Charity, in Christian thought, is one of the highest forms of love. It signifies the love between God and man that is made real in the unselfish love for one’s fellow men. St. Paul’s classical description of charity is found in the New Testament (I Cor. 13). In Christian theology and ethics, charity is a translation of the Greek word agapē which means love. It is shown in the life, teachings, and death of Jesus. St. Augustine summarized Christian thought about charity when he wrote: “Charity is a virtue which, when our affections are perfectly ordered, unites us to God, for by it we love him.” Using this definition and others from Christian tradition, the medieval theologians, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, placed charity in the context of other Christian virtues and pointed out its role as “the foundation or root” of the others.
The question of charity is important because how the issue is dealt with can affect how large and oppressive the government becomes. God has established separate jurisdictions for both the church and the state. However, there is a natural tension that exists between church and state. Politicians increase their power bases by granting favors to those whom they are trying to win over to their side. Politicians tax people and then give that money to those whose loyalties they want to attain. To accomplish this the state moves into the jurisdiction normally held by the church with its duty to care for the poor. The state then claims credit for the charity it administers by taxing people and then redistributing that wealth to those whose loyalties they want to win over.
Jesus instructed his followers to care for the poor and needy - not Caesar (the state). Charity is primarily a responsibility of the church. When the church abdicates this responsibility to the state it opens the door for the government to move into its jurisdiction. The long-term result will be an ever increasing growth and power of the state. The church has been established as a counter-weight to prevent the rise of a tyrannical state. By ignoring its charitable duties, it leaves the people vulnerable to a potential tyrannical takeover of power by the state.
The Marxist and Nazi intellectuals realized that to establish their utopias they would first need to eliminate the influence of the churches. One way they intended to do this was to act as the material provider for the people's needs. The government sought to control every facet of production and redistribution as one way to win over the allegiance of the people.
Currently, we are seeing a rising acceptance of socialism within both the United States and Western nations as the people look to the state to meet their material and health needs. This is a clear indicator that the church is losing its influence with the people and the culture. Unless there is a genuine spiritual reawakening within the churches that addresses both the spiritual and cultural issues in life, America will continue to move toward an increasingly larger government. Large governments will eventually compete with the churches for the loyalty of the people in their quest for ultimate political power. And with ultimate political power, tyranny will surely follow.
However, just meeting people's basic needs is not enough to solve the charity problem. Long-term solutions are needed for solving the issues usually related to the need for charity. This calls for answers to address cultural transformation in order to get people out of the need to rely on charity from others. This will involve addressing societal problems through biblical solutions which will transform the communities and cultural issues that result poverty.