Gerhard Uhlhorn: Regular System of Charity

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All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Acts 4:32-35

“The opinion as to the world before the Christian era, that it was a world without love, requires some explanation, and in a certain sense some modification as well. Of isolated acts springing from natural pity there was never any want…The main point is this, that there is no trace whatsoever of any organized charity. It is not that here and there Christians gave gifts to the poor, or that they here and there assisted those in distress: the new thing, the thing hitherto unknown in the world, was rather that in the Christian communities there was organized a regular system of charity, designed not only to relieve the distress of the poor for the moment, but also to war against poverty itself, and to suffer no one to be oppressed by want.”

Gerhard Uhlhorn in Christian Charity in the Ancient Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1883) 4-5.

The ancient world was a place where people gave random hand-outs but the Church would set itself apart in “a world without love” by organizing “a regular system of charity” so that those who suffered got a hand-up in the name of Jesus.

Why explore this aspect of generosity? In my work with Global Trust Partners, I travel to many developing countries where there are “isolated acts” of giving but like the first century, they have virtually no training and few systems of charity making known the love of Christ.

I find inspiration to help them from the early church. When the Church follows the teachings of Jesus in community, something happens. Rather than give hand-outs that create dependencies, we see the early church give hand-ups to help people out of poverty.

That’s what GTP is doing around the world. By offering biblical teaching and replicable systems of training to trustworthy workers, we can give them a hand-up to build disciples. In so doing, we position them to shine and show God’s love in settings without love.

I am starting my journey home from Cairo now (pictured above): 10 flights in 10 days in India, UAE, and Egypt. By God’s grace I got to pour into 100 influential workers. As the saying goes, rather than giving these workers a fish and feeding them for a day, I taught them how to fish to feed them for a lifetime.