A Church That Reads the Signs of the Times


Karl Barth supposedly said that preachers should preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Given the sorry state of the prophetic voice in the American Church today, perhaps that’s the wisest approach we can take given the circumstances.

Just last week, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal entitled “A Tax Revolt Is Quietly Brewing In Some States.” An excerpt:

On Election Day, Massachusetts will vote on whether to eliminate its state income tax. Advocates hope victory in a place long thought of as a free-spending liberal bastion will pave the way for similar initiatives in other states over the next few years. Critics insist a yes vote would lead to fiscal disaster.

While Americans are focusing on the presidential and congressional races, voters in Massachusetts and other states will decide the fate of dozens of state and local tax and spending issues.

The article goes on to note that several states face this type of citizen-inspired tax repudiation come November and beyond, not just Massachusetts. People are tired of cronyism, waste (studies peg wasted tax monies in Massachusetts at 41 percent of the state budget), and the fact that too many people are on the dole as employees of governmental agencies at all levels. In my state, Ohio, I saw a figure recently that claimed that 37 percent of employed workers in the state worked directly for a local, city, county, state, or federal government agency.

That’s utterly ridiculous. No wonder people are fed up. (Note: I am not against government. Obviously, we need certain government functions like our representative assemblies,  military, and law enforcement. The issue here is one of scope and sprawl and the ability to justify the amount of money it takes to defend and fund that bloat. That’s what has so many people upset.)

But that’s not the point of this post. Can you tell what is? Church, can we read between the lines on this tax revolt issue?

If we can’t, we need to learn. We need to be smarter about these things. If our self-anointed prophets are unreliable, then we need to improve how we comprehend the signs of the times.

What happens when the government is forced to make cuts because of reduced revenues? Social services go bye-bye.

Here’s the $64,000 question: Who will pick up the slack when social services taste the business end of the axe blade?

Too many Christians glamorize the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s in this country. They look at those years as the golden age of Christianity in America, the age of Norman Rockwell paintings depicting families praying together, the age of Leave It to Beaver and good, solid, Christian values.

But that would be denial.

Because what happened during those glory days was a wholesale abandonment by the American Church of the social services it alone provided the least of these. Christians shirked their duties as they caved to Industrialism and consumerism, jettisoning their responsibility to care for the downtrodden, instead voting to let the government assume that role, a role government was never designed to handle. That, in turn, weakened our resolve as a nation and forced us to suck at a socialistic, governmental teat.

And now some people are sick of the results because it’s hurting them in the one thing they value more than anything else: their wallets.

This I ask: Anyone care to guess how many churches in Massachusetts, or any of those other tax revolt states, are prepared to handle social services when the government can no longer afford to maintain them?


What’s your church’s plan to care for the mentally disabled?

What’s your church’s plan to care for the senior citizens in your community?

What’s your church’s plan to deal with those families who don’t have enough food and must subsist on government handouts that are most likely going away?

What’s your church’s plan?

Our churches don’t have a plan, do they?

Consider this passage of Scripture:

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
—Acts 11:27-30

Did the early Church sit idle, only to react too late, or were they proactive? When I hear people saying that the revelatory gifts aren’t for today, 'The Good Samaritan' by François-Léon SicardI ask how they expect to ever be proactive in times of distress. Has the kind of crisis we see here in Acts 11 ever stopped happening? Shouldn’t the Church always be ready to deal with this kind of thing, supernatural revelation or not?

It’s bad enough that we either despise prophecy or we gather false prophets around us, but isn’t it even worse that we get fair warning from secular sources and can’t even react to that? Just how dull are we?

Regular readers are surely tired of me beating these kinds of dead horse issues, but why is it that we are NEVER prepared?

For all those going on and on about an end-times revival, I say this: Here’s your chance. Because no one is more open to the Gospel than the person in dire need of a social service who then finds a born-again Christian ready and willing to help. Nothing verifies the Gospel in the minds of jaded people than to see the Church actually bringing its doing in line with its speaking.

A great opportunity looms before us. Are we going to run with it now or will we once again wait until its too late?

17 thoughts on “A Church That Reads the Signs of the Times

  1. Massachussetts churches could say after the sales tax is abolished: Keep your receipts, calculate what your sales tax would be on what you buy, and donate that money to the church.

  2. David Riggins

    One thing that will come from slashed local, state and federal budgets will be a drop of those employed by the 60,000 or so governments that make up these United States. If 37% of Ohio is employed by governments of various stripes, then look for the unemployment roles to expand as tax revenue shrinks.

    But I’ve noticed a trend in government spending, which is to spend on social programs to the detriment of necessary services such as maintenance and repair. In a way, our various governments have swung far into the realm of “proper” and abandoned “necessary”. The result is a government that is in many cases so busy keeping itself in power that it no longer can provide those services which define good governance. Whither then?

    I have argued for years that we find ourselves in this situation, not because our government has failed us, but because the Church has failed to do it’s proper job. If the only source of positive change on this planet is Jesus Christ, and the primary source of the manifestation of His power is through His Body, then we have failed in our task. The only task before us now is repentance, and to seek that which was lost. It may be that economic collapse is not, from an eternal perspective, a bad thing.

    • David,

      There was a scandal in Ohio a few years back that $870 million in social services monies had vanished and could not be accounted for. Problem was that it was accounted for. It could be found in the mansions, Porsches, and cushy lifestyles of those rip-off artists who called themselves directors of social services. By all means, send those people to jail and stop funding their thievery.

      I have many thoughts about this, but if I express them or if I respond as to why the situation is how you say it is (and you’re right), it can only end badly for me, so I will shut up at this point.

  3. Go to social services before the doors open one morning. You will find a captive audience. Ask people what they need. Find out what social services does not cover. Inquire among other churches and ministries what services they already provide (since, in my experience, much is provided, but not adequately advertised). Match up people with what they need. Invite them to church.

  4. Diane R

    Well of course churches cannot do social services Dan. They’re too busy with THEIR “ministry” and life coaching…..:)

    On another front, I am very much for the flat tax and a national sales taxes. That way, the very rich cannot have loopholes and with a low national sales tax (not on necessities like food) all of the “underground” economy will have to finally pay up–the illegals, druggies and dealers, pimps and prostitutes, as well as all of those working udner the table.

  5. I am reminded of this verse in Titus:

    And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.

    I believe the issue is a lack of true understanding & representation of the culture of the Kingdom. If our corporate, outward expression of Christ was legit we would find that not only pressing social needs would be met, but spiritual, emotional and physical needs as well.

    I am also reminded of a great book by Stephanie Coontz titled “The Way Things Never Were.” It speaks directly to the nostalgic “good ol’ days” mentality and lifts the facade on the “Leave It To Beaver” ideal.

    BTW – I appreciate reading your thoughts.

  6. hans

    Heres what I did since I believe in the concept of tithing but am not happy with how the church uses the funds generally speaking , or the way government can waste money.

    Myself and four others ( similar thinking ) got together and formed a charitable foundation dedicated to raising funds to disperse to qualified charitable organizations ( in our case Godly organizations run by Godly people doing good works for the benefit of mankind )

    The funds are raised by our tithing, we get to make sure they go to a good cause, and in the process get a nice receipt to apply against our income tax thus cutting down on governmental waste

    It’s quite simple really…

  7. alan

    Dan, I’m about to disagree with you, so let me indulge the usual perfunctory compliments prior to my disagreement (g).

    I stumbled across your site a few weeks ago – not sure how it was linked. Anyway, I have been truly blessed and challenged by the “100 truths in 30 years” post. I’ve been a believer for 42 years, and have started working on a similar list. Some seasons of life I have wondered far from the Truth I knew as a younger person, but God has been faithful to bring me back each time.

    Now, to the point of this blog “A Church That Reads The Sign of The Times”. I agree with your intent that churches should stand ready to assist in the practical needs of the less fortunate. In fact, churches should not wait for a reduction in government services to proactively move in this area. There exists already a large need – even with all of the government services available. Churches need not wait on a shift in government resources in order to have opportunities to serve in this realm.

    My disagreement is that the tax reduction ballot measure – even if it passes at the polls – will unlikely ever be implemented. The public employees unions have too much sway to let that happen. There is no jungle animal as tenacious as an entrenched bureaucrat defending its turf. None – not any wild beast – will fight as hard, as long, or as fiercely, as a group of public employees about to be terminated. I hope I am proven wrong, but I don’t see it happening.

  8. “Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. ” Acts 11:27-30

    To me, the interesting thing about the Antioch Church is not that they took an offering for the Jerusalem Church without expecting the Roman government to implement an aid program. It is the fact that they did so while expecting that they, too, would be in need due to the same famine (“over all the world”). I guess they expected God to provide for them even as He used them to provide for their brothers.

    Perhaps that is what is wrong with the Church today. We limit God’s ability to provide for us, and we limit His ability to use us to provide for others. Faith is not shown in trusting God to provide for the Church’s budget. It is seen in sending away today’s offering at His direction.

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