The way Christianity is most often practiced in the United States (and other Western countries) today, we need the permission of the governments to continue practicing in such a way.
We depend on zoning laws for our buildings and parking lots. We depend on tax-exemptions to make our mortgage payments. We depend on 501(c)3 tax-exempt charitable donations to receive our income.
If the government stepped in and did away with just these three things, but did not make Christianity illegal, I fear that most Christian churches would fold. Western Christianity depends upon such things for survival, which means that we depend upon our government for survival.
The situation would become even more dire if the government actually made Christianity illegal. If the government put out a law next week saying that Christianity was illegal, and Christians could no longer meet in church buildings on Sunday morning, could not sing songs, pray, or listen to sermons, or face imprisonment if they did, what would most Christians do? There would be three responses.
Some Christians Would Abandon the Faith
Some Christians would just stop practicing Christianity. The threat of being arrested for owning a Bible, meeting with other Christians for worship, or telling other people about Jesus would cause most Christians to simply walk away from the faith.
The law is the law, and Christianity didn’t make that much of a difference in their life anyway, so why risk imprisonment for something that can just as easily be had through the Kiwanis Club or a Bowling League?
Some Christians Would Fight
A second segment of Christianity—probably the vast majority of Christians—would fight. I don’t think it would come to violence, but they would lawyer up. Christianity, after all, requires Sunday morning church services complete with public prayer, congregational singing, and pastoral preaching.
In the minds of most, if you do not have these things going on, you do not have church.
Some Christians Would Keep on Doing what What They’ve Always Done
Then there is the third segment of Christianity. These people would read the new law, shrug their shoulders, and keep doing what they have been doing all along.
This groups knows that large public gatherings in buildings on Sunday mornings for preaching and singing is not essential to following Jesus. This group recognizes that we do not need nor require the permission of governments to live like Jesus in the world. This group of Christians knows that no law has ever been written, nor ever will be written, against what it looks like when people follow Jesus.
Those who simply follow Jesus live lives of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Gal 5:23).
My friends and I often discuss this very same topic. This is because the first two groups are religious, in my opinion. Christianity is big business; clergy, church buildings, ritual, money, influence, prestige, books, movies, etc…A entire industry would be forced to cease.
Except for those whose supreme love, their hearts’s desire is Christ. Christianity is Christ. For that group no law exists.
Jeremy Myers says
Christianity has become a big business. Money, power, fame, marketshare, etc. But a movement is growing which is trying to make Christianity look more like Jesus.
Where we live, cities and counties are slow to approve applications for new church properties because it removes property from the tax base. That is seen as a problem in a time of extreme budgetary problems.
In the long term I would think it would be unwise to expect tax exempt status for church-owned real estate to be a given. Fewer and fewer people attend religious institutions, so would it not be logical that support for special tax benefits is waning?
Might this not also someday apply to church income?
The over-involvement of the church in “political issues” has made it more of a political organization (in the eyes of much of the culture) than a charitable institution. So should we be surprised when it loses tax exempt status for properties and income?
Obviously opinions on this differ, but some of us think that this could be a good thing, not a bad thing. Reduced income and loss of tax-exempt status makes the church less dependent upon the government and has the potential of helping the church to focus on Jesus and people instead of on buildings, staff, programs and so on.
What do you think of this idea – Income the church receives that is used to help the poor, run homeless shelters, alcohol treatment programs and so on (rather than pay for church buildings and that sort of thing) would not be taxed? Of course, that still makes churches dance to the tune the piper (that would be the state) plays.
Jeremy Myers says
That is a great idea! I don’t think any politician will touch church tax-exemption, though. Church people are too big of block of voters. But I do think that originally, tax-exemption was so that churches could serve and love the community, not so they could remove taxable property from the community, and then use their tithe income to build huge buildings.
The third group of Christians also has it wrong. The governement can make a law against what it looks like when people follow Jesus.
When people follow Jesus, they will be so full of Him that they WILL tell others, and the government can make a law against that.
When people follow Jesus, they will follow the Bible which says “do not forsake the assembly of yourselves” and the government can certainly make a law against public meeting.
When people follow Jesus, they walk in His footsteps joyfully, including suffering.
When people follow Jesus thy know it is better to please God than man.
You have missed a crucial group of Christians in your article.
Group 4 Some Christians Will Follow Jesus No Matter What
They will obey the governments laws as long as they possibly can as Jesus told us to respect and obey authority, but they will always remember that God is our ultimate authority.
When meeting pubically in building is denied them, they will shrug their shoulders and bravely do it anyways in secret.
Whenthey are told that they cannot share their beleifs with anyone, they wont do what the governement says, they will do what Jesuse said. He said “go into all the world and make disciple of all nations”
When persecution arises, they will rejoice in being worthy to share in the mistreatment of their Lord.
Lastly, all these things they will do with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They will do everything for the gliry of their King trying to make sure that each person they come into contact with know Jesus a little better because of them. They are truly fearless and models to us all. They are those of whom the Father will say, “well done good and faithful servant.”
Jeremy Myers says
Well, I fall into that third group. Note, of course, that in the verse you quoted about assembling together, nothing was said in that verse about public gatherings, or gathering in buildings with the word “church” on the sign out front. That is something the Christian religion has added to the Scriptures and to following Jesus.
It’s amazing GOP wants to outlaw Christianity yet not want to put their own people under spying and arresting them for war crimes and turning the USA into a welfare only nation.
Jeremy Myers says
I think you may have your political parties mixed up.
Ecclesia means assembly, but Jesus said, “Where 2 or more are gathered in my Name, there I am in the midst of thee.” I agree with Jeremy that Ecclesia (The Assembly) is the “body of believers” not the “building in which they assemble.” We need to stop “doing church” and start being the “Body of Christ.” Which includes his “hands and feet” BTW, with Christ as the head of the Body, not the bylaws of a business organization, which is what many so called churches base their “memberships” upon these days. Instead of being baptized into the membership of the Body of Jesus Christ, people are being told that if they don’t agree with the bylaws of the Church, which includes at least one of the old covenant laws, the one that they falsely and covetously claim still applies to new covenant believers today, “tithing”, which was a “Levitical law” and only applied to Israel, then you are only considered a “communal member” of the church, not a “covenant member”. Which means that you cannot use the Gifts that the Holy Spirit has given you to serve in the church, you can’t vote for or against a pastor, elder, deacon or even participate within the body of the Ecclesia. Oh, you can still, attend of course, and please, don’t forget your offering, but unless you agree to their definition of what it means to be a members of the body of Christ, you don’t really count. That is why I left my last church. I realized that they weren’t really, what they claimed to be after all, rather they were really very self centered. So I got outa there! My husband and I have a private “assembly” at home now, we do “communion” at home, we read our Bibles, and we have a “relationship” with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and we pay our own mortgage, and give our offerings to the poor in our community, which is giving to Christ. If you prefer to assemble with like believers, as Jeremy has stated, it doesn’t require a building. You can assemble in an open field or in a tent, because your body is the true temple, of the Holy Spirit, where you worship God, in Spirit and in truth. God bless you Jeremy, and all of you! ?