In a previous post (The Clash of Civilizations — A Snapshot [Part 1]), I alluded to a common understanding in the Muslim world that any land conquered/added to the Islamic kingdom of God must never be relinquished to unbelievers. It belongs to Allah and must be used for His purposes. This understanding is contained in the Arabic term “waqf”, and the Charter of Hamas employs it to justify the persistent effort to destroy the nation of Israel so as to reclaim for Allah the land of Palestine.
Those aware of the recent history of the Presbyterian Church (U.$.A.) may descry a hauntingly similar viewpoint in that denomination’s policy book, known as the Book of Order (BO). Known as “the property trust clause” and found in G-4.0203, it reads in all its glorious legalese:
All property held by or for a congregation, a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the property is used in programs of a congregation or of a higher council or retained for the production of income, is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church(U.S.A.).
This decree has been used by denominational leadership to seek to dissuade churches wishing to depart the denomination for more theologically orthodox homes. Many have been told coldly, “You are free to leave the PC (U$A) and join another denomination if you so choose, but all your property and assets (including congregational bank accounts, endowments, etc.) belong to the presbytery (representing the larger denomination) and you must leave them behind. If you try to take them with you, we will take you to court.” Indeed, in some cases this threat has been carried out. In most instances, however, the denomination imposes a cash settlement demand on the congregation to see just how willing the congregation is to pay for its property and buildings a second time. Many congregations, in their longing to be released, bow to the ransom-like demands of their presbyteries (who hold all the power cards), even though it costs them dearly.
The viewpoint of the PC (U$A) is that all these properties belong to the national institution, not to the congregations which have built and paid for them. In belonging to the denomination, these churches have demonstrated an implicit agreement to the property trust clause of the Book of Order, even though they never had any direct or conscious part in affirming that trust. Apparently the denominational leadership believes that the institution exists for its own benefit, and so all resources under its grip must stay within its iron fists, or be released only after suitable recompense has been provided.
For quite some time I have been convinced that the “property trust clause” reveals the PC (U$A)’s idolatrous heart. Notice the declaration “…held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church(U.S.A.).” Where is the recognition of Jesus Christ as Head of the Church, not just the PC (USA) but the Church Universal? Where is the understanding that “God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church” (Eph. 1:22, NLT)? Can a denomination rightly say to the people of a member congregation, “You all may belong to Christ, but your church property and assets belong to us!”, all for the purpose of benefitting that denominational institution? If Christ, the Head of the body, is calling a congregation to align itself with a different part of His body catholic, can the diminished part of the body say, “Sorry, you must compensate us first in order to be released”? Such a sense of self-importance, such an obsession with possessions, such an affront to the supremacy of Christ in all things, should not characterize any group that claims to be Christian.
Sadly, when comparing the “property trust clause” with the “waqf” of Islam, the Muslim concept ironically seems more biblical. At least for Islam, the ownership of land and possessions is recognized to be God’s, and to be used for His glory. In the fiefdom of the PC (U$A), it all belongs to the denomination, and must be kept for the “use and benefit” of said denomination, whether in the end that brings any glory to God or not.
Would it not be a witness of grace and catholic unity for the denomination to freely release and bless all congregations seeking to depart, and for such congregations in turn to offer a gift of gratitude to the denomination for its kindness and blessing? In such a scenario, amity among believers would reign, resources would be utilized for the spread of the gospel rather than the litigation of ownership, and the Lord’s authority over all His people would be acknowledged and embraced.
May this embarrassment to the cause of Christ come to an end quickly, being replaced with the desire to outdo one another in showing love and honor (Rom. 12:10).