Of church constitutions and global evil

By , 13 June 2008 7:10 pm

I thought I would take a short break from talking about my books this week. We writers need to remember that there is a real world out site there! However, to the curious, let me say that the books seem to be going reasonably well with some obviously very happy readers. But I would still like to get some really good serious reviews that would have people ordering them from their libraries, buying them from their shops and denouncing them from their pulpits!

And so to something else. I was doing freelance writing in September 2001 and on that fateful day clearly remember seeing in a glance at the BBC web news a garbled newsflash about ‘a plane hitting the World Trade Center’. It wasn’t long before I found myself glued to the television. Had I not been in the middle of a book project, I might have suggested to the reasonably big name evangelical I was working with at the time that we do something fast on the event and its implications. After all, I could with some justification claim to talk knowledgeably about the Middle East and terrorism. Anyway I’m glad I didn’t; much of what has happened in the seven years since would have confounded my predictions.

Some things I would have got right. I would have guessed at George and Tony’s Big Adventure in the Middle East but would, I think, have assumed that Afghanistan was going to be its sole target. Even then I was never convinced of Saddam being a fan of Al Qaeda. I would have guessed that we would be increasingly nice to many very horrible people in the Middle East as long as they were ‘our sort’ of horrible people. That sadly has proved to be true: we don’t talk much about human rights in the Arab world now. I would have foreseen the rise of the security culture but not I think its scary extent: I doubt I would have predicted the way in which Brazilian plumbers can be executed by the police on the Tube, the way that we now lock people up without trial or the extent to which torture is now allowed.

There are many other things that I would probably either have not seen or got badly wrong. I would have predicted that Islam would become very unpopular. What I did not foresee is that Christianity, a much softer target, seems to have suffered a great deal of abuse in its place. Indeed there is an unfortunate irony (which the British government came close to admitting earlier this week), that the past few years have – at least on the surface – been good for Islam because the state has actually invested much in working with Muslims at the expense of Christianity in order to try to neutralise radical Islam. I don’t think either I would have seen the breathtaking audacity of some within the Islamic community in blaming us in the West for causing 9/11 through heavy-handed and partisan involvement in the Middle East.

The one major thing that I probably would not have predicted is how far ranging the repercussions of 9/11 would actually be. This was brought home to me last night in the seemingly unrelated context of a church leaders meeting to discuss our new constitution. The British Charities Commission has come up with various new rules on what constitutes a charity; this has been refined by the Baptist Union and we have been looking at implementing it for our church constitution. The extraordinary fact is that much of the wording is clearly designed primarily to keep mosques out of the hands of fanatics. Charitable religious organisations now need to have detailed published accounts, a defined quorum for meetings, transparent administrative structures and measures in place to stop sudden shifts of power. You almost expected to come across a clause which said ‘all documents need to be submitted to the Security Services’. Truly, in falling, the Twin Towers cast a long, dark shadow across the world

Which brings us back to literature. Those who read the final book in the Lamb Among the Stars series will realise that the matter of evil and the way in which it can contaminate those who seek to battle against it is a major theme. It is always hard to keep your hands clean: the more deadly the evil the more likely that we will be contaminated ourselves.

PS: My website should be up shortly with a new design. Let me know what you think.

6 Responses to “Of church constitutions and global evil”

  1. Boaz says:

    One thing that has baffled me regarding church constitutions is why they are not drawn according to scripture. Were I a church elder in a church that was drafting a consitution, I would certainly campaign for everything in the constitution to be scripturally mandated. Anything beyond that would be in laws or bylaws that may be difficult to change, but would be subordinate to th constitution (which itself would be subordinate to scripture).

    As an interesting aside, what rights (if any) should an officer of the government have that an ordinary person does not (from a scriptural standpoint)? For instance, criminal punishment is restricted to officers of the government. As Paul writes, “The officer is God’s servant for your protection. But if you are leading a wicked life you have reason to be alarmed. The ‘power of law’ which is vested in very legitimate officer is no empty phrase. He is, in fact, divinely appointed to inflict punishment upon evil-doers.” (Romans 13:4, J.B. Phillips translation) Is there a branch of theology that deals with the right powers of government?

  2. Chris says:


    As I understand it almost all churches agree on the need to have formal members. And there is not a single scripture on membership!


  3. Catherine Brislee says:


    As someone who takes care of charity accounts for a living, I’m confused. Are you saying that you don’t want to publish your accounts, you don’t want transparency, and you want to leave room for the possibility of sudden shifts of power?

    Clearly the Baptist Union has fallen into the hands of fanatics and is plotting to take over the world!

  4. Chris says:


    I don’t think you are confused! I think that because churches pose no real threat to life, limb or the government they can be left to rule themselves. But we are being made to jump through a series of hoops because of 9/11! Its a mad world!


  5. Benjamin says:

    Paul also notes that the church should manage itself, punishing its people if a quarrel breaks out between two Christians–interested in any good jurisdiction…alas, the Inquisition leaves an alarm in my mind.

    Anywho, yes, I have the troubled intuition that the government will move first on our finances to restrict our freedoms to conduct Christian living. John relates that the antichrist’s power is not so much bombs as in bonds in the beginning.

    Anywho, thank you for being transparent with your concerns. Hopefully, we may yet become a truly peaceful body, alarming the government with our grace than from guns.


  6. Catherine Brislee says:

    So what you are saying, Ben, is if the Government insists that the churches obey the same laws as everyone else, then that Government is on the side of the Anti-Christ?

    I’m sorry. I don’t mean to start an argument, but I’m quite disturbed by this. No group of people, however well-meaning should be above the law. If we were talking about bad laws, that would be a different problem, but we are talking about petty, irritating, but basically sensible laws applied to charities in order to prevent the misuse of funds.

    Anyway, what happened to “Render unto Caesar..”?

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