It is safe to say I have been deluged with questions for pastoral counsel regarding how Christians should respond to the “Cares Act 2020” and with the recently increased resources provided to enlarge it, the questions have unsurprisingly intensified. But, by far the most asked question has been, “Should churches apply for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)?” We have been assured by members of the present Administration and by highly competent Christian lawyers that there is no legal reason not to apply nor are there any “hidden traps” if you do apply. So, should we or should we not apply? My counsel—No, do not apply. This begs the next question, “Why not?”
I fully recognize that we need to give one another latitude and the judgment of charity as we work through this issue. But my counsel remains—“No, do not apply.” Here are seven reasons why. But to be clear that while these reasons are determinative for our Session the reality is Briarwood and its ministries likely would not qualify anyway. But, if we did, here are the seven reasons we would not apply.
- Ethical—More than one leader from different churches has said, “Pastor, this is ‘free money. It would be bad stewardship not to apply for it.” My answer is—There is no such thing as “free money” just like there is no such thing as a “free lunch.” The Bible clearly teaches that economic wealth has to be created and even wealth that is given was first created and like the proverbial “free lunch” ultimately comes with expectations.
In this case the “money” being distributed has two sources of origin. The first is taxation. The money is being drawn from taxes that either have been paid or the anticipation of taxes which will be paid. The second source is money now being printed. In reality, it is being printed at a rate far beyond the “stimulus bill” passed by the previous Administration as a means to fund a “stimulus” initiative. Printed money is not “free money” either. It adds to our national debt which will be passed on to our children and our children’s children to be paid in the future. So how is this an ethical problem?
The fact is churches do not pay taxes and that is for a specific reason. The reason churches are not taxed is not to provide a “government benefit” for churches but in recognition that the power to tax is the power to control. The Government is not Constitutionally allowed to control the Church. Therefore, the Government is not allowed to tax the Church nor does the Church tax the government. Furthermore, the Church is not to be underwritten or supported by the Government with the taxes of citizens paid to the government. This Reformation-initiated policy eventually codified in our Constitution is crucial to the well-being of the State and the Church which is why it is the “first” of the six affirmations identified in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
Simply put the money offered in this “Act” is based upon taxes paid now or will be paid in the future by citizens or their children. Churches have not and God-willing will not be paying taxes. The Church does not support “Caesar” and therefore ethically should not seek or receive support from “Caesar.” If it does, the Bible is clear—what “Caesar” supports, “Caesar” will eventually own. Therefore, we do not look to “Caesar” for the support of Christ’s Church but to Christ who supports His Church through the sacrificial giving and loving stewardship of His people.
- Let me hasten to say that Christian Individuals and Christian business owners do and will pay taxes so I would simply say pastorally to them that they have the Christian liberty to seek the Lord’s “wisdom from above” and make wise and honest business decisions which honor the Lord, their families, employees and customers in determining whether or not they should take advantage of the provisions in the Cares Act.
- Theological and Functional—The “Cares Act” gives two ways for “small businesses” who qualify to apply for relief. But whichever path is chosen it will be administered by the Federal Government through the “Small Business Administration” (SBA). The Church is not a “Business.” We are the Church. Does the church overlap with a right use of business policies and practices? Yes. But we are not a business. I do not know any of my colleagues in ministry who would not strenuously proclaim the unique message, ministry and means of ministry which Christ Himself has designed and ordained for His Church. So simply put if we are not a “business,” why would we apply for relief as a “business,” especially in light of the fact that we proclaim from our pulpits and in our Confessions that we are not a “business”?
Furthermore, why would we carelessly give the Government a mixed signal and in so doing set a precedent for a future Government/Administration to use our own actions to place us under SBA regulations specifically in the use of our facilities and Federal demands for compliance within our employment standards and policies?
- Wisdom—While it is true that this present Administration has written the “Cares Act” with assurance that there will be no loss of “religious liberty,” it must be remembered that this Administration will eventually be replaced. In fact, the next Presidential election is only months away. And elections have consequences. Furthermore, it has become abundantly clear that the present “sexual revolution” is not looking for toleration but for capitulation. It has and will use Government power and authority to achieve its objectives by curtailing the “religious liberty” of individual Christians, Christian ministries and Churches unless prevented by law. So, if the Church seeks or receives support from the SBA oversight of the “Cares Act” and the SBA is on record as assigning civil rights to “sexual behavior” then the eventual Governmental invasion of employment policies and practices is virtually assured and now invited.
- A Challenge and Opportunity—If the Lord’s Church appeals to the Government for support and relief then the Lord’s people will be “robbed” of an opportunity to be challenged in their stewardship to faithfully and sacrificially love and serve their Lord by giving to His Church for the fulfillment of its Mission/Purpose as His Church. This challenge/opportunity is not only one for giving but also one for budgetary evaluations. Perhaps there are various items that have crept into the life and therefore the budget of the church that not only can but perhaps should be removed. This “present distress” may be providing an occasion for such ministry and personnel auditing. Furthermore, this is an opportunity for those of us who receive “double honor” as pastors to willingly take reductions if necessary or become bi-vocational to assist in meeting the challenges and opportunities resulting from this “present distress”.
- Legacy Testimonies—When God supplies the needs of His Church Providentially through the sacrificial giving of His people then, not only will they have personal testimonies but our churches will also have “legacy testimonies” of God’s faithfulness to proclaim to a watching world and to our children and their children’s children. These blessed “legacy stories” of God’s faithfulness and the sacrificial love of His people for Him and His Church will be a treasury of rich encouragement to be told for the generations to come.
- Biblical Connectionalism—Not only does the Lord provide Providentially through the members and friends of a local church in moments like this but He also works through local churches ministering to one another. As He provides to one church, that church may be blessed with resources beyond its present needs and can then share with other churches. “Freely we have received…freely shall we give.”
- Limited Resources and Loving our Neighbors—The “Cares Act” has limited resources available to “small businesses.” If we as Christian churches and ministries draw from it then those resources are further reduced and small businesses will be turned down and possibly close resulting in further job losses for their employees and services for their customers all of whom are our neighbors. Our Lord has promised to meet “our needs” and He has the resources to do so. Let’s leave government resources for those who are struggling in light of government guidelines that affected their businesses as we call upon the Lord to meet our needs “in Christ Jesus.”
As previously stated, I believe we need to be gracious with one another as we work our way through the decision of whether we should or should not participate in the “Cares Act” and this has been written in that spirit. But my final thought is simple. When our Savior gave the instruction to His Disciples “to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the things that are God’s to God”, He provided an amazing principle that should be handled carefully in the richness of its multi-faceted implications and applications all of which are beyond the scope of this article. But one inescapable implication is that “Caesar” gives with expectations. Those who receive from Caesar will eventually be called upon to “render” back to Caesar.
“I will build my Church”
“My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.”