Saturday, June 09, 2012

Evangelicalism: Government Programs vs. Church Programs

It has been my observation in almost 20 years of exposure to conservative evangelicalism - and if your observation and experience are different, good for you and those you have observed - that there is a tendency to hold opposite practices in the church that one believes in for society.  It's a strange phenomenon for which I don't have an explanation.

Example.  Government programs.  Many conservative evangelicals (CE's) are not only conservative in their theology, they are conservative in their political and civil beliefs.  They will talk about the Christian values that made America great.  Freedom.  Freedom from civil tyranny.  Freedom of speech.  Freedom of religion, economic freedom, freedom of association, etc.  They despise government programs.  Red tape.  Bureaucracy.  Micromanagement, top-down nanny state.  They don't like the power the politicians have.  They hate socialism, communism and third world dictators.  They want small government with little interference.  They like private solutions to society's problems.  And although they don't really have a problem with people who work for others, they do have a special place in their hearts for the entrepreneur.  The innovative spirit.

But oddly enough, when it comes to the church, many of the things they despise about civil matters they adopt for the church.  They hate government programs, but love church programs.  Problem in society?  Let people work things out for themselves.  Problem in the church? Appoint a committee.  They hate when politicians cry for a tax increase, but will love when the pastor calls for a tithe and offering increase.  They don't like government red tape, but are just fine with numerous layers of church committees, micromanagement from leaders.  They can't stand despots, but the pastor?  He's da man and what he says goes.  They always point out when a politician is an elite that has never worked a real day of work in his life, but are perfectly fine with a pastor who spent years in seminary and has never worked a real day of work in his life either, and holds a full time paid position behind a desk in an office.  This kind of politician is "out of touch" with ordinary people, yet this kind of pastor is just what the church needs.

If the government were to engage in censorship, banning or burning of books, the CE would not only protest but call for getting those politicians out of office.  But in the church?  Well, the leadership needs to spend an extra amount of time reviewing all the books in our bookstore so nothing with questionable theology will be available to the congregation.  And what about spiritual entrepreneurs?  Freedom of speech in the church?  Freedom of religion in the church? (I'm assuming all hold to the Christian religion here, of course)  Do something out of the church program and you're a suspect.  To dissent in regards to a politician is a divine right, but to dissent in regards to a pastor is being divisive.

Again, these are my general observations.  Yours may vary, and I hope they do.


  1. Steve,

    This is an interesting comparison. I hadn't quite thought about it in these terms, but I agree with you.

    I suppose somewhere in the background for most evangelicals is the assumption that while the gov't is "bad," the institution is "good." Sadly, they cannot differentiate between the church and the institution.

    1. Eric, I think it might have something to do with a bit of dualism. You know, material is bad, spiritual is good. Something done in the world is bad, but when done in the church is good. A baptized version of authoritarianism, if you will.

  2. Steve,

    WOW! You have looked at church from a standpoint I had would have never even thought to look from! Your comparisons are stark! Things like double standard and double-minded come immediately to mind. I guess now the questions may be, "Why and how did this come about?", "Is it wrong, biblically?", and a follow-up, "What can/should we/I do about it?" Thanks for bringing this up and I look forward to any follow-ups you have pertaining to this subject. Blessings to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!


    1. Thanks for the comments, Craig. If I think of anything else - and have time - I'll post it!

  3. I don't think it is THAT bad, but you make a point. One of the contentions with programs, is that they are distant and top down. Local programs with local oversight are not problematic, from that perspective.

  4. Really insightful, Steve. I, like Craig, never would've seen or thought of this. And, I must say, I'm as intrigued and interested. Craig's questions are great. I would love to see a follow-up blog about this.

    Much grace and peace, brother.

  5. I think it is much worse than you state. Good job at keeping it toned down and spoken civilly!

    As you know, I've experienced first hand virtually all that you wrote, except perhaps a pastor calling for a tithe/giving increase and that being met with praise.

    The church of Jesus Christ should be soooooo far beyond these things it isn't even funny. And the results are being reaped across the nation. Witness the dead and dying church, with a small remnant here and there crawling out of the wreckage, but still on their hands and knees rather than leading the culture with their inspired ways.