Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Whom Should We Help?

The churches I have served in my years in the ministry have had a special fund to be used to help people in need. The decision on who and how much was often at the minister's discretion or at the discretion of the minister and one or two other persons. In some churches there were some general guidelines such as ‘deserving people' or ‘needy Christians.' These stipulations always troubled me. It was not so much that I wanted carte blanche as it was that there was in those guidelines an exclusiveness that was not in the spirit of Jesus as I understand that spirit in the light of the New Testament teachings of Jesus.

Most of the people who need help do not measure up to the common definitions of ‘deserving.' Many of them are not Methodist, or Protestant, or even Christians. Many of them are not very nice people, and more than a few of them are not ‘grateful.' I do not want to upset anyone's local church guidelines, but I do not recall that Jesus reserved his help for ‘deserving people, Jews, grateful, or nice people.' Jesus helped people. I know there are some who are disturbed over helping anybody without regard for ‘deserving, Christian, grateful, nice, etc.,' but should a Christian draw lines Jesus did not draw?

I love the story told by Dr. Fred Craddock about Dr. Oswald Goulter. He was a missionary he knew who after years of service in China, was put under house arrest by the Communists. He was finally released on the condition he would leave on the next available ship, which happened to be a steamer going to Madras, India. He wired his mission board for travel money. While waiting at the coastal city of Madras in India to take a ship home, he heard there were lots of Jews sleeping in barn lofts there. They had been denied entrance in every country except India, and they had gone inland and were sleeping in barn lofts. It was Christmas. Dr. Goulter went around to those barn lofts and said to the homeless Jews: "It is Christmas! Merry Christmas!"

They said, "We're Jews." He said, "I know, but it is Christmas." They said: "We don't observe Christmas. We are not followers of Jesus." The old missionary said: "I know, but what would you like for Christmas?" They argued with him and he said: "If somebody gave you something for Christmas, what would you like?" To get rid of him they said: "Some good German pastries."

Dr. Goulter finally found a pastry shop with German pastries and he cashed in his passage ticket and took baskets of German pastries to these Jews. Then he wired his mission board for money for another ticket.

When Dr. Goulter told that story in a seminary classroom, a young seminarian sitting in the front row was absolutely incensed. He said to Dr. Goulter, "Why did you do that? They don't even believe in Jesus!" Dr. Goulter said, "But I do. I do." Hmmm.

Whom should we help? Should we draw lines and make stipulations? If we make the decision based on "What would Jesus do?", it does not appear that the question should turn on who they are or what they believe, but upon who we are and what we believe. If this upsets your guidelines for charity, just forget what I have said - if you can.