There is a disagreement in Christianity if the world can be helped at system level, and if yes, if a Christian is allowed to do so.
First position: it’s forbidden
Some people hold the opinion that the world cannot be really helped at the system level. Because man is, in essence, really bad. And even if it would be possible to implement a just social system that stays stable in spite of man’s sin nature, this would just confirm mankind to live out this nature, that is, drive him more away from God.
Helping, in this view, is nothing more than acting out of love and compassion towards individual people. Without the motivation (or allowance) to see the causes of the problem at the system level and to help there. Because helping the individual that was wrecked by the system offers the possibility to explain the Gospel as ones motivation to an attentive individual. Whereas this is not possible when helping at system level, and if succeeding there, the system would not even create attentive individuals by wrecking them.
People with this view offer the Gospel as the solution to the sad state of the world, and understand it to be this message: man is totally depraved, but God is prepared to forgive anybody who seeks forgiveness in Christ Jesus. This message offers no hope of improvement at system level for the remaining time on earth (there will never be so much Christians that they influence the system). This message also offers no hope of improvement by immediate, miraculous help by God (this might happen, but is an exception meant to show God’s presence). This message offers hope of improvement for the time after death.
Second position: it’s demanded
Other Christians are motivated by Christian compassion and benevolence to help people in misery. Then they think about how to help best with the few resources they have, and they see some kind of help at the system as the best solution for this. Because, it might be so much more effective to prevent calamities (like AIDS infections) than to cure them. These Christians see their service at system level as a part of their service for God, and as an adequate expression of being “light of the world”, and even as a way to make people think about God and the Gospel.
Third position: help by bottom-up replacement
The above two positions are, in my current view, expressions of different concepts of God. In the first position, God’s love is no real, benevolent love, but a hard, uncompassionate attitude that just wants people to “get saved” (though pure theory until heaven) and is not interested in their suffering from unnecessary calamities. The conception of God in the second position is close to mine, but I must admit that some logic on how to help the world is better in the first position.
Because, this is true through history: any system-level help for the world has been prone to decay and won’t help in the long term. From the Christian perspective, this is because it deals with symptoms but does not change persons. The only way to change persons would be if these persons start to believe; so the only system-level help is transforming the world into a church of believers. According to Jesus’ last words on earth. We will probably not succeed fully, but partially.
So, here is my attempt of a third position:
I think that the church is the help at system level, by being the new system to replace the old. It is intended to implement God’s idea of living, which is true help on system level. People can profit from the new system by being in its proximity, but to really get helped, they need to take part by believing in Christ. The church is the visible part of God’s kingdom, the area where government has to be done in reversed pyramid scheme, the area where changing people meet and which therefore enables a social system that would not work with still “totally depraved” people.
So if you want to contribute at system level: build God’s kingdom, in all areas of life. The essential part is no never conceal the necessity to change in heart – else the new system will fail in eternity, but also in this world, as it currently does in Western societies based on Christian values but lacking Christians. To let church properly take its role as “the new social system”, church would include more of its members’ lifes than is current practice in highly civilized societies: living together, helping each other, working together, even being an autarchic cell.
The interesting, and non-convential thing about church is: it is a bottom-up change, a grassroots movement. While all other help on system level wants to achieve that through a top-down change, controlled by a central instance, but forced upon unchanged and rejective people. (So, never try to make church a centrally organized system. Church is a local and autonomous group, joined by faith to other groups in the worldwide church, not by organizational links.)
It is hard to see why people always think that the help at system level has to be to down, and by force. The effects are not only short-lived (as can be seen in history), it is also very hard to invent a working top-down system, and to manage it. I lately read an highly interesting discussion about economic systems (“Utopien des Weltinnenraums und seiner Umwelt“; German). If you read it, read also through all the comments. Though cool to read, the discussion also shows that there is a great cluelessness about how to create a just and stable economic system in a top-down approach. Compared to top-down methodology, large systems in nature use a “complex system approach”: entities only interact with their local environment in a meaningful way, and globally meaningful behavior emerges from that. The human body, for example, seems to work in many aspects that way, including the brain. That’s far different from a top-down strictly hierarchical design like a computer or an army.
Another reason for the bottom-up approach is: even if anybody had any idea how to help top-down, it could not be implemented, as there would be mighty people opposed to it. So the only way is to start at the local level. And the only help possible there is a community of changed people, as autarchic as possible to be isolated from the surrounding system’s deterioration.
In the Christian view, a community of changed people is a church of people who accepted the Gospel. With un-changed people, these communities would quickly deteriorate into authoritarian structure that grow like cancer and if successful, replace the current system with another instance of the same, authoritarian system. Now the church will never include more than just a few percent of humankind, but the good news is that, as a local system, people in church are better off even if there’s only one local church in the world. This system does not need global scale to help; it scales from 2 persons to infinity.
Some ideas how to make one local church to the local system which provides help to the world at system level, and thus helps people before their earthly death:
- The central idea is to use possessions (in the sense of resources one has but does not need for oneself) for the good of all. This is enacted by education in changed people. But it cannot be enacted in unchanged people, so that it results there in all the problems that the misuse of possession brings: being able to exploit others, being able to aggregate even more possessions to even better exploit others. Now in the sense of the idea presented here, richness would still be allowed, as it’s unjust to level out all differences that resul
t from different productivity of persons, but effective education would guarantee voluntary levelling out. This value is even part of the German constitution: “Property is an obligation. Its use shall at the same time serve the benefit of all.” (GermanGrundgesetz art. 14 section 2; original in German).
- Have a system based on voluntary action, and education of all members towards that, rather than any formal system of wealth distribution.
- Have a system of giving and generosity rather than a system of taking and getting ones legal right. This is after the example of the donations to the first church in Jerusalem, which we can read about in Acts.
- As long as people work in their jobs (the church being no economically autarchic unit, and there is no strict need for it to be this): educate people to understand that money is a means to help others, not primarily meant for private luxury.
- Create voluntary “pools” of money to distribute to members (and others) in need, by the example found in early Acts. To prevent lazyness, this must be combined with the permanent education of people that they must work for their own needs as good as possible. The secret of this system is that this education will work because people basically accepted the authority of God, whereas it does not work outside church for lazy people, and therefore dooms liberalism.
- Spend really much time together, also working together etc.. Employ modern IT to coordinate, if necessary.
- Have food autarchy (in cities, by guerilla gardening).
- Have simple medical help within church, like physiotherapy.
- Only if organizationally necessary, have a clear understanding who is inside the church (within the autarchic solidarity group) and who is without (receiving voluntary donations and benefits, but only if left over after distribution in church is done).
- Prepare being mobile, i.e. for quickly leaving the current country to live in another, also in autarchy right from the start. This might be necessary if the surrounding system gets really bad (civil war, immiserization etc.).
- If possible (and not being an utopia), have a subgroup develop into a “power community”, which will be the “special forces” service unit that serves both the community and the surrounding society in special needs.