When the Church Takes Government Money

You cannot serve God and wealth (Mat.6:24).

Evil governments always want to silence their opposition, by whatever means are possible. Of course they may kill them (which is what Henry II did to Thomas Becket in 1170, Henry VIII did to Sir Thomas More in 1535, and totalitarian governments did to millions in the twentieth century), or they can be more subtle about it: they can silence them with money.

In the mid-1940s, the Labour Party in Britain decided to create a system of State-financed national health care. They knew that they would not readily gain cooperation from the private physicians of Britain. So the Labour Party created a plan. First, they made it illegal for non-participating physicians to sell their practices upon retirement, thereby extracting a major capital tax from the physicians. Second, they offered relatively high salaries (for the post-war years) to all participating physicians. Third, they offered high positions in the new, compulsory system to the leaders of the British Medical Association. Nye Bevan, the Labour Party’s master political strategist, who served as Minister of Health, promised Party leaders that the Party would gain the support of the medical profession’s leadership. “How?” he was asked. His answer shall ring down through the ages: “We shall stuff their mouths with gold.” So the Labour Party did, and the medical leadership capitulated, just as Bevan had predicted.1

Whenever the church has become ambivalent about money, it has exposed itself to compromise and corruption, and this has always been deadly. A compromised church is a silent church, and a silent church is always ripe for judgment. Can you imagine Moses accepting Pharoah’s money, Elijah being paid by Ahab, or John the Baptist taking gold from Herod?

The Bible says that Daniel’s accusers “could find no ground for accusation or evidence of corruption” (Dan.6:4). God’s people should always be very sensitive about conflicts of interest, because historically, “he that takes the king’s shilling, does the king’s bidding.” Who do we belong to, and who should we be representing?

The Bible has a lot to say about this, and the church hasn’t always been keen to listen: “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…” (I Tim.6:10). “Better is a little with righteousness, than great income with injustice” (Prov.16:8). “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity, than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool” (Prov.19:1). “He who profits illicitly troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live” (Prov.15:27).

Consider how the voice of the church is largely muted today, and if it is heard it is substantially ignored. Is it moral that churches receive tax-payer’s money for their church buildings, for Christian schools and Child-Care Centres?  If so, why?

Some will say, “Well, we pay our taxes like anybody else. Shouldn’t we be entitled to some of it back?” Not if we want to be independent of the state. Furthermore, if a plan for God’s people is from God, why do we need the pagans to pay for it?

An understanding of inverse relationships can always be helpful, and revealing. Is there an inverse relationship between the amount of faith we have in God, and how much we trust in governments? (I would say “yes.”) Is there also an inverse relationship between the moral authority of God’s people, and the amount of tax-payers’ money they receive? (“Yes” again.)

Would a church which receives large and frequent cheques from the government, be likely to be critical of that government? The money easily becomes a de facto bribe. Perhaps that was the intention. But some will reassure themselves piously, “the Lord used the government to provide for our needs.”

If the government gave our church $600,000 for construction of Phase 1 of our new auditorium last year, and we now need another $300,000 to complete Phase 2, will we be that keen to publicly and vehemently oppose the government, if it plans to pass legislation making abortion or same-sex marriage legal? It’s hard to talk when your mouth is stuffed full of gold.

Conclusion:

The Bible says that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccles.1:9). God’s purpose is that His people become “the head and not the tail” (Deut.28:13). Perhaps when we in the church have begun to extricate ourselves from our compromised relationships with Caesar, we will begin to see light coming on our path, once again.


1 North, G., (Ed.,) “Tactics of Christian Resistance,” 1983, p.146-147.

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