A reader wrote to me recently. Edited and streamlined, his question can be phrased:
“Why do so many churches and denominations cooperate with governments that are obviously corrupt and self-serving? Why did so many churches order or encourage their members to get the Covid-19 vaccine, and still do? Why did so many churches obey the lockdown and bar their own members from attending services, even after it became clear the lockdowns weren’t working? Why do so many churches preach the ‘global warming’ message, and even classify environmentally unfriendly practices as a sin, when the Bible says nothing of the kind?”
I think you’ll find much of the answer in Matthew 6:24:
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Sadly, that’s precisely what many, perhaps most, churches have done today. They are trying to serve both God and money, and failing miserably at one, if not both objectives. They’ve become overly comfortable in their relationship with the authorities, particularly where their income is concerned. For example:
- In the USA, donations to churches are tax-deductible by the donor, and tax-free in the church’s hands. If that status were threatened, donations to churches would probably diminish drastically, and the churches’ disposable income would also be greatly reduced. As a result, many churches and denominations deliberately avoid preaching about politically controversial subjects, for fear of reprisals.
- In Germany there’s a religious tax, the so-called Kirchensteuer, which allocates a proportion of a taxpayer’s income tax to the church to which he/she belongs. This makes the churches that receive it very influential within their denominations (for example, the Catholic Archdiocese of Cologne is reputed to be wealthier than the Vatican itself; and Aid To The Church In Need, a German ecclesiastical charity, funds mission work in many parts of the world out of those taxes). Similar taxes are levied in several other countries, benefiting the churches that receive them. Those churches naturally do all they can to avoid threatening such a cozy financial relationship with the State, including avoiding overt criticism, and tailoring their message accordingly.
- In many cases, interdenominational disputes arise when some churches take a stand on a point of principle, and others do not. For example, some denominations at least tolerate, if not support abortion, while others reject it outright; some accept homosexual conduct as morally valid, while others do not; some reject government attempts to control attendance, while others do not. This may extend to some denominations actively seeking to encourage government pressure on others with whom they disagree.
Apart from money, there’s also the question of defining what is true, and what is not. (Ask Pontius Pilate.) Too many churches have abandoned traditional Biblical morality and the tradition of faith, which for centuries have together determined what is, or is not, moral and right and true. (It’s not just Biblical. To take just one example, abortion is not directly condemned in the New Testament: but it is condemned in the Didache, written at the same time as most of the books of the New Testament, but not included in the latter because it could not be proved beyond doubt to have been written by an apostle – one of the criteria used to determine eligibility for inclusion. Despite this, it remains a valuable and highly respected source of early Christian teaching, and it’s influenced the traditional condemnation of abortion as evil and sinful.) To many Christians, sound moral teaching must be based on the Bible and the teachings of the early Church. To others, that’s not so.
Those factors, in essence, are why so many churches have abdicated their God-given responsibilities to stand up for what is right and what is true: and that’s why they’re more comfortable collaborating with the authorities than standing up for fundamental moral and spiritual truth.
I’m a Christian pastor, of course, so my personal response is conditioned by that. In the end, I believe one’s Christian faith, and how one expresses it in action, must boil down to a very personal response to Jesus Christ. He asks every believer, “Who do you say that I am?” Note, it’s who he is – not who or what our pastor, or our church, or our denomination is. Our answer will determine whether we regard his moral teaching as God-given and therefore binding, or merely as good (but secular) advice. Nobody else can give that answer on our behalf. If we find that the answer of our pastor, or our church, or our denomination clashes with the answer we must give in good conscience, then the time has come to very carefully examine our beliefs and determine whether we’re in the right spiritual home.
As regular readers will know, I long ago decided that one’s conscience is and must be the supreme guide to one’s actions – not what others tell us to do, but what we truly believe God is calling us to do. YMMV, of course.