British agency is requiring open communion

A British commission is refusing to allow a Plymouth Brethren church to be registered as a charity because it practices closed communion:

A government agency that oversees charities in the United Kingdom has decided that a local Christian congregation cannot be registered because it does not open its communion services to just any outsider.

The decision by the U.K.’s Charity Commission is being reported by The Christian Institute, which has been working on the case of the Plymouth Brethren assembly in Devon for seven years.

Without registration, the group would be subject to a number of government restrictions that do not apply to charity organizations.

The decision “would have a huge impact on the group’s tax relief and would also have other implications,” said the institute in a report.

The report said the congregation’s elders testified to a select committee of Parliament last week.

The government has determined the group cannot be registered because it has decided that its communion services are for members only.

“During the evidence a letter from the commission’s head of legal services emerged claiming that churches cannot be assumed to be acting for the public good,” the report said.

The institute said it is working on the case because of the need to protect religious liberty for all church groups.

A statement released by the government agency said, “The application [from the church] was not accepted on the basis that we were unable to conclude that the organization is established for the advancement of religion for public benefit within the relevant law.”

The institute said Conservative Member of Parliament Charlie Elphicke speculated whether the government agency was “actively trying to suppress religion in the U.K., particularly the Christian religion.”

According to a report from the Telegraph of London, the faith group is planning to take the battle to the European Court of Human Rights if needed.

via Government regulates church communion.

I don’t pretend to understand church-state relations under British law, and I think I must be missing something.  Roman Catholic churches don’t practice open communion.  Are they registered as “charities”?  Also, there is a small but vibrant group of confessional Lutherans in England.  Are they in the same jeopardy?  And what does it mean to be a registered charity in England?  Is that the same as our “non-profit” status, with all of the tax deductions that makes possible?  If anyone knows anything about this, please comment.

Is this an example of the state control of churches in a country that does not have our separation of church and state?  Or is it a foretaste of what American Christians will face also if they are not sufficiently “inclusive” according to the canons of state-mandated toleration?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    The state is wrong, period. The state does not have the right to dictate a church’s doctrinal position concerning communion.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    The state is wrong, period. The state does not have the right to dictate a church’s doctrinal position concerning communion.

  • Jon

    Registered Charities means much the same as a 501( c)(3) for the British. It means that Subjects get to take a tax deduction off amounts they give to Registered Charities.

    We attended, and were so grateful for, the ELCE while we were in England.

  • Jon

    Registered Charities means much the same as a 501( c)(3) for the British. It means that Subjects get to take a tax deduction off amounts they give to Registered Charities.

    We attended, and were so grateful for, the ELCE while we were in England.

  • DonS

    Yet another warning sign.

  • DonS

    Yet another warning sign.

  • http://thinkingwithareformedmind.blogspot.com Steven Mitchell

    Characterizing the matter as one of simply communion is a bit misleading. It has to do with the ‘public benefit’, not so much with communion itself. If you want to see the committee hearing on the matter, it is available here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11642

  • http://thinkingwithareformedmind.blogspot.com Steven Mitchell

    Characterizing the matter as one of simply communion is a bit misleading. It has to do with the ‘public benefit’, not so much with communion itself. If you want to see the committee hearing on the matter, it is available here: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11642

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I found this article while Googling. It makes things a little clearer.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I found this article while Googling. It makes things a little clearer.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Shall UK mosques be required to allow women to pray in the men’s section?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Shall UK mosques be required to allow women to pray in the men’s section?

  • helen

    Sg @6
    Sharia law will be accepted for non muslims sooner!

  • helen

    Sg @6
    Sharia law will be accepted for non muslims sooner!

  • http://simonpotamos.org.uk Tapani Simojoki

    Sounds like a rogue ruling, the Charity Commissioners picking on a small entity. That’s not in line with standard practice. In this country, the RCC and the Lutheran church are charities, as are the Orthodox churches. Incidentally, so are many so-called public schools (‘prep schools’ in US terminology) and other private schools, for whose benefit you will need to pay through the nose.

    Mind you, it’s not that hard to invisage a case like this setting a precedent for a future, harder time for Christian churches.

  • http://simonpotamos.org.uk Tapani Simojoki

    Sounds like a rogue ruling, the Charity Commissioners picking on a small entity. That’s not in line with standard practice. In this country, the RCC and the Lutheran church are charities, as are the Orthodox churches. Incidentally, so are many so-called public schools (‘prep schools’ in US terminology) and other private schools, for whose benefit you will need to pay through the nose.

    Mind you, it’s not that hard to invisage a case like this setting a precedent for a future, harder time for Christian churches.


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