A year-long series of weekly essays re-imagining the Reforming Church. This is not a scholarly effort, crafting neither an ecclesiastical nor a theological system. Rather, it is simply a futurist’s snapshot – it is how I imagine the church proceeding forward through the next decades in the tradition of the Reformation.
The Reforming Church seeks to witness to the state with the full power of the Gospel – the mandate of Jesus, to love God, and to love one another (Matthew 22:37-40). The witness of the Reforming Church speaks openly and freely to the State with a prophetic voice seeking the common good which includes hope for those who are poor, hungry, thirsty, sick and dying, oppressed, imprisoned, strangers (Matthew 25:34-36).
The history of the doctrine of the separation of church and state was necessary to remove the Church from the offices of power over an increasingly multi-religious and secular State. This is a relationship for which the State pays dearly in the USA with special benefits for religious institutions and their clergy – primarily tax exemption.
The Reforming Church does not seek, protect, nor covet the temporal powers of the State. Rather the Reforming Church exists temporally within the State as it were, as a citizen exercising the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Of course, the Reforming Church is not a citizen, to be sure, but institutionally it subsists as a good neighbor and the Followers of the Way themselves to practice exemplary citizenship.
The Reforming Church recognizes that an effective prophetic voice that speaks without prejudice or hindrance to the abuses of government, frees itself of all encumbrances that mollify that voice. The biblical witness reminds the Reforming Church of the impotence of Judah’s and Israel’s court prophets whose prophetic witness were tuned to the will of their Kings rather than to God’s will (read about the thorny relationship between two prophets – Jeremiah, a true prophet and Hananiah, a false prophet in Jeremiah 27 and 28). Similarly, the Reforming Church embraces the wisdom in Jesus’ understanding of his tense relationship with the state. One of the scriptural texts for Informing the Reforming Church’s concept of separation of church and state is found in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (NRSV, 22:21). It is this model of relationship with the State that the Reforming Church practices.
For this reason, the Reforming Church
- Neither receives nor accepts tax benefits excusing it from payment of taxes on income from offerings, investments, or real estate.
- Offers no tax exemption recognized by the government to donors for their monetary gifts to the Church.
- Accepts no privileged tax status for its clergy exempting any part of its income from taxation.
Here is the reason for this. The Reforming Church finds itself straddling two realities. There is the reality of the state which is invested in stability and the status quo. Then there is the reality of the Reforming Church which is invested in the Commonwealth of the Kingdom of God. The wisdom of the Reforming Church and State are not always the same, if ever. Just as the Reforming Church finds the moral and persuasive influence of its voice to address courageously its own abuses (and certainly they are many and all shameful – clergy sexual misconduct, fiduciary failures. . .), it also addresses with the same courage and vigor the abuses of state (greed, injustice, excessive reach for power, favoritism, corruption, unfair systems of taxation, and warring madness to name a few).
The Reforming Church maintains unencumbered the faithful witness of its prophetic voice, seeking to persuade the State to enact and execute laws that are just and equitable for all who live within its borders. At the same time, the Reforming Church, the Followers of Jesus Christ – each in his or her own way – are encouraged to exercise their rights as citizens, and to accept the responsibilities of citizenship as well, as expected in a democratic form of state government including national service, where there are other options besides military service, as may be universally required.