Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Does 501c3 Faith-Based Status Legitimize Christian Ministry?

   Keeping in mind, that a congregation can be composed of only two or three [it was Jesus, himself, who said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name..."], the first question most people ask about a fellowship is, "How large is your congregation?" as if it makes the slightest bit of difference. 
   That question is irrelevant and wrong. 
   The size of a church fellowship makes absolutely no difference in either relevance or impact. 
   People may find mega-churches socially satisfying, but that same mega-church may produce few soul-winners, whereas a single pair of Christians on fire for God, may win many more people to Jesus, and inspire countless others to good works in his name.  
   That is why believers who love God, serve God, and feel fulfilled and satisfied when they are being obedient to God in small assemblies, should not feel condemned by the "big church" people who may view small ministries as irrelevant. 
   Those in tiny groups may hear terms like, "Lone Ranger Christians," meant to put down those who may not be supported by larger, 501c3, congregations. They are told they need the "covering" or "protection" of a larger group in order for their ministry to "prosper." This line of reasoning comes from priest-craft and is unscriptural.
   Look at John the Baptist. He was a prophet of the priestly line, but chose to associate with a reclusive sect and preached itinerantly in the wilderness. He won countless people to the Messiah. Jesus said of John, that he was the greatest of all prophets, yet John was an itinerant thorn in the side of organized religion. 
   Itinerant ministries and home-based groups are still thorns in the sides of many [not all] 501c3 faith-based ministry organizations.
    Jesus said, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." It is not size, or state sponsored 501c3 status, that counts. It is calling and obedience.    
   Some He calls to be apostles. These, according to Paul, do not build on another's foundation, but rather go out and begin brand-new works (or fellowships). They may or may not petition the Government for tax free, 501c3, status.  
   They may visit, or spend seasons with other fellowships. When this happens, they should be welcomed and refreshed, but never berated for being "church-hoppers" or "lone ranger Christians." Especially when those being critical and passing judgement over the lives of fellow-believers don't know [personally] the ones they are criticizing. This kind of criticism comes from the evil one--not from God--no matter how well-meaning the ones passing judgement may tell themselves it is.
   A salient question for today is, will 501c3 status [or lack thereof] serve to legitimize or delegitimize ministries? For many Christians, the answer is, Yes. And that is a sad commentary on the overall attitude and discernment of professing Christians today. 
  Apostles are ground-breakers, and often itinerant. Most local fellowships are built upon the foundational work of apostles, whether they are acknowledge as such or not. Whether it is an independent fellowship or part of a larger denomination, an apostle may have founded it, but that fact is often ignored or denied by present leadership. 
   After a visionary apostle founds a ministry, 501c3 status can indeed be helpful. In today's climate, with present Homeland Security laws, it is difficult for congregations to function without one. But what about the next Ministry Gift given to THE CHURCH? That of prophet? Prophets are raised up from within the Body of Christ and would often serve the entire Body but for denominational separation. 
   All the ministry gifts of God transcend denominational lines. It is only sin and selfishness that separates the Body of Christ from one another, and steals the blessings of unity. 
   God raises up ministers and ministries to all people in all places, and these ministries may appear quite differently one from the other. The apostle Paul recognized this when he said, "I will be all things to all people so that by any means some shall be saved."
   Now, we come to evangelists.
   All missionaries are evangelists. But all evangelists are not sent out from, nor supported by, local 501c3 organizations. Just as it is God (not local churches) who calls apostles and prophets, so He calls evangelists. 
   All evangelists are not apostles. They do not necessarily establish new works--overseeing the spiritual growth of their converts, but rather the focus is on soul winning, in a very focused and effective way. They keep moving, sowing the seed of the Word of God everywhere they go.
   The ministry gift of shepherd is what we call pastor.  Pastors who establish their own congregations may also be apostles. Pastors may also be teachers, but not all teachers are pastors. Every fellowship usually has a shepherd. Does the size of a flock matter?
   So how large is your church? 
   Does it matter? 
  You are the church. And Jesus said, " Where two or three are gathered together..." in His name, there He is also. Jesus is who legitimizes his flock. And where Jesus is, His flock is. And the size of the various local flocks (and we hope there are many!), is entirely irrelevant.

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