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Interesting piece by Harvard’s Steven Ozment on Lutheranism’s changed approach toward charity relative to extant practice in medieval society (HT: Real Clear Religion).

Consider Luther’s view on charity and the poor. He made the care of the poor an organized, civic obligation by proposing that a common chest be put in every German town; rather than skimp along with the traditional practice of almsgiving to the needy and deserving native poor, Luther proposed that they receive grants, or loans, from the chest. Each recipient would pledge to repay the borrowed amount after a timely recovery and return to self-sufficiency, thereby taking responsibility for both his neighbors and himself. This was love of one’s neighbor through shared civic responsibility, what the Lutherans still call “faith begetting charity.”

While I don’t know whether Rev. Ken Hennings, President of the 100,000+ plus Lutherans in the Texas District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, drew explicitly on the approach to charity discussed by Ozment to craft the District’s financial approach to funding missions and evangelism, but a similarity certainly exists. (Full disclosure: I am a lay representative on the District’s Board of Directors.) 

Hennings developed a funding system for new ministries in which the District provides significant financial assistance for mission efforts and new churches, particularly for ethnic, racial, and social groups traditionally unreached by the LCMS. That part is, of course, not new. The twist in the traditional model of support, however, is that, after a period of supporting the new ministry from the center at their beginning, the ministries agree to start returning a fraction of their support (if they have the means to do so) to the District, for use then to start additional new ministries. The system not only allows the District to leverage its mission dollars to an extent far greater than the traditional model of commiting direct support ad infinitum , it also provides opportunities for new churches and ministries to help support yet-newer churches and ministries as soon as the former are financially on their feet.

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