How to Make Everyone Look Really, Really Bad

What would you think of a minister who taught that you have to be baptised to be saved, but he won’t do a baptism unless you pay a percentage of your income to his church?

What would you think of a person who doesn’t attend church regularly, give regularly, or support the church in any way, but still expects the church to be there for weddings, funerals, special occasions, or when they want the church for something?

In Germany, they had this “great” idea for funding churches, that has ended up making priests, parishioners, and politicians all look bad.

The idea was simple.  Make sure that everyone contributes to their church by having the government collect funds as a tax — they are withheld from your pay just like income tax.  You can declare yourself to be non-religious, but otherwise, the government handles it for you.

The church tax is 8-9% of your income tax, so for someone who pays 20% of their income in taxes, the church tax makes up a total of 1.6-1.8% of their income.  It is deductible — you don’t pay other tax on the income which goes to the church tax.  You can read the details here, if you care.

(Apparently, churches can opt to receive the income tax details of their members and collect the church tax themselves, which allows them to save the fees that the government charges the churches for collecting the tax.  That sounds like a GREAT idea, if you want to make it easy for a cult leader to gain control over people’s lives — make sure he has all their income and tax details.)

The system works really well, if you want to make everyone look bad.  It kills the charitable impulse by replacing giving (which brings joy) with a tax (which brings resentment over how it is used).  The politicians who maintain the system are seen as taking money by force and giving it to corrupt churches.

The system reduces giving dramatically.  “The church doesn’t need me to give, because they are getting my taxes.”  (That’s much like what happens in society when government gets involved in charity work.  People don’t see much need to give to the poor because “they are already getting welfare benefits, and I’ve paid my taxes.”)  As a result, the churches become dependent on the taxes, which gives politicians influence over churches which God never intended.

When churches become dependent on the taxes, they become desperate when someone opts out.  I was amazed to read the account of what is happening in Germany (Bishops Stop Funerals).

The Scriptures utterly reject the idea that there is anything such as a sacrament required for salvation, but the Catholic Church teaches that they are — and they are withholding those sacraments for those who have opted out of the church tax.  In effect, they’ve made paying the church tax a requirement for salvation — no tax, no sacraments, no salvation.  Who knew that paying church tax would ever become the ultimate sacrament?  Money does strange things to people — but so does false teaching.  Put the two together, and you have an unholy mess.

I’ve never charged a fee for doing a funeral or a wedding.  The last thing someone who is grieving needs is for the person who is supposed to be a messenger of the God of all comfort to be talking about fees.  That’s a condition I always set for doing a funeral — no fee.  (If people insist on giving me a gift afterwards, I’ll accept it, but they’ve agreed there is to be no fee.)  So I simply can’t imagine refusing to do a funeral just because someone hasn’t contributed enough to the cost of the church.  (I don’t know who gives or how much, anyway.)

On the other hand, how can someone call himself a Christian and be unwilling to give even less than two percent of his income?  Christ gave all for us, but people who claim they believe are begrudging less than 2% of their income?

If people want a church to be there for them when they want it, how do they expect it to exist in the meantime?  If they can’t be bothered to attend regularly, why should there be services for them when they do want it?  If they aren’t going to support it financially on a regular basis, will it be there for them when they decide to come around?

From a human perspective, the idea of a church having a dependable stream of income enforced by the government may have seemed like a good idea.  But it is far from how God intended the church to be financed, and the result is an ugly mess which makes everyone look bad.

 

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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