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Gleaning and Mercy Ministry

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  ASK THE PASTOR BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Question: “Regarding methods of caring for the poor, what is the modern equivalent of letting your field go fallow every seven years, as the Old Testament commands? Or, leaving the corners of your field for the poor to harvest?”

     Answer: In order to translate these practices into a modern context, we have to discern the principles that underlie the Sabbath years and gleaning practices...

     The first principle illustrated by Sabbath years and gleaning is that the Covenant community has a primary responsibility before God to ensure that there are no needy persons among us (Acts 4:32-35). Israel was the Old Covenant church, and the provision of Sabbath years and gleaning were primarily for the poor and needy Israelites, although they were also to care for the alien and sojourner. As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

     The second principle is that the primary responsibility for caring for the poor is on the family. When Ruth was sent by Naomi to glean from a field, she was sent to the field of her relative, Boaz. As Paul tells Timothy, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8).

     A third principle is that private individuals and institutions have the responsibility to care for the poor, not the government. The family, church, and local organizations are far more efficient and personal, and they are able to provide accountability. And the government will not address their infinitely more important spiritual needs.

     A fourth principle is that the poor and needy should expect to work for their benefits, as they are able. The landowners and farmers didn’t tie up the grain in bundles and carry them to the front doorstep of the poor people. The Bible condemns laziness and “sluggards,” and promotes work as essential to our dignity as humans made in His image. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The goal of mercy ministry should be more than meeting the temporary needs of the poor; it should be to restore them to usefulness in society. It’s not that “handouts” are always wrong. The Old Testament Law did provide for gifts for the poor, but the Bible challenges us to consider the more long-term needs of the poor (i.e., teaching them how to fish instead of handing them a fish). 

     A fifth principle is that we should provide for mercy in our work and budget plans. Landowners were not to maximize their profits from their land and crops, but they were to provide unharvested crops for the poor to glean. 

     What would this type of charity look like in our cultural context? It’s not easy for individuals and families to provide resources for the poor in response to labor and progress toward usefulness (most believers in Biblical times didn’t have the means to do this either), although some people have their own businesses or other means to provide in that way. Certainly, we should all budget for mercy ministry, instead of our typical practice of overspending our budget on our own wants and needs. But there are many examples of this kind of “gleaning” aid by Christian churches and organizations, where the poor are expected to participate in chores, life-skills training, Bible study, etc. in order to receive food, housing, and other provisions for their needs.

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"Amen" in Worship

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  ASK THE PASTOR BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     Question: “Why do some people say ‘Amen!’ during a worship service? Is it a Biblical response?”

     Answer: There are three ways in which you will hear worshippers use the word “amen” in a worship service: as a conclusion to a hymn, as a response to public prayer, or as an affirmation of comments made by the preacher or worship leader. It can be heard in a wide variety of types of churches, from the scripted congregational responses after formal prayers in liturgical churches such as an Episcopal church, to the boisterous shouts of multiple worshippers in Baptist or Pentecostal services. It’s even been heard occasionally (and “decently and in order”) in Presbyterian services!

     There is a clear Biblical warrant and precedent for the practice. In Deuteronomy 27, God commands the Levites to pronounce curses upon various sins, and goes on to say, “Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” after every curse. When King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he presented to the people a new psalm of thanksgiving. The people were deeply moved by the event and David’s psalm, and then “all the people said, ‘Amen’ and ‘Praise the Lord’.” David included the word within some of the psalms that he wrote. Psalm 72:18-19 says, “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds…may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and amen.” The fact that the practice was continued into New Testament worship is made clear from a comment that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 14:16, “…how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?” Throughout the history of God’s people it has been a unique and special confession and affirmation of the truth of God’s Word during worship.

     The word is not really translatable. It has been transliterated directly from Old Testament Hebrew into New Testament Greek, and then into English. From the way that it is used in Scripture, it appears to be an assent to and or affirmation of what has been proclaimed in prayer or preaching. Charles Simeon says that the word “denotes the full concurrence of the soul in all that has been uttered.” It is a means for the worshipper to more fully participate in the expressions of prayer, praise, and truth in a worship service.

     Saying “Amen” in response to truth in worship is a practice of both Old Covenant and New Covenant worship in Scripture. Unfortunately, like the practices of clapping and raising hands in worship (both of which are also given by command and example in Scripture), the practice of saying “Amen” has been discontinued in many churches. It has been the overreaction on the part of many to the showy false piety of some Christians, and the inappropriate expressions of others. But when the word “Amen” is used in a reverent and orderly way in response to prayers and sermons, it can be reassuring to your faith, encouraging to the preacher and the body of believers, and invigorating to the worship service.

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