About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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Church Tax Breaks Outdated


May 19, 2012 - Toronto Star -  a letter to Ken Galinger's column entitled "Are Church Tax Breaks Outdated"?  "I attend a church that just completed a $500,000.00 campaign for a new roof.  If every member used the income tax deduction for their charitable donations nearly $150,000.00 would be lost from public coffers for their renovation.  The church also pays no property tax.  I find that hard to swallow, particularly when the resident preacher waxes eloquently on Sundays about the privileges of paying taxes.  Isn't this ethically inconsistent"? 


As an aside, note the words "I attend a church" in the above statement.  The concept of "attending church" is not Biblical.  Functioning in the service of the Lord with those Jesus has personally joined you to in a local 'expression' of church is Biblical.  The term "resident preacher" isn't really Biblical either.


Ken Galinger responded.  "This is a tricky question, made trickier for me by the fact that I have drawn a church salary for much of my career". 


Note also the word "career" in Galinger's response.  Church leadership is a career choice for many in today's church, but in Biblical terms, it's not our choice.  It's Jesus' choice, and, it's a life of service, not a career.     


Galinger says that church tax breaks were once acceptable because churches performed much of the community services in times past.  He goes on to say.  "But that was then. This is now. Today, too many religious institutions are largely absorbed in one of four activities, ministering to their own dying members, defining the boundaries of their own faith, renting their facilities for profit, or keeping their roof from leaking".  Both Galinger and the writer of this letter, who are both church people,  are expressing the sentiment of many non-church people these days.  "Church is irrelevant and self serving, so why should it have tax breaks"?    


Church goers may not consider their institutions as being self serving, but if the perception among non-church goers, and especially the government, is that it is self serving, then the church has a problem, whether it admits it or not. 


Since 1978 I've been warning that churches will lose their tax status.  When I speak of  church in this context, I'm thinking in terms of what church has evolved into, not in terms of what the New Testament teaches about church.  There is a huge difference between the two. 


Membership in so-called mainline liberal churches has been in decline for years.  Many of their buildings have been sold, torn down, or converted into condos or theatres.  I know of evangelical churches who are now beginning to feel a similar financial squeeze.  This is where the problem concerning the general perception of church comes in.  If churches are perceived as being self serving and irrelevant; if governments need more money; churches will be paying property taxes soon. Balancing the books will be difficult.  If church members no longer receive tax receipts for their donations, many pastors say church income will fall.  When income falls and expenses rise, evangelical churches as we know them now will be in trouble.      


You may ask, "where is your faith?  Do you think the Lord would let such a thing happen"?   My answer is a resounding "yes".  History proves that the Lord brings hardships to His people to accomplish His purposes.        


Let me ask.  "Will there be any expression of church if you lose your church building"?  If church depends on a building to survive, I suggest that church isn't based on New Testament thinking.  Also, if your service to Jesus depends on your church funds, regularly scheduled gatherings in a building, then your service to Jesus may soon be in jeopardy.  However, if your service to Jesus is based on what the New Testament teaches concerning the Body of Christ, you've got lots of work ahead of you.  Although buildings and today's church structure have been beneficial, Biblical church and ministry aren't based on such things.  The sooner we can understand this, the better prepared we will be for the future.  


Church is redeemed individuals, networked together by the Holy Spirit in the literal Body of Christ, with or without buildings, institutions, and tax breaks.  Church is about "functional relationships".  A local expression of church is one member of the Body of Christ being personally joined to another in brotherly love and ministry.  Fellowship that arises from relationships isn't meant to be self-serving.  It's meant to produce ministry.  If we can understand this, we'll be prepared for any future loss of what we presently know is church.  


With the present anti-Christian sentiment, the present world financial problems, the present need for government to raise money, church tax breaks will be outdated.  How will your church deal with this? 


The church of the future might well look more like the church of the past than the church of the present.  For me, if that means a church based on New Testament thinking, I say, "bring on the future, with or without tax breaks".  The time is near when we'll be forced to express church in terms of "functional relationships" in the living Body of Christ.  Personal responsibility will be the theme of the day.  Leaving the responsibility of ministry to an ecclesiastical structure will be just as outdated as tax breaks.  It sounds to me that the loss of tax breaks is the will of the Lord.   


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