Kingdom Governance in Biblical Community

NOTE:   In 1 Chronicles 12:32 the bible speaks of the "sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do... Speaking from that perspective: cooperating with the Increase of Christ's Government in the earth at this time; is clearly more than ever..."what Israel ought to do..."

This first section called "Exchanging the Old Wineskin for the New" is written as a preamble and is given so that we might examine the process by which traditional church evolved into what it is today.  

Clearly this introduction does not encompass all that has happened since the era of Constantine and the mandates of institutional Christianity.  Yet when this was first written almost four years ago I saw this as a possible course correction for the church.  My thinking was that perhaps we were headed towards a second reformation akin to what happened as the Protestant Church became a viable path for believers in Christ separated from the Roman Catholic Church. 

Instead as time passes and tangible evidences point towards a soon coming millennial reign of Christ preceded by His second coming; I humbly submit that what is written here (as inadequate as it is), may serve as a framework for biblical governance as we transition through to the end of the "church age." 

If by the grace of God we are able to discern some of the factors which caused the church to veer away from the path marked out by Christ and the first apostles, perhaps we will be found by Christ among those who contend earnestly for the faith, and in the midst of such perseverance be kept from the hour of trial which shall come upon the inhabitants of the earth.

However, in order to examine what biblical precepts are useful for governance of the ecclesia; we must un-stack some of the traditional layers upon which the modern church has rested upon and contrast these practices against what the Word of God places before us in matters concerning the increase of the government of Christ in this late hour. 

Isaiah 9:6-7

December 2010

A Plea for Biblical Governance - Part 1

by Allen Logan

EXCHANGING THE OLD WINESKIN FOR THE NEW

NOTE: This first section "Exchanging the Old Wineskin for the New" is written as a preamble and is given so that we might examine the process by which traditional church evolved into what it is today.  

 

Clearly this introduction does not encompass all that has happened, and yet if a course correction for the church is to be found we must be able to discern some of the factors which caused the church to veer away from the path marked out by Christ and the first apostles, and at the same time in order to examine what the biblical precepts are for governance in the ecclesia; we must un-stack some of the traditional layers upon which the modern church has rested upon. 

 

Many in this hour are speaking about a "Spirit of Elijah" restoration within the church, and while I agree with that observation in general; what I believe the Lord is bringing is much more profound, and yet at the same time; it is also less excessive than what is currently being walked out. 

 

The underlying pattern being birthed is I believe a framework for restoration of biblical governance in the body of Christ; not the showy and yes; borderline idolatry of apostolic exaltation. 

 

At the risk of losing some readers; let me clearly say up front that the 'everything must line up under the apostolic umbrella' mentality has as much old wineskin stench as every other Nicolaitan system devised in the hearts of men. 

 

While the framework of biblical governance does include a re-emergence of apostolic ministry; the orientation and focus must be the increase of Christ's government in the midst of His people.

 

As I have stressed in several places; since there are some dogmatic viewpoints expressed here - including the one you just read; please view this as part of an overall discussion concerning the welfare of the body of Christ as what is written here cannot possibly encapsulate every aspect of this discussion. 

 

Whatever comes of this dialogue; we would do well to heed the words of Christ:  "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.   But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.

 

We must also remember the resistance of the 'old man' in each of us to the inevitable change taking place; for our Lord continued by saying:  "And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better"

____________

 

A 1990 article by Dr. Greg L Bahnsen in my opinion briefly describes how a church's wineskin can bursts as a result of faulty government  - "You will hear people say, without much reflection, that the government of the church is a relatively trivial matter, not something over which loving Christians should worry or argue. But then on the other hand, if you take a hard look around you at what actually happens in various churches, you will notice that the most prevalent reason why people get upset and leave a congregation is not really because of doctrinal differences, but is tied in one fashion or another to the way that congregation was governed or disciplined (or not disciplined). People get fed up, disputes are not peacefully resolved, regular oversight and counseling are not pursued, congregations argue and divide -- all because the biblical blueprint for government and discipline has been ignored."

 

With this in mind; a friend once gave this example as we discussed the present spiritual condition of the church.  He simply shared that he loves a '57 Chevy and in relating this, he also shared about his love for the traditional church that he and many believers grew up in.  As he continued; he related that as much as he loved a '57 Chevy; working at a company that required a daily commute of  almost 2 hours; this vehicle was not equipped or designed for the demands he would place on it, or traffic conditions that this vehicle would endure if he drove it to work on a daily basis. 

 

The parallel he drew with the church is easy to see.  The principles and structure that operate in today's American church mirror much of what was put in place in the 1700's; as they reacted to the faulty models that they were breaking free of back in Europe.  While this framework for church is something most of us grew up with, and are familiar with, it is not designed for the demands placed upon it in these last days before the Lord's return. 

 

While a strong case can be made for the traditional church's effectiveness in Europe and the U.S. over the last 300 years; certainly many reading this would have to agree that the influence of the church in the world as a whole has declined considerably.  This truth will become undeniable if you carefully compare what is increasingly permissible in today's society with what was allowed 50... or even 10 years ago.

 

And even when someone vehemently denies that the impact of their church or denomination has waned; you will find that their church's acceptance within the world system can often be linked directly to the lowered standards of 'another gospel' as a "big tent" acceptance of secular morals and methods have assured their church's 'place' in society.   In one word: compromise... the effect being that instead of impacting their community with the Truth of the gospel of Christ; they in contrast are being overrun by the world.

 

In two words what we are seeing is "spiritual Babylon." 

 

The Changing Scenery

 

I am sure many viewing this can readily see that the migration of population over the last 100 years from a rural to an urban based society is part of the dynamic that has caused this.  We all understand that this shift in the population from an agricultural to an industrial society has placed certain challenges before the traditional church not seen before.  At least this is certainly the case in America.

 

However; few realize the first century church birthed in the land of Israel actually flourished in a densely populated and somewhat sophisticated society; even by today's standards. 

 

Since this relatively small area between the Mediterranean sea and the Jordan river served as a cross roads and trade route between several civilizations; evidence suggests that many of the inhabitants were tri-lingual; as they were fluent in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. (Sophisticated?.. How many people do you know that are fluent in three languages?) 

 

Also as modern archeological discoveries have shown; this same area was heavily populated - as there were over 200 cities with populations estimated at around 20,000 in each; all in this somewhat tiny piece of real estate.

 

The success of the early church in this ancient and yet 'urban' setting  is biblically documented; as they clearly flourished even under Roman occupation.  Why?  I believe the primary reason is obviously that the Spirit of the Lord was moving mightily upon them; yet at the same time there were significant checks and balances that were in place back then which were not carried forward; not even into the second century.  

 

The framework of governance that was set forth allowed the earliest churches to deal with injustices in such a manner that the standard of Christ was not tainted, and the Holy Spirit was not quenched. 

 

As I have looked at various times of revival in the past; I have seen a pattern emerge:  The quenching of the Holy Spirit that always heralds the end of revival happens when good men having the best of intentions begin to shape through their personality what the Spirit of the Lord was accomplishing in the hearts of the people.  I doubt that any reading this (including this writer); have not given into this temptation at one point or another in their ministry. 

 

The departure from a functional plurality of leaders documented in the New Testament yielded over a short period of years to a system of regional or city-wide 'bishops' who even in the humblest of circumstances represented a form of governance that was not demonstrated by the first apostles. 

 

It is this early departure from a functional plurality of leaders to a system of regional or city-wide 'bishops' which caused the church to veer away from the path marked out by Christ and the first apostles.

 

The lack of biblical governance that crept into the second century church deteriorated into the spiritual Babylon that had manifested by the time the counsel of Nicea was held, and it is why the modern church finds herself so off course.  In fact; if we took what we have now and placed it in the first century; some would find themselves in the seat of the scribes and Pharisees; critically viewing through religious lenses the ministry of Christ's first apostles.

 

This being true; if we want to understand the impact of the Jerusalem church; we need to revisit the biblical community of the first century as governed by the apostles, elders, and deacons.  This church not only successfully impacted the overall community they were part of, but these three components of biblical government served the church in such a way that it was possible for the community of believers to flourish and yet still be separated from the world.

 

This result came about not only because of the anointing they were under, but it was also due to the fact that the spiritual, communal, and societal challenges that faced the church of the first century were met by a people who clearly cooperated with these three governmental aspects of servant leadership as they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

 

While the government of the church was initially brought forth through the ministry of the apostles as ones who laid a foundation; we know that by the time Paul wrote the epistle to the Ephesians; other specific gifts had been brought forth "...for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry..."

 

Because of this; the only biblical changes instituted to this framework for governing the church in Jerusalem appears to be the expansion of the equipping role of the apostles to accommodate the ongoing revelation of the five-fold ministry as it came to include the additional equipping roles of prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.  These equipping ministries worked within a framework of governance that also included elders and deacons.

 

The Enigma in the United States

 

As we continue this discussion; perhaps you will see the puzzle a little clearer if I illustrated it with this question: 

 

How could the government of the United States have a framework that provided for a balance of power based on scripture; while at the same time the traditional church in this country accepted a form of government that would eventually mirror the abusive nature of the monarchy we fought a war to break free of? 

 

The natural question that arises at this point is: "What scripture is the U.S. government based on?"

 

In part; I believe much is drawn from Isaiah 33:22  which says:

 

For the LORD is our Judge, (Judicial branch)
The LORD is our Lawgiver,  (Legislative branch)
The LORD is our King; (Executive branch)
He will save us; 

 

Our Father in heaven is described this way:

He is the Rock, His work is perfect;
For all His ways are justice,
A God of truth and without injustice;
Righteous and upright is He.
  (Deuteronomy 32:4)

 

Our Father is able to govern His people perfectly...

 

On the contrary; left to himself man's ways are continually evil as we will always be corruptible until we put on incorruption.  As the result of being victims of the abuses of a tyrannical English king; the framers of the U.S. Constitution recognized that the authority of man to govern other men must always be held in check by others with equal authority. 

 

Hence the wisdom of using Isaiah 33:22 as a guidance for dividing this authority into a form of government with all three branches having the authority to "establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity..." 

 

Again left to their own devices for example; a legislative form of government alone even with the best intentions may actually end up denying justice to their own citizenry without the authority of an executive branch and a judiciary each having the power to override ill conceived legislation.  This would be true if either of the other two branches had a preeminent role.

 

As has been previously alluded to in this website; faulty forms of church government like their counterparts in the secular world will (if left to their own devices) become abusive over time.  While the three definitions below represent variant forms of what Christians consider to be biblical governance; the weaknesses in each leaves a door open to satan allowing for the exploitation of God's people.   This will be true of ALL forms of church government without a biblical framework. 

 

1. Episcopalianism - is the rule of the church by monarchial bishops. That is, one man may govern those under him and typically he is not been chosen directly by the people to be their leader, but can be appointed by a heirarchial  agency of presiding officers. Governmental authority will usually rests in one human minister at the top (a pope or archbishop).

 

2. Congregationalism - is the rule of the church by every member and the independence of every congregation from all others.

 

3. Presbyterianism is the rule of the church by multiple, elected elders -- not the dictates of one man, nor those of the whole congregation. These elders must be chosen by the people and then examined and confirmed by the present governing board of elders in the congregation or regional body of elders (the presbytery).  All congregations are connected with each other under the jurisdiction of the presbytery.

 

A Faulty Model

 

As we've briefly looked at the English roots of the United States and the biblical undertones of it's government; it does not take a first rank historian to demonstrate that the traditional church as we know it was drawn from and operates today based on the faulty model of the seventeenth century Church of England.   This modern day model below which evolved from earlier forms after the break from Roman Catholicism may be the pinnacle of efficiency; and even though it incorporates biblical elements or strengths from all three definitions above; it still begs one question to be asked:  WHERE in the bible do you find all of this?

 

With respect to the body of Christ in England;  while many may consider this as one of the best models of church government especially since the General Synod may even introduce legislation for consideration to become English law; this model is still at best a system conceived in the minds of men.  

 

Even though I personally admire the structural framework of what developed over hundreds of years; this needs to be clearly stated:  It does not represent a scriptural model for church government.

 

As this model retains two characteristics of the 17th century English church that were implanted into the genesis of churches in this country we will briefly discuss them.  Due to the fact that some larger denominations in the U.S. operate under a similar governmental structure; I believe it is an appropriate model to talk about. 

Depending upon your viewpoint; the two dominant features of this model represent both it's strength and / or weakness. 

 

They are:

 

1. Heirarchial levels of authority that are clearly un-biblical as Jesus Himself said: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant."

 

2. A governmental counsel which in and of itself is un-biblical, and yet it employs sufficient checks and balances which in principle are based upon scripture.  The method employed to hold abuse of power in check is a requirement that any measure passed by the General Synod must be approved separately by all three houses within this assembly.

 

To be perfectly clear: the ecumenical authority inherent in this model clearly undermines any authority that a local assembly of believers has been biblically mandated to carry.  This model also supersedes the preeminence of the Good Shepherd over His sheep as it implies that the Holy Spirit cannot sufficiently govern sincere believers who earnestly seek the Lord concerning a matter.

 

As is clear to see with a complete reading of the New Testament; there was only one time that ANY aspect of the local church's business was brought before the counsel of apostles and elders residing in Jerusalem.

 

This concerned the question of circumcision in Acts 15, and was do to the fact that there was an historical question of doctrine that had yet to be settled.  In fact even in this one circumstance; the case can be made that the Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem were taking responsibility for an errant doctrine that had come forth from those within the Jerusalem church and had infected other churches with another gospel.  

 

The liberty of this governmental counsel to speak to the body of Christ at large should I believe be viewed as an exception due to the fact that from a historical perspective this was the only group of leaders that had walked with the Lord during His earthly ministry, and as such; their authority as an assembly of leaders was historically unique.  I do not believe the uniqueness of this counsel in Jerusalem can be justifiably used as a blueprint for biblical governance especially since the one heirarchial framework for governance that existed at this point in time was the faulty model of the unbelieving Sanhedrin; as this type of governance did not exist among the ecclesia of those who followed Christ. 

 

The Authority of the Local Church

 

In the model of the Church of England; both the tendency towards heirarchial levels of authority and bureaucratic governmental counsels found in that model were transplanted into the American church at its genesis.   

 

As we consider the roots of these ecumenical systems of governance and the spiritual parent of Catholicism; we see hints of the layered authority that was present in the second temple period of Israel.  Its as if the second century church with the emergence of city-wide bishops completely by-passed the apostolic church of the first century; turning once again to the religious pattern of the scribes and Pharisees.

 

As was alluded to earlier: the forces of man-made religion rose up once again and the fleshly ways of the old man once again proved: "And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better"

 

This should take us back to a re-examination of church government as it existed in the 1st century.

 

If we will again first acknowledge that the layers of oversight outside of the local church back then are drawn from the religious system of the Sanhedrin and not from the 1st century church; we can begin to understand the relational aspects of Paul's connection to the various churches he corresponded with, and the contrasting echelons of authority that developed after this initial era of biblical governance.

 

As we can see through his epistles; Paul's role was one of advice and consent among the churches as he encouraged or exhorted them.  This is the proper role of the apostolic ministry as it connects with the local church.

 

"Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil. 2:12)  The fact that Paul was apparently obeyed reflects on the relationship he had with the believers in Philippi; not a heirarchial position or "lording over" of the saints. 

 

In Acts 20 we see a very clear description of how Paul had poured his equipping gift into the church of Ephesus.  As he was an itinerate minister at the end of his last missionary journey; he made clear to the elders he had called to meet him that "the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood."   While a pastor reading this may jump to their feet shouting 'vindication' let me remind you that this verse taken by itself is not even close to being a full picture of church government; since (as will be demonstrated later) all pastors are not elders.

 

What it does accomplish though; along with other scriptures is to demonstrate that the authority of governing the local church is vested in a plurality of local servant leaders within the church.  Other scriptures pointing to local authority under-girding a congregation include: Titus 1:5 where Paul told Titus to "...appoint elders in every city."  Also 1 Peter 5:2 where the apostle told the elders to "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers..." 

 

The Scriptures then gives no higher authority than those leaders within a  local congregation.  It is clear that the local church is to be governed by the Word of God, and that the local church does not need, nor does the Scripture teach that the local body rests under the authority of any outside governing body.  It is a group unto itself, under the authority of God, and solely responsible unto Him for its conduct, direction and affairs.

Jesus in Revelation 2:6 & 15, stated that He "hated" the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, and true to the meaning of this word - victory over the people - this group of heretics in the early church promoted heirarchial or ecumenical levels of authority that began to take hold towards the close of the first century.  The implied message in such systems of governance is that a local assembly of believers somehow needed a higher echelon of leaders to mediate between them and Christ.  When Paul wrote the Philippians to "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" he was clearly communicating their responsibility as a local body to seek the Lord. 

 

Unity in a Localized Area

 

One other aspect of the local church to consider is what constitutes a need for governmental separation of the churches?   Notice I did not say separate meetings of various house churches that met in the 1st century and meet today; as these separate meetings were completely in order as an everyday occurrence; yet these same house churches walked in governmental accord with one another in a localized jurisdiction.

 

When Paul called the Elders from Ephesus and when he wrote His letters to the churches; there was one consideration alone that determined governance.  The extent of biblical authority and what constituted a need for governmental separation was determined by geography alone.  No other provision within the bible was made for division; save the warning to separate from those who are in gross sin. 

 

As we look at the subject matter of this discussion as it relates to the harlotry of the last days apostasy of the church; I believe it is safe to conclude that any believers in a localized area that refuse to seek out a biblically governed church in there area should consider that they are in violation of Hebrews 10:25 which tells us to not forsake "the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." 

 

To be even handed in this discussion though I believe it is fair to say that placing the mirror of God's word before you as a reader must also include this encouragement that IF you are in an area where biblical government is not in place or there is no sincere effort to move in that direction; you are not obligated by Hebrews 10:25 to join the harlotry of religious institutions conceived by men as Revelation 18:4 tells us to "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues."  

 

Having said this though we should ask ourselves what a reasonable localized area would be.  Obviously in today's world two considerations would come into play depending on where you might live.  For the sake of stewardship alone these factors would be the time it takes to travel to a meeting and the cost of travel.  While I could put this in a straight jacket by admonishing you with the thought that believers in third-world nations might walk several miles to a meeting; I believe the Lord would want me to simply encourage you to be led by His Spirit in this.

 

Covering  vs. Accountability

 

Realizing this statement flies in the face of accepted verbiage and dare I say false doctrine; the concept of  "covering" as it is taught today is heresy.  A quick summary of the word "covering" in the bible reveals that in the Old Testament the word is used to describe the animal skins that covered the ark and the covering wings of the cherubim over the mercy seat.  It is also used to describe clothes or a cloak that one would wear and in one instance in the OT it is used to describe Abraham's role as a husband to his wife Sarah.  Certainly any thought of church oversight serving in the role of a spiritual husband is a perversion of scripture.  In the New Testament the word covering is used once in 1 Corinthians 11:15 to describe a woman's hair.

 

On the other hand; the requirement for biblical accountability is very clear.  In John 13 when Jesus washed the disciple's feet; He was doing more than giving an example of humility and servitude.  In the culture that He and the disciples were a part of; the feet represented someone's spiritual conduct among others.  Jesus was saying beyond what is obvious that if we would not walk in humility being accountable to others; we "have no part" in Him. 

 

The apostle Peter also encouraged this in all aspects of church life - "Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

 

What this looks like for me personally at this time as I am in the process of planting a work is that I have a number of brothers in Christ whom I esteem highly in the Lord; men I welcome to speak to me at any time concerning issues of  accountability in my life: Bryan M. - Charles R. - David C. - Mike L. - Ray H. - Earl G. - Mel W. - Jim L. - Norm R. - Randy K. - Tim M. - Joseph F. - Michael R. - Mark B. - Brian F....   In a desire to be transparent; it could be said that two or three of these names represent relationships that may be strained at the moment; as the truth is simply that the very nature of genuine relationships is that you will have these seasons were you're not always on the same page.  Remember; even Paul and Barnabas had their moments of disagreement. 

 

I could however easily double the above list, but hopefully you get the point:  It's not about ecumenical authority which relies on the false doctrine of covering prevalent in the institutions of men.  It's about the true doctrine of accountability where Jesus told us that we "...also ought to wash one another’s feet."   What typically happens when religious expectations begins to take hold (and I speak this to our shame) is that we have superficial relationships with those around us and then spend our time pointing out one another's dirty feet.  Brothers and sisters; we need to repent of these things!

 

The heart of this type of accountability honors the authority of Christ as we honor the deposit of the Holy Spirit in one another.  In Philippians 2:1-4 Paul wrote "Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.   Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.   Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." 

 

This speaks of an honor and esteeming of the deposit of Christ among the brethren and also gives us the liberty to speak the truth in love to our brother if they will receive it and if we see them beginning to stray.   Maybe our perception of what we see is wrong and the dialogue itself will clear up the misperception.  

 

Maybe things are off though and they can't quite figure out what is wrong...   Your fellowship in this case will be invaluable as 1 John 1:7 says "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."   As we know that we have an advocate with the Father in the person of Jesus Christ; if we see our brother stumbling;  we should if called upon to speak to our brother have as our intent being an advocate on our brother's behalf as well.

 

These are hard things to contend with but let me assure you that in Christ we must contend with these issues as we can all say that Christ is our Head; but if we stray from His word in any way then let us all pray for the grace to receive our brothers as their words may be the Father's provision for us to stay on the path of life.  Our tendency is to run from correction as Jesus tells us in John 3:20... "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." 

 

We have to determine in our hearts that we are going to walk in fellowship with one another acknowledging that a strong delusion is even in the earth today; and as His Word says that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble; we should remember that we need one another; even more as we see the day approaching.

 

Obviously it is possible that instead of the Lord speaking through our brother in Christ; clearly He can speak directly through His Word in bringing correction, He can speak directly by His Spirit or through a minister in a meeting, or even in the midst of worship as well.  The point is though the Lord is sovereign, and how He brings counsel or correction is as He wills; according to His Word; not what we think.

 

We should thank God when the heart of the Good Shepherd rises in our brother and he calls for accountability to the Word of God in our lives.  Time is too short to keep going around the mountain as we must humbly consider (not blindly submit to) what the Lord may be speaking through those around us.  

 

In other words when we stray; the Lord by the Spirit in using a brother or sister in Christ...  the Lord leaves the 99 and comes looking for us.   This role is not something designated to someone in an "office" but rather applies to all since we as brothers and sisters in Christ are each given a measure of His Spirit.   This is why the Word of God says in Ephesians 5:21 that we should be "submitting to one another in the fear of God."   

 

While I will develop this later; this is nothing more than advice and consent that should be happening among those who love the Lord and each other.   We must set aside our false perceptions of this issue and heed the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:20-21 concerning this: "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."

 

This is a very difficult process that is easily misunderstood as there has been much abuse by the institutions of men in this area.  In fact it is because of a misunderstanding with a precious brother in Christ whom I esteem highly in Christ; that I have taken a few moments to clarify this further.

 

Models that Closely Resemble Biblical Governance

 

 

(But Still Fall Short)

 

Leaving the issues of accountability and localized authority; let us turn again to the heirarchial levels of authority we will find by and large within a local church.  In the next graphic; Church A represents a typical non-denominational church which may be autonomous or it may be under another umbrella or false 'covering' ministry; while Church B may typically be denominational or an autonomous local church.  The variations of both type A & B can be found within the definitions of Episcopalianism, Congregationalism, and Presbyterianism mentioned earlier.

 

NOTE: I should briefly comment that in contrast to false 'covering' there is abundant scriptural precedent for voluntary association of churches based on relational advise and consent as modeled by the 1st century church.

The point of both of these faulty models though is that they still fail to hit the mark of what is needed.  I am not saying this with a critical or wounded spirit; rather my motivation in this is knowing that when we fall short of biblical standards; we leave our churches vulnerable to constant attack from the enemy. 

 

Before you judge that statement as being over-the-top; let me ask you - how many church splits have you seen or heard about in the last ten years?  How many earnest brothers and sisters in Christ have you seen leave the church either wounded or out of frustration?  As was discussed much earlier; these things happen all because the biblical blueprint for government and discipline has been ignored.

As you look at the above graphic you probably agree that Church A appears to have some merit, and yet several aspects of this betray a clear departure from scripture; even when the appearance looks biblical.  First; NO WHERE in the New Testament do we see deacons with less authority to do what they are called to than five-fold ministers have authority to do what they are called to.  As you will see when we examine this more closely in the section on deacons; they were clearly given authority over a different aspect of church ministry than a five-fold minister. 

 

Secondly; while it is clearly biblical to seek out advise from others, and while it is also accepted that everyone including a pastor should be mentored or discipled; often in a situation like this the advisors are outside the fellowship of a local church and many times serve to enable leadership that may be in error. 

 

As the average member in a local church (comparatively speaking) has no relationship with these advisors; there is also no genuine mediation (nor the appearance thereof) when a pastor is in error as these advisors (who in the traditions of men could be seen as the pastor's 'covering') will typically be predisposed to side with or support the pastor many times only having heard one side of an issue. 

 

On the other hand when occasional disagreements occur and what a pastor may have done is right; having no framework for others in authority to speak into a dispute between congregants and a pastor will leave the people without a sense of their viewpoint being fairly or clearly heard.  They may be left with a false feeling that the pastor is 'lording over' them when in fact they are refusing counsel or correction.   We will look at this further as we continue to discuss what constitutes a framework for biblical governance.

 

In Church B we in many ways see just the opposite where a board of deacons has authority OVER five fold ministries; who in this scenario is again represented by a 'senior' pastor.  In many cases; this type of framework empowers the congregation to have authority over the five-fold ministry through the mechanism of an oversight "board of deacons."  In this type of governmental framework we find at the very least a strong potential for 2Timothy 4:3-4 to be in operation: "For the time will come when they (a congregation of believers) will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables."

 

There is one conclusion that should be applied to every faulty model of church governance; there will either be a perversion of the Lord's justice or the appearance of perversion in almost every situation where mediation between brethren or between a leader and another believer is called for.

 

Registering the Church

 

Before we look at biblical governance further; I believe it is critical to show a similarity between a strategy used by communist China to register Christians, and how we in the United States; because of our emphasis on material blessing;  have allowed a similar strategy for registering Christians in this country.  In fact while this may seem hard to believe; statistics show that in this country; the mechanism used to register Christians has worked with a much higher success rate than the communist government has experienced registering Christians in the nation of China.

 

While this may appear to reveal a viewpoint not often considered; this graphic below shows how the attempt to control the church in China through the officially sanctioned "Three Self Church" is duplicated through IRS tax exemption requirements here in the U.S.  The point is this:  The membership of BOTH the Chinese and American churches that meet publicly is under scrutiny by the respective governments of each nation. 

 

 

In the 60's and early 70's; during Chairman Mao Tse-Tung's "Cultural Revolution" Chinese Christians  experienced the brutal suppression of Christianity virtually overnight.  Because of this experience the vast majority of Chinese Christians today are part of the unregistered underground network of house churches in China. 

 

While the Chinese church of today is clearly facing persecution; it is my belief that during the pending time of tribulation; it is the church in America who will be in greater peril as the vast majority of Christian leaders in America are currently registered as a result of their local church's participation in the tax exemption offered through the IRS.  An example of this happened to a married couple my wife and I know who used to attend an institutional church.  Because of their contact with children under 18; they were required to be photographed and finger printed by the Sheriff's Department of the county we live in.

 

Even if the worst case scenario of knowing and using church membership rosters to arrest Christians never materializes in the United States; the strategy in Communist China, and the strategy of the U.S. government has worked towards the same end which is to shape the message of Christianity in their respective countries.   While this list may not include all the restrictions in either nation; a comparison is still merited.

 

In China

It is illegal for ministers to preach about:

  1. The return of Christ

  2. The sufferings of Christ

  3. Separation from the world

You are not allowed to:

  1. Pray for Divine healing

  2. Cast out demons

  3. Baptize anyone under the age of eighteen

  4. Evangelize outside the four walls of the public meeting place

In the United States; (under IRS codes for 501(c)3 tax exemptions) the Church...

  1. Waives its freedom of speech as it must now according to IRS code support all public policy even when such policy is biblically unacceptable (i.e.; public policy accepts homosexual lifestyle as normal while biblical Christianity views it as gross sin leading to a completely reprobate mind & lifestyle)

  2. Waives its freedom of religion:  SEE SUPPLEMENT A BELOW

  3. Waives its right to influence legislators and the legislation they intend to pass.

  4. Cannot endorse or oppose candidates

  5. Cannot preach 'politically incorrect' sermons: SEE SUPPLEMENT B BELOW

  6. Becomes a State-Church as the legal process for non-profit incorporation places a church under the authority of the state; circumventing 1st amendment protection of the church.

The reason for sharing this brief comparison is that according to IRS publication entitled "Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Institutions" under the 'glossary' definition for 'church' it says that one characteristic for a church includes a  "definite and distinct ecclesiastical government."  Later the definition says that a church must not have a belief or creed that is "contrary to clearly defined public policy."

 

At the Edge of Apostasy and Judgment

 

A few months back I was talking with a beloved brother in Christ about the coming judgments that have been prophesied over this nation; and I asked him what his thoughts were as an elder among the flock.  I shall not soon forget the sense of foreboding that accompanied his words.

 

He said of all that has been prophesied; the vast majority of believers fail to grasp the heart rending grief that will overtake the body of Christ on the same level as the Prophet Jeremiah lamented the catastrophic destruction of Jerusalem in his day.

 

A quick sampling of what Jeremiah saw:

All her people sigh,
They seek bread;
They have given their valuables for food to restore life...

For these things I weep;
My eye, my eye overflows with water;
Because the comforter, who should restore my life,
Is far from me.
My children are desolate
Because the enemy prevailed...

See, O LORD, that I am in distress;
My soul is troubled;
My heart is overturned within me,
For I have been very rebellious.
Outside the sword bereaves,
At home it is like death...

My eyes fail with tears,
My heart is troubled;
My bile is poured on the ground
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
Because the children and the infants
Faint in the streets of the city

They say to their mothers,
“Where is grain and wine?”
As they swoon like the wounded
In the streets of the city,
As their life is poured out
In their mothers’ bosom...

 

This is but a small sampling from Lamentations...

All because the children of Israel refused to repent!

After hundreds of years of rebellion; all the LORD required was this...

 

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, “Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the LORD!’” Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these.’

 

“For IF you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, IF you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, IF you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, THEN I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.  (Jeremiah 7:1-7)

 

While the judgment of the LORD was clearly revealed in the destruction of Jerusalem; and while the transgressions against the LORD had accumulated over centuries; the mercy of God was clearly revealed in a very short list; amazingly ALL connected to Judah's own well being.

 

Mark these words...

What the Lord required of Judah at that moment of judgment is exactly the same measurement used for separating the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25... what the LORD required of Judah for repentance; He requires of His church NOW!

 

Micah 6:8 says...

 

He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do
justly,
To love
mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?

 

While there is a whole other section dealing with mercy let me just share the rebuke of Jesus to the religious leaders of His day:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

 

The fate of the church certainly hangs in the balance in this hour, and let me be very clear on this point: much depends upon returning to a framework for biblical governance.  As we continue to look at these things; you will see that this is a key component if we are to walk as overcomers in this hour.

The Victory Anointing

 

As we begin to examine what is necessary to escape the snare of the devil; we should recall an earlier assertion:

While we tend to downplay the importance of biblical governance; it is important to remember that order in the body of Christ can be likened to the example of Israel as they either stood victoriously over their enemies as a result of obedience to the Lord and His order, or they fled in fear from the presence of their enemies because of disobedience to the Lord. 

 

When Jesus spoke of the anointing the church was to operate in; the sense of what He said was that obedience to the revelation of Christ and His preeminence was akin to great victory.  In Matthew 16 the Lord teaches us that the revelation of Him given through the Father is THE rock the Jesus will build His church upon "...and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." 

 

As a result of this same revelation of Christ and His authority... Jesus gives us "the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." 

 

As I like many of us have witnessed a powerless church over the years; I am convinced that the spiritual authority given to the body of Christ is clearly a misunderstood precept.  Over the last twenty years or so we have seen the perversion of the faith movement.  Notice that I did NOT say that the faith movement itself was a perversion, but that there was a perversion OF the faith movement.  After all it was Jesus Himself who on numerous occasions said statements like "According to your faith let it be to you." 

 

The point I am trying to convey in this is that spiritual authority takes more than faith to operate; it takes obedience.  Paul makes this point clear when he discusses spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10 - "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled." 

 

Paul then does not link spiritual authority to cultivating an ever increasing "name it - claim it" faith.  Instead the authority to prevail against "the gates of Hades" is tied to obedience. 

 

James relates the same message when he writes "But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  Do you not see what James is conveying?   When he speaks of Abraham's works; he is talking about His obedience to the Lord in offering his son Isaac as God had commanded him to! 

 

Recently one whom I love with all my heart strayed from the protection of the Lord that comes with obedience and paid an absolutely horrendous price for it.  My love for this one is so great that I would have rather suffered multiple beatings in prison than to see this one whom I love so much pay the price they did.

 

I have learned through this though; that while the Lord is ...ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled; it has been brought home to me with horrifying clarity that "...the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." 

 

So when we talk about the protection that comes from the Lord or if you will the safety in the midst of a "multitude of counselors;" we are addressing the grain of truth within the false doctrine of 'covering.'  As you read Psalm 91:1-10 you begin to understand who's protection we are under:

 

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him I will trust.”
3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
8 Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
10 No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling...

 

It is because we make the LORD our dwelling place that we are protected under HIS wings...

 

The unthinkable price that Christians are about to pay for their disobedience is beyond my comprehension, and yet I now understand with absolute clarity that if we do not yield to the revelation of Jesus Christ and the implied mandate that includes the "increase of His government" according to Isaiah 9; we will pay with consequences that the Father has allowed for but does not desire for us to pay.   It is our freewill choices that place us in peril, but it is not the Lord's will.

 

What the Lord clearly desires for His people is that we would be the overcomers He has supplied the grace for us to be. 

This will require obedience to the Lord that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.  Obedience that looks much like the Lord's directive to march around Jericho instead of building siege towers to skirt the walls of the city.  Or obedience to follow the wisdom of  the Lord against all logic much like the wisdom that was given to Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20...

 

"So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out;  Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the LORD your God and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.”  And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying:

     “Praise the LORD,

     For His mercy endures forever.”

Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated."

 

As we examine governance of the church in the first century; we are not looking for some special formula; nor reliance upon the wisdom of men, but for a framework that not only reflects obedience to the Lord, but provides a foundation for correction whenever a church strays off the path Jesus and the early apostles walked upon.

 

Governance from a Biblical Perspective

In our search for this biblical framework; we should certainly acknowledge scriptural precepts that various models strove to uphold in the past; but we must only use these attempts at biblical governance as a road map if you will to draw wisdom from Godly brothers and sister in Christ who were before us. 

 

If our intent then is to walk in obedience to Christ and we are willing without prejudice to acknowledge that this was the intent of those before us; we will be able to focus on the scriptural objectives of Episcopalianism, Congregationalism, and Presbyterianism even though in and of themselves the biblical result intended by the framers of each expression never fully materialized.

Scriptural objectives or precepts that can be gleaned from these efforts include:

 

1. Submission to 'one another'

2. Bearing one another's burdens in the midst of life's trials

3. Accountability to the Word of God

4. Encourage personal responsibility in the lives of  all believers

5. Co-operation with biblically sanctioned leadership

6. Insure biblical justice among the Lord's people

7. Spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to the 'uttermost parts of the earth'

 

Keeping these objectives in mind...

A framework for biblical governance should include:

A blending of leadership that

        a. upholds the commission of Christ

        b. equips and releases the saints for ministry

        c. provides impartial distribution of resources for orphans and widows

        d. maintains local autonomy 

 

This framework should also allow:

A separation of governmental authority that

        a. restrains the abuse of spiritual authority

        b. insures accountability and correction of leadership if abuse occurs

        c. provides impartial distribution of resources as ministry needs arise

        d. recognizes the clear Sovereignty of God to bring forth regional

            expressions among those of like precious faith that are not

            regulated by the legalism of man made jurisdictions

 

    The 1st Century Ecclesia

 

Pulling together everything that has been said up to this point we can see that governance of the first century church by the Holy Spirit was marked not only by a fullness of Messianic expression as believing Jews, but by a clear departure from the Pharisaic traditions of the second temple period. 

 

If as Jewish believers in Christ they considered themselves no longer under the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin; then how were they to be governed?  Certainly they could not simply copy the faulty model they came out of; especially since it cultivated the spiritual arrogance that caused many in Israel to miss the time of the Lord's visitation. 

 

While the 'new wine' of the Holt Spirit was with them as promised by the Lord; a casual reading of the book of Acts tells us that they were mindful of Jesus' warning that "...new wine must be put into new wineskins." 

 

As we move along the timeline recorded in the book of Acts;  it is clear that three separate functions had emerged as part of this picture of governance. While the apostles were clearly the first type of minister that stood out in the early church as leaders; the choosing of deacons (Acts 6:1-6) and the differentiation of elders from the ministry of apostles (Acts 15:6) clearly demonstrate the beginnings of what served as biblical oversight in the first century. 

 

As noted earlier: the only biblical changes instituted to this framework for governing the church in Jerusalem appears to be the expansion of the equipping role of the apostles to accommodate the ongoing revelation of the five-fold ministry as it came to include the additional equipping roles of prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.

 

As we allow the institutional definitions of - five fold ministers - elders and deacons - to decrease, and allow the Christ-centered biblical expression of these roles to increase; I believe we will see once again the emergence of the full counsel of God inherent in His governmental design. 

While we will explore the biblical function of these roles at greater length; if we look at them briefly according to the pattern of Isaiah 33:22 we will see the separation of power that was noted earlier as we applied this foundational scripture to the U.S. government.

For the LORD is our Judge,

(Elders - given to mediate disputes and to be examples to the flock)

The LORD is our Lawgiver, 

(Fivefold ministries - given to equip the saints)

The LORD is our King;

(Deacons - given to administer justice; oversight of Kingdom resources)

 

He will save us; 

 

While we will in separate sections explore the biblical functions and qualifications of these roles at greater length; it is important to see that the biblical checks and balances in this framework allowed for corrective measures to be taken on a local level; upholding the courts of justice and the the banner of the King established by the presence of the Holy Spirit and by uncompromised obedience to the Word of God. 

 

If we are to once again receive the refreshing that comes from the presence of the Lord, be equipped to reap the end time harvest, and be made ready for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.; we can no longer afford to resist the increase of His government.

To continue reading the discussion on Biblical Governance in the Body of Christ; Click on of the link below:

Biblical Governance Part 2  (Elders, Deacons & Biblical Counsel)

 

Supplement A

IRS Church Seizure is a Tragedy for Religious Liberty

Congressman Ron Paul, February 26, 2001

 

February 13th marked a sad day for religious liberty in America, as the federal government took the unprecedented step of seizing a church to satisfy an alleged tax debt. Armed federal marshals forcibly removed parishioners and clergy from the Indianapolis Baptist Temple (IBT), bringing an end to years of legal challenges that ended with the Supreme Court refusing to hear an IBT appeal.

 

Amazingly, the tax dispute arose not over a failure to pay income taxes per se, but rather over the failure of the IBT to follow tax withholding rules. The tax code forces all employers, including churches, to act as collection agents for the IRS by presumptively withholding a portion of every employee's paycheck for federal taxes. The IBT steadfastly has refused to withhold taxes from its employees, arguing that religious beliefs prevent it from acting as an agent for a secular government agency. Two important facts have been largely overlooked in the ensuing controversy. First, the IBT (unlike most churches) also refused tax benefits available to it through registration as a tax-exempt religious organization. Second, more than 60 present and former IBT employees successfully passed IRS audits, meaning they paid in full taxes the IBT had not withheld. So the heart of the dispute really was about IBT's principled refusal to do the government's bidding. The real motivation behind the IRS seizure was not to satisfy a tax bill, but rather to set an example for any other churches that might dare to question their obligation to act as tax collectors.

 

The IBT tragedy is about religious liberty, not taxes. Churches should not be required to pay or withhold taxes any more than they should be given tax dollars from the government. The First amendment grants churches the absolute right to freely exercise their religious beliefs without interference from government. When tax laws force churches to act as collection agents for the IRS, this precious right is lost. The income tax represents the ultimate entanglement between churches and the government. When churches file income tax returns, the government becomes intimately familiar with their activities. Only those faiths deemed valid by IRS bureaucrats are rewarded with partial tax-exempt status. This entanglement chills true religious expression, because churches may alter their message to quell criticisms of government and avoid audits. When the government has the power to tax churches, it ultimately has the power to control them.

 

The state-loving media scarcely mentioned the IBT story, with brief articles predictably portraying the church as a fringe organization that avoided its taxes. This follows an established pattern of characterizing religious conservatives who protest the federal government as dangerous extremists, implicitly associated with militias and racists. Imagine the national media coverage, and resulting public outrage, if a minority church was seized over a refusal to pay taxes. Protestors supporting left-wing causes like abortion, affirmative action, environmentalism, feminism, AIDS, and animal rights consistently are shown as courageous martyrs fighting for principle against an unfeeling society and government. Conservative protestors, however, are shown as sinister bigots who selfishly refuse to follow benign laws and politically correct social rules.

 

The IBT story has resounded with many Americans, however. A strong undercurrent of dissent has manifested itself below the mainstream media radar, on radio talk shows and websites. My office has received hundreds of angry letters, emails, and phone calls denouncing the government's actions. People of all faiths understand that the threat to religious liberty affects all Americans. No society can remain free if it lacks strong institutions to challenge an overreaching government.

 

Ron Paul represents the 14th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

Supplement B

(See "Fair Use")

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning

All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena risks losing

its tax-exempt status because of a former rector's remarks in 2004.

By Patricia Ward Biederman and Jason Felch

Times Staff Writers  

November 7, 2005  

 

The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

 

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

 

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church … " The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

 

The letter went on to say that "our concerns are based on a Nov. 1, 2004, newspaper article in the Los Angeles Times and a sermon presented at the All Saints Church discussed in the article."

 

The IRS cited The Times story's description of the sermon as a "searing indictment of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq" and noted that the sermon described "tax cuts as inimical to the values of Jesus."

 

As Bacon spoke, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a co-celebrant of Sunday's Requiem Eucharist, looked on.   We are so careful at our church never to endorse a candidate," Bacon said in a later interview.  "One of the strongest sermons I've ever given was against President Clinton's fraying of the social safety net." 

 

Telephone calls to IRS officials in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles were not returned.

 

On a day when churches throughout California took stands on both sides of Proposition 73, which would bar abortions for minors unless parents are notified, some at All Saints feared the politically active church had been singled out.

"I think obviously we were a bit shocked and dismayed," said Bob Long, senior warden for the church's oversight board. "We felt somewhat targeted."

 

Bacon said the church had retained the services of a Washington law firm with expertise in tax-exempt organizations.

And he told the congregation: "It's important for everyone to understand that the IRS concerns are not supported by the facts."

 

After the initial inquiry, the church provided the IRS with a copy of all literature given out before the election and copies of its policies, Bacon said.

 

But the IRS recently informed the church that it was not satisfied by those materials, and would proceed with a formal examination. Soon after that, church officials decided to inform the congregation about the dispute.

 

In an October letter to the IRS, Marcus Owens, the church's tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, said, "It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season."

 

Owens said that an IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting.

"They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election."

 

The church declined the offer.

 

Long said Bacon "is fond of saying it's a sin not to vote, but has never told anyone how to vote. We don't do that. We preach to people how to vote their values, the biblical principles."

 

Regas, who was rector of All Saints from 1967 to 1995, said in an interview that he was surprised by the IRS action "and then I became suspicious, suspicious that they were going after a progressive church person."

 

Regas helped the current church leadership collect information for the IRS on his sermon and the church's policies on involvement in political campaigns.

 

Some congregants were upset that a sermon citing Jesus Christ's championing of peace and the poor was the occasion for an IRS probe.

 

"I'm appalled," said 70-year-old Anne Thompson of Altadena, a professional singer who also makes vestments for the church.

 

"In a government that leans so heavily on religious values, that they would pull a stunt like this, it makes me heartsick."

 

Joe Mirando, an engineer from Burbank, questioned whether the 3,500-member church would be under scrutiny if it were not known for its activism and its liberal stands on social issues.

 

"The question is, is it politically motivated?" he said. "That's the underlying feeling of everyone here. I don't have enough information to make a decision, but there's a suspicion."

 

Bacon revealed the IRS investigation at both morning services. Until his announcement, the mood of the congregation had been solemn because the services remembered, by name, those associated with the church who had died since last All Saints Day.

 

Regas' 2004 sermon imagined how Jesus would admonish Bush and Kerry if he debated them. Regas never urged parishioners to vote for one candidate over the other, but he did say that he believes Jesus would oppose the war in Iraq, and that Jesus would be saddened by Bush's positions on the use and testing of nuclear weapons.

 

In the sermon, Regas said, "President Bush has led us into war with Iraq as a response to terrorism. Yet I believe Jesus would say to Bush and Kerry: 'War is itself the most extreme form of terrorism. President Bush, you have not made dramatically clear what have been the human consequences of the war in Iraq.' "

 

Later, he had Jesus confront both Kerry and Bush: "I will tell you what I think of your war: The sin at the heart of this war against Iraq is your belief that an American life is of more value than an Iraqi life. That an American child is more precious than an Iraqi baby. God loathes war."

 

If Jesus debated Bush and Kerry, Regas said, he would say to them, "Why is so little mentioned about the poor?''

In his own voice, Regas said: ''The religious right has drowned out everyone else. Now the faith of Jesus has come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war and pro-American…. I'm not pro-abortion, but pro-choice. There is something vicious and violent about coercing a woman to carry to term an unwanted child."

 

When you go into the voting booth, Regas told the congregation, "take with you all that you know about Jesus, the peacemaker. Take all that Jesus means to you. Then vote your deepest values."

 

Owens, the tax attorney, said he was surprised that the IRS is pursuing the case despite explicit statements by Regas that he was not trying to influence the congregation's vote.

 

"I doubt it's politically motivated," Owens said. ""I think it is more a case of senior management at IRS not paying attention to what the rules are."

 

According to Owens, six years ago the IRS used to send about 20 such letters to churches a year. That number has increased sharply because of the agency's recent delegation of audit authority to agents on the front lines, he said.

 

He knew of two other churches, both critical of government policies, that had received similar letters, Owens said.

 

It's unclear how often the IRS raises questions about the tax-exempt status of churches.

 

While such action is rare, the IRS has at least once revoked the charitable designation of a church.

 

Shortly before the 1992 presidential election, a church in Binghamton, N.Y., ran advertisements against Bill Clinton's candidacy, and the tax agency ruled that the congregation could not retain its tax-exempt status because it had intervened in an election.

 

Bacon said he thought the IRS would eventually drop its case against All Saints.

 

"It is a social action church, but not a politically partisan church," he said.

To continue reading the discussion on Biblical Governance in the Body of Christ; Click on of the link below:

Biblical Governance Part 2  (Elders, Deacons & Biblical Counsel)

Close Window

ALL SCRIPTURES UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED ARE FROM "NKJV" VERSION OF THE BIBLE

“Copyright © 2002-2010 - Shilohouse.org & Shilohouse Ministries, All rights reserved”