IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 4, Number 9, March 4 to March 10, 2002


by John M. Frame

Christians often view poverty as a mere "gap between rich and poor." It's a neutral economic malfunction, or a positive sign of the prosperity of the hard worker. But Christians should be deeply concerned when people (especially in the covenant community) don't have the essentials of life: food, clothing, housing, and health care (Acts 11:28-30). Granted that health care is somewhat relative to culture, and nakedness is not a world problem. But homelessness, and its growing visibility, is a major concern. Homelessness is poverty at its worst.

There are different causes for homelessness. Some are homeless by choice, and that fact must not be overlooked. This choice may reek of insanity or be a stroke of genius. One student who attended Westminster Theological Seminary several years ago decided to live in his car while he was there. With the money he saved on rent, he joined a health club, where he had a locker for some belongings and facilities for bathing and so on.

Others are homeless for rational, but less admirable reasons. While at Westminster, my wife and I invited four otherwise homeless people to stay with us for a while several years ago. All of these could have had homes elsewhere, had they been willing to live a "straight life." They had preferred to get into drugs and various illegalities, and therefore could not return to their families. Now they were trying to turn their lives around with the help of God, and we were led to help them do this. I do believe that many are homeless because they have rejected the values of families and others who care for them.

Another cause for homelessness is government policy. Rent control laws have, ironically, caused a shortage of housing in many places. Such laws discourage new rental housing and drive up the cost of home ownership. Other laws similarly affecting the housing market are zoning regulations, environmental and appearance regulations, and other building codes. Whether or not these laws are necessary to valid social goals is debatable. But they do adversely affect the housing market and we should take an interest in this aspect of propagating homelessness.

Another cause is poverty as such which, of course, itself has many causes, governmental and otherwise. George Grant's books offer some valuable suggestions for churches that seek to make an impact upon the problem at this level. Work, training and evangelization make a large impact here. The traditional "Rescue Mission" has a legitimate place here, and I certainly applaud the compassion and courage of these ministries over many decades. But more helpful is the sort of institution that offers to the converted homeless job training, counseling and accountability, with the goal of a comprehensive change in inner life and lifestyle. Churches themselves can carry on this sort of ministry up to a point; but there is a need for cooperative efforts among churches to deal with the magnitude of the problem today.

For the sake of the Gospel, many Christians are called to go without permanent structures like home: "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Luke 9:58). And out of poverty, God can display his pleasure to reward his faithful people (Rev. 2:8-9). But he also loves to reward those who bear the burdens of the weak (Gal. 6:2, 10). Christians of the 400's were behind the movement to create hospitals. Will this be the generation that is remembered for founding a substantial solution to solve homelessness?