Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…and to me what is mine

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by Kurt Burger, Lt. Colonel – 

When William Booth started The Salvation Army, things must have been simpler—I’m certain. He would have never written this: dishonesty begets more regulation, more regulation begets more administrative work, more administrative work begets more overhead cost, more overhead cost begets less direct ministry. Undoubtedly, this would have been foreign to him. But not to us.

As secretary for Business Administration for the Western Territory, it is my responsibility to monitor developments in the business and legal arena that could affect the Army and how we “do ministry.”

Increasingly, government—and some private—regulations are coming our way and more often than not, the point of origin is some scandal, some tremendous act of dishonesty. This, in turn, triggers a response from the government resulting in more laws or more reporting requirements to some watchdog agency.

Newspapers provide ample coverage of CEOs or companies that have gotten caught in dishonest dealings. For instance, the February 19, 2005 Los Angeles Times featured three articles about criminal activities on the front page of its Business section: “Ex-Executive for Boeing Is Sentenced,” “Exec Life Trial Begins for Last Defendant,” and “Blockbuster Sued Over Late-Fee Claims.”

Non-profits—faith-based and otherwise—are not immune. Plenty of regulations originate from misdeeds perpetrated by “do-gooders” claiming to be in the business of helping people but all the while engaging in self-enriching, illegal practices. For example, on September 29, 2004, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Nonprofit Integrity Act, which contained extensive requirements for governing non-profits as well as provisions regulating fundraising practices.

On the federal level, Senator Chuck Grassley, (R-Iowa), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is working on similar legislation. All of these efforts are aiming to keep organizations honest. Legislation doesn’t carry titles like Nonprofit Integrity Act for no reason. To state the obvious: our society is becoming increasingly oblivious to the importance of integrity; much is written about it, but serious and consistent application is often haphazard and selective.

Our most valuable asset
These are serious issues. The integrity of The Salvation Army is the most valuable asset we have. Everything rests on it. As Christians we look at these issues from two perspectives: the practical, we-obey-the-law-of-the-land perspective and the spiritual: Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Matt. 22:21 – NIV) However the two merge when we acknowledge that all our activities have a spiritual component. My day is not divided into secular and sacred work. My work is for the Master, all of it.

Problems begin when we ignore this foundational truth. A cartoon that appeared in The New Yorker magazine some years ago had it exactly right: Two Pilgrims were coming over on the Mayflower and one was saying, “Religious freedom is my immediate goal, but my long-range plan is to go into real estate.” (Quoted in Two Cities, Two Loves, James Montgomery Boice, InterVarsity Press, Downer Grove, Ill., 1996, p. 147) The jab was pointing at enrichment as life’s primary long-range plan. Before you know it, we live in perfect harmony with the world. We buy into the world’s agenda (Caesar) and in the process, attempt to amass more and more wealth, using the world’s methods in doing so: please Caesar…and as much as possible of what’s left will be mine. This can be true of individuals as well as organizations.

Remain true
The only way The Salvation Army can maintain its high level of integrity is to be true to its spiritual foundation. While this sounds obvious, it isn’t always evident in the chaos of daily life. Trying to comply with endless regulations invented by government can give one the feeling of spending all one’s time pleasing Caesar, not God. Facing endless pressures to finance our ministries can easily lead us to question whether we are building God’s kingdom or just trying to cover the ever-increasing cost of “doing business.”

Our foundation is built on the reality of God’s sovereignty. In spite of the world’s laws and regulations pressing in on us, it is still his church, his Army—he is ultimately in control. What does this mean in practical terms?
First, what matters is not so much God’s plan for The Salvation Army as his presence in the Army. Plans are useless, even God’s plans, if his servants won’t allow him to be present.

Second, holiness is never as important as when it comes to the mundane. True, God is ultimately in charge and all things happen according to his will; yet, for us humans, it is in the small, boring details of life’s activities—particularly when no one is watching—that integrity is of greatest importance. The need for “integrity laws” does not arise in the legislature. It originates in some act, often by one person, in the privacy of an office with eventually far reaching consequences. It can start in an officer’s study as easily as in an executive suite.

Third, Biblical values must always supersede those of the world. Otherwise, nothing will distinguish us. Absent strong spiritual values, the world will always find a way to fill the void, eventually rendering us irrelevant. It’s a difficult area, littered with gray, not enough black and white.

When William Booth started The Salvation Army, things must have been simpler—I’m certain. Were they? The following entry can be found in General Bramwell Booth’s diary, strongly hinting that things can’t have been any easier.

Indeed, the issue is never how difficult or easy things are, the issue is always whether or not God is using me or if I am using God for my own purposes. Let’s take heart from one used greatly by God:
Home about 9:00 p.m., having talked for five and a half hours, besides some other exercises. Very weary, but even so, faced at once with anxious problems affecting The Army both at home and abroad. I get many heartaches! But yet I will rejoice:
Sing without ceasing sing
My Savior’s present grace.
For all things shine,
In light Divine,
For those who’ve seen His face.

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