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.
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?