On Almsgiving

On Almsgiving, by Martin Chemnitz, is another of the “Mercy Essays” available on-line from the Missouri Synod.

“Almsgiving” is an old-fashioned word for acts of mercy or charity. It might take the form of giving some money to a person in need; then again it might take the form of helping serve a community Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. Both are acts of almsgiving, and so many other acts.

“Almsgiving” is the term used in this translation of a treaties by Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586). Chemnitz (sometimes called the “Second Martin) was probably the greatest Lutheran theologian from the second generation of Lutherans. His writing is in the style of “scholasticism,” which means it is very step-by-step, very logical, very thorough. This booklet is 29 pages long, not counting the discussion questions at the end. It has an introduction and then eight parts.

The introduction gives us a quick discussion of the legitimacy of owning property along with a discussion about how this fact does not grant the right to be miserly.
In part one the various words used in scripture for acts of mercy are reviewed, along with the nuances of meaning those different words convey. It is worth remembering that chapter and verse reverences in Greek and Hebrew are often different than in English. When this happens, the English references are given in brackets. I liked finding out that the origin of the word “alms,” is a shorting by the English of the Greek eleemosune, the same Greek word that gives us our English adjective eleemosynary.
In part two Chemnitz tells us that there are two categories of passages where “almsgiving” is commanded. One category has both a command and a promise. The other category has commands only. He then references all of the passages in the second category.
In part three Chemnitz searches the scriptures to provide us with a biblically based definition of “almsgiving,” that is, acts of mercy.
In part four Chemnitz considers to whom these commandments pertain.
In part five the booklet turns to the person that should receive gifts of charity.
Part six considers how much we should give.
Part seven considers how alms ought to be given, that is, what is in the heart and mind of the giver. A very small part of this section contrasts Christian givers and non-Christian givers.
In part eight Chemnitz finally considers divine promises and threats that are associated with charitable giving and activities. Here we see the importance of the “analogy of faith” when dealing with difficult or obscure passages.

While some will consider this booklet “dry” reading, it is an excellent resource for any stewardship committee. Understanding what Chemnitz is telling us will help avoid many of the pitfalls so common today.

On Almsgiving

Blessings in Christ,