About Jesus Steve Sweetman
My Journey Through The Ecclesiastical Maze
Legalization Of Church
The contents of this chapter may be offensive and disturbing to
some, and does not necessarily reflect the common consensus of the
Christian community at large. Read
the following at your own risk, understanding the source of where these
words originate. You might
want to extend a little extra grace to someone like me who walks a few
feet off the beaten trail. I
guess it’s up to you whether you consider me a trail-blazer or a wacko
wandering in the wilderness of my own imagination. I’m
probably somewhere in between these two extremes, but you may beg to
the state of
Talking about being
squeezed, I like the Philip’s translation of Romans 12:1.
It reads, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its
mold…” This is something
you might want to think about, if you begin to feel the squeeze from the
world around you.
In 1972 my friends and I
who had been serving Jesus in a variety of ways decided to become “an
official church” by becoming a “registered charity” as it was
In the early 1990’s a
group I was associated with went through the same legalities to become a
“real church” as well. This
seems to be the thing to do in our ecclesiastical culture, as if there
is some scriptural mandate for us to become “legal”.
In both the early 1970’s and the 1990’s it never crossed my
mind that the legalization of church could become a problem.
It was just standard procedure for a group of Christians if
they wanted to be seen as a real church.
I suppose as long as
government is our friend there’s no real problem legalizing church,
but such is not necessarily the case any more.
Western governments are progressively becoming more hostile
towards Christian thinking. The
church is often finding itself on the wrong side of the law since
western governments are forsaking Christianity to be married to the
“religion of tolerance” with its “generic god”.
The conditions set forth in the separation agreement of this
hostile divorce is putting more restrictions on the church, making it
submit to an ungodly world view. This
divorce is also landing many Christian groups in court, where they’re
having to defend their position.
The time is fast
approaching that unless churches submit to the government’s
“religion of tolerance” we’ll lose our special “legal status”.
For this reason and a few other reasons I’m quickly beginning
to think that our “legal status” is not worth keeping.
It’s becoming an unholy alliance with an unholy institution
that only entangles us in things that burden us down. This
reminds me of Hebrews 12:1 that says, “throw off everything that
hinders us …let us run with perseverance the race marked out for
I know that most
Christians reading these words won’t agree with my recommendation and
that’s fine. I do respect
each of you as a brother or sister in Christ.
Even though it’s not the general consensus of Christians as
yet, I think the time is near, if not already here, to “throw off”
the legal status of our churches.
I believe this legal status is beginning to hinder us from
running the race. If we
don’t willingly hand back our legal status, it might be taken from us
anyway. It’s just a matter
of how we get “delegalized”. Do
we freely hand it back or do we wait until it’s taken from us?
I know what many people
will say about such a drastic and ridiculous idea.
How can we even entertain such a thought?
How would our modern church survive?
This would undermine all that we know of church.
Forsaking our legal status would mean we’d have to pay property
taxes and not offer tax receipts. The
payment of property taxes would over-extend our budgets, and make our
finances unmanageable. Not
being able to offer tax receipts would severely cut into our income
stream. This would destroy
the economy of church as we know it, losing any resemblance to the
church that presently exists.
To all of these questions
and concerns I say, “I certainly agree”.
All of what I just said and more would happen. The change that
would come about from “delegalizing church” would cripple the church
as we know it in the western world.
The result of such “delegaliztion” might well turn the church
into the Body of functioning believers, and the “counter-cultural
community of Christ” that we were meant to be in the first place.
I know I might sound like an old anti-establishment hippie from
the sixties, and maybe I am at heart.
I think you can agree that the church has thrived in countries
where it has lived as this “counter-cultural community of Christ”.
It has thrived despite “government intolerance in a world of
tolerance”. Such has been
the case throughout the centuries when God’s people experience
I’ve been around church
long enough to know that most people will write this chapter off as a
dumb and probably stupid idea,
and I certainly understand why. If
you don’t feel inclined to forsake your legal status, then at least
prepare yourself for the possibility that you’ll have it taken from
you unless you’re willing to compromise your convictions.
At the point we fail to submit to the religion of tolerance we
might well see the New Testament church emerge that consists of true
followers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It won’t matter then where we meet or the size of our meetings.
It won’t matter if we get a tax receipt for the money we give.
It won’t matter if our money goes to needy brothers and sisters
in Christ instead of the building fund.
It won’t matter if the closest brother in Christ down the
street is a Baptist when we’re of the Pentecostal persuasion.
Arguments over whether we should pave our parking lot or build a
neon sign will be meaningless because we’ll have neither.
If this indeed is our
fate, most things won’t matter at that point.
What will matter is our allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ
expressed in terms that we saw in the three Hebrew men of Daniel 3:16
– 18. When
confronted with the decision to either serve God or the state, they
chose God by publically proclaiming, “O king … we do not need to
defend ourselves before you in this matter.
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is
able to save us from it … but even if He does not
… we will not serve your god…”
May the conviction of these three men be ours today in a
progressively humanistic and hostile world.
When thinking of “delegalizing”,
I’m thinking in terms of churches, not para-church organizations.
These organizations don’t claim to be a church, but an
organization to meet a specific need, such as the American or Canadian