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Charities, Christian.

1. The Term. The word charity (pl. charities) is derived from Lat. caritas, used by Jerome* in the Vulgate for Gk. agape. But in KJV charity, the Anglicized form of caritas, is occasionally used when agape indicates love of man for his fellowmen (1 Co 13). It denotes primarily not such outward evidences of love as almsgiving, but love itself, an inner principle or attitude, a motive which determines man's relation to his fellowman and bestows a peculiar value on all his activities. Thus 1 Co 13 describes it as the greatest and most enduring Christian virtue.

2. Later Usage. As the ch. lapsed into legalism and as monastic ideals of morality developed, caritas. or charity, gradually assumed a meaning just the opposite of agape. ln the Middle Ages it meant simply “giving of goods to feed the poor,” which “profits nothing” without the motive of Christian love (1 Co 13). ln present usage the word charity means A. Christian love*; B. an attitude of sympathy toward those who are suffering from misfortune; C. liberality in caring for the poor and handicapped; D. tolerance in judging others. It has even acquired an obnoxious connotation of paternalistic benevolence with doubtful motivation and purpose. It is primarily because of these implications that modern revisers of the NT have substituted the word love for charity in tr. agape.

3. Institutional Usage. A “charity” is an eleemosynary institution or agency, founded and operated to assist the poor, sick, handicapped, orphaned, etc. without charge. In the 19th c. the concept of “charities” was broadened, and particular emphasis was laid on the natural “right” of the individual to benefit by the bounty of his fellowmen. It was out of this enlarged concept (which includes justice) that the Charity Organization movement was born 1869 in London; the first Charity Organization society in the US was founded 1877 in Buffalo. Much modern soc. work has developed from this source. The word charity in an institutional sense has now practically disappeared from the vocabulary of secular soc. work and has been largely replaced by “service,” a word more nearly expressive of motivation and methods used in our age to assist those in distress. (See Social Work). The word charity is still used, with diminishing emphasis, by such ch.-sponsored organizations for soc. service as Cath. Charities and Associated* Lutheran Charities.

4. Historical Development. In the OT the “charity” to be practiced by God's children was prescribed in many laws and ordinances. With the coming of Christ these rules were abrogated. The virtue of love for the neighbor was enjoined in the NT, but the expression of this attitude in deeds of love became a matter of Christian liberty. ln the apostolic age, besides the bread and wine, used for celebrating the Lord's Supper, Christians brought to the altar products of every kind to be distributed among the poor. Ca. 550 oblations were restricted for use of the clergy, and gifts for the poor were deposited in a special place. With the disintegration of morals attendant on the collapse of the Roman Empire and the economic crises into which soc. was plunged, the masses became pauperized; monasteries and such charitable institutions as hospitals became central points in dispensing charity. Rules and regulations were gradually est. Ca. one fourth of the income of of the ch. was set aside for charity in early centuries. The amount and character of charity dispensed by the ch. in following centuries varied, but the ch. remained as the only friend and benefactor of the poor and handicapped. Gradually the practice of charity came to be regarded as a meritorious service rewarded by God with special favors. The close of the Middle Ages saw Christian charity degenerate into crassest work-righteousness. With the Reformation a new day dawned for Christian charity. Luther championed the liberty of a Christian under God to express Christian love in conformity with Gl 6:9–10. Christians were again enjoined to practice charity as an expression of love to God and their fellowmen and as evidence of gratitude for unmerited grace bestowed through Jesus Christ.

5. The 19th c. esp. saw a great expansion of the work of organized Christian charity, originated and conducted largely through efforts of Luths. Deaconess* work was begun 1833 in Kaiserswerth, Ger., largely through efforts of T. Fliedner; Kaiserswerth produced many agencies and institutions of charity, aiding sick, forsaken, fallen, orphaned, and aged in almost every country of Eur. Also in 1833 there was est. in Hamburg “Das Rauhe Haus,” a great center of charitable work founded by Johann Hinrich Wichern,* father of the German Inner Mission movement. The orphanage at Halle, founded by A. H. Francke* and the colony for epileptics at Bielefeld, founded by F. von Bodelschwingh,* deserve special mention. In Eng. A. A. Cooper (7th Earl of Shaftesbury*), T. J. Barnardo,* and G. F. Müller* promoted great charitable enterprises. Den., Norw., Swed., and other Prot. countries shared in this greatest development of organized Christian charity since the days of the early ch.

6. The early hist. of the Luth. Ch. in the US includes reports on the charitable work of the only Luth. ch. in New York in 1674. This report, with similar items in following yrs., reveals the fact that Luth. congs. in the early days of the US did not shirk their charitable obligations. ln those days cong. action for relief of the poor seems to have been the universal custom, since the simple economy of life in a new country did not call for large, specialized agencies of charity. But with great pop. increase in the 18th and 19th c., such agencies were gradually est. W. A. Passavant* and J. F. Bünger* deserve special mention in this connection.

7. In 1945 almost 500 agencies and institutions of mercy operated under Luth. auspices in the US The existence of such a large Luth. network of professional welfare services, together with a wide variety of governmental and voluntary community welfare services fostered the ill-founded belief that the individual Luth. cong. need not be directly concerned with ministry to the troubled neighbor. But since 1950 congs. have increasingly recognized charity or soc. welfare as an integral element of witness and ministry. Most Luth. congs. have soc. welfare or soc. ministry committees which serve as catalysts bet. mems. of the cong. and those in need. Luth. welfare bds. have stimulated concern through theol. essays, educ. materials, and workshops. This partnership of cong. and agency in soc. welfare has furthered the ministry of compassion.

8. Since 1950 there has been a decided change in the relative roles and responsibilities of govt. on the one hand, and ch.-related and voluntary community and inst. chaplains on the other; surveys of existing and projected agencies have been made; interpretive materials have been pub.

9. In 1965 Assoc. Luth. Charities comprised 114 mem. agencies, classified in 4 groupings: 1. City and Inst. Missions; 2. Family and Child Care; 3. Care of the Aged; 4. Health and Hospitals. An Ex. Bd. of 9 elected mems. conducts the affairs of the organization. Officers include a pres., 1st and 2d vice-presidents, secy., treasurer, and bus. mgr.

10. The assoc. sponsors a biennial nat. conv. in odd-numbered yrs.; regional meetings are held in even-numbered yrs. in various major Luth. pop. centers in the US Since 1953 both the nat. and regional meetings have been held under joint auspices of Assoc. Luth. Charities and The Luth. Welfare Conf. in Am. (NLC), insofar as gen. sessions and workshops are concerned. The bus. sessions of each group are held separately because most Luth. health and welfare agencies are inter-Luth, in their auspices. The joint nat. convs. are called Luth. Health and Welfare Forums. The assoc. publishes Proceedings, containing membership roster, reports, and papers delivered at biennial convs.; Proceedings of the regional meetings; and The Good News, a religious monthly distributed in hospitals and other institutions by pastors and missionaries.

See also Aging and Infirm, Homes and Services for; Alms; Child and Family Service Agencies; Hospitals; Inner Mission. HFW, JCC


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod


Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

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