each having his office and work for the general good of the whole body and all its members.”

He then goes on discuss this definition in more detail.  Here are the last four points Martin Bucer makes in his opening chapter.  He says that Christians should be sharing their possessions and then gives some rules for that sharing. I thought this was helpful in thinking about how to address needs in the body.  His points are in italics and my notes follow.

1. Christians have their fellowship not only in spiritual matters, but also in temporal ones. (Acts 4:32, 34, 35) His point here is a vital one. We often think of sharing in Scripture and prayer, which are of course important, but material possessions matter. Our love for the Church must be expressed in tangible, physical ways.

2. Christians dedicate themselves and their possessions to the help of the poor and the promotion of godliness. (II Corinthians 8:1-5)  Here Bucer puts up some fences around our aid. First, it must actually help the poor. Second it must promote godliness. Our aid cannot be such that it promotes ungodliness.  It is unbiblical to give money to subsidize laziness or drunkenness or any other form of sin.

3. The sharing of Christians takes place in such a way that those in need are helped and the others not burdened. (II Corinthians 8:13-15) Bucer’s point here is not that our giving shouldn’t cost us. Our giving must be sacrificial and that means it should hurt. His point is that by giving we shouldn’t make ourselves poor or others poor. It does no good to replace one poor person with another.

4. Anyone among the Christians who does not want to work and is a burden to the other people is not only not to be fed by the congregation, but also to be cast out as one whose life is disorderly. (II Thessalonians 3:11-13)  Bucer puts up one final fence around our giving. A man who is a financial burden to the Church, yet refuses to work should be kicked out of the Church. Of course, Bucer is assuming the man is physically capable of working.