Saturday, May 4, 2019

Threat Cannot Make the Church Relent. . .

There are those who suggest that the threat of losing a tax exemption is a great power.  I contend that it is only the power we grant it.  Tax exemption is not a bad thing but I wonder if we have grown so attached to it that churches would be willing to surrender anything and everything in order to maintain their favored tax status.  The reality is that tax exemption saves us some bucks, to be sure, but it also has contributed to an entitlement that is not healthy.  Because we can, we as churches tend to build all kinds of ancillary structures not directly related to our worship of worship, education, and mercy.  Because we can, we have bloated properties that are used little or used by things that have no direct connection to our purpose.  So we go looking for ways to preserve our status as landlords, renting out facilities for income because we need desperately need the funds.  Perhaps if our properties actually cost us more, we would be more reticent about expanding our facilities and find ways to do what we are called to do without such expensive campuses (excluding, of course, the space used for the liturgy).

The state cannot make us surrender ourselves over the threat of taxes.  This is what we grant to them by our own choice to give up the faith to preserve our status quo.  The state cannot make us do anything but it can make it difficult for us to be faithful in our identity and practice of the faith.  And if it is difficult, so be it.  Jesus did not promise us a rose garden but warned us against those who would threaten us, who would persecute us, and who would say all sorts of things against us falsely on His account.  It would seem to me that this is less threat than test.  Are we up to it?  That is the question every age and generation faces -- whether the test is poverty or prosperity.  In either case, it brings with it the temptation to preserve ourselves by surrendering what it is that we believe, confess and teach.

In the same way, no government can compel a pastor to break the seal of the confessional.  They can threaten and imprison, fine and trouble the pastor for holding to the seal of the confessional but they cannot compel him to break the seal.  He acts on his own if he breaks the seal and surrenders faithfulness at the altar of expedience.  That is our Achilles Heel.  Not the power of the government to tell us what we must do or else but our own fear and our surrender of ourselves to the power of that fear.  If the state ends up against us and makes it nearly impossible for us to do what we have been called to do, that does not allow us the right or privilege to surrender ourselves to the will of the state.  So, unlike many, I do not worry about California or any other state compelling a pastor to break the seal of the confessional for any cause.  What I do worry about is my own resolve and the resolve of those like me to maintain our faithfulness even under threat.  After all, there are so many pastors who daily face threats far more real and profound than I might possibly face.  Who would I be to surrender to the power of fear rather than to endure the trials and tribulations of faithfulness when they have maintained faithfulness under far worse conditions?

A few years ago I watched the terrible spectacle of the Christians beheaded by agents of ISIS.  I am sure you saw them as well.  They made a great impact upon me.  These were common and ordinary folk -- moms, dads, and children -- who under extraordinary threat showed extraordinary faithfulness and integrity.  I am sure that such will never happen here -- at least in the foreseeable future.  Yet I am also sure that Christians will face increasing threats to their free exercise of religion and that some of these will surely require us to choose between resistance and the consequences and the easy way.  It is my hope that I will not relent to the power of fear and the threats of the state and that there will be many more who will stand together in the same conviction and with equal courage.  Yet I do not know this.  This is my conviction.  What I do know is that the Lord will not abandon me or any who under threat, persecution, or slander remain faithful to Him and to His Word. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"There are over 50,000 gun laws alone on the books between federal, state and local legislation. Nearly all of them, other than those directly dealing with the interstate trade in firearms, are blatantly unconstitutional. Yet not only do we keep wanting to pass more laws we won't enforce the ones we already have, specifically when it comes to violent individuals that have been repeatedly reported or even those who have served criminal sentences."

Karl Denninger

When applied to Theology, simply pass 50,000 laws that restrict the ability of people to practice historial, authentic, biblical Christianity freely in the public square. It is no accident, for example, for someone in Europe to be fined and/or jailed for stating that Islam promotes terrorist acts......