"And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be
Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's."
We're beginning to hear a little more these days (not nearly enough, mind
you) about the increasing persecution of the church throughout the world.
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In China, in Southeast Asia, in Sudan and other hellholes around the
globe, governments have declared war on Christians. They kill them. They
scatter them. They bomb them. They attempt to force conversions. Sometimes
they even literally crucify them.
But we seldom hear about a growing trend developing right here in the
good old USA in which the state targets churches' First Amendment rights.
Let me give you a few recent examples that haven't yet exploded on to the
front pages of newspapers across America:
- In sleepy little Jacksonville, Ore., a charming town in many
ways, the city council is restricting the hours and activities of a local
church because of concerns about noise and traffic. The local governing body
has set the hours at First Presbyterian Church from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday
through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The church was ordered closed
all day Saturday. The congregation wishes to build a 400-seat sanctuary and
a new education building on 10 acres it owns because it has outgrown its
current 120-year-old site downtown. But the council says the church may not
hold weddings or funerals at its new building, serve alcohol on the premises
or have more than 40 cars in the parking lot on weekdays. Even the city
administrator of the town, Paul Wyntergreen, tried to warn the council that
it was on thin ice legally. "We're raising a red flag," he said. "If we try
to limit use, it's not just a constitutional issue, but an enforcement
issue." But Planning Commissioner Debbie Sharp countered with this: "If we
say 'no' to Saturday activities, the neighbors could at least have one day a
week of peace."
- In the city of Groves, Texas, His House Family Church has been forced
to sue officials to use its own church building downtown. Groves zoning laws
require all churches to obtain permission to operate within the city. The
planning and zoning commission recommended denial of a permit on the basis
of the church's proximity to a middle-class neighborhood. Some members of
the community have complained about the church attracting "unwanted
elements." The pastor has been criticized for an unorthodox preaching style.
David Starnes, the church's attorney put it this way: "If the church were to
hang a sign in front saying 'Beer Joint & Bar,' it could exist. It just
cannot be a church. This is an absurd violation of our Constitution."
- In Indianapolis, a confrontation has been shaping up for some time
between the government and the Temple Baptist Church. The church is defying
a court order to vacate and allow for confiscation of the property April 10
as a result of failure to pay taxes. The church is not a registered 501c3,
but operates a free and independent school. There is concern that the
situation is so explosive in Indianapolis that the church might soon be the
scene of the kind of violent siege the federal authorities created at the
church of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.
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Are these merely three isolated examples of bizarre decisions made
by government officials not thinking too clearly? Or is there more here than
meets the eye? Could these be early warnings that America -- for all its
talk of "tolerance" -- is succumbing to the worst kind of prejudice and
The Founding Fathers of this great nation led us through a revolution and
established a system of government designed specifically to keep the long
arm of the state out of the pews and out of the pulpit. But it's not just
government that must shoulder the blame. Government is merely doing what we
should expect government to do -- continually extend its reach for power and
Many churches in America have grown fat and lazy. They have accepted the
notion that they must comply with arguably constitutional federal tax laws
and selectively enforced non-profit regulations. They have failed to engage
the culture and retreated to their own conclaves. They have permitted the
state to assume responsibility for feeding the hungry and caring for the
They have submitted themselves to the authority of Caesar, rather than to
the authority and will of God.
If the church in America doesn't wake up soon to what's happening, it may
soon find itself in a much worse predicament -- like the brethren around the
world now fighting for their very survival.