A fourth common observance of all the churches, and one proper to the Kingdom of Christ, is the care for the poor and needy. For the Lord expressly forbids his people to allow anyone among them to be in need (Deut. 15:4). The early Church of Christ at Jerusalem observed this so religiously that of the alms collected by the brethren as much was distributed to each as was necessary for him to live decently and devoutly so that not one of them was found to be in need (Acts 2:44-45; and 4:34-35). That this care for the poor might be better accomplished, the apostles, with the prior approval of the entire Church and using prayers and the laying on of hands, put “seven approved men” in charge of this, men “of good repute” and “full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:1-6).
Until the Antichrists undermined this practice, the churches observed it with a high degree of reverence. The ministers in this area, whom they inducted into this office even by a rite of ordination, they called deacons of the churches. Although these men were also obliged to be at the service of the elders and to help in the preservation and exercise of the discipline of Christ and the administration of the sacraments, it was their principal duty to keep a list of all of Christ’s needy in the churches, to be acquainted with the life and character of each, and to give to individuals from the common offerings of the faithful whatever would suffice for them to live properly and devoutly. For those who, when they are able to do so, refuse to seek the necessities of life by their own industry and labours should be excluded from the churches. “He who does not work, let him not eat,” says the apostle (II Thess. 3:10). Therefore, all who have a deep desire to embrace the Kingdom of Christ should restore this practice also among them with utmost care. For among those “who have the good things of the world and see their brothers in need, and close their hearts to them, the love of God” does not abide (I John 3:17); neither, therefore, does the Kingdom of Christ.
Now, those who hear Christ and the Holy Spirit are eager to undertake and perform all good deeds in that order and manner which they acknowledge to have been determined for them by the Lord and the Holy Spirit.
Since, then, it is manifest that God has gravely forbidden his people to allow anyone among them to beg, and has established that care for the poor should be exercised by certain approved men in the Church, that the alms of the faithful may be distributed to needy individuals in proportion to the need of each, all those undoubtedly pray thoughtlessly, “Thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10), who do not extend every effort for this method of caring for the poor to be restored which the Lord himself commanded and the Holy Spirit established in the early Church.
Care must also be taken lest petty liars first steal what is owed to the needy of Christ, and also that no ambition for human praise and favour compromise the office of almsgiving. That this evil must be avoided at all costs the Lord taught clearly enough when he gave the command to give alms that “the left hand should not know what the right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3). This obligation can be very conveniently discharged if each person on Sunday puts as much as he can of the blessings of God into the collection box for the use of the poor (I Cor. 16:2).
For when each person wishes to distribute his own alms for himself, there is violated, first of all, the institution of the Holy Spirit and the legitimate communion of the saints. Secondly, alms due to the least of Christ’s brethren, and therefore to Christ himself, are more often given to the unworthy than to the worthy. Nor can every single individual know and investigate each of the poor who happen to encounter him; for those who are least worthy are much better instructed at begging, indeed, extorting, the alms which should be dispensed to the poor alone. Furthermore, when everyone gives alms by his own hand, it is with great difficulty that he will exclude from his heart a desire for the appreciation and praise of men; and when he receives this empty reward from men, a real and sure one is not to be expected from God. Finally, since it is obvious that those who voluntarily give themselves over to beggary are men prone to every crime, what else do those people who foster them do but sustain and support very harmful pests of Society.
Therefore, anyone who has ever written wisely about the state has been of the opinion that such persons are not to be tolerated in it. There is also extant on this matter the Valentinian law in Justinian’s Code, concerning real mendicants.
And indeed we must be ashamed and grieve when the right care of the poor has already been restored in very many regions which still serve Antichrist, whereas the very ones who glory in the reception of the gospel and the Kingdom of Christ, although they are not unaware how necessary this practice is, and how much it is a part of the salutary religion of Christ, still fail to reestablish it. These practices, therefore, which we have mentioned, are proper to the Kingdom of Christ, and all who do not earnestly desire to see them restored, as Christ commanded, openly witness concerning themselves, however they may glory in words about the Kingdom of Christ, that in reality they neither acknowledge it truly nor seek it sincerely.
Whoever considers reverently, therefore, what we have here set forth, including the testimony of Sacred Scriptures which we have cited, will readily understand what the Kingdom of Christ is and what things and observances are proper to it, and are therefore of necessity to be recalled by all those (by each according to the gifts of the Lord and his own vocation) who seek in truth for the Kingdom of Christ to be restored again among them. Now, there- fore, something will have to be said about how salutary it is for all mankind, how altogether necessary for salvation and happiness, both present and future, for each Christian to exert himself with utmost care and all the strength each has obtained from the Lord that Christ’s Kingdom may be as fully received as we have shown that it ought to be. Even if his very life must be expended, this is the obligation of each Christian.