How many more people would have ended up costing tax-payers millions in jail if Christ had not intervened in their lives? How much more would the government have had to spend on welfare payments for single moms if the church had not been helping people through hard times to keep their marriages intact? How overloaded would social services be without Christians volunteering in food banks? The list of areas of social involvement is long, and the societal benefits from countless dysfunctional people having their lives turned around by the power of the gospel which transformed them into productive citizens are impossible to quantify. As the debt loads in the western world increase and the state's ability to support welfare programs shrinks, the role of the church to serve in society is expanding.
The value of this saltiness has been recognized for many years in churches being granted charitable status. But now, in a precedent setting case in the UK, that charitable status is in jeopardy because of a ruling that one church did not exist for the public benefit.
Moving beyond the particular church in question, the Charity Commission has declared that Christianity is not necessarily for the public good. The specific dilemma was that a congregation of Plymouth Brethren in Devon practice "closed communion" - the bread and wine are only offered to those who are members in good standing. That would also be the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. Without any recognition that the church may have other value to the wider community beyond its refusal to offer bread and wine on Sunday mornings, the church has been denied charitable status.
But the issue is broader than the dilemmas of a single church that some might consider to be rather exclusive. When he wrote a letter to the Plymouth Brethren explaining the decision, Kenneth Dibble, head of legal services for the Charity Commission, made that point strongly. In an article in 'Christian Concern' he is quoted as writing:
"The decision makes it clear that there was no presumption that religion generally, or at any more specific level, is for the public benefit, even in the case of Christianity or the Church of England" . Read more...
So - Christianity is no longer considered "for the public benefit". That begs the question: Are we too salty (and the world has a distaste for the flavour we bring to the culture)? Or, are we not salty enough (having lost our saltiness we are now, as Jesus warned, being thrown out and trampled under people's feet)? Perhaps Jesus' words are a warning that, when the world objects to our role in the broader culture, the appropriate response is not to retreat to become blandly inoffensive, but rather to spice it up. They key to being able to remain in the public arena, at least in Jesus's words is to be more salty rather than less!