Recently I received a “Hunger Fighter” in the mail. As I suppose most other pastors do, I receive a great deal of “junk mail,” unsolicited advertisements for many organizations and causes. Virtually all of these materials go into “File 13” without so much as a second glance. But once in a while there comes a publicity stunt that is just about impossible to ignore; it receives more than cursory attention, and perhaps provides food for more in-depth thought. Such was my “Hunger Fighter.”
What is a Hunger Fighter? It consisted of a “Love Loaf,” a small plastic box in the shape of a loaf of bread with a slot in the top, and of considerable written material explaining the promotion. Sponsored by World Vision International, this Hunger Fighter kit is meant to be used in one’s congregation. The recipient is supposed to order, free of charge, enough Love Loaves for his congregation, which then fills up the loaves with money, and at an appointed time, turns them all in so that the money can be collected, counted, and sent to World Vision to feed the poor of the world. There are detailed instructions as to exactly how the program should be conducted, what it will do, and what its advantages are for the local congregation, as well as for the poor and deprived people who will receive this aid. For example, the church can aid people in Southern Sudan, Africa; Gujarat, India; Irian Jaya, Indonesia; and Maranhao, Brazil, with medicines, sewing machines, water buffaloes, tractors, chicken feed, and apple trees, all for just a few dollars a month. According to the promotional material accompanying the Love Loaf, all of this is a “proven way to increase your church’s support of denominational hunger programs,” and is also good for families, who can use this Love Loaf in family devotions (“Children love it”). As proof that the program is successful, World Vision points out that more than $2 million was raised through the Love Loaf program last year, and adds glowing testimonials from pastors of churches which took part in the program. Perhaps more details could be added, but the picture should be sufficiently clear to give a good understanding of the Hunger Fighter.
What must we say about all of this? Or, to back up a step, should we say anything at all about it? These questions crossed my mind as I scanned the material I had received. Why not just toss the whole package into the wastebasket and forget about it? But then again, should something be said after all? And if so, what?
After pondering the matter for some time, I decided that something should be said. However, I must confess that it is rather difficult to criticize a program such as this. Though my initial reaction was instantly negative, to give content to those negative feelings is much more difficult. Being against fighting hunger is something like being against motherhood and apple pie—it’s un-American and unchristian in the eyes of most people today. But, on the other hand, such anti-poverty programs sponsored by churches and religious organizations are proliferating today; World Vision is not by any means the only organization so involved, but it is a good representative of the kind of thing that is being done today. And because this issue is one that is connected with the church, and because the appeals of these organizations are directed to Christians, and often to Reformed Christians, some reflection is in order. I want to make it clear in this regard that I attribute no evil motives to those involved, nor am I (or the denomination of which I am a member) opposed to the relief of the poor. Because this matter concerns the church, and because there is here a sign of the times, a few words of evaluation are in order.
The intent of World Vision is obviously to instill in Christians a sense of responsibility or even guilt towards the poor of the world. I do not intend to enter into the whole question of who is one’s neighbor, and what is the obligation of Christians towards those less fortunate than those of us in developed countries. But I must confess that I cannot bring myself to feel responsible or guilty for the plight of people in far-off lands, since I do not believe that I am. their neighbor, and I resent being asked for money on the basis of a supposed feeling or responsibility. But apart from this, there are many more important things that can be said about this Hunger Fighter. Its underlying assumption is the common humanity of man, with mutual responsibility, under a universal fatherhood of God, an assumption which all Reformed Christians must reject on the basis of the Scriptures. To put the same thing into different words, there is not even a hint of the truth of the antithesis here, because there is no regard for spiritual matters and principles, which must always govern the lives of God’s people. There is an emphasis, sickeningly, upon what man can do and what man should do. The benefits to you and your congregation are repeatedly stressed; those who give to this project are exalted for showing their love. Such a man-centered philosophy of do-goodism betrays a basically Arminian and universalistic bias on the part of the sponsors of this and similar projects, as well as a gross ignorance of the Biblical concept of love. Does this sound like Reformed language?
Jesus met every human need. One evening He healed many of the sick who had gathered at the door of Peter’s house. On another occasion He overturned the moneytables of those who were cheating the poor. And once He took five loaves and two fishes to feed a hungry crowd. His were acts of love—the expressed love of a God who cares.
That same love can be cultivated in your church through the Love Loaf. It’s one way to let Jesus continue, through His Body, to care for the poor as He did while on earth.
If Jesus can feed 5000 people with a small boy’s lunch, we can ask Him to do it with a Love Loaf.
Who is this God and this Jesus? For whom does He care—for all people in the world, or for His elect children? Is Jesus so weak a Savior that we have to let Him care for the poor, or is He the exalted Lord over all things in heaven and on earth? Is this a Reformed concept of mission work? Where is the gospel of salvation, of God’s sovereign salvation of His people through the work of His grace in Christ? To ask these questions is to answer them.
But more significantly for Reformed Christians, there is an unmistakable sign of the times in this endeavor and others like it. I refer to what might be called a secular religion. This religion is secular in its methods, for it uses the tactics of Madison Avenue, of slick promotions, of glib phrases, of shallow thinking. This commercialization of religion, the dealing with big money, the recitation of impressive results must never characterize the church of Jesus Christ. But apart from the methods involved here, the message that comes through is very secular. Make no mistake, Christianity is equated here with giving of money to the poor. While it is certainly true that the care of God’s poor is one of the callings and even one of the marks of a Christian, in no way does Christianity consist of sending Love Loaves to the poor in remote areas of the world. And yet this is exactly the underlying assumption of those who promote such projects. Apart from the fact that we as Reformed Christians must not allow this to be the test of our Christianity, there is a deeper problem here.
The deeper matter is that here is a sign of the times, for such movements evidence the development of the power of antichrist. As John points out in I John 2:18, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” In the book of Revelation, especially the 13th chapter, we are instructed in figurative language that the antichrist shall utilize the power of so-called religion to realize his false kingdom at the end of time. All the power of the existing church will become subject to the goals of antichrist and his kingdom. Moreover, we are instructed in the Scriptures that his kingdom shall be glorious in character, so that poverty, disease, and misery, shall be eliminated to a great degree. Therefore he will be acclaimed and worshipped by the whole world as their hero and savior. In the elimination of poverty the church will aid.
When these briefly stated truths are remembered, then we are able to gain a perspective on many of the movements we see in the church world today. Never should we forget that the signs of the times take place not only in the world, but also concern that which is called church. Some of those signs are clearly evident already. Hand in hand with the current apostasy from the faith goes the pseudo-religion exemplified in such movements as World Vision. After all, when the gospel is lost or taken away from the church, something must be substituted for it. And what is substituted is a secular religion, according to which the doing of a general kind of good works in the civil realm is made to be the same as the service of Christ. Further, such efforts are increasingly effective as tools to unite world Christianity, which is a prerequisite for the realization of the kingdom of antichrist.
The calling of all Reformed Christians, then, is not to participate in efforts to eliminate world hunger and poverty; we must remember that the enemy of the gospel and the church and Christ is not poverty, but sin and the power of antichrist. If we unthinkingly go along with and support such efforts, then we become part of the spirit and power of antichrist, and we lose the gospel and faith of Jesus Christ. Rather, in an age of many antichrists which are in the world, we must remain faithful to the truth of the Scriptures, and be busy with the work of preaching the gospel of Christ, that we may be instrumental in the gathering of the church while it is day, before the night comes