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by J. Edward Mendez, RNS, with reporting by Jason BaileyA couple observations:
"A Washington-area megachurch filed a federal lawsuit July 3 challenging a government ruling that it was improperly holding seminary-level classes on church grounds.
The nondenominational McLean Bible Church, which draws about 9,500 worshipers weekly to its services in Fairfax County, Virginia, partnered with Capitol Bible Seminary in 2001 to offer Bible study and religious ministry classes. The church did not issue academic credit or confer degrees. But students were allowed to take classes at the church for credit toward a master's degree in biblical studies and theology from the seminary. ..."
9500 worshippers weekly? A former pastor described to me his reasons for leaving a large congregation in Florida to be pastor of a small congregation in Colorado. As he described the church buildings and the numbers of people at the services he said "That's not pastoring; that's ranching!"
They'd been doing this for three years? Why react now? Especially when Fairfax County issued a special use permit in 1999 with the proviso that "church facilities shall only be made available for use by groups or activities which are sponsored by the church and are consistent with its ministry objectives."
These courses may not be typical of the offerings of the average congregation, but the content surely is in line with teaching the faith. The reasoning put forth by the planning and zoning people is a little troubling.
The congregation in which I worship is in a university town, and among other disciplines represented in the membership is theology. If a university professor teaches a course (and they do from time to time), does it change the character of the Christian Education offerings from being a simple Sunday School to being an institution of higher learning?
Links from the Christianity Today Article:
religion, christianity, church and state