It’s said that the greater the extent of success the higher the level of temptation. Whether this is true or not is up for discussion, but it makes sense when you consider the enormous amounts of finance that can be generated by well performing ministries.
The vast majority of churches, not-for-profits and charities operate with integrity and have excellent accountability systems in place, which is as it should be. These funds are the willing donations of faithful members who believe in the vision and mission of the charity or church.
Sadly, there are a handful who do not follow normal procedures despite the warnings that have been issued, for as long as I can remember, regarding scrupulous attention to fiscal integrity, especially when it comes to specialised offerings such as building funds that operate through registered charities.
This is because they are authorised by governments to receive these moneys from their members and donors, and there are strict rules to their collection and use. Churches like to be autonomous and run their own affairs free from interference from the state, but there are circumstances where governments come into partnership with churches and charities and bring with them legislation that governs those transactions.
We are also under great scrutiny from the community when they see that in some nations offerings and donations are tax-free for not-for-profits and charities, including churches, and can sometimes add up to huge sums.
Subject to authorities
It is always a difficult area, and one that churches have to come to terms with, especially if their constitutions are established under government guidelines. We are admonished in scripture to be subject to governing authorities, and this is where we have to be circumspect and not allow ambition to override our legal responsibilities.
Romans 13:2-8 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil.
Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.
Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The Word has laid out a code of conduct when dealing with governments and authorities. It is for everyone, including local churches and charities.
There are other areas of temptation we could discuss, but one of the greatest is financial. We have to be well organised in paperwork, understanding of the law, bookkeeping, minutes, and have the highest levels of accountability, and especially not allow ourselves to go outside official guidelines, even when the legal requirements occasionally seem ambiguous.
Governments tend not to leave out anything that is required for accountability.
A good report
We need to work closely with local authorities and maintain a good report with those who are outside the faith who are in government, not to the point that they tell us how to run the churches or how we should use finances, but to make certain we operate within the law.
We are told that the governing authorities that exist are appointed by God. They are not supposed to be our enemy, but are in position to help keep us circumspect. Remember that Paul wrote this when most of the known world was subject to Roman rule under the empire, so it was no easier for the Church in his day than it is for us today, plus he was a Roman citizen as well as Jew, and knew how to use that to his advantage.
The governing authority is called a minister to us for good. If we are studious enough to take the time to read all the guidelines and rules set before us when we are arranging our constitutions or applying to become a registered charity, or being given special dispensation to operate as a recognised not-for-profit association, then we will know exactly what we can do and what we cannot do.
Then we will not get into trouble with the authorities. It is as simple as this. If we cannot grasp the legal requirements of becoming a church, charity or not-for-profit organisation, as required by law to operate, then we need to employ or hire an honest, godly person to interpret the law for us.
If we do good we will have praise from the governing authority. If we do evil he will be bearing a sword. He is God’s avenger. He will execute wrath. It is that serious. We cannot flout the law simply because we are ministers of God.
We have to be subject, not only for wrath’s sake, but for conscience sake. We don’t just toe the line because we do not want to be caught out. We do so because we want to be right before God, because honesty in our community is integrity before Him. We want a clear conscience. We want to do what is right in His sight.
To fulfil the law of God we need to fulfil the commandments to love. He who loves another has fulfilled the law. If we are willing to comply with the laws of the land we will have a good report with those we are trying to win to Christ.
Most governments in the West are based on Judeao-Christian concepts, and have followed on from the Westminster system in some way, so we can generally trust that they will not interfere with Christian principles, and that the government has the interests of the people as a whole at heart.
Obviously some legalities go outside of our witness, but we have legal process to do what we can to help change this in a democracy. However, as it stands, when it comes to financial dealings we need to comply with the law or we will be subject to sanctions, and have no excuse because God has covered this and warned us in the passage of scripture outlined here.
In strong terms Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us “if you do evil, be afraid.” The only way to avoid this fear is to rather fear God and act in wisdom. The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord. If we apply wisdom we will know how to avoid sanction by doing what is right.
There is nothing wrong with having an amazing and grand vision with huge potential that brings people together on major projects that impact our community, nation, and world, but we still have to ensure that it fits the aims and purposes of the association, or work with authorities to upgrade our mission so that we can better accomplish our God-inspired goals without compromising our witness.
There is no law against being successful, and God will give the increase to those who follow His mission, but the more we are entrusted with the greater the opportunity for temptation and failure if we are not careful, prayerful and walking in line with God’s Word, and even more so as we draw closer to the time when Jesus returns for His Church.