One of the main slogans publicized by our friends at The Lupton Center in their Seeking Shalom class designed to have us “rethink charity” states: Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom. I belong to a church that offers this class to the congregation and embraces it’s teachings. Despite my protest against it, leadership there very specifically rejects my rebuttal going so far as to say that my ministry does more harm than good. I could not be more outright rejected.
But it’s not me being rejected. Not really. I bear real pain over it, yes, but I did not merely express my simple opinion, and made no protests on a whim, and despite the effort to turn my protests into an issue about me and my attitude, it’s really Jesus that is being rejected. Jesus and the poor.
The church I belong to has a rich heritage of being “biblical”. In fact, I have joined a number of Bible studies offered in this church where we search the Scriptures and listen, really listen, to the Word of God and submit to his authority as it is there revealed. From time to time that listening process (in group settings) produces debates. Not, generally, stern arguments, but various proposals for understanding a given passage are weighed in the discourse. Frequently one proposal appears to hold more weight than another as they are analyzed carefully. However, in practically all of these studies, the lesson is then spiritualized and made somewhat generic. They do not call for a specific action from individuals or groups, but rather some spiritualized mental assent (or not).
In the Lupton class, there is a push to revamp the way people traditionally view almsgiving and charity. They want us to “stop meeting needs” and “start seeking shalom”.
When it comes to “seeking shalom”, there is something of that spiritualized mental assent left up to the individual to embrace in that nebulous way that Bible studies often enable. Basically, it’s a spiritual feel-good notion. You can feel really enlightened by embracing it.
That said, I would not in anyway wish to inhibit shalom. Surely shalom is the Christian goal, the description of Christian utopia, no less! In fact, if there is a criticism here, it is the rhetoric of the statement that suggests we were not seeking shalom before we took the class. If there is any truth to that, then we have a far more sinister heart problem than the nebulous mental assent can handle. But if it never was a real problem, and if we had in fact been seeking shalom all along, then it is just a rhetorical device that lends rhetorical weight, not real substance, to the Lupton Center program.
However, the first part of the slogan, “Stop meeting needs”, is not so nebulous, and in fact the Lupton class explores this notion at length in various ways and approaches. Very specific prohibitions (along with some general ones too) are discussed. One thing for sure, according to this philosophy, you should never give cash to a needy person. In fact, you should never give them anything they can obtain some other way. You should never do for a needy person something they can do for themselves. The idea is that a needy person has needs alright, but it will only do them more harm than good if you meet their needs rather than direct them to meet their needs themselves.
Now… back to the Bible.
First off, as I search the Scriptures, I NEVER find a passage that says anything like “Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom”. It’s not a verse anywhere in there. There are no such sayings, no such directives, and no examples demonstrating this “wisdom” in any concrete fashion at all. If, and I mean IF, you can find a passage that lends weight to this notion, it is only in the most abstract way. You really have to work it in between the lines. This runs a strong risk of being eisegesis, not exegesis.
On the contrary, just reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry (never mind all the rich narratives, the prophets, the psalms and proverbs that would challenge this slogan), we find him meeting needs on page after page – sometimes in rapid fire/quick succession – multiple times with various people.
He heals Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever, the paralytic lowered through the roof, numerous demoniacs (including the one called Legion), lame people, blind people, lepers, a bleeding woman, a dead girl, a dead man, a dead son, and on and on and on and on. News of his needs-meeting abilities spread like wildfire and crowds come from far and wide to see him, hear him, touch him, be touched by him, even for him to just walk past them. If meeting needs were somehow inhibitive of shalom, Jesus would be doing more harm than good!
But he’s not done. Even his own apostles find themselves in need, certainly on a boat in a storm, and they cry out in fear. And he asks why they have no faith! It would seem that they should be having faith that would save them, but they don’t, and so he meets their need by stilling the storm (pretty much half the definition of shalom, btw). And what about the “woman caught in the act”? This is a woman caught up in her own sin, caught in the very act, and there is no dispute about it! She should not behave like this. She got herself into this mess with her own poor choices, and the law would have her stoned, but not Jesus. Jesus meets her need and spares her life!
How did there come to be a wedge driven between the meeting of needs and the seeking of shalom?
I don’t know for sure where it came from, but I am certain that it did not come from God.
Meeting needs does no harm to shalom. Don’t let the nice folx at the Lupton Center tell you otherwise. And I hope, really hope, your church does not reject Jesus and embrace this garbage. If it does, I challenge you to show me where God’s Word ever tells you to “Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom”. Listen to me carefully here. I am not saying show me how smart you think it is; I’m saying show me where God says this.
If you can, I will hush my mouth.