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Big Government Big Church


On September 27, 1983, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed England's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  One thing she said caught my attention.  "If the state does everything for you, it will take everything from you." 


Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and other conservative politicians in the 1980's, were avid supporters of political and economic conservatism.  From my perspective, their leadership boosted the spirits of those in the western world.  There were sufficient difficulties throughout the 1970's that dampened our spirits.  The decade began with high inflation and rising unemployment.  It was hard finding a job for us young people in 1971.  The Oil Crisis of the mid 1970's sent energy prices sky-rocketing.  While in Bible college at the time, we were told to take quick showers and only wash the vital parts of our bodies to save on energy costs.  If I would have had the courage, I should have asked, "What vital parts are you specifically speaking of?"  The Vietnam War dragged everyone down.  I became friends with two young men who had their legs blown off in battle.  Richard Nixon, or, "tricky Dick" as he came to be known, disgraced America before the eyes of the world.  The decade ended with the Iran Hostage Crises which loomed over the 1980 American election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.  By 1981, America, and the rest of the west, needed some relief.  Leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan seemed to be what we needed to lift us out of the doldrums.     


By its very nature, government is socialistic to one degree or another.  That's just the way it is.  Even Margaret Thatcher admitted that.  How socialistic government should actually be is the debatable question.   


I'm politically and economically conservative with a mild touch of what I call "soft socialism."  I am also ecclesiastically conservative.  I believe the more you demand from government, the more government will demand from you.  The one who provides for you is the one to whom you are in debt, and no one likes being in debt, especially to the government.    


During the 1980's, Christian Conservatism, or, the "Christian Conservative Right," as it was known, emerged as a force to be reckoned with in American politics.  Pat Robertson (Christian Broadcasting Network) entered the race for president in the 1988 election.  The movement soon spread to Canada and elsewhere.  Those in the movement were conservative politically, economically, and socially, but surprisingly, they weren't conservative ecclesiastically.  Christian Conservatives, especially in the United States, didn't want, and still don't want, big government, but they didn't mind, and still don't mind, big church.  As a matter of fact, big church appears to be what they want.  In my opinion, big church is ecclesiastical socialism.  That is to say, "I hand personal responsibility over to big church so I can sit at ease in the pew."


The Conservative Christian Right in America in the 1980's was led by Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and others.  While these men were promoting political, social, and fiscal conservatism, many of them were growing their mega-churches.  Big government was not acceptable to them, but big church was.  If you don't see a problem with this, as many don't, I suggest that you fail to understand New Testament thinking concerning church.


My Christian roots sprouted from a small Evangelical congregation planted in the early 1950's.  Even back then the seeds of big church were being planted.  Ironically, and he probably didn't realize it, President John F. Kennedy made a statement that denotes the Christian's relationship to church.  On January 20th, 1961, he exhorted Americans by saying, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country."  Back in 1961 church leaders should have been exhorting Christians by saying, "Ask not what the church can do for you, but ask what you can do for the church."  I'm not sure they were making such an exhortation.  For the most part, they were planting the seeds of big church that have grown into the present day mega-church, or, want-to-be mega-church.  Big church relieves the individual from his Biblically mandated personal responsibilities just like big government relieves the individual of his responsibilities, and in the long run, relieves him of his freedom as well.  Of course, just like big government, the highly financed big church can do it all for us.  That's what we want and that's why we shop around for the church of our choice, the church that best benefits us. 


The 1980's movie entitled "Field Of Dreams" might have coined the phrase "build it and they will come," but Evangelicals preached and practiced this long before the 1980's.  In 1971 I heard the same words spoken in one local congregation.  So they built.  Everyone else built, and we're still building, hoping and prayer that they will come. 


Singer and songwriter Emmy Lou Harris once said, "In the making of records, we've lost the living room experience in our music."  The commercialization and big business of music has stolen the hearts and souls from those who once enjoyed playing music in their living rooms and kitchens.  In like fashion, the commercialization and growing of big church has stolen the hearts and souls from those who once enjoyed the experience of personal fellowship and responsibility in church.    


The church is meant to be a living room type of experience, although not necessarily in a living room.  Each and every individual in the living room, or, in the church, has his own personal responsibilities, just as each and every individual musician has his part to play in making music with his friends in the kitchen.  What Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan preached about big government, and what Kennedy said on January 20, 1961, applies to the church.  If we hand our personal responsibilities over to big church, we lose the purpose for its existence.  Why conservative Christians don't want big government but do want big church is hard for me to figure out.  I think it comes down to two things.  One is a lack of Biblical understanding.  The other is our ever-present fallen nature that prefers to defer responsibility to someone else.  


Margaret Thatcher said, "If the government does everything for you, it will take everything from you."  I say, "If the church does everything for you, it will take everything from you."  I believe church history demonstrates that to be true.     


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