Sunday, December 13, 2009

THE GOVERNMENT CHURCH

In some countries, the Christian faith is under the control of the State. These governments control the spread and expression of Christianity by regulating churches, and keeping pastors on the payroll. Those Christians who dare to speak out against Government policy or who criticize military operations or otherwise go against the grain are threatened with seizure of property or loss of certain rights.

Many of you know exactly what I'm talking about because you live in America. Here, the Government reuquires that all Christian churches register with the State. These State Churches must have a 501(C)3 to operate legally. Without one they cannot open a bank account, claim tax exempt status on their property, or for donations received, or for pastoral salaries.

Several times in American History the Government has threatened to revoke the tax exempt status of several of these registered State Churches whenever they speak out in ways that are not approved of. For example, on issues of abortion, or civil rights, or other political issues.

This is not to suggest that the Government is in favor of Politics without Religion, or Religion without Politics. On the contrary, the Government in America is very much in favor of how the State Church supports military efforts abroad. To that end, the Church has been one of the most vocally supportive segments of American Society when it comes to war overseas, the torture of enemy soldiers, and the loss of human life (other than American lives).

In recent years, the State Church in America has also been largely instrumental in helping to elect her Presidents and push political agendas for both the Left and the Right.

NOT ABOUT POLITICS
Still, my contention is not with the Government of this great nation. In fact, my concern is for the Bride of Christ who has willingly submitted herself to an Empire, rather than to the rule and reign of Christ.

Do we need the Government to tell us that we are the children of God? No, of course not.

Do we need a tax write-off in order to give our money to help the poor? Absolutely not.

And yet, we often allow these things to prevent us from operating and behaving as the Body of Christ.

CAN YOU IMAGINE?
Can you imagine being part of a Church where no one received a salary? Or where no one kept track of your tithes and offerings? Can you imagine being part of a Church where the people were the only building? Or where the Church owned no property or held no bank account?

I'm not saying that these things are evil, in themselves. However, I do find it troubling that the Church in America has so willingly participated in a State Church system where the Government is allowed to decide who is, or is not, a valid expression of the Body of Christ Jesus in the community.

HAVE I LOST MY MIND?
Before you sharpen your knife or load your revolver, let me explain why I am writing this today: The Church I read about in the New Testament, from which all of us have originated, was born under the sun of the largest Empire the world has ever known.

This early church did not conform to the pattern of the Empire, but it set itself apart from the Empire. It quietly, yet firmly, resisted the Empire's lust for power and expansion through bloodshed. They resisted even to the point of shedding their own blood - but not the blood of others - to demonstrate another way of living. This way of life was not like the life people lived outside of the Body of Christ. In fact, the only real source of life and wisdom came from Jesus, the Messiah, and it was the radical lifestyle of the early Christians that testified to this truth.

Their Lord (and ours) had also modelled a life which was contrary to the Empire of his day. The Empire had even used its power to put Jesus to death, so those who put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah continued to live in opposition to the pattern of the Empire after His Resurrection. The idea of conforming to the way of the World was anathema to them. Why is it not anathema to us today?

I understand that our nation has a different set of origins than the Roman Empire. I do understand that America is a place where the practice of religion is widely accepted (and not just Christianity, either). The parallels between America and Rome are not exact, however they are both Empires which are built upon the ideals of men (however noble they may be).

The American Empire is not built upon the teachings of Jesus. No Empire has ever attempted to carry out the policies of the One who said that we should turn the other cheek and love our enemies. In fact, no man-made, human lead government could ever survive with such policies as these. Only when Jesus Himself sits upon the throne of this Earth will His Kingdom be established in full. On that day, we might finally understand what a Christian Government looks like, but not today.

BE SET APART
When the Apostle John tells us about the fall of the Empires of this Age he records the words of an angel in heaven who says, "'Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities'" (Revelation 18:4,5)

The phrase, "come out of her" is the exact phrase one would use when referring to the cessation of a sexual act. He is commanding us to repent of our fornication with the Empires of this World and to escape the wrath of God against those systems of man-made rule.

"But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a royal priesthood. a holy nation, God’s very own possession." - 1 Peter 2:9

If we are the people of God, let us consider who we submit ourselves to, both in theory and (most importantly) in practice.

Are we a Church submitted more to the State than we are to the Lord Jesus?

Have we forgotten to resist the pattern of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? (Rom 12)

What would it mean to be fully surrendered to Jesus alone, in every way?

Is Jesus really the head of the Church? Is He the head of your church?

Only you can answer those questions for yourself. I'm not here to create controversy for the sake of controversy. My heart's desire is for the Church to open her eyes and to consider how her actions and her attitudes reflect Christ in the world today.

Is the Church a tool of the State? Is the Church being leveraged to pass legislation or elect officials? Are we being manipulated by politicians to do their will? And if so, shouldn't we desire with all of our hearts to repent of this and to return to Christ as our only Lord and Master?

I suppose that's up to us to decide for ourselves.

Peace,
Keith
**

"The Church is not meant to be the master of the State, nor is the Church its servant, the Church must be its conscience." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

5 comments:

Chuck said...

Keith,
You keep preaching this message. it's the truth and it has the devil running scared that people just might figure his game out. Dont' ever let up.

Brian said...

Keith,

Great Post. I always wondered if the church (institutional business not the Bride of Christ) lost their tax-exempt status, would they still gather or would it dissolve. I feel a lot of people would stop giving money to support the building, because they would not get their nice charity deduction. They would have to give with nothing in return (wow thats a weird concept)

Me personally, I would love for the tax status to go away. I feel the true Bride of Christ would be the ones left gathering around Christ and not around the paid staff and programs (entertainment).

Swanny

Derek said...

Keith, one of your best that I've read from you. I particularly appreciate your comment that "no man-made, human led government could ever survive with such policies as these." I feel that this is an excellent point in response to Christians who seek the government to take on aspects commanded of the body of Christ.

Brian, I don't think that losing tax-exempt status necessarily means that donations would dry up. People don't give $100 so that they can save $20 on taxes. I think you would see donations decline, but I think it'd be mainly due to a loss in legitimacy that organizations enjoy with being a "tax-exempt non-profit."

I think a better compromise is something like the FairTax, that only taxes personal consumption over the poverty level. That would essentially mean that if I gave all my money away, to whatever recipient, I wouldn't owe any taxes on it.

What I don't think we should do is to take a political stance to "punish" religious 501c3 organizations. I think such a thought kind of misses Keith's point.

Brian said...

I would never want to "punish" politically.

I was just talking hypothetically.

I agree with you about taxing usage not income, that would help clear up a bunch of things.

Larry said...

I am always burdened by these same thoughts and wondering what would God's plan of action look like for me. I hear and immediately repent for not looking more like my savior tells me I should be. Christ rule is right and just.