It is with, by, and through the local church that God meets the needs of the community. Thus, it is the universal church whereby humanity finds it’s Healer, Redeemer, Maker, and it’s Lover of their souls – Jesus Christ. This was originally the model which founded many western civilizations (including America). But like anything else the ends get lost in the means and the means become an end in themselves.
A misconception of the church today is that it is to be a place of (what I call) Free Social Entitlement. The misunderstanding comes in the misinterpretation of the primitive (apostolic) church. The problem, here, is the understanding that the first century churches simply handed out food, clothing, and whatever else, expecting absolutely nothing in return. Today, nations are built on the ideology of, at best, “welfare states;” and, at worst, “nanny states.” This condition comes out of the misconception of the primitive church. It has been proved throughout history that, if entitlement is the ends then laziness and rebellion are the means to that end. The old adage rings true: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat the rest of his life.
In 1Timothy chapter 5 (VS 3-15) we see a perfect example of the actual first century thinking when we note Paul’s instruction concerning “Widows” and “Widows indeed.” Because a woman was a widow it did not necessitate that she would receive a “free ride” or a hand-out in any way. Notice Paul’s qualifiers, first, for widows: If a widow had children (or grandchildren) of her own it was their responsibility, not the churches burden, to care for her. If she was without an immediate family, she then takes a step closer (if you will) to church support. Yet, if she did not live the lifestyle of a “Christian” by definition but, rather, sought to please only herself and live the way of the unsaved, then she would receive nothing of help for her situation from the church. If, according to Paul, she satisfies these qualifications, next she must be at least 60 years-old (assumedly, past the age of “sensual desires” and child bearing). This way she could devote herself to Christ and His ministry. But if she was a younger widow, Paul suggests that she remarries and contribute to the vision in that way.
Now here is where it gets interesting: If a widow is, according to these qualifications, a “widow indeed,” and unless she is physically and/or mentally able to do so, she exchanges her daily bread for the work of ministry, as it were (I have not even mentioned the qualifiers of verse 10). In this, there is no victim role and no such thing as entitlement. There is not a free ride, nor a hand-out. Dignity is spared, because the widow is still a contributing member of society and a functioning member of the church. There was no such thing as “retirement” in the ancient church, because one’s responsibility is for others and not oneself (even as a widow).
Incidentally, it bears mentioning that, the accounts of collections, free rides and hand-outs was concerning the Jerusalem church and their persecution. They could not, for the most part, go out in public and, thus, earn a living to contribute to responsibilities. Therefore, the Gentile churches cared for their Jewish brothers and sisters, but in no sense can or should this be interpreted as entitlement.
Likewise, the church today should not confuse equipping dignity with enabling entitlements. Those who are unable to care for themselves should be taken care of by the church. But even in its many social ministries, the church is simply and only handing out fish and not actually and respectfully teaching people to fish.