I think we might think that Jesus was a slacker and a partier what with his visiting and meals with wine and prostitutes in the room, and he wasn't on any leadership groups or took minutes or have a constitution on papyrus or any of those things. I mean hey, his treasurer was helping himself to the group funds and Jesus never seemed to challenge that or excommunicate him for that. I think that if we had been around back then, we might have written Jesus off pretty quickly.
I was with some people at a meeting yesterday and we were talking about how more and more is expected of us as churches by our government. There are so many rules to follow and accounting practices to implement, it's really becoming a challenge to find a local person who is up to the huge challenge of being a treasurer, just in terms of knowing the legal requirements for a church.
As I've said before when a leadership structure or a helping organization grows from becoming a help to becoming a hindrance or worse yet, if it becomes a ruling power in our lives that we defer to and follow at the cost of our following after God, then it's time to reevaluate it's relevance and help to us.
Why do we defer to the government and it's involvement in our affairs? Well aside from helping with good practices etc. the only real reason we jump through their hoops is so that we may maintain our charity, tax free, receipt issuing, status. That's it really. We do it so that we can give people receipts when they give us donations. Yes there may be other smaller reasons like maintaining our corporate status or so we don't have to pay taxes, but I think that the real reason is because we think people won't give money to the church and ministry if we can't give them a tax deductible receipt at the end of the day.
This has so many implications that I'm not even going to explore today, about discipleship and authority and faith and being a good steward and obeying governments.
I think it's good to keep these things in mind. We all have our lines in the sand that indicate how far we are willing to go with language or behaviour or alcohol or even grace. Lines that we say we won't move, but often we do move them back an inch or more and adjust our expectations accordingly.
In terms of discipleship and government involvement in church life, we have had lines there too. Over the years as the political power of the church has been in decline, we've seen a increase in the power of the government in how it regulates church life. This shift isn't necessarily a bad thing because personally I'm not comfortable with the church in a nation wielding a great deal of political power. No, I'm more concerned with who we are as Christ followers. What should happen is that we should be moved to reflect about what kind of disciples we are, as we journey towards Christ.
This isn't a call to anarchy or to not pay our taxes, even Jesus paid his taxes. It is a call to review our discipleship practices. Who do we follow? Why? Why do we give money to the church, or to God? How much energy, effort, time and money do we give to follow the requirements of organizations inside or outside the church, and are those expectations all right? Do they encouraging us to be more like Christ, or do they enable us to be weaker, shallower disciples of Christ?
Perhaps as the western church becomes more marginalized and politically powerless, we will see more forms of simple church rise up, who give because God asks them to and because there are great needs in the world. Simple churches that need not run their lives by the requirements of external organizations, or internal documents created a hundred years ago. Simple churches run by the claims of the gospel and a transparency in servant leaders.
To simplistic? (pun intended) In some ways yes, but I think that the desire to simplify church life is real, especially among these new generations. It gives me great hope for the future of the church.
A future with more eating together, and less meetings. That sounds like Jesus.