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The purpose of this article is to discuss a problem which often confronts the diaconate of our churches. It happens repeatedly that when some of our people reach the age where they are unable to provide for their own livelihood, and do not have the necessary reserve to support themselves, they turn to the state to apply for state aid, or old age pension, rather than to appeal to the deacons of the church. The question has often been raised, Is this proper? Should the church and the deacons approve of this, tacitly consent to it? Or should we openly express our disapproval, instruct these parties accordingly, and urge them to seek their aid from the deacons? 

Our problem is, therefore, a very practical one. 

You realize that we are not discussing the federal Social Security Act, nor the propriety of applying for and obtaining old age assistance through Social Security. That, to my mind, is an entirely different matter that has nothing in common with the old age pension. It is true, that in the future social security will replace the present old age pension, and thus our present problem will be resolved. But in the meantime we still are confronted with this question. 

It should also be understood that we are not discussing in this present article the matter of aid from the cancer, polio, and heart societies. That is also an entirely different subject, that is well worth discussing, but lies beyond the scope of our present discussion. We are limiting ourselves now to the matter commonly known as “old age pension.” 

I have obtained some literature from the Michigan Social Welfare Commission, to which: I will refer occasionally. I am well aware that this material actually applies only to the State of Michigan, but I feel that we are quite safe in assuming that the legislation of the various States in this matter differs only in minor detail, and actually does not affect the main point of our discussion. 

I would have you note, therefore, first of all, that in the State of Michigan the old age pension is the result of state legislation. The State has drawn up a “Social Welfare Act” providing for such matters as “old age assistance, aid to dependent children, aid to the blind, and aid to the totally and permanently disabled” which is supported by state and federal funds taken from the taxes. 

From this it already becomes evident that the state itself considers old age assistance through pensions as a special relief measure, or an act of “charity.” It is matter of special legislation, and is placed in the same category as aid to dependent children, blind, mentally handicapped, etc. The pensions are even drawn from the same funds. 

Moreover, the Social Welfare Act provides (Sec. 400.26) that “Old age assistance shall be given to any person who (a) Has attained the age of 6.5 years or upwards; . . . (f) Has not sufficient income to provide a reasonable subsistence, compatible with decency and health, as determined by the county bureau under the rules and regulations of the state bureau. . . .” Notice particularly that statement, “sufficient income to provide for a reasonable subsistence, compatible with decency and health.” That is a perfect description of a needy person, a charity ward, who turns to the state because he has no where else to turn for his daily subsistence. Therefore the state has made regulations as to how much property a person may own and still be eligible for state aid. And the state also determines the amount that shall be paid to each individual according to need. All of which proves that a person must be considered dependent on others for his daily subsistence; that is, he must be an object of charity before he can appeal to the state for aid. Which only stresses the point that old age pension is a special relief measure, and nothing less.

Quoting once more from the Social Welfare Act (Sec. 400.26), we find under (d) that a person can receive old age assistance if he “Has no spouse, child, other person, association or corporation legally and contractually responsible under the laws of this state for his support and found by the county bureau to be able to support him: Provided, that if such spouse, child, other person, association, society or corporation is partially able to support the applicant, such partial support shall be taken into consideration in fixing the amount of the assistance.” 

This is an even more potent argument to show that old age pension is a special relief measure adopted by the state for those who have no one to assist them in their need. From the section quoted above it is obvious that the state will give aid to the aged 6nly when the responsible relatives are unable to support them. From a leaflet entitled, “What is Expected of Relatives?” given out by the State of Michigan Department of Social Welfare, I quote the following: “Does the state give pensions to the aged, widows, etc.? Not in the sense that many people think of a pension as something a person is entitled to regardless of circumstances. The Michigan Social Welfare Act gives the conditions under which the various types of public assistance may be granted. Section 76 says, “This act shall not be construed to relieve the liability for support by relatives under the provisions of Act 146 of the Public Acts of 1925, as amended. The terms of said act with respect to liability for support by relatives may be invoked in connection with any form of public aid or relief administered under this act.” (Act 280. Public Acts of 1939, as amended.) Thus, when an aged person applies for old age assistance, for example, the county Bureau of Social Aid is required by law to determine whether the responsible relatives are able to provide support.” This leaflet adds, that “if the total of expected contributions from the relatives does not meet the person’s needs as figured on Bureau standards, assistance may be given for the difference.” Which means that the state supplies only that amount which cannot be brought up by the responsible relatives. And then it goes on to say, that if relatives do not make the expected contribution, the hardship will fall on the dependent person, for the bureau “is required by law to consider the expected contribution as available income whether it is forthcoming or not.”

Summing up, we have three arguments. First that old age pension is not something that a person is entitled to regardless of circumstances. Second, that a means test is applied to determine whether or not a person shall receive state aid, so that anyone who has sufficient income to provide for a reasonable subsistence cannot qualify for this welfare measure. And third, that there is a responsible relative measure in this law, so that the immediate relatives must furnish the aid if at all possible, and the state only steps in to fill in the amount: which cannot be brought up by the relatives. From which we conclude that the old age pension, as it exists at present, is a matter of charity administered by the state. 

Now we do not question the right of the state to make such regulations for those persons who have no other means of support. It is only proper that the state should take care of its citizens, whether they need old age assistance, aid because of blindness, or are totally disabled, and have no other source of relief. 

But the question remains, what is the calling of the church and its members in this respect? We can grant without argument that the immediate relatives are the first responsible parties in taking care of the needy. But what is the order after that? Is this the order: relatives—state—church? Or this: relatives—church—state? Or, to cast the question in a slightly different form, must a needy person who cannot obtain aid from his immediate relatives turn first to the church, and only to the state if the church fails to help him? Or must he appeal to the state, and only finally in a last extremity, to the diaconate? 

From the point of view of the church, she has a very definite calling? First of all, the church must proceed from the principle that Christ is her Head, even as her exalted Lord in heaven. Christ rules over His church as her King, preaches the Word as her Prophet, and exercises mercy as her High priest. Therefore He also assures His church that, “the poor ye have always with you,” not as an unpleasant burden, but as a gracious arrangement of God whereby the mercies of Christ may become manifest. In the second place, Christ exercises His three-fold office of Prophet, Priest and King through His church. Therefore He has instituted the offices of minister, elder and deacon. Therefore He calls to, that office through the church, ordains and qualifies by His Spirit, and accomplishes His work through the office in the church as institute. We may never ignore that principle. From this follows that Christ manifests His mercy through the mercies of the believers upon the poor and indigent. Christ Himself arouses His people to exercise that love and mercy, when He says in His Word, “distributing to the necessity of the saints, given to hospitality.” Rom. 12:13. And He makes this possible through the deacons, that it may be done in His name, and the right hand never knows what the left hand is doing. It is, therefore, blessed to give in His name, but also to receive from His hand. 

From this follows, that from the aspect of the aged who need assistance, where would they rather go than to the deacons? Charity, in the true sense of the word, can only be exercised by the church. For the mercies of the wicked are always cruel. Would we rather go to Moab and Philistia than to Israel for help? But even more, the deacons do not aid the needy; not as mere deacons. Nor does the church; not as church. But Christ aids His needy through the channel of the church and the deacons. He who receives his daily sustenance from Christ, receives it from the same hand as when he worked for his daily bread, but now through the direct channel of the church. And by doing so, both he is blessed who gives, and he who receives. That we believe, and therefore it becomes easy to swallow all sinful pride which might prevent us from receiving of those who live round about us and know what we do with the gifts which we receive. 

But that still leaves a few questions. 

The argument is sometimes raised, that we pay into these funds by our taxes, and therefore have a right to draw out of them as well. The argument implies that we have a right to these pensions because they are supported by taxes. But the fact remains that the state has introduced this welfare act as an emergency measure to aid those who have no other source of income. It is not something that a person is entitled to regardless of circumstances, that is, regardless of the fact that there is an office of mercy in the church. 

The objection is also made that every other needy person benefits from this state welfare, so why should not we? Yet, this argument is in direct conflict with the stand we have taken in regard to the instruction of our children in our own Christian schools, as well as in regard to the care and support of ‘those who suffer from emotional and mental disturbances. Why our own Christian schools? Why such institutions as Pine Rest? Why, since we could benefit from the institutions which the state has raised up? To that we answer, of course, that the instruction of the seed of the covenant is the responsibility of the parents, regardless of whether the state has provided schools for our children. And again, that it is the calling of the church to exercise mercy in caring for mentally handicapped and disabled. But then the same rule applies to the care of those who can no more support themselves and have no source of income from their immediate relatives. 

Ultimately it is simply a matter of principle. If anyone is inclined to disagree with what has been written in this article, I am sure that the Standard Bearer will appreciate your contributions on this subject. And, personally, I would like to hear from you.

C.H.