Count Dracula (at 1:35) sums up my response to Erick Erickson's tweet:
In Matt 25, when Jesus talks about caring for “the least of these,” he isn’t talking about the poor in general, but fellow Christians.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) March 17, 2017
To be fair, Erickson's reading has some support, including from John Calvin. But even Calvin adds that "others are not to be altogether despised by us," and he also refers earlier to Jesus's admonishment of charity to the "stranger"--clearly not of the Christian community. Certainly my 1951 copy of The Interpreter's Bible (vol. 8, pp 530-532; 562-566), a rather middle of the road, traditionalist analysis, utterly rejects Erickson's premise, defining brotherhood as encompassing all of humanity.
But Erickson's premise is further weakened by the fact that it requires proof-texting Matthew 25, apart from the other Gospels. The Fourth Gospel does not limit Christ's redemptive mission to the those who are already believers, rather God so loved the world that he sent his only son. (Jn. 3:16). The mission of preaching and of works of mercy is not limited to those who already believe, as witness the Syrophoenician woman, or the Samaritan woman at the well.
Speaking of Samaritans, from The Gospel According to Luke:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”If we limit our efforts to co-believers, we disregard Jesus's injunctions.
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
As he is a political pundit and not a theologian, Erickson's tweet wouldn't be worth responding to if it didn't fit in with a distressing tendency in socially conservative Christianity to verge upon a purity cult. And, usually, this is achieved by stressing biblical passages that are easy for the "we" to comply with, and by downplaying those that are difficult for them (a point made at greater length here. Only the righteous (as defined by the in-group) are worth ministering to, in this reading. But in fact, Jesus said, in the very Gospel quoted by Erickson, " I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
There's another danger, too, in Erickson's narrowing interpretation of Jesus's words. It's all very reminiscent of C.S. Lewis's warning against "The Inner Ring"--a circumscribed society that looks upon itself as superior to those not-we; Lewis notes that it can corrupt a group formed with thoroughly wholesome purposes. Indeed, in The Screwtape Letters, Lewis explained that even church membership can become an "Inner Ring"; as the Senior Tempter explains to the young devil Wormwood:
But there is one good point which both these churches have in common—they are both party churches. I think I warned you before that if your patient can't be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don't mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better. And it isn't the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say "mass" and those who say "holy communion" when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker's doctrine and Thomas Aquinas', in any form which would hold water for five minutes. And all the purely indifferent things—candles and clothes and what not—are an admirable ground for our activities.So, yes, I think the Count provides the right response to Erickson's tweet. And, just to come full circle, these dangers are inherently present, to greater or lesser extent, depending on intention and practice in the "Benedict Option" covered in the previous post.
And, of course, we liberals can fall into the same trap, albeit led by different bait.