SHOULD CHURCHES BE INCORPORATED?
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German citizen, was an active member in the anti-Hitler resistance movement. He served as a double agent for the British and in 1943 was arrested for smuggling fourteen Jews to Switzerland. For that “crime” he was hanged two years later. While imprisoned in a German concentration camp, he saluted a German officer and said “Heil Hitler” as he walked by. Bonhoeffer noticed that another prisoner next to him was refusing to salute, and whispered to him, “Salute, you fool. This isn’t worth dying for.” Yes, we must decide what is worth dying for. What battles are important and what battles are essential.
We need to choose our battles carefully, and the subject before us today is essential for our success if not our survival. Christians have come down on opposite sides of an onrushing controversy that may split friendships, fellowships, faculties, and even families. The controversy: Church incorporation. One group says that it is a minor issue, not worth discussing, while the other group says it is a major issue that must be debated to a biblical conclusion or we will end up sinking our own ship. Most discussions on this subject produce more heat than light. I hope this report will produce light with only a little heat.
I thought, studied, and prayed over this issue for many years, and have not made a hasty decision. It would be to my benefit to take the popular pro-incorporation position because most of my friends take it. Furthermore, many pastors will perceive this report as an attack on them rather than a difference of opinion. Unfortunately, that could mean that I might lose meetings or even lose the regard of some friends! Given those facts, surely my readers will concede to my sincerity. I may be wrong but at least I am sincerely trying to be a help to the church of Christ. Furthermore, I want it known that I do not speak about this issue unless requested to do so.
After thorough research, I must stand with those who take the position that churches should never be incorporated. In giving my reason for this, I will give both sides of the issue so godly pastors and church leaders can make a decision based on intelligence, not ignorance. I have written, interviewed, and discussed this issue with many Christian attorneys who deal with church-state conflicts. They (for the most part) want to compromise (the first thing an attorney learns); while Bible-believing preachers are taught that we must never compromise on absolutes. I have included the opinions of Dr. Bob Jones III, Dr. Mike Randall, Dr. Gary North, Dr. Jack Hyles, Dr. David Jaspers, Dr. Clay Nuttall, Dr. A. V. Henderson, Dr. Ron Tottingham, Dr. Roger Stiles, Dr. Greg Dixon, Dr. John Eidsmoe, Dr. R. J. Rushdoony, Christian Law Association, and many other attorneys and Bible college presidents.
I – The Premise
While discussing issues that would, if compromised, alter our faith, we will not even sit down at a negotiating table since our faith is not negotiable. For example, we can discuss eternal security, tongues, secondary separation, etc., because these issues, while very important, are not essential to our salvation and good men can disagree. However, when discussing Christ’s virgin birth, virtuous life, vicarious death, victorious resurrection or the verbal inspiration of Scripture, we cannot and will not compromise.
The same is true regarding the church. We can discuss church issues such as ecumenism, church policy, baptism, elder rule, etc., without jeopardizing our faith and our ability to propagate our life-changing message. However, the Bible teaches that Christ is head of His church and sovereign Lord. If He is, we are compelled to obey Him. If He is not, we are under no compulsion to do so. While it might be good and nice, it would not be essential.
There is the problem. If Christ is head of the church, no church can be true to His Lordship while having the state as its head. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:17-18: “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” What did Paul say? Did he say, “the head?” Yes, he said the head, and that means Christ (not the Secretary of State or the Attorney General) is over His church.
In fact, Paul here makes it clear that Christ is Sovereign over everything, (even if He is not acknowledged) and if that sounds as if I’m an extremist, then make the most of it. When Pilate was boasting to Christ about how much power he possessed and what he could do to Christ, Christ put him in his place by declaring: “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it was given thee from above….” Rulers, even wicked rulers rule by permission of God as Daniel 2:21 says: “…he removeth kings, and setteth up kings…” However, it is my opinion that no sovereign on earth believes that today.
When early European kings ascended the throne at their coronation, the people shouted, “Christ has conquered! Christ rules! Christ is King!” Even the dullest king or emperor understood that he had a Sovereign whose name was Jesus! Modern political leaders don’t believe that, and many preachers act as if they don’t believe it either!
When churches incorporate they, in effect, have taken sides with the Jews who yelled in John 19:15: “We have no king but Caesar.” Note that those were Jews who hated everything associated with the Romans who had occupied their land! While they hated Rome, they had capitulated to Roman authority (sovereignty) for convenience and safety. They had accommodated themselves to Rome and were consequently tolerated by those authorities. A few years later, Christians refused to worship at pagan temples and burn incense to Caesar and were considered “atheists.” Rome tried to “break” their independent and Christ-dedicated spirit which boldly proclaimed Christ being superior and sovereign over Roman authorities! Was that not civil disobedience? If so, then why is that issue debated today among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists?
I do not sit in judgment of Christian leaders’ sincerity when they take the pro-incorporation position, but I do question their information and their wisdom. I don’t question their motives, and I trust they will not assign evil motives to me. I say with a great Anabaptist leader, “If I have taught only truth, why abuse me? If error, any man may set me in the right way with the spiritual Word. As man I may very well err, but will be no heretic.” I welcome any corrections in my theology, facts, or logic.
I am not anti-government since government is of God, but government out of control is like fire out of control. I love my country but am suspicious of my government. I think that is healthy and even Christian. One thing has always been true: Government always expands its control. Always! That is why many intellectuals are pushing for world government. People who don’t know that are “out of the loop.”
There is no doubt that government is of God (although not so much government), and it has an obligation to promote peace. Good government provides order, security, and stability to the citizenry. Christians must always support such efforts, and even pray for those in authority. When subversive elements attack legitimate government, authorities must act to put down those elements. Communism was an example. Islam is a present threat to our way of life. State and Federal authorities have an obligation to prosecute Muslims who are determined to undermine our order, security, and stability. So, what if leaders of a “church” are planning the same? Officials must go after such “religious” leaders, but can not be in the position of deciding between “good” and “bad” religion.
So what should be done when authorities discover that a “church” exists but only consists of a man’s family, and it is obvious that it is a scam to escape taxes and to get special tax treatment? I am somewhat sympathetic with the IRS (did I really write that?) in that matter; however, the answer is to eliminate tax deductions for contributions to all churches, foundations, universities, etc. Until then, I would rather the IRS have problems with an occasional religious scam than have them encroach on any church.
I am sure some government officials begin with altruistic motives that usually degenerate eventually into tyranny. Webster said: “Good intention will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority….It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” Most Americans don’t understand that the citizens are the masters and government is the servant, but that truth has been twisted like a pretzel.
The issue is really whether or not incorporation makes the state the lord of the church. Maybe you can see that this is not just an academic matter. The heart of the matter is sovereignty over the church. It is a fact that “no corporation can exist without the consent or grant of the sovereign, and that the power to create corporations is one of the attributes of sovereignty.” It is a fact that when a church seeks incorporation by filling out the appropriate forms, the state gives birth to the corporation or “breathes life” into it thereby giving the church permission to function as a church. Courts have ruled that a corporation is a “creature of the state.”
Every incorporated church is under the sovereign state instead of the sovereign Savior. A preacher can grunt, groan, and growl. He can sweat, spit, and even split his pants but it doesn’t change the facts. Two attorneys with the Christian Law Association made the incredible statement that “An incorporated church is not subordinating itself to the state.” But English is still English, and an incorporated church is subordinate to the state. The issue seems to be the old secular/sacred argument. A pastor says, “The state authorizes the corporation as a vehicle to accomplish the work of God, but my incorporated church is totally Biblical.” He is wrong.
Many years ago, attorneys and others told pastors that they needed to incorporate their churches. The pastors asked, “Will it affect my ministry?” “Will it impact my missions program?” “Will it affect my Sunday school?” The answer was,“No, incorporation would not affect the ministry at all.” And that was basically true for seventy-five years under a beneficent government, but things have changed. We are not living in the America of the 1940s, 1950s or even the early 1960s. A new era has dawned with a new Pharaoh who has come to the throne who “[knows] not Joseph.” In fact, he hates Joseph!
Our theological ancestors asked the wrong questions. Rather than ask, “Will incorporation affect my ministry?” they should have asked, “Is incorporation right for a church of the living God?” You must decide if the state has the authority–legal or biblical–to “breathe life into” the church? My answer is “No, it does not have that right.” You will have to make your own decision. I hope you will consider the facts before making a final decision either way. If only God can birth a church then what are those organizations that are birthed by the state?
Dr. R. J. Rushdoony, Christian educator and historian, wrote: “The incorporation of a church or Christian agency of any kind was simply a legal formality notifying the state of the existence of such a body and its immunity from statist controls. In recent years, the statists have turned that notification into a form of licensure and control. The matter can be compared with filing a birth certificate. When the birth of Sarah Jones is recorded by her parents and doctor, permission for Sarah Jones to exist is definitely not requested; rather a fact is legally recorded. Similarly, in American law religious trusts, foundations, or trusts did not apply to exist but recorded their certificate of birth, their incorporation. The current Internal Revenue Service doctrine is that the filing is a petition for the right to exist. This turns the historic position, and the First Amendment, upside down. It asserts for the federal government the ‘right’ to establish religion and to control the exercise thereof. As a result, a major conflict of church and state is under way.”
Rushdoony was correct. A major conflict is under way and a bunch of churches are going to find themselves ground up in the wheels of government because of incorporation. (Note that our discussion has to do with churches, not parachurch ministries.)
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a corporation is distinct from the people who constitute it and corporations are treated differently from persons. A corporation is an “artificial person,” with legal support as a person, although without the constitutional protection. In Hale v. Henkel, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled: “(T)here is a clear distinction in this particular between an individual and a corporation, and that the latter has no right to refuse to submit its books and papers for an examination at the suit of the State. The individual may stand upon his constitutional rights as a citizen. He is entitled to carry on his private business in his own way. His power to contract is unlimited. He owes no duty to the state or to his neighbors to divulge his business, or to open his doors to an investigation, so far as it may tend to criminate him. He owes no such duty to the State, since he receives nothing therefrom, beyond the protection of his life and property.” Your church corporation has no such protection since you received a benefit from the state and your church came under state regulations when it was incorporated.
When a church applies to the state for corporate status (thereby receiving limited liability and other “goodies”) the church corporation receives life and willingly surrenders its special status of a lawful assembly of private individual citizens to a state-begotten, state-beholden, state-approved gathering of public subjects. Are you really sure it is worth it?
Do you question my assertion above? Read a court’s decision and weep: “A corporation derives its existence and all its powers from the State and, therefore, has only such powers as the State has conferred upon it.” Most of us thought that a church’s “powers” came from a higher source than the state house!
In Wilson v. U.S., 221 U.S. 382 we were told: “A corporation is a creature of the state. It is presumed to be incorporated for the benefit of the public. It receives certain special privileges and franchises….Its powers are limited by law….Its rights to act as a corporation are only preserved to it so long as it obeys the laws of its creation.” Very clearly your church is a “creature of the state” and you must obey your creator. If the state issues an order that is contrary to Scripture, you have no legal right to disobey your creator. So, the state requires your church to disobey its Creator!
In Bank of Agusta v. Earle, the court ruled, “Whenever a corporation makes a contract it is the contract of the legal entity….The only rights it can claim are the rights which are given to it…, and not the rights which belong to its members as citizens of a state.” So, forget about First Amendment protection. If your church is a corporation, it only has protection of state contract law, although each member of the corporation still maintains his rights under the constitution.
A corporation is formed when a person or group of people file papers with the Secretary of State, asking for the privilege of being recognized by the state as a corporation. They are a group of people acting as a body. A New Testament Church is a corporation because I Corinthians 12:12-14 says: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.…For the body is not one member, but many.” Is this where government got the idea for modern corporations?
Rushdoony wrote: “Among other things, the original corporation, the church, has given a new meaning to time.” Note that he considers the church the original corporation, and he points out that time is now recognized in terms of Christ, BC and AD.
The concept of the corporation is found in the Code of Hammurabi (about 2000 BC) where he referred to societies which are defined similar to corporations today. Ancient Greeks had associations that were very similar to our modern corporations. They were called etairia and could be formed by any group for any legal purpose.
When Rome conquered the Greeks in 27 BC (without conquering their culture!) they developed an association called collegium or corpus (a body) that consisted of three or more persons united for any lawful purpose. Late in the Roman Republic, which ended in 27 BC when Octavian took absolute control as Emperor with the title of Augustus, “corporation was used in documents relating to public law in the same sense as collegium.” These corporations could hold property in common, sue and be sued; however, debts of the corporation were not debts of any member––limited liability.
Then the Romans developed two divisions: Civil law and Canon law (or church law). Our corporate law evolved in the 19th century from the Roman civil law and American law is not divided between civil and religious as it was in Rome. (The First Amendment prohibits government from regulating religion.) An incorporated church agrees to abide by the laws of its grantor (the state), and the state agrees to grant certain privileges to this registered church. What privileges? Well, the attorneys always throw limited liability at us first.
II – The Profit
Yes, there are privileges, possibilities, and profit from being an incorporated church. It is not all negative or all positive, and I want my readers to see both sides of this very important issue.
Attorney Mark Moseley of Christian Law Association was a big help to me. He wrote: The primary benefit of incorporation is limited liability. Limited liability simply means that if the corporation has debts, the creditors of the corporation are limited to recovering the debts from the corporations.” Example: I know of a church that had thousands of dollars of carpet installed but could not pay for it after the job was completed. The pastor, who had authorized the job, felt “called” to pastor another church and the carpet store found it impossible to collect because the church had no money and the pastor was gone and the individual members could not be held responsible. Do you think that storeowner ever visited that church? Attorneys may call it “limited liability” but I call it immoral shirking of responsibility.
Moseley added, “In an unincorporated association, the members of the organization, including churches, may become personally liable for the debts of the association.” Yes, that is true but how often does that happen?
So, limited liability means that the incorporators are limited as to their financial responsibility. The shareholders (or directors of a non-profit corporation) cannot be held personally accountable for the debts of the corporation. Their personal incomes and homes cannot be taken to pay corporate debts. So, the debts of a bankrupt incorporated church are absorbed by businesses that did business with a church that could not pay its legitimate bills. Is it a scriptural concept to limit one’s responsibility? Don’t we preach that not being accountable is one of the curses of our day? Will anyone dare to take the position that persons should be held accountable for debt but corporations should not? I hope not. Limited liability can let a church “off the hook” as to its legitimate debts at the expense of a local businessman. Some would argue that the businessman understood that concept when he signed a contract to build a building (or whatever) with a corporation. He decides that he will take the risk, but does that justify a church not keeping its contract and leaving an honest businessman to “swing in the breeze?”
But what about an unincorporated church doing business with that businessman? It can have that same “protection.” The whole membership is responsible for the contract fulfillment. However, in America any two parties can enter into any legal contract and may choose to write “limited liability” into the contract. If the businessman wants to take the risk, he will agree to the protective clause for the church. No one is forced to make such an agreement. If, through various unforeseen circumstances, the church cannot meet the terms of the contract, only the assets of the church could then be taken to satisfy the contract.
However, if a church member (of an unincorporated church) signs as a guarantor for a church loan at his local bank and ten years later the church goes belly-up, that church member can be held financially responsible–along with all signers. This is true even if he joins another church five years before the demise of the church he first joined.
There is no reason to take space on these pages to use many Old Testament passages to prove the point of accountability, but the following example may be useful to stimulate your mind. Exodus 21:33-34 tells us: “And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; the owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them….” There is no limited liability there. Exodus 21 and 22 explode with RESPONSIBILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY yet incorporated churches flee from both while still giving lip service to the Scriptures!
The Bible teaches that the Church of Christ is a spiritual corporation that gets its existence from its Head. Each member has made a covenant with the others and uses his gifts for the benefit of the group. Hence, what one member does has an effect on all the other members. Paul said in I Corinthians 12:25-27: “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another, And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” No limited liability there; in fact, Paul says that we Christians share during the bad times and the good times.
So, is limited liability an immoral and indefensible position for a committed Christian to maintain? Can any church, holding to scriptural principles, remain incorporated, especially by using limited liability as a reason? Is it not possible–even probable–that limited liability leads to irresponsibility of leadership? Will a pastor and his church building committee be more careful in making financial obligations for the church if they can no longer hide behind limited liability? In other words, does limited liability promote mismanagement? I believe it often does.
Limited liability also means that if the church roof falls on the congregation, or students in the church school die from eating bad food in the cafeteria, the corporation must bear the financial responsibility. The amount of the responsibility is limited to the assets of the corporation–sometimes. I say “sometimes” because limited liability is often only a mirage. When five or six children die in a church bus accident the bus driver, mechanic, and the pastor are usually named in the suit along with the church. (Attorneys call this “piercing the corporate veil.”) So where is the much-vaunted “limited liability”? It is in the minds of attorneys who are, for the most part, under worked and over paid. (You will agree with me if you ever go through probate.)
It is interesting to note that Dr. R. J. Rushdoony reveals that people of principle accepted limited liability reluctantly in the 1800s. Of course, his statement would be true of all corporations, commercial or church. Rushdoony wrote, “Very early in the history of the United States, some states made legal the limited liability company, but such concerns were not too commonly established. They were regarded as essentially irresponsible….The opponents of limited liability believed that it could in the end destroy capitalism. They believed, in fact, that a principle of responsibility which is basic to free enterprise was at stake in the issue.”
Dr. Gary North made this same point in his position paper, Why Churches Should Not Incorporate: “The proponents of the corporation have always been immoral people.” He goes on to argue that the corporation was not “necessarily the creation of the State two centuries ago, but it is now.”
Christian attorney, Wendell Bird gave additional reasons for incorporation of “religious ministries” that produced more questions than answers. Bird mentions the famous English jurist, William Blackstone who believed there were “legal advantages for religious ministries” to be incorporated. Of course, Judge Blackstone, while a good and great man, was not a theologian. He was an attorney, teacher, and judge, and we preachers have gone to too many attorneys and their law books rather than to God and His Holy book to find out what we believe and what we should practice.
Attorney Bird also quoted Dr. Rushdoony as supporting church incorporation, however he did not tell his readers that Rushdoony had flip-flopped earlier on that issue. Rushdoony came out strongly against corporations (and limited liability) in an excellent essay (reprinted in Gary North’s Introduction to Christian Economics), and Rushdoony later argued for church incorporation! Rushdoony wrote in 1984 (after his flip): “Given the vulnerability of the church as an incorporated legal entity to statist controls, we should not forget the total vulnerability with disincorporation….If our weapons against an enemy prove to be somewhat defective, does it make sense to throw away those weapons and disarm ourselves?”
Notice that Rushdoony admitted the incorporated church is vulnerable to government control, and he also admitted that incorporation could be “somewhat defective.” Somewhat defective! My intention is to prove that incorporation is dangerous and may well become devastating to a church. I further do not agree that the church, established by Jesus Christ, is disarmed simply because it gets disentangled from state control! The Bible teaches that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, and it is incredible that Rushdoony, who was a post-millenarian, did not reflect this in his statement. The Church of the Living God does not belong to the state. It also does not belong to any pastor or people. It is His church; after all He purchased it with His blood.
Rushdoony noted: “since limited liability was in effect a state subsidy to commercial firms at the expense of the public, it was inescapable that what the state subsidized, the state would eventually control.” All informed persons understand that the state looks upon churches as businesses. Argue all you want about how it is a ministry, but the facts are that an incorporated church is a business and the state has authority to regulate, tax, supervise, and control all businesses in the state. The old adage is still true: what the state funds, it runs; with the nickel comes the noose; or with sheckles come shackles. But you get the point, don’t you? Your church profits from incorporation so there is a price to pay: loss of freedom, control, and you only burn a little incense down at the statehouse.
There are plans to control every area where children are not supervised by their parents. Just as day cares are controlled through licensure, all Sunday schools, vacation Bible schools, camps, Christian day schools, etc., are in their sights. Ohio has already proposed such controls. So has California, many years ago! Alan Stang was researching an article on church-state problems and interviewed bureaucrats at the State Board of Equalization in Sacramento. He was told that tax-exemption is granted “solely for religious worship.” When Stang asked what that meant, he was told, “Sermon and prayer. Even Sunday school doesn’t qualify.” That fact should chill every pastor of an incorporated church. What is going on in your state? If you make waves, you may discover that your church is only a phone call away from being totally controlled by the state.
You got much more than the privilege and profit of “limited liability,” didn’t you? The zealots in your state have plans to control even your church (if an unsupervised child is present). Your pulpit is in their sights.
But back to Attorney Bird. He suggests that an incorporated ministry will have fewer problems in suing and being sued than an unincorporated ministry. However, that is not true-to-life. A “business” (or incorporated church) is far more likely to be sued than a church. A “church” that is perceived as being a money-making business will be respected far less, even by the humanist crowd, than a church that is a soul-winning station dedicated to visiting the sick, working with prisoners, binding up the broken-hearted, educating the youth, and putting fractured families back together. Some people will still express that old principle, “Oh, I could never take a church to court.” But they will take a business to court even if it has stained-glass windows and a steeple on top.
Then Bird mentions that an incorporated ministry (church) will find it easier to buy property. It is “easier” and the problems are “fewer” for an incorporated church. Well, since when do we decide on right and wrong by how easy or difficult something is? And if we were afraid of problems, we would never go into the ministry. We would have gone into law and become wealthy handling the problems of others. (And often mishandling the problems of others!)
Attorneys will quickly tell you that insurance for an unincorporated church is more expensive than for an incorporated church (although not always) but it is only dollars, and I am more willing to part with my cash than with my convictions.
. Then Attorney Bird writes of the availability for an incorporated church to borrow money and sell bonds and how difficult it is for unincorporated churches to do so. Well, maybe, just maybe, it should be more difficult for churches to borrow money! Maybe fewer of them would have gone belly-up and others would not be in Chapter Eleven today if it were more difficult to get money.
On January 7, I interviewed Dr. Keith Wiebe, pastor of Grace Gospel Church in Huntington, West Virginia since 1987. West Virginia is the only state that does not permit churches to incorporate! I grew up in Huntington and Grace was my home church. There I found my wife, got my early Christian training, and was ordained. Grace is the largest independent church in the whole area and one of the oldest, so I asked Dr. Wiebe if non-incorporation had been a problem for him. He said that “it has never been an issue.” He told me that they are going to build another gym and bankers were standing in line to lend them money. He said that bankers want to know whether you can pay it back, not whether you are incorporated. He also told me that their large Christian school is not a legal organization. It doesn’t exist! The Christian school is part of the ministry of Grace Gospel Church as is their Sunday school, youth work, radio ministry, etc.
The church of Jesus Christ used to be recognized as something unique and special with nothing analogous to it. It was standing way out there all alone, but imperceptibly it has been slowly moved toward the left where hundreds of thousands of non-profit groups are. Today, the church is only one of a huge group of religious, scientific, and educational organizations that will be permitted to exist if it doesn’t rock too many boats, make too many waves, and if it obediently parrots “public policy” (whatever that happens to be at any given moment).
The church does not owe its existence to the state or federal government, and it must never place itself under state or federal control. This is not to say that a pastor or church officer who steals church funds, molests a boy or girl, rapes a woman, etc., should not be prosecuted. He should go to jail. I am saying that the man should be prosecuted but the church should not be touched since its Head is Jesus Christ. Either Christ is sovereign over His church or the Secretary of State is. A church can’t have two heads. Any two-headed creature is a monster and never reproduces! (Could church incorporation be one reason that there is so little “reproduction”?) No government authority has any right to be involved in the church unless there is a threat to life, liberty, or property.
“Ah,” someone says, “an exception.” Of course there is an exception since God made the exception when He ordained government to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty. If a “church” practices the physical sacrifice of fourteen-year-old virgins on May 1st of every year, then government has a “compelling interest” and must get involved. Or, if a “church” or cult keeps young people (or anyone) against their will, the authorities must get involved. Of course, most Fundamentalists and Evangelicals would never concede that the two examples qualify as a church; however, they do qualify for all practical purposes. No government entity has the authority to define a “true church.”
Dr. Gary North wrote: “Legal immunities automatically belong to a church, if it has not sought incorporation, and it can appeal to centuries of independent common law precedents: trust law that preceded and can supersede corporation statute law. This is why civil governments are trying desperately to get churches to incorporate.” (Emphasis his.) So, it is unscriptural and unnecessary for church officials to go, hat in hand, to government, lick their hand and ask for the privilege of coming under their control. North suggests that we have exchanged our “ecclesiastical birthright under God and common law for a mess of State-licensed pottage.” And so we have.
“But,” says the rationalizing reverend, “we are getting the privileges mentioned earlier by incorporating our churches.” Right, but you lose your right to be treated as a church. Now you will be treated as a business.
Courts have held that any time you go to government, any entity of government, for any benefit, however slight, you come under government control. So a church that gets any money or goods from any government agency, places itself under the jurisdiction of government. Church schools that receive state approval (accreditation, certification of teachers, licensure) come under the control of government. They traded their rights for franchises (privileges).
Yes, there is profit in incorporation: limited liability; less expensive insurance; easier to purchase land and build buildings, but is it worth the price?
III – The Past
Now, we must pull out the history books for an appropriate and exciting analogy to this issue of church incorporation. Obviously there is no scriptural command to incorporate a church, but what did the early churches practice during the first and second centuries? I must caution that while it will be interesting and possibly helpful to you, it does not follow that what the early churches did was permitted by the New Testament.
The early Roman Christians are said to have sometimes held church property during times of persecution under the title of “collegium.” In fact, the Roman churches carried on their work and escaped persecution “under the guise of a private corporation or society.” There can be no doubt that the corporation was resorted to by the early Christians in the second and third centuries as a legal vehicle to hold and transfer property. I think it was mainly to maintain control over church cemeteries since church buildings were not common until the third century.
We know from Scripture and history that the early Christians buried their dead in private family plots, (Lazarus is one good example.) but in the third century the churches held the cemeteries in common. After the Valerian persecution in 259, the Christians had their cemeteries returned to them. And according to De Rossi, “the freedom which the Church at normal times enjoyed in their possession was due to the fact that the Christians banded themselves together to form a…burial society, such associations, of which the members paid a certain annual contribution, being expressly recognized by law.” We know that in the second and third centuries “the corporation was generally resorted to as a means of holding, and transmitting church property.” (Emphasis added.)
Gibbon relates that the church in Rome was given a large sum of money by a stranger from Pontus “about a hundred years before the reign of Emperor Decius” who ruled from 249-251 AD. That would make the gift about 150 AD. Evidently since it was in cash, there was no problem for the church to receive the money; however, prevailing law prohibited real estate to be given to any group unless the senate or the Emperor made a special dispensation for that purpose. But that prohibition was to be rescinded so that churches could receive any gifts of cash, real estate, precious stones, etc.
Under Emperor Alexander Severus (ruled 222-235) Christians were permitted to own land within the city limits of Rome, and within sixty-five years many wealthy Christians gave large estates to churches in cities throughout the Empire. Under Severus, churches were permitted to purchase land and construct large buildings for religious worship. Gallieno, (spelled three different ways) was the first Roman Emperor (ruled 260-280) to recognize a church as a “juridical [legal] entity” or an entity with corporate powers.
However, while churches were recognized and approved through incorporation as early as the second century, persecution returned with new emperors. Emperor Valerian (253-260) declared the church to be “an illicit corporation. Its property was confiscated, its meetings forbidden, and its clergy declared guilty of conspiracy to commit high treason.”
As early as 150 AD, the church leaders were looking for ways to “get along” with the government. W. M. Ramsay tells us: “An important step was made when the Christian communities began to accommodate themselves to Roman law by enrolling themselves as Benefit Clubs.” Ramsay says it can be assumed that this registering was a general practice! About 150 A. D., the churches were divided on the issue of concessions to the state. They debated whether Christians should serve in the army, hold public office, etc., since to do so meant to countenance heathen rites. (Tertullian, Origen, and Ignatius were against such service.) Ramsay wrote “…there was much disagreement as to the extent to which concession should go; and the disagreement increased as time went on….” We fight the same battles over and over again, don’t we?
By making concessions to the state, such as enrolling as Benefit Clubs, it would “give a show of legality to their position, and help…officials to keep their eyes shut.” Ramsay goes on to say that the Christians were not trying to hide their relationship to Christ, and it was impossible and unnecessary since the church was a powerful influence during that time. Ramsay wrote: “It was to give themselves a legal footing, and allow all who had no active animosity to keep up the fiction about them. Thus, even while Christianity was held a capital offense, communities [of Christians] obtained a legal position as Benefit Societies.”
Within a few years after the death of the last apostle, the Church of God was accommodating itself to the state by incorporating as “Benefit Clubs” that gave them a legal standing and respectability.
However there was a group of churches that insisted on staying unregistered. They were the Montanists. Ramsay wrote: “The party which rejected all these compromises with the State gradually took form as Montanism. Montanism was in many respects the conservative principle. It remained truer to the old dignity: it did not admit the growing dignity of the bishops. It claimed that it preserved the character and the views of the early Church.” One of the most famous “church fathers” was Tertullian (called, “the Baptist”) who supported Montanism, and who later became a critic of the ever-growing power structure of what was to become the Roman Catholic Church.
The pagan principle of “sacred things” that survived paganism held that those “things”–whether land, temples, furniture, utensils, etc., must be in reality consecrated things. They were publicly consecrated and recognized by all as being out of the ordinary. Not ordinary, everyday “things.” Those “sacred things” were owned by the gods; however, gods (as represented by the temple) could not receive a bequest except special gods such as Jupiter at Rome, Apollo of Miletus and Diana of Ephesus. There were a few other exceptions.
Christians got equal rights when Constantine was “converted” (313) but Christianity became the official religion in the reign of Theodosius (ruled 379-395). When Justinian (ruled 527-665) came to the throne, he permitted local churches to receive bequests that were willed to “Jesus Christ.” Then people started bequeathing their property to a martyr or an archangel with the bequests going not to the dead martyr or live (although distant) archangel but to the church in the town where the testator lived.
There is no doubt that a church had the right to own property (other than cemeteries) and from the Edict of Milan in 313 some churches had their property restored to them. The Emperor Justinian (ruled 527-565) was involved in local churches having property rights but also permitted bishops the authority to control various properties in their own jurisdiction. (The Roman Catholic Church was quickly gaining more and more money, structure, and power.)
Devoted people bequeathed so much money, goods, and property to the Roman Church that Chilperic I, in 580, complained that the royal treasury was exhausted. History confirms that the principle of absolute ownership and free administration of church property has been maintained. Furthermore the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century legitimized the excommunication of anyone who stole any church property.
The Catholic Church was interested in “unity and intercommunication” and was quick to sacrifice New Testament principles in order to maintain the much vaunted “unity and intercommunication.” (I believe division with disagreement is preferred over unity without principle.) We have the same issue today. Most churches have enrolled as “Benefit Societies” to give them a “legal footing” and to show they are willing to “accommodate the state” by “making concessions.” But there are still some “Montanists” (without accepting all their doctrine and practices) around who insist that Christ is still the Lord of His church and incorporation and any kind of government benefit is surrender of that Lordship.
There is no purpose in reviewing the development of corporations throughout the decaying Roman Empire during the Middle Ages; however there is interest in what developed in young America during the late 1600s. At this time Plymouth was no longer a village but had expanded to 20 settlements, each with a church. Originally each church paid their pastor but as interest in spiritual things waned (as they have from the beginning except for brief periods of revival) Rehoboth passed a law in 1655 requiring their citizens to contribute to the salary of the minister. In 1657, Plymouth Colony followed the mistake of Rehoboth and voted to pay the clergy from tax money. Lieutenant Fuller said of that law: “The devil sat at the stern when it was enacted.” I agree with the Lieutenant.
With each generation there was a spiritual falling away and church leaders looked to government to fund their churches from New England to Virginia. Citizens were not excited about paying for the upkeep of another church’s pastor and skeptics were indignant, but Baptists were more indignant than anyone.
Isaac Backus, from a wealthy, well-connected family in New England was one of the first American Baptists in the 1700s and paid the price for his convictions. At that time all citizens were taxed to pay the salary of the Established Church pastor, usually Congregational. Backus had not yet become a Baptist but was a “Separatist.” His village voted to build a church and taxed the residents to pay for it, but Backus and his church could not in good conscience pay the tax since they, being separatists, would not be attending the new church. While Backus was being arrested, a former member appeared at his home and paid the tax for him whereby he escaped jail. (Note this was a personal tax to support a church, not a tax payable by a church.)
One of his members, Esther White was sent to Plymouth jail for refusing to pay the tax to support the minister in Raynham where she lived. She remained in prison for a year, not permitting anyone to pay her tax. (Was she more principled or more determined than Backus?)
Baptists refused to pay for the upkeep of the Established Church through the tax, consequently their homes, land, and livestock were taken. Some men were put in prison for refusing to support what they believed to be false religion. Later, the Baptists were legally recognized and public money could also pay the Baptist pastor’s salary, but Baptists, true to their convictions, refused that! Those Baptists were not being difficult, only devoted; not pugnacious, but principled. Evidently, the early American Baptists were very principled people.
In 1773, Backus wrote An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppression of the Present Day wherein he cited three encroachments upon religious liberty by Massachusetts. “(1) The legislature compelled every parish to support by civil taxation an approved minister and church building. (2) The legislature required that in order for ministers to be approved, they must have either an academic (college) degree or a testimonial from a majority of the (approved) ministers in the county, thus restraining Christ’s gifts by human laws. (3) Ministers were supported by compulsion of law rather than by freewill gifts….”
When Massachusetts wrote their new constitution they made the same error and continued the establishment of the Congregational Church; however, Baptists, and other denominations were exempted if they presented certificates to proper officials, then their taxes would go to support their own church. Three people attesting that the person in question did attend that Baptist Church must sign those certificates. But Backus considered this an unjustified compromise. After all, no one should be taxed for any religious support.
Backus urged Baptists not to pay the church tax and to also refuse to present certificates of membership that would result in them being exempted from the tax. Either one would have been an acknowledgement that government officials had authority in church matters. I’m sure the preachers were accused of being “trouble-makers,” “obstinate,” “divisive,” and of course, “anti-government.” Why not present the required certificates? It was a matter of liberty and lordship.
In 1790, the Baptist Church in New Gloucester, District of Maine (then part of Massachusetts) asked Backus whether they should incorporate their church as the town had insisted they do. Backus unquestionably wished them not to seek incorporation and to “suffer the consequences.” Backus did not believe that the most important objective of a pastor was to fill the church but to obey God’s Word.
At the annual meeting of the Warren Association in September of 1791, they learned that two Baptist churches had sought incorporation but Samuel Stillman persuaded them to withdraw their petitions and seek advice from the Association. Hezekiah Smith spoke in favor of letting each church make its own decision on the matter, but Backus won the day when the association resolved: “That it be earnestly commended to the churches belonging to this association by no means to apply to civil government for incorporation…because we cannot consent to blend the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this world nor to support it by the power of the civil magistrates.” Backus thought each local church needed the prodding of the Association to reject incorporation.
The government’s relationship to churches from the mid-1700s to today is very revealing, and helps explain the expanding corporation mentality. James Madison showed clearly that government had no authority over religion. He wrote: “We maintain…that in matters of religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of civil Society, and that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance….” Madison had witnessed the persecution and prosecution of Baptist preachers in Virginia by state officials who were also church officials!
Baptist preachers refused to accept licensure to conduct their religious activities such as marrying the living, burying the dead, and preaching. The consequences of their disobedience were harsh fines, public humiliation in the stocks, beatings, and imprisonment. A few were beaten to death for refusing licensure! In Virginia, about 50 pastors (most were circuit riding preachers) were jailed between 1768-1776 for disturbing the peace or refusing to provide bond to keep the future peace. Those preachers refused to provide officials with a list of their church locations. Most of the preachers reading this would have rushed to the statehouse to provide the list. It is interesting to note that most of the churches’ problems during colonial days were because of taxes, incorporation, and licensure.
It is most interesting that Chief Justice Theophilus Parsons ruled in Barnes v. First Parish in Falmouth that Tom Barnes, a Universalist minister, could not receive the tax money his church people had paid to the parish because the state Constitution called for any money to be returned to “public Protestant teachers of piety” not those who were “private teachers of piety, religion and morality.” Because Barnes’ church was not incorporated, it did not get the money, and its members’ taxes went to support the Congregational Church. Incorporation gave legitimacy to the churches in the eyes of the government. It still does.
At that time few churches along the eastern seaboard were incorporated but within five years of this decision about 70 dissenting churches were incorporated and only one Congregational Church was. The position of government was that everyone would be taxed for the upkeep of the Congregational Church but other denominations could petition for return of their tax dollars paid and they would get the money—if they were incorporated! Seems fair but Baptists didn’t like that either. Government had no right to tax anyone for church support, plus Baptists didn’t think incorporation was Scriptural.
In Lovell v. Byfield, 7 Mass. 230 and in Turner v. Brookfield, 7 Mass. 60, decisions were made relating to Baptists as the Barnes decision related to the Universalists. Baptists could get their tax money refunded to them if they were incorporated! Commenting on this issue, Justice Parsons said, “Baptists objected to incorporation as unscriptural surrender to the state.” What happened to Baptists in recent years? Have we become too large, too comfortable, and too affluent? Have we spent too much time having lunch with the mayor instead of walking with the Savior?
Justice Noonan commented on the Barnes’ decision stating, “Barnes attempted to force state incorporation upon Baptists who believed that incorporation was unChristian (sic) surrender to the state.” Does any Bible scholar believe that it is not surrender to the state to incorporate a church? And doesn’t everyone know that if you permit a giant’s foot into your tent, his body will soon follow?
Of course Madison wrote the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights that prohibited the Federal government from establishing a national religion such as in England. Madison and the framers of the Constitution had no intention of prohibiting the states from any religious activities. In fact, five states had a state religion after the Constitution was ratified! The First Amendment was to protect the citizens not the government!
So the united states (do your own research as to why the two words are not capitalized) of America began with churches having a very special place in our daily life as Americans. There was to be no licensure of a church, no registering, no taxing, no control, no regulations, no approval, and no disapproval. Madison also wrote that under the Constitution, “there is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion.” Madison believed, as I do, that government has no more right to interfere in church affairs than a church has a right to interfere in state affairs.
When the First Amendment was written and adopted by the states, there was no discussion about tax exemption for churches—none. (See Antieau, Carroll, and Burke, Religion Under the States’ Constitutions, (1965), p. 122.) There was no discussion because sane, scholarly, and scripturally taught politicians knew they had no right to infringe on church authority. They knew that position went back into secular and Biblical history.
Not taxing religion is an old and respected tradition. Genesis 47:26 reveals that Pharaoh exempted the priests’ land from taxation, and Ezra 7:24 indicates that none of the priests, Levites, singers, porters or ministers of the house of God were to be charged “toll, tribute or custom.” This was a decision of Artaxerxes, King of Persia! This was also true of the pagan temples of Rome hundreds of years later. Pagans in history were more concerned with “sacred things” than modern pagans in political positions of power. There is a trend to rescind all church “exemptions” since all entities of government need money badly. Modern politicians, from time to time, try to exercise authority by “exempting” churches from taxes. But the church of God is not taxable since a higher always taxes a lower.
In 1802, the Seventh Congress enacted a tax statute that provided exemptions from property taxes for churches in Alexandria, Virginia; but Congress was grabbing power it did not have, in my opinion. If Congress could legitimately rule that churches were exempt, they could rule that they were not exempt! The founding fathers knew that churches were non-taxable, not tax-exempt! There is a difference that seems to escape modern politicians.
There was an effort to incorporate churches in the 1800s but they were considered exempt from taxes by a benevolent government. But what happened more than 30 years ago when state governments did not look kindly upon churches? They started taxing churches on their real estate property so the exemption was removed and tax money was extracted from church coffers. Most will agree that taxation goes to the core of separation of church and state.
Of course, these were not income taxes. That tax would not rear its ugly head until Madison and Jefferson had been dead for one hundred years–and of course could not give an opinion! The U. S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in 1819 that “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” If one concedes that government can tax churches then he has acquiesced to the destruction of churches, and consenting churches, without knowing it, were on a slippery slope–if not to destruction, at least to compromise and conformity. And that always leads to government corruption where we are today. Federal or state controlled churches always end up as corrupt churches.
The Revenue Act of 1894 taxed corporations (that had started proliferating by this time) 2% on “net profits or income above actual operating and business expenses…of all…corporations, companies, or associations doing business for profit….” Of course, churches were automatically excluded since they were not-for-profit organizations, so they were tax exempt. Slowly, Americans were being brainwashed into thinking that our government was so generous in exempting God’s churches.
The 1894 act was declared unconstitutional in 1895 but in the Tariff Act of 1909 there was a similar exemption for churches. But the church was no longer a unique body. Now the exemption from paying taxes was for “any corporation or association organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, or educational purposes….” Observers could say, “Isn’t it gracious of government to give our churches an exemption?” But it was another example of government reaching for more power.
Until this time the church of Christ was the most unique organization upon the face of the earth, and since it was of Godly origin, no government could tax it; however that was to change. With the twentieth century, restrictions were added. Now there was something Government told a church they could not do! (Remember that government always seeks to expand its control.)
The Federal Income tax was established with the Revenue Act of 1913. It added “scientific” to “religious, charitable, or educational” purposes and the Revenue Act of 1918 added cruelty to animals while the Revenue Act of 1921 added any community chest or foundation. In the Revenue Act of 1934, Congress added the requirement that no substantial part of the activities of an exempt organization could involve the carrying on of “propaganda or attempting to influence legislation.” Then in 1954 they added another exempt group–“testing for public safety” and forbade the publishing or distribution of statements on behalf of any political candidate. Pastors would forevermore walk a thin line when preaching on abortion, sodomy, or when warning the church that a politician could be harmful to their health! They must be careful or a church could lose its ability to give tax-deducible receipts. The slope gets slippier and slippier.
No longer do government officials see the church of Jesus Christ as the most unique organization in the world. It is one of hundreds of thousands of charitable groups that can continue to be tax-exempt as long as it doesn’t make too much noise or too many waves and adheres to public policy. And as long as the pastor keeps a gag on his mouth especially when he is in the pulpit.
IV – The Problems
Your church corporation has a constitution or a set of bylaws that must regulate your church. You may say that the Bible is your constitution and it regulates your church; however, that cannot be true if your church is incorporated. Talk and preach all you want, but it won’t change the facts. If you don’t follow your constitution to the letter, you are pleading for major trouble. Many pastors don’t have any idea what their church constitution stipulates. Money is borrowed, buildings are erected, ministries are added, and elections are held in complete disregard for the rules they have promised to obey! Such actions are dishonest and potentially disastrous. If you plan to keep your church incorporated, you had better organize a search party to locate your constitution and follow it to the letter. That constitution must legally supersede anything the Bible instructs you to do. One phone call from a disgruntled member to proper officials can result in irreparable harm to the ministry.
The Articles of Incorporation authorize your church to perform various functions and if you have a school, camp, etc., without authorization in your Articles, you are not legal. You may believe that a school should be a part of your ministry but you must ask the state if you may start a school! What if the state tells you that you cannot do what God wants you to do? Will you obey the state or God? You see, if the state can tell you that you can, they can also tell you that you can’t. Whatever happened to separation of church and state that almost everyone talks about incessantly? Whatever happened to pastors who obeyed God “rather then men”?
Surely you are also aware that your private church business meetings are open to government inspection at their whim. (You must NEVER permit anyone to convince you that a church is public.) You may discuss the qualifications of various men for church positions, however some men don’t qualify. Those discussions then go into the minutes that someday may be read by officious bureaucrats! Pastors have private notes and memos on people they have counseled that could someday be exposed because ALL records are open for state inspections. (At least, you could probably be safer if you keep fewer records.)
Now, with all the explosive baggage and control that goes with incorporation, how could the Rutherford Institute’s attorney write: “…unless there is a biblical barrier to incorporation, incorporation offers many net legal advantages, while not imposing additional regulations on churches and other exempt ministries, in most jurisdictions.” That is an incredible statement especially in light of the foregoing facts.
Pastors in Virginia used to emphasize that their state did not permit a church to be incorporated (now untrue since the Falwell decision), but they used a trust agreement that does the same thing! Attorney Al Cunningham of the Biblical Law Center told me of Virginia’s trust agreement: “It is equivalent to a corporation and it can qualify for 501 (c) (3) status. It is still a state church.” My recent research supports that position. After all, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck! That philosophy is Boys, not Blackstone!
While most present-day Baptists don’t see any harm in church incorporation, President James Madison did! John Eidsmoe reported that President Madison vetoed an act incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Madison reasoned, “that incorporation was a form of licensing by which government gave churches permission to operate. Therefore incorporation was superfluous; government had no jurisdictional authority to tell churches they can or cannot operate.” Madison recognized the limitation of government power and the sovereignty of the church.
The Encyclopedia Britannica’s Annals of America quotes Madison’s veto message as saying: “Because the bill [to incorporate the church] exceeds the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions, and violates in particular the article of the Constitution of the United States which declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.’ This particular church, therefore, would so far be a religious establishment by law….” Madison recognized the two spheres of power: the church and the state and the requirement to keep them separate. The state cannot legally or scripturally incorporate a church because that usurps authority and sovereignty over the church that government does not have, and also violates the establishment clause.
Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black agreed with Madison when he wrote: “The establishment clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church,” but states do it every day when they “breathe life” into a church corporation.
One official affirmed: “We have no right to enter a church and interfere in any way with it’s religious ordinances…but when a church organization asks the benefit of the law by an act of incorporation, it must submit itself to the great primal law of the union–the Constitution of the United States….It can have the aid it seeks by submitting to this law.”
Christians often espouse the position that government is all-powerful and must always be obeyed, but that is not the Bible position. Individuals are to “render unto Caesar” what belongs to Caesar but unto God the things that are God’s. However, “Caesar” wants to identify what is his and what is God’s! That won’t work. A command is to be disobeyed when any government orders a Christian to do anything that requires disobedience to Scripture. That is shocking to most Christians, but we must also keep in mind that there is a difference in a person and a church and their responsibilities to government. For example, a person is obligated to pay taxes while the church of the living God must not do so.
Francis Schaeffer understood the principle when he wrote: “The bottom line is that at a certain point there is not only the right, but the duty, to disobey the state.” He also wrote: “If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the Living God….” Schaeffer was right on target when he wrote: “You have made a false god central. Christ must be the final Lord and not society and not Caesar.” The question is as it was 2000 years ago: Is the state God?
The warped philosophy of total obedience to the state came from the teaching of Thomas Erastus, a Swiss physician and theologian who died in 1583. He taught that the church of Jesus Christ owed its existence to the state, and pastors had no authority except that conveyed by the state. Since the church comes into existence by the beneficence of the state, it owed its allegiance to the state. His teachings are right in line for the incorporating of churches. Erastianism basically taught that the state controls the church, while under Roman Catholic power, the church controls the state. Both are wrong.
Erastus, a follower of Zwingli, disagreed with Calvin and others who taught that churches had the power of excommunication. Erastus thought such action was coercion and only the state could legitimately exercise coercive power. Erastianism is the philosophy that civil rulers have supreme authority over civil government but also over church affairs. From his teachings has come an extremist position that we owe unquestioned allegiance to the state, especially in non-religious matters. Many modern Christians believe it is all right to owe allegiance to Christ in spiritual matters, but to the state in everything else. Of course, informed Christians do not believe in such dualism since Christ is to control every facet of our lives. Caesar has his rightful place but he is never to supercede Christ. When churches are incorporated, Caesar is in control of the church!
During the 1500s, the Inquisition was raging in European countries where Roman Catholics were in control. Spain was especially vicious. The Roman Catholic Church had problems with heresies from its beginning but in the Middle Ages they formed a system to eradicate “heretics.” Those accused of heresy were brought before a religious council, tortured, and punished, often by burning at the stake. The religious council condemned the “heretics” and the civil government carried out their sentence! A dark cloud settled over Europe for hundreds of years as dissidents were harangued, harassed, harried, and hunted wherever the Pope ruled.
But the Catholics were not the only ones to use intimidation, torture, banishment, and death to eliminate criticism of their doctrines and practices. Some of the Protestant reformers also succumbed. When John Calvin’s preaching took over Switzerland, he emulated Erastus in controlling Geneva. In Calvin’s “community of saints,” it was a crime to miss church and to skip the “sacrament” meant banishment for a year! Criticism of the clergy was considered blasphemy and was punished by death! When Michael Servetus, physician and theologian, escaped from the clutches of the Roman Catholic Inquisition in France, he fled to Switzerland. He went to hear Calvin preach and was arrested and the town council sentenced him to be burned at the stake (for unorthodox Trinitarian views and criticism of infant baptism), and he was slowly burned to death on October 27, 1553. They used half-green wood to make his death very slow. Calvin preferred that he be beheaded, but was satisfied with his punishment. This is an example of preachers who controlled civil government. It is good for preachers to influence government but disastrous for preachers to dominate government.
Even Zwingli believed “civil rulers were bound to establish uniformity of doctrine, and to defend it against papists and heretics.” No, that is not the function of government, but down through the centuries religious denominations have used government to defend, promote, and control their members, and government has also used religion for its own benefit.
While England did not experience the Roman Catholic Inquisition, it did use intimidation, torture, banishment, and death to control religious dissidents. In the 1600s, the government of England started losing control in Wales when hundreds of independent churches and chapels were established by Nonconformist Independents, Baptists, Quakers, and others. The Nonconformists were gaining too much influence in England and Wales so the King and Parliament decided to bring them under control. The Act of Uniformity of 1662 required all ministers to assent to the rites and liturgy of the Established Church. In fact, all clergy, college professors, and schoolmasters had to agree with everything in the Book of Common Prayer! All who refused to follow the common prayer book were ejected from the Church. Out of approximately 10,000 preachers throughout the country, 2,000 were ejected (and some went to jail) but 20% to 25% of the country continued to worship illegally, holding secret services in barns and other unapproved locations. Do you know many preachers who would be willing to lose their pulpits and go to jail for standing true? I know many who have always preached that truth but few who practice it.
Some preachers say, “Look, as long as I am free to carry on my ministry without too much government interference, I’ll have an incorporated church, accredit my school, and get my teachers certified until I am forbidden to preach the gospel. Then I’ll take a stand and fight!” Why should the government forbid us to preach the gospel as long as the great hosts of preachers march to the tune piped from Washington or the state house? The early Christians in the Roman Empire could preach the gospel if they burned a little incense to Caesar. That is the issue. Who is Lord? A church won’t have much trouble as long as it admits the government is “lord” by accreditation, certification, licensure, incorporation, filling out forms, paying taxes with church money, etc. An incorporated church may not be a state dominated church but it is still a state church and it is only a step away from being totally state controlled.
What will you do when the state issues an edict that your Sunday school must be licensed? You can’t plead that it bruises your conscience since you have already proved that you are not against state approval by having an incorporated church. The question is sovereignty: Who is Lord? Christ or the state? If government is lord then let’s call the troops home and live in relative peace and security. If God is sovereign then a royal battle will take place sooner or later. Probably sooner than later! Our message to “Caesar” should be “We have a King and His name is Jesus, and we will never bow to any Caesar!” The early Americans yelled to the Tories, “No king, but King Jesus.” That infuriated King George and gave him a royal heart-burn. .
Christian leaders have been too passive, too preoccupied with “success” and too comfortable. We have been too naïve as to our relationship with government. We have slowly retreated until we are deep in alien territory, and we may never be able to regain our scriptural position! Past generations have surrendered the lordship of Christ without a whimper, and when we try to reaffirm it, the authorities act as if His lordship of His churches was never a reality. I am criticized, condemned, and castigated for my position on government control when I have taken the historic, biblical position!
Control of the churches is what went on in the old Soviet Union under Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Co. and is going on in China today. Can someone tell me why we have venerated those pastors who resisted registering of their churches in Communist countries while we defend registering churches in the U.S.? It may be profitable to look at the church’s position in China today.
|China has a complex, confusing, and convoluted religious structure; however, there is no question that it is having one of the greatest revivals in history. But then, Chinese Christians have been crushed since the Reds took over (with the help of the U.S. State Department!) in 1949. Persecution (that always purifies) usually produces fruit. Could the absence of persecution (and purity) be one reason we aren’t seeing much fruit in U.S. churches? Just asking.The Chinese leaders are atheists who hate the churches but realize that it is impossible to wipe out all Christians, so they are trying to control them through registration. The Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) controls all religion and insists that all churches register with the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Three Self refers to self-supporting, self-perpetuating, and self-governing! And anyone who believes those three principles are a reality in China is self-deceived!|
| The Communist leadership permits registered churches to exist but doesn’t permit worship and Christian activities outside of the approved churches and their designated hours. It is illegal to teach children the Bible before the age of 18, and preaching “excessively” about the Second Coming of Christ and other eschatological issues is also frowned upon. The TSPM has many dedicated Christians and many evangelical pastors; however, they are controlled in many areas of religious activities. And the extent of government control varies from city to city.To qualify as a “registered” church they must have a committee of five to run the church and the Religious Affairs Bureau must approve the committee. And the pastor must have the approval of the TSPM. Alex Buchan says there are three formal restrictions called the “three designates” that govern the churches. They are: “designated pastor, designated place of worship, and designated sphere of ministry.” In some provinces an approved church must have a preacher’s certificate, a baptism certificate, and a registration certificate, all issued by the Three Self Patriotic Movement! They must also use only books that are government approved.All thinking Christians would conclude that these restrictions are outrageous; however, Chinese Christians in the government-approved churches defend them as progress! They are quick to point out that official churches did not exist 25 years ago, and since 1990, they have increased from 6,000 to more than 13,000 under state control. Their membership during that time has increased from 5 million to almost 15 million. So what’s the big deal about some state control? American and Chinese pastors ask the same question! However, would you be pleased if your wife were faithful most of the time? Would some unfaithfulness be acceptable? How much unfaithfulness would you accept? Please remember that the Church is the Bride of Christ.
While there are many committed Chinese Christians in the registered churches (as there are in U.S. incorporated churches) there are still massive problems, not the least of which is the Scriptural position of Christ as Lord of His church. If the government (any government) is head of the church, it is impossible for Christ to be. After all, anything with two heads is a monstrosity.
One pastor told of Religious Affairs Bureau officials who came to his church and sat in the front where they drank beer, smoked, and talked while TSPM pastors treated them royally and almost kissed their rings. Numerous disgusted laymen left the church to join with illegal “house church” Christians.
Millions of dedicated Chinese Christians have done the same thing: They refuse to be identified with registered churches and have fled those state churches to serve Christ and worship in illegal “house churches,” and to suffer the consequences. In November of 2003, 125 churches were closed and anyone found with a Bible was arrested! In fact, in one province, Chinese soldiers made midnight raids on homes to search for Bibles.
Many Christians attend an official church and an illegal house church and there are even incidents of TSPM churches permitting illegal house churches to meet in their building! The illegal house-church movement has about 45 million worshippers nationwide, experts agree, three times more than in the registered churches! (Note that before the Communists took control in 1949, there were fewer than one million Christians in all of China!) The impressive growth of house churches is one reason for resentment and suspicion between house churches and state-controlled congregations. In fact, there have been many cases of TSPM pastors who have turned in their pastor/brethren across town who serve in illegal churches! WORLD magazine reported that “government crackdowns on local house-church networks often begin after a registered church official complains to local authorities about the underground worship activity.” What a tragedy, but that mentality is prevalent today in the U.S. as well.
Obviously an incorporated church has monumental problems when it surrenders sovereignty to the state followed by intrusive control. That control results, sooner or later, in devastating consequences.
V – The Product
A bad seed always produces a bad plant, and this is very true with church incorporation. Church surrender through incorporation, licensure, accreditation, etc., always produces a bad product. An excellent example is found in Communist Romania, one of the most oppressive regimes before the “fall” of the Soviet Union and Communist countries. Ceausescu was a ruthless dictator who ruled like a Roman Caesar. Bible believing churches were forbidden; all churches were controlled through registration. In 1980, only 150 Romanian churches were licensed to engage in religious activity within their four walls! So most churches were illegal. They broke Federal law (gasp)! One licensed sermon contained this ode to Ceausescu: “When the flower petals open in the morning, they whisper Ceausescu: this same name is chirped by birds; Ceausescu is the message brought by sun rays.” No doubt even the most ardent supporter of state controls is running for a barf bag after reading the above.
Richard Wurmbrand was a faithful pastor in Romania who spent fourteen years in Romanian prisons for his faith and refusal to register his church! He lived the last years of his life in America and I have seen his scared body that was beaten many times by Ceausescu’s stooges. He told how gradual the control came to the churches: “First they said the church must have only so many members or it can’t function. So they lumped a lot of small groups into one big church. Then they said the congregation could meet only on Sunday morning not Saturday (the Sabbath for Jews and some Christian sects) or Sunday night. This reduced church services. Then they said no children are permitted to attend. No youth, no students, no student groups and so on. There was to be no singing, no choirs, for music attracts young people.” Question: Were he and the other pastors right in defying government? So there is a time to tell government officials, “no.” When will you take such a stand?
The following examples could be expanded greatly but without justified benefit to this report.
People’s Baptist Church of Corpus Christi, Texas, is a perfect example of the product of church incorporation. The late Lester Roloff founded homes to reclaim (and regenerate) boys, girls, alcoholics, etc., which saved Texas hundreds of thousands of dollars while he pastored people’s Baptist Church. The outstanding success of the homes was an acute embarrassment to the pompous politicians and bungling bureaucrats in Texas. So for years the state tried to force People’s Baptist Church to license their homes; however, Brother Roloff rightly believed that no church should ever be licensed by the state. The petty state officials huffed and puffed and threatened to blow down his house. (Given the ability of politicians and bureaucrats to develop hot air instantly, they could no doubt accomplish the task.) The state decided to close the homes if the church did not bow to state control and accept a state license.
Now, please be aware that there was never any question as to the quality of work being done. The issue, as always, was control. Who will control the church–God or government? The case finally ended up in the Texas Supreme Court and the church lost the case. (All the children were moved out of state to escape the clutches of state welfare workers.) The court decision dated December 19, 1984, reads: “The issue is not whether People’s Baptist is performing a service that falls beneath licensing standards. The three homes have a good record of high quality service. People’s Baptist, from this record, could no doubt easily satisfy licensing requirements, but has chosen not to do so.” So, the issue was not safety of children, nor was the church trying to hide behind their convictions so they wouldn’t have to apply for a license that they could not get.
The legal decision continued: “It [People’s Baptist] reasons that licensing interferes with religious freedom. People’s Baptist does not, however, resist all licensing to do business in Texas. In fact, it does its business and service as a corporation under the corporate name of Corpus Christi People’s Baptist Church, Inc., and it complies with all business licensing requirements.” What a tragedy! The court refused their argument that their convictions would be violated if they took a license for their children’s ministry; after all, they were already licensed as an incorporated church!
People’s Baptist pled that to be licensed would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment because it would create “excessive entanglement” between the church and state. It is my contention that they should have been in a position to plead “no jurisdiction”–the state has no jurisdiction to demand a license of a church. However, People’s Baptist had willingly placed itself under state control by becoming incorporated–hence it could not plead “no jurisdiction.” So the People’s Baptist Church hemorrhaged from a self-inflicted wound. The U. S. Supreme Court denied their hearing, and the impressive homes sit empty tonight.
When “soft” pastors asked Roloff how he could justify his refusal to obey state authorities in light of the Romans 13 passage that commands Christians to obey “higher powers,” he replied that he didn’t have any problem with higher powers but a lot of trouble with lower powers! Of course, his problem was that he was not consistent throughout his ministry. He said that his conscience prohibited him from accepting a license to run his homes, yet that same conscience remained undisturbed when he sought church incorporation–probably because he didn’t realize what he was doing.
How about another example from Michigan as told by Dr. Leonard Zike:
Consider also the plight of Waverly Baptist Church just outside of Lansing, Michigan. Steve Arnold, the pastor of the new church, was struggling to build a congregation. They were meeting in the home of a young couple in the church [the Wiebers]. The neighbors complained–not about 50 people at a boisterous beer bash, but about a couple of families that met together for Bible study and prayer. The judge had refused to dismiss the case. Let me quote from Pastor Arnold’s diary of events: “February 21, 1984: Had dinner with Pastor [Clay] Nuttall to plan strategy as a church in an effort to avoid court. In our conversation we related to Brother Nuttall that the Judge was, by no means, eager to take our case in court. In fact, he indicated to our lawyer the possibility of dropping the charges if our corporate status was dissolved. This, therefore, would be our first plan of action–to dissolve our corporation. Other strategies were planned in case the dissolution failed. No strategy, however, was planned that would involve compromise.
“February 22, 1984: I went to the state department of Corporation and Securities and filed for dissolution. One week later we received our dissolution papers from the state. Proof of such was submitted to our lawyer, who, in turn, made the Judge aware of our status. March 21, 1984: Judge Hansen dismisses the charges against the Wiebers on the basis that they would no longer allow the Waverly Baptist Church to meet at their home as a Michigan Ecclesiastical Corporation. In other words, as long as we were incorporated, the State had every right to place conditions upon us while meeting in the Wieber home. Now that we are God’s church instead of the State’s they have given us the liberty to meet at the home and grow as much as we like. No stipulations whatsoever are now being forced upon us.”
Dr. Zike continues: “Notice further the words of Judge Hansen in his order for dismissal: ‘Upon reading the Stipulation of counsel, set forth above, and reviewing the records and files relating thereto, and being fully advised in the premises, NOW, THEREFORE; IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff’s claim against the Defendants may be, and is hereby dismissed without prejudice and without costs to any party on the condition that henceforth the Defendants [the Wiebers] will not allow the Waverly Baptist Church as an organized Michigan Ecclesiastical Corporation to meet at their residence located at 8704 Juniper Street, Lansing, Michigan.’ ” Some pastors don’t see any difference in an incorporated church and a New Testament Church, but the courts do.
Example: A Florida court ruled: “When the members of the church decided to incorporate their body under the laws of the state of Florida, they submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of the state courts in all matters of a corporate nature, such as accounting for funds.” Florida laws also states that churches are subject to examination by the state.
Example: A Kentucky Appeals Court ruled: “Once the church determined to enter the Realm of Caesar by forming a corporation, it was required to abide by the rules of Caesar, or in this case, the statutes of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.” Note that the above was not written by me but by the Appeals Court!
Example: In Pace, Florida, Good Samaritan Baptist Church met in the pastor’s home and was ordered to meet handicap regulations because they were incorporated!
If your church is incorporated, Christ is not its head and you, the pastor are not the human head! The Secretary of State (or Attorney General) has replaced Christ (since the state seems to consider itself God) and the human head is the chairman of the board of trustees of an incorporated church. Judge William Glovan of the Wayne County, (Michigan) Circuit Court made that decision involving the Greater New Hope Baptist Church, a Black church in Detroit. The judge rightly said that the court “should not interfere with the internal matters of a church,” but that the state’s corporate law says a corporation’s chairman of the board is the highest-ranking official. Judge Clovan said: “The laws of the state–I guarantee–do not say the pastor runs the church.” Still think I am making a mountain out of a molehill? Maybe some pastors and lawyers are trying to make a molehill out of a mountain!
VI – The Professionals
“Okay,” says a concerned and confused pastor, “an incorporated church is a registered state church, but I’m not concerned about government controlling my church. I want to know how incorporation or non-incorporation affects our tax status.” Ah! We cut to the chase. The issue of M O N E Y! First of all, we know an incorporated church is already being told what to do: The state gives you your name, a number, tells you to have officers not required by the Word, requires annual reports, tells you what to do about business meetings, etc. As to tax matters, an unincorporated church is non-taxable, while the incorporated church is tax exempt–if it adheres to “public policy” and doesn’t make too many waves. We, the people, never gave government the authority to tax a church, however we did, through corporate law, give them authority over corporations. After all, the state has a right and obligation to control what it gives birth to!
The professionals dealing with this matter are the attorneys who were very kind and patient as I had many inquiries dealing with some of the legal intricacies.
Law Professor John Eidsmoe gave me a new twist on a court’s ruling against incorporated churches. His new twist: “I suspect the court had made up its mind already that it was going to justify the regulation and just used the fact of incorporation as one justification; if the church had not been incorporated, the court would have still ruled the same way but used other justification.” Could be, but we will never know; however, we do know what judges have said. And incorporation has been an issue as I document in this report.
Dr. Eidsmoe wrote that he had not “yet taken a position on whether churches should incorporate and seek tax-exempt status.” However, he did succinctly spell out the issue in The Christian Legal Advisor: “Nonprofit corporate status is granted by the state; tax-exempt status is granted by the Internal Revenue Service, and except for churches, unless you have applied to the IRS and been approved, you are not tax-exempt. Since the U. S. Internal Revenue Code automatically exempts churches from income taxes, they are not required to apply for tax-exempt status although they may choose to do so.”
John is correct. No church has to apply for the 501 (c) (3) letter. A church does not have to be incorporated or have any approval from the state or federal government to be a church. And a church does not have to apply for any kind of approval before gifts to it can be deductible.
The IRS tells us: “Although a church, its integrated auxiliaries, or a convention of churches is not required to file Form 1023 to be exempt from federal income tax or to receive tax deductible contributions, such an organization may find it advantageous to obtain recognition of exemption.” Why?
In a recent policy statement dealing with church incorporation from Christian Law Association, the question is asked: “If the church chooses to incorporate, are we now under the Internal Revenue Service?” The answer was, “No more than you were before.” Then a more complete answer is given: “Churches are not required to apply for this recognized status with the IRS. It is granted automatically as a matter of law. Federal recognition by the IRS is what allows churches to not pay federal income tax on ministry income and to issue tax receipts for ministry donors to make federal tax deductions.” That statement implies that if government demands that churches pay taxes with tithe money then it must be done! But I must remind everyone that Christians must first obey the Bible; then we can appeal to the Constitution. That applies to mission churches all over the world (who can’t appeal to the U.S. Constitution!). Please don’t argue that missionaries are guests and must follow all government guidelines. Your first guideline to follow is the Bible, and if you are not going to do so then pack up your kids and come back to the states. You can always sell insurance.
Very few pastors who have incorporated their churches realize what they have done. Maybe they should really look at Form 1023, “Application for Recognition of Exemption.” Just a few of the questions that no Fundamentalist or Evangelical could answer to the satisfaction of the IRS: Question 3 asks: “Does the organization require prospective members to renounce other religious beliefs or their membership in other churches or religious orders to become members?” Well, do you require that or not? If not, don’t talk to me about being a Fundamentalist or Evangelical. I don’t believe you qualify. No Bible preacher would permit someone to continue membership in a Mormon, Islamic, Catholic Church, or believing in their unbiblical teachings. The same would be true of liberal Methodists, Churches of Christ, Lutheran, etc.
Question 8a asks: “How many active members are currently enrolled in the church? Question 8b asks: “What is the average attendance at the worship services?” Now, I have a question! What does the number of people have to do with a church being a church? Will you permit the government to decide that it takes a certain number to make up a church?
Question 11 asks: “Were the current deacons, minister, and/or pastor formally ordained after a prescribed course of study?” Hold it! Is the IRS presuming to tell us what the requirements of a deacon or pastor should be? Some of the heroes of fundamentalism (such as G. B. Vick and Charles Haddon Spurgeon) would not be recognized as ministers since they were not theologically educated or ordained! “But,” says a critic, “preachers should be educated.” All right, but does the government have the authority (sure they have the power, but not authority) to define that education or set standards for ministers? If so, would you permit the IRS to require a BA degree? What if they required college and seminary? What if they would tell you that it has to be an approved seminary?
Question 16 demands: “Show how many hours a week the minister/pastor and officers each devote to church work and the amount of compensation paid to each of them. If the minister or pastor is otherwise employed, indicate by whom employed, the nature of the employment, and the hours devoted to that employment.” Do I really need to comment on this requirement?
Question 19 demands; “Give the name of anyone who has assigned income to the organization or made substantial contributions of money or other property. Specify the amounts involved.” How could any pastor, even a very mushy one, answer such a question? Is any tax-exemption worth such surrender?
Keep in mind that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Bob Jones case that an exempt organization must “demonstrably serve and be in harmony with the public interest,” must have a purpose that comports with “the common community conscience,” and must not act in a manner “affirmatively at odds with [the] declared position of the whole Government.” Very clearly that means that the primary function of a tax-exempt organization is to act on behalf of the Government in carrying out governmentally approved policies. No pastor I know really believes that is the primary function of his church, but he had better believe it and practice it. Talk to Dr. Bob Jones!
But first, listen to some Christian attorneys. You will note that the following information on incorporation and tax-exemption from Christian attorneys, while helpful, is not unanimous.
Mark Moseley of Christian Law Association wrote me saying, “Christian Law Association does not take a position regarding incorporated versus unincorporated churches. CLA is a ministry of helps to Bible-believing churches, and the ministry is happy to help both incorporated and unincorporated churches.” Pastors have told me that CLA takes the position that churches, as a matter of course, should be incorporated, but Moseley said otherwise. In another message he told me: “If the state where the church is located has adopted the Unified Unincorporated Associations Act, we recommend that the church not incorporate; otherwise we make no recommendation.”
According to an article in the D. C. Bar online magazine, the Unified Unincorporated Associations Nonprofit Act treats associations as incorporated groups. It is defined as an “organization in which two or more members join together by mutual consent to pursue a common nonprofit purpose.” It is a legal entity “that is separate and distinct from the members.” The act does not require any legal filings or any written agreement between the two or more members. The group can own property in its name and its members have the “protection” of limited liability. Only Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming have passed this act into law.
Attorney Charles Craze of Christian Law Association told me concerning possible tax consequences of an unincorporated church: “It is fraught with potential difficulties. Once a church gets land, buildings, etc., that’s when incorporation becomes helpful.” He went on to add that a church is legally safer if it is incorporated. He did not speak to the issue of being disobedient to the Bible.
He is no doubt correct that unincorporated churches can have “potential difficulties.” I am not arguing with that. However, it gets even worse. State taxes also come into play when a church or group is not incorporated. I have recommended for twenty-five years that Christians should leave a bequest in their wills to their churches. In many states such as Pennsylvania and New York any legacy to incorporated churches is exempt from inheritance tax while bequests to unincorporated organizations require payment of inheritance tax. The Paulist Fathers, a Roman Catholic missionary group, was left a bequest and had to pay inheritance taxes because they were not incorporated. It has been common for Catholic priests to hold the title to church property in fee simple but when the Bishop dies there is the inheritance tax when the church property is transferred to his successor. So state laws almost force religious groups into incorporation if they want to inherit money.
Attorney Al Cunningham of the Biblical Law Center told me: “Any incorporated church is, in reality, a state church and under the yoke of the state. When state law and Bible principles are in conflict, the state law prevails.” He went on to advise unregistered (unincorporated) churches to never fill out ANY forms for any government agency, although he said an incorporated church should fill out all required forms. After all, it’s the only honest thing to do since they chose to put the church under state jurisdiction. They made a contract to obey state law and to disobey is dishonest.
John Eidsmoe wrote: “If you are contemplating incorporation, you should discuss the relative advantageous and disadvantages.” Very few churches consider both sides of the issue. They simply fill out the papers, pay the fee, fall in line, and become slaves to the state.
Few attorneys tell a registered church that if they ever close down, they must give all their assets to another registered church, i.e., 501 (c) (3) corporation. Where is God’s will in this matter? God’s will is not relevant. You agreed to become a state church so you must do what the state requires. Furthermore, few attorneys tell a church that they are holding assets for the government! The commissioner of the IRS, Roscoe Egger, said: “The churches… hold in trust that which belongs to the government.” And you thought it was only a formality when you incorporated your church!
So attorneys do not agree on church incorporation. Well, what is a pastor to do when even the experts don’t agree? They should stop asking attorneys and others what the Bible teaches. Attorneys don’t come to pastors for legal advice, so why should pastors go to attorneys for theological advice? I am not anti-attorney, since some of my best friends are attorneys, but I am critical of much of the legal profession. If you have a good attorney, then hang on to him, but remember that bad attorneys are bad news. They were one of the worst groups that our Lord had to deal with. Things haven’t changed much, have they? We preachers have spent too much time with lawyers and their law books and not enough time with Christ and His Book. We have been asking attorneys what we should believe rather than telling them what we believe the Bible teaches.
For this report I contacted some attorneys who specialize in church-state conflicts: CLA (Gibbs, Moseley, Craze); Alan Crapo of Indianapolis; Al Cunningham of Biblical Law Center in California; Barry Bertram, a Commonwealth Attorney in Kentucky; Dr. John Eidsmoe, professor of constitutional law at the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Alabama, and Wendell Bird of the Rutherford Institute–all active Christians and I think each one would call himself a Fundamentalist. (At least they would all accept the fundamentals of the faith.)
All the attorneys did not agree with Al Cunningham and me. Barry Bertram does and so does Alan Crapo with a qualification. Alan said: “Personally, incorporation is incompatible with the concept of Christ being the head of a church; however, the extension of the doctrine’s applicability to all areas of church-state relations creates new theology, which in turn, leads to an ultimate detour from the purpose of a church.” However, either Christ is the head of the church or He is not. If He is not, then a church is free to take any license and accept all regulations, but if He is sovereign then He is the head and the state has no authority unless there is a threat to life, liberty, or property.
Crapo said: “Ultimately, whether a church is incorporated or not, and whether that fact makes a difference in court with respect to taking a license for some church function, begs the question. I personally do not think it will make much difference in most courts since the Bob Jones decision.” While that issue must be considered by every pastor, that is not the question. The question is: Is it right for the church of Jesus Christ to place itself under the jurisdiction of the state? (The Bob Jones decision requires that a tax exempt organization must yield any religious belief in favor of overriding government interests.) Are you willing to yield?
Attorney Barry Bertram said: “I advise against incorporating churches and have done so for five or six years. Incorporation does not insulate a responsible person.” When I asked if he knew of problems with unincorporated churches borrowing money, he told me that it has not been an issue to his knowledge. He is a director of the largest bank in central Kentucky as well as being a Commonwealth Attorney. When he was in private practice he advised against church incorporation, but in later years he went a step further and refused to help any church to become a registered church through incorporation.
Christian Law Association is the best known and most active legal group associated with current fundamentalism. The founder is a well-respected attorney (and impressive preacher), Dr. David Gibbs, Jr. My additional correspondence with CLA attorney, Mark Moseley, might be helpful:
Has there been a change of position by CLA on incorporation? I sure want to be accurate and fair with CLA and my old and dear friend, David. Note your statement below:
“Please know that Christian Law Association does not take a position regarding incorporated versus unincorporated churches. CLA is a ministry of helps to Bible-believing churches, and the ministry is happy to help both incorporated and unincorporated churches.”
My concern is about the famous Saturday meeting when Bro. Dave called all the attorneys together to kick around church incorporation and after vigorous debate (when some came down on one side and some on the other) it was decided at the end of the day that churches should incorporate. I’m not sure of the date of that meeting, but I wonder if you were there at the time or are aware of the meeting. It was in the last few years. Has there been a change in CLA’s position?
I also have a statement from CLA attorneys Rex Sparklin and Zachary Gray where they said: “Seeking recognition of tax exempt status is also not a license.” However, Webster’s 1828 dictionary says a license is “to allow or permit” or “to permit by grant of authority.” So how can the attorneys make the assertion above? I know many pastors who would never even consider getting their schools accredited or taking a license to preach or counsel but don’t see that incorporation and 501 (c) (3) status is in fact, a license. If they end up in court, they could never plead a biblical conviction against government registration, licensure, and control since they willingly “took a license” when they sought 501 (c) (3) status as Lester Roloff discovered in his famous but losing battle.
Finally, in the same letter mentioned above, the attorneys said that “An incorporated church is not subordinating itself to the state.” That is an astounding statement! Webster notes that subordination is a “state of being under control” and “inferior in order, in nature, in dignity, in power, importance.” If words still have their meaning then an incorporated church is very definitely subordinate to the state. How then can Christ be sovereign over the church? Does CLA take the position that local churches do not have Christ as the sovereign Head but only the “Body of Christ” or the “Invisible Church” has Him as sovereign?
Forgive my verbosity, but these pressing questions need to be answered to clarify CLA’s position in all fairness and for sake of accuracy. May I suggest that you permit Dave to be aware of these questions?
Mark responded that he was submitting my questions to “senior attorneys,” but the three-page policy response didn’t contain anything new. I suppose they didn’t want to wade into the “deep weeds” of the foregoing controversies since it could only generate unnecessary controversy. I asked him to clarify a very confusing statement: “There seems to be a contradiction or some confusion: ‘Churches are not required to apply for this recognized status with the IRS. It is granted automatically as a matter of law. Federal recognition by the IRS is what allows churches to not pay federal income tax on ministry income and to issue tax receipts for ministry donors to make federal tax deductions.’ Please clarify that last sentence as it relates to the first two sentences.”
On January 7, Mark responded: “Churches are allowed to not pay taxes on church income and to issue
receipts for donations because they are recognized by the IRS as tax exempt (last sentence). Churches do not have to apply for this recognition, however, because the IRS automatically treats them as exempt (first two sentences). I hope this clarifies that passage.” But why would any church apply for “tax exemption” that they already have?
It is obvious that incorporation is a barrel of snakes. Some people tell us that if we are to be consistent then laymen should quit their jobs if they work for an incorporated business! But that is not relevant to this discussion. The question is should the church of the Living God go to the state for permission to operate and be controlled by that state? And the issue is control and the lordship of Christ!
During the Federal government takeover of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple in early 2001, the United States Attorney said in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals: “The concept of an uncontrolled church is untenable [unacceptable] in America today.” I suggest to you that that attorney is out in left field! Churches are not to be controlled. It is government that is to be controlled.
Our respected attorneys disagree on church incorporation, but they all agree that an incorporated church is a “creature of the state.” but how can the church of the living God be a creature of the state? Preachers and Bible College presidents must look to their Bibles for their answers, not to attorneys. Bertram won’t incorporate a church while Charles Craze of CLA says a church is “safer legally if it is incorporated.” Craze also said that church incorporation has not been an issue in any case he has defended. No wonder there is mass confusion over this issue. Part of the confusion results from the failure of Fundamentalist colleges and universities to teach both sides of the issue.
The privilege to be a corporation is considered a franchise with all the corporate powers derived from the state resulting in control over the activities of corporations. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled: “A corporation is a creature of the state. It is presumed to be incorporated for the benefit of the public. It receives certain special privileges and franchises and holds them subject to the laws of the state and the limitation of its charter. Its powers are limited by law. It can make no contract not authorized by its charter. Its rights to act as a corporation are only preserved to it so long as it obeys the laws of its creation.” So when a church goes to the state for corporate status, it receives a franchise or benefit and places itself under the control of lost, unspiritual, wicked government officials. Black’s Law Dictionary informs us that a franchise is “a special privilege conferred by government on individuals or corporations….” An incorporated church is a registered or licensed church, and all Christian colleges, training men for the ministry, should provide them the above basic legal information.
VII – The Persecution
All churches can expect problems, prosecution, and persecution, but incorporated churches will have those difficulties sooner than unincorporated churches in my opinion. I predict that orders will be issued that all churches must conform to “public policy” (the Bob Jones case) and that will require special treatment for homosexuals, Muslims, etc. Pastors will plead the First Amendment, but without success. Government attorneys will point out that a church’s corporate status requires it to obey its “creator.” My prediction is based not on revelation but research, reflection, and reasoning. You had better pray that I’m wrong!
Government regulations are more important to an incorporated church than the Bible! If a church is incorporated, it is a “creature of the state” with the state “breathing life” into the church corporation. The state tells you that the Articles of Incorporation (or constitution) take precedence over the Bible! The state forces you to have an annual business meeting that must be announced so many days in advance. They force you to have trustees although the Bible does not require them. That is state control, as old as Caesar.
In 284, Emperor Diocletian was determined to pressure the churches into submission in order to neuter them. Diocletian rightly assessed the Christians as being too principled to roll over in submission so he decided to break them. In February of 303, the edict went out that all churches were to be “demolished to their foundations” and “the punishment of death was denounced against all who should presume to hold any secret assemblies for the purpose of religious worship.” What would you do in that situation?
The proclamation also demanded that the church leaders must hand over all religious books into the hands of the magistrates who were to burn them in public. One Christian ripped the Emperor’s edict from a wall and for that crime was roasted over a slow fire. A group of Christians (men, women, and children) in Phrygia disobeyed the edict by going to church and a group of soldiers burned the building to the ground, killing them all. But the soldiers were “only following a federal order.”
How many pastors would refuse to deliver their religious books and Bibles to the authorities to be burned in the city square? How many would attend church when the authorities forbade them to do so? Now please remember that government officials will not burn your books or your buildings, they will probably only take away your tax-exempt status!
What will you do when some state official demands to see your church records? It may be your membership roll or list of contributors or maybe board meeting notes where you discussed very personal matters relating to staff or members. Maybe it has to do with church discipline. (You know, that antiquated policy of dealing with unrepentant members who are living public, sinful lives.) Will you really make those records available to government officials? You won’t? Upon what basis will you refuse? You made a contract with the state, and the state has a right to all your records. Since your church is a “creature of the state” you cannot refuse to produce records. (Of course, if you don’t have any records, you can’t produce them!)
If you have 501 (c) (3) status, you can’t give any of your church proceeds to anyone other than another 501 (c) (3) organization if you decide to close your church. Where does God’s will come into this decision? Neither can a pastor preach against an oppressive piece of legislation without fear of reprisals even if it is a threat to churches and Christian people. Nor can a pastor oppose a person running for public office even if he believes him to be a disaster to society. (Would you preach against another Hitler trying to come to power? As pastor, would you endorse his opponent? If so, you would be a law-breaker. If not, you are no better than the German clergy who were silent about Hitler.)
Because of fear that the IRS may jerk a church’s tax-exempt status there has been a “gagging” of America’s religious leaders. John Adams said that churches constituted a “moral compass” of society, but that “compass,” while not broken, has been lost. Martin Luther stated that the church was “neither the master nor the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” So where will government officials get direction if pastors are silent? Maybe the ACLU?
The results of the gagging of pastors can be seen daily on the pages of our newspapers and on our television screens. Preachers have not been speaking out, but liberals, loonies, and lackeys of the secular humanists have been–and politicians have been listening. The silence of the shepherds is deafening.
Dr. D. James Kennedy admitted that the government has “proved a tremendous impediment to the ongoing work of Christians. In all the laws that they have passed….they have made it harder for the church to exercise its prerogatives and to preach the gospel.” Kennedy added that in the recent presidential election, he did not say from the pulpit what he should have said because of his tax-exempt status being put in jeopardy! He said that loss of tax-exemption would have been disastrous for his church, school, and seminary. Well, disaster is better than disobedience! A Presbyterian should know that the chief responsibility of men is to obey God and keep His commandments. Kennedy knows that “strings” can become chains.
What does the IRS forbid a registered church to do? I believe they have purposely made it difficult to really know what is acceptable and unacceptable. The IRS suggests that you contact them and ask what is permissible if there is any doubt! Can you imagine any of the early Christians asking Caesar what they can and cannot preach? The very thought is mind-boggling! Our theological ancestors were men of character who stood in the gap and risked everything.
King James’ Directions Concerning Preachers (1622) required that no preacher could preach on predestination, election, reprobation, etc., nor could he preach against papists or puritans, and each preacher must be licensed in the Court of Faculties! In 1664, an even more severe burden for the religious independents came with the first Conventicle Act in 1664 that prohibited groups of more than five persons from assembling for religious worship other than that prescribed by the state Church. Question: How would you respond to such legal requirements? How are you responding to government intrusion today?
The IRS tells you that your church will be in danger if you engage in “substantial” legislative activities. What does “substantial” mean? Well, it all depends on “all the pertinent facts and circumstances in each case.” Such ambiguity will prompt a fearful pastor to have no involvement. In other words, he will gag himself.
One court suggested that churches may be safe if they spend less than five percent of their time and effort trying to influence legislation; however, that is not always true. There you have it again: ambiguity to keep you guessing or rather to keep you gagged! Rutherford Institute concluded: “Hence, a church or religious organization seeking to acquire or maintain a tax-exempt status must be aware that there is always some risk that its attempts to influence legislation will prompt the IRS to pursue an audit and perhaps even revoke its tax-exempt status.”
While involvement in legislation is fuzzy, being involved in political campaigns is not. You may remember that the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of The Church at Pierce Creek after they placed an ad in USA Today opposing the election of Bill Clinton. Jimmy Swaggart also discovered that he can have opinions about political candidates but he must not endorse anyone while acting as spokesman for a non-profit organization.
Billy James Hargis discovered in 1962 that he could not warn people of the danger of electing Roman Catholic John F. Kennedy to the presidency. The 1972 Tenth Circuit Court ruled that “tax exemption is a privilege, a matter of grace rather than a right” and Hargis lost his privileged status. Most people don’t know who Hargis was nor the influence he had in those years. He lost everything.
So what is a pastor to do if he feels strongly about an issue or a candidate and feels that as a leader, he is required to give some leadership? After all, he is the conscience of the community. He is to be a moral compass. If he bows each day before the golden calf of tax-exemption, he will gag himself.
But how can a pastor gag himself if he (and all Christians) are to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth? He may take the position as suggested by the Rutherford Institute: “A church or religious organization that desires to impact society may question whether the dollars saved as a result of the tax-exempt ‘privilege’ are worth the price of becoming culturally irrelevant.”
It is not only a matter of being “culturally irrelevant.” It is a matter of obedience. How can any honest preacher permit the government to gag him? Every preacher knows he has a mandate to preach the whole council of God, and anyone who refuses is not worthy of his calling. Added to the matter of disobedience is the problem of living with fear, guilt, and shame.
One of the most threatening issues facing the world today is perversion, commonly referred to as homosexuality. Even some Christians and conservatives have capitulated to using the word “gay.” Let me assure you that there is nothing gay in the homosexual way. Nothing! This issue is easy for a Christian to win especially if he stands on the Scripture and not only on the many studies that refute the homosexual line.
When it becomes illegal to oppose perversion, what will you do? After all, after the Bob Jones case, all tax-exempt organizations must comply with “public policy.” Abortion, homosexuality, etc., are public policy. Could that be why many Bible-believing preachers have been strangely silent on these issues? I hear them say, “But winning people to Christ is the most important thing any of us can do, and the government is not restricting me from doing that. But if they do, I’ll stand and fight!” Are you sure? You are willing to be silent on some of the most horrendous sins, and you do it out of fear of losing your church tax exemption! Is that not bowing before a golden idol? I’m afraid most pastors will continue to bow while they preach about Moses’ mother disobeying the King; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to bow; and Peter who bravely told local authorities, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
Most Americans are not aware that preachers were involved heavily in the battles to free the slaves, to end dueling, etc. In fact, Evangelist Charles Finney was one of the leaders in a campaign to outlaw dueling. Should he have been silent? Finney and other preachers, almost alone, relegated dueling to the dustbin of history. And their churches got involved in the battle, not only the preachers. One of the most prominent preachers, Lyman Beecher, urged citizens not to vote for any politician who advocated dueling! Even in the South where dueling was more entrenched, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, preached “On the Origin and History of Dueling.” Would you have preached against dueling and slavery if it were illegal to do so?
What about all those Election Day sermons that were preached (often in the town hall!) for many years in America’s colonies? What about the courageous “Black Brigade” who preached the War for Independence? The English hated the Colonial preachers because of the incredible influence their preaching had on the 13 colonies as it related to separation from England. One Tory sarcastically said that the 13 colonies had run off with an American parson! Should those preachers have left the politics to others and simply preached the Gospel? If so, you would probably be singing “God Save the Queen” instead of “God Bless America”!
Church historian William Cathcart commented on the influence Virginia’s Baptist preachers had on igniting the War for Independence suggesting “the Baptists controlled the larger number of white Virginians, whom they led directly into the Revolution; for, to a man, they were in favor of it.” That is absolutely an incredible statement! What happened to our convictions and our courage? Also what happened to our influence?
Some will tell us that their ministry can continue to prosper (and so will they!) if they remain silent on a few select issues that “really don’t have much to do with people going to heaven,” so they consider their silence to be golden. But it is usually yellow! And the price to pay will be lonely nights of guilt, fear, and shame plus an uneducated and untaught church.
Those pastors who preach the whole council of God will be threatened with loss of tax exemption if they persist in principled preaching. Some pastors will tell officials, “You can’t tell me what to preach. Haven’t you read the First Amendment? I have freedom of speech, religion, etc. Don’t slam the door when you leave.” However, the officials will not leave. They will point out that he made a contract with the government when he applied for church incorporation whereby his church is now an arm of the state, so he must obey the state. He must stop preaching against public policy or lose the special tax advantages. And preachers have been drinking from that well so long they have become addicted to it. What do you think most preachers will do?
Most of America’s preachers will not choose the path of persecution but will continue on the pragmatic path they have been travelling, bowing now and then to the golden calf of tax-exemption. And they will continue to win souls, build churches and schools, heal broken families, etc., all with the blessings of their state and Federal masters. But what about the shame and guilt of being true to the government rather than their God? They may even convince themselves that they made a good deal with the powers-that-be. “After all, government is of God. How can it be so wrong to satisfy the demands of government?” That’s the way it started in the 300s.
Emperor Constantine “walked the sawdust trail,” bowed his head, filled out a decision card, and became a “Christian”! Wow, after more than 200 years of various persecutions, under various Emperors, we won! No, we lost. Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 finally provided equal rights for Christians. No more hiding in the catacombs and running to the hills. No more public executions and destruction of church buildings (except for a while). No more lonely nights in the forests. Now Christians had access to the very throne! “Man, we’ve come a long way.”
While the persecution ceased, the churches were corrupted, and things were not as good as they seemed. Within a few years large Christian churches were built under the supervision of the Throne. The “Christian” Emperor even funded some churches and gradually became more secure and felt more comfortable with Christians and less enamored with pagans. We are told that the “clergy were freed from the public burdens which others had to bear, and private heathen sacrifices were forbidden. Two years later (322) the Christian Sunday was made a legal holiday and urban citizens were forbidden to work on that day. The Emperor even declared pagan sects illegal and destroyed their meeting places—all contrary to his own Edict of Milan! In the year 346 the non-Christian temples were ordered closed and the death penalty was imposed for sacrifices.”
Many Christians were saying (and some reading this are saying), “Wow, that was great. Special privileges for preachers, no pagan sacrifices permitted, all city labor illegal on Sunday, pagan temples boarded up, and the death penalty for sacrificing to pagans. Serves them right. I knew this day would finally come.” However, all those laws are not the responsibility of government. When Theodosius came to the throne, he went a step further and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire! Wheee, we’ve come a long way, baby. Yes, in the wrong direction. Theodosius gave the church a warm embrace and the church, used to being crushed, hugged back. Thus began the love affair of the ages, and churches have been in bed with government ever since.
Those church historians who laud the “conversion” of Constantine are either uninformed or very shallow people. Constantine was an opportunist, seeing Christianity as the glue that would hold his empire together. Few are aware that following his alleged conversion he continued to have an affinity for the pagan Apollo and continued to fund the pagan temples. While the churches were treated better under Constantine, he never showed any fruit of being a Christian. He was finally sprinkled on his deathbed. After his death the churches continued to prosper and the Bishop at Rome continued to consolidate his power over the many preachers in the Empire. Later in the fourth century the Bishop of Rome promoted papal primacy over all “Christian” pastors and it was approved by the Emperor in 445 as Leo became the first formal Pope. And it’s been downhill ever since!
It is noteworthy that following Constantine’s incorporation of the Roman Christian Church (not yet, the highly authoritarian Roman Catholic Church), “the emperor retained jurisdiction to intervene directly in the affairs of any recognized religious body. After its incorporation however, the Roman Church leadership fiercely resisted any attempts at the exercise of this imperial legislative monopoly.” It seems the “king” always wants to influence, intimidate, and interfere with the church of God, and the early, developing popes resisted it more than modern-day preachers!
Down through the centuries, the churches received special treatment from various governments usually being considered “sacred” and outside the grasp of government officials. In fact, when Congress considered taxing churches for Social Security during the Roosevelt administration, the President allegedly said, “But that would be taxing God.” That was the position of most of our Founding Fathers.
We have come a long way from the days of Madison and Jefferson. No longer is a church the most unique, unusual organization in America and the world. It is one of hundreds of thousands of non-profit corporations. No longer is a church perceived to be tax immune because of the First Amendment. It is now a privileged status granted only through the grace of the government and tax exemption will last only so long as the church does not trample upon the doctrine of public policy! (Can you imagine John the Baptist, Paul, or Peter even considering public policy before preparing a sermon?)
Dr. Everett Sileven was an outspoken foe of church incorporation after his battle with Nebraska officials who tried to control his church school. During his trial, the judge asked him to come into his chambers and asked him why he would not permit his church school to be licensed since his school was superior to the public schools of Omaha. Sileven told the judge that no New Testament Church could take a license from the government. Then the judge pointed to his indictment that read, “Faith Baptist Church, Inc.”–he already had a license!
Even though his church was incorporated, Sileven beat the state with the help of hundreds of Fundamentalist pastors and courageous laymen when the state capitulated, doing exactly what we had demanded: All government entities must stop trying to control church schools. After all, the states can’t even control government schools!
Almost all Bible preachers would not join their local ministerial association because of association with unconverted pastors yet they will climb into bed with a corrupt government! And only the blind or willfully ignorant patriots would disagree about that corruption. Of course, early Baptists and Quakers would not bed down with government even if it were not corrupt!
VIII – The Presidents
Surely I have presented enough evidence to convince you that the problem requires diligent, thoughtful, and prayerful consideration before making a decision to incorporate a church, and especially Christian colleges should be very careful what they teach their young preachers. However, most of the colleges are very careless, in my opinion. I understand that the issue is not directly in front of us screaming for our attention, and the colleges have many other issues to deal with. However, I am convinced that church incorporation will be the platform upon which we are hanged! Almost all the Christian colleges are failing to educate their students in this critical area.
I have contacted more than 20 college presidents and asked them what they teach their students to guide them when it comes time for them to start a church. Do Christian colleges even deal with the issue of church incorporation? Is it a non-issue? Most of them don’t have a policy on this issue so it is left to each professor or student to broach the subject. I hope that this research will convince them to address the issue. They may not make non-incorporation their policy, but I hope each college will inform the preacher-boys of this very important issue that requires long deliberation and prayer before arriving at a conclusion.
I have contacted the following college presidents: Bob Jones University, Liberty University, West Coast Baptist College, Trinity Baptist College, Massillon Baptist College, Shawnee Baptist College, Great Plains Baptist College, Heartland Baptist Bible College, Piedmont Baptist College, Fairhaven Baptist College, Landmark Baptist College, Heritage Baptist University, Pillsbury Baptist College, Northland Baptist Bible College, Clearwater Bible College, Tennessee Temple University, Baptist Bible College, Pensacola Bible College, Crown College, Maryland Baptist Bible College, Ambassador Bible College, and Maranatha Baptist College.
If I have not quoted one of the above presidents it means I did not receive his reply. That could mean they did not want to go on the record, they did not get my messages, or I did not receive their reply. If you have any questions, you should contact the president in question.
Most Christian colleges do not have a policy on church incorporation, and some of the professors deal with the issue in classes and some don’t. Most seem to wait for some student to broach the subject before any discussion follows. Evidently, college presidents don’t believe church incorporation is worth dealing with, while I am convinced the issue will come back to haunt us. I hope to convince college presidents and pastors that the issue is like an elephant sitting in the living room! It is there, and it is a massive problem and ignoring it will not make it disappear.
Dr. Ron Tottingham, President of Great Plaines Baptist Divinity School, sent me a very definitive statement on his position on church incorporation and what is taught in his church and school: “1. We teach that churches should never be incorporated. We also believe it is better to completely reorganize than to legally try unincorporating. 2. We suggest not claiming tax deduction but giving because it is Biblically right and obedient. (This is taught in school and church.) 3. We also teach that churches are not public but should be private assemblies, or congregations. Our services and property are to be private ‘by invitation only’ ministries to members of said church. (And we state this from the pulpit of Empire Baptist Temple.) EBT is not incorporated and is organized solely for the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ as dictated in the Authorized Version of God’s Word. Great Plains Baptist Divinity School is a part of the ministry of Empire Baptist Temple and is not separate nor incorporated. NOTE: I plan to use your completed report as a class/course text when it is finished, with your approval.”
Well, I just had to reveal his last statement and since this is my work I can do what I choose! Please note that just because he teaches that people should give because of love for Christ and God’s clear command (which we all believe) does not mean that his members cannot deduct their gifts from income taxes. However, if a church has lost its tax deductible status, any gifts to it will be forbidden during an IRS audit of a contributor. I think all pastors should teach Bible-motivated giving, even those who serve incorporated churches, since deduction of gifts to churches will not continue long in my opinion.
Dr. Clay Nuttall, Dean of the Graduate Division at Piedmont Baptist College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, also clearly came down against church incorporation: “When I teach Church Administration, etc., this is one of the subjects for discussion. I do that because this is a theological issue not a legal issue. Most of the men I know are very pragmatic about this. It is what works that counts. I do believe the day will come when every church and school that has compromised on this one [issue] will weep over their error but then it will be too late.” I think he is right on target.
It seems that while Dr. Nuttall takes a strong position on this issue, Piedmont does not. But then, that is true of almost all Christian colleges. Why do most colleges refuse to take a position? In some cases, the president is honestly convinced that church incorporation is a non-issue. In others, the leader is scared to death that he will be convinced of the legitimacy of our position if he looks at it closely thereby requiring a major shift in his thinking and approach. So, he doesn’t look at the issue except with one eye and then wearing very dark glasses. Other school presidents know incorporation is a license, but refuse to make the difficult decision to take a stand.
Almost all major Fundamentalist colleges and universities teach their ministerial students to incorporate their churches. They should, at least, inform the future pastors of the dangers of incorporation and so agreed most of the attorneys I contacted. Dr. Mickey Carter, President of Landmark Baptist College, told me on January 7, 2004, that he prefers unincorporated churches; however, his church, with many ministries, is incorporated. He does provide both sides of the issue to his college students.
I have a book written by a graduate of a major fundamentalist seminary that is titled: “How to Start a Church.” It has many excellent suggestions for young preachers, but chapter five is typically dangerous. It is headed, “Distrssing (sic) Details” and provides young men some bad advice. The author advises: “Even before you come to your new area you should start the paperwork for tax exemption. Write to the Internal Revenue Services for the proper forms. Before you can fill out your federal tax exemption forms you must be incorporated in your state. Write to the Secretary of State for the proper forms.” It goes on and on without a word of caution. Surely, very few thinking, honest, informed persons would tell a preacher that church incorporation is the biblical thing to do.
Dr. Roger Stiles, Executive Vice President of Tennessee Temple University, told me that Temple professors would handle the issue if and when it arose in class, but the university had no official policy on incorporating churches. Dr. David Kemp, head of the Bible Department and Dr. Jerry Hall, Bible professor, told me the same thing.
Dr. A. V. Henderson, then president of Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, wrote me: “At Baptist Bible College we tell young men that they should incorporate their churches unless they have strong convictions against it. It is not a test of fellowship with us; we grant to each a preference. However, we do forewarn students of the possible consequences if the church is not incorporated.” Well, this issue should not be a test of fellowship, but some of us who take this position have discovered that we are not the ones who make it a test of fellowship. We have noticed that some pastors seem to be as uncomfortable as a dog in hot ashes when they are around those of us who have convictions contrary to theirs!
The current president of Baptist Bible College (Spingfield) is Dr. Mike Randall whom, like many of the college leaders, I have known for a long time. In an article, Dr. Randall mentions the fact that Dr. Greg Dixon and his son Pastor Greg Allen are both graduates of BBC and long-time friends. He then recorded his disagreement with the Dixons as to church incorporation, building inspections, etc., while he (Dr. Randall) was serving as an Indiana pastor.
Dr. Randall then fuses and confuses the issue of a church of Christ and an individual Christian: “If the believer is commanded to submit to ‘every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake,’ what exempts the New Testament church? If God commands Christians to pay taxes without violating the sovereignty of Christ over them, how is it subversion of Christ’s sovereignty for a church to withhold them?”
First of all, to obey “every ordinance of man” must be looked at closely. Surely Dr. Randall and other leaders will never say that there are no exceptions to obeying the thousands of laws in every state and on the Federal books. And if there is one exception, there might be others. Would Randall and others permit the state to license them to preach? Will they refuse to preach on perversion, abortion, Islam, etc.? Will Dr. Randall obey a state or Federal order to hire Methodist professors or not fire homosexual professors at Baptist Bible College?
Then Dr. Randall said of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, “How is it that incorporation and withholding employee taxes violates Christ’s headship over the New Testament church, but going to the court authorized by civil government and abiding by its rulings does not? Am I the only one confused here?”
Well, he is confused because the IBT did not have a choice in going to court. The Federal Government dragged them into court. It is not as if the Dixons and IBT sued the government although I think that would be permissible, after all the courts are there for adjudication purposes.
If the state of Georgia were to tell me that my wife and I must get a Georgia license to hold our Christian Couples’ Conferences, I would refuse to do so and when taken to court I would tell the court that it has no jurisdiction in the matter! If I won the case, I would continue our ministry. If I lost, I would continue our ministry as we do presently and go to jail, but I would never permit a state to license my ministry.
Dr. Randall makes much of being “recognized” by the state as if being “recognized” and being incorporated is the same thing. He wrote: “The book of Acts presents incidents in which civil government through its magistrates recognized the ministry and ministers of New Testament churches.” He follows with Herod’s “public recognition” of the church in the martyrdom of James. And Acts 18:23-41 where the “town clerk of Ephesus recognized the ministry [of] the local New Testament church and publicly vindicated its ministers.” I can only guess what he means by this! Of course, government officials were aware of the church’s existence and dealt with its leaders. But there is a big difference in being aware and being approved.
He amazed me by saying: “it is foolish to assume that if a church is not recognized by civil government it is in some way invisible and beyond the reach of those authorities.” Churches are beyond the reach of authorities except when life, liberty, or property is at risk.
I suppose I should add that three of my four children were educated at BBC and I have preached there two or three times, and about 50% of our meetings are in BBF churches. I have also preached in three national BBF meetings and was a day speaker at one of the World Baptist Congresses held in Detroit’s Temple Baptist Church. So I am not without attachments to the BBF and not without appreciation for many kindnesses and support over the years from many of its leaders, many of them still dear friends.
So, we can assume that Dr. Henderson’s original statement to me is current policy which may be even more pro-incorporation in the light of Dr. Randall’s statement.
Russell Dennis, President of Heritage Baptist University, told me that the school has no formal policy on church incorporation, but various professors deal with the issue as it arises.
Dr. Bob Jones III, President of Bob Jones University, said: “The incorporation issue for churches is certainly not one I pretend to be an authority on. That is best left to the legal minds. The university doesn’t have any official position on the matter, and I suppose there are many varying viewpoints represented on the faculty here–I really don’t know….I know that lawyers differ on both sides of the question. I am not sure there can be or should be any consensus on the issue. There are good arguments that can be put forth in favor of each position.” Of course, he is correct about good arguments for both sides of the issue. That’s what makes it very difficult for a pastor to make the correct decision. I do not agree that it should be “left to legal minds.” That was our original problem: we listened to attorneys instead of looking to Biblical principles.
Dr. Jones wrote me recently and told me to “feel free to use the statement that I sent previously.” He went on to say: “Almost all the churches in my circle of acquaintance long ago decided to incorporate. I don’t know of any church plants in recent years that didn’t. It would seem to me that the vast majority of opinions among pastors, therefore, is that they should; but that is just a personal observation from my limited knowledge.”
Dr. Jack Hyles, while Chancellor of Hyles-Anderson College replied: “Concerning the incorporation of churches, this is what I advise young preachers. If they start a church, I advise them not to incorporate. If they take a church that is already incorporated, I advise them not to immediately lead them to dissolve the corporation. In other words, though I probably would not see it as strongly as others, I do prefer a church not to be incorporated.” I assume that same philosophy is taught in the college.
The current Chancellor (and Pastor of First Baptist, Hammond), Dr. Jack Schaap wrote: “His [Dr. Hyles] position is still our position.” He added that young preacher boys are told, “they are personally responsible to the Lord Jesus Christ as to how they establish and operate the local church, and that they face Jesus Christ at the Judgment Seat.” That is surely correct, but pastors and college presidents will also be held accountable for what they taught, and that is my point: Colleges should teach young men that church incorporation is a very serious issue to be considered carefully and prayerfully.
Dr. Dave Jaspers, President of Maranatha, wrote a very kind letter stating: “The subject of incorporation is not covered in the scope and sequence of our pastoral theology offerings, however, it has come up in some of our classroom discussions. While Maranatha does not have an official position on the matter I do tell the young men that I have had a part in starting four churches and each of those churches, after organizing, have taken out legal papers of incorporation.”
He then mentioned a spirit of anarchy that he has observed by “some (not all) of the non-incorporating churches of our day.” I am sure that is possible but I have not seen that. I am sure some pastors play that one note constantly but I don’t know any who do. We are fools if we permit something to become an obsession to the determent of our ministries, and we must never permit ourselves to take a self-righteous position regarding any matter. However, that is rather easy to drift into when we feel strongly about a very important issue. We wonder, “Why can’t everyone see it as clearly as I do?” Then the devil convinces us that it is because we are so superior and spiritual. When that happens we become tragic, pitiful humans and limited leaders. Even though we may hold the “correct” position on this or another issue, our self-righteousness is a worse sin than a failure to take the Bible position on the issue.
Dr. Jaspers then said, “It is tragic that some churches who went thoughtlessly down this road of non-incorporation have lost most, if not all, of their ministry, including people and properties. This is not a matter of persecution as much as it is a matter of poor leadership.” Since I don’t know all or most of the pastors who take the non-incorporating position, I can’t say that they were thoughtless. The ones I do know have been anything but thoughtless. They took years to come to their position since they knew it could be costly to them and to their church. What I have noticed is that the incorporating pastors are the ones who have spent almost no effort to inquire into the issue. In fact, it scares most of them to death.
Dr. Jaspers’ assessment that the non-incorporation pastors have lost their people and property is not supported by fact to my knowledge. The most well known non-incorporating church is the Indianapolis Baptist Temple who had their buildings taken from them by the government, but they did not lose their ministry or their convictions! They still have a thriving, extensive, although smaller ministry (compared to earlier years). I recently preached there when my wife and I were there for a conference, and we found an excellent crowd that was united, excited, and thrilled over God’s blessings on their church. In recent months they have started five new churches in the inner-city that are also thriving. I met three of the pastors, one Black, one Hispanic, and one White. There seemed to be genuine love, appreciation, and respect among them and for Pastor Greg A. Dixon, son of the founding pastor, Dr. Greg Dixon.
My assessment of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple is that they lost their building to the Feds for not acting as the government’s tax collector. Contrary to common opinion, the issue was not refusal to pay taxes. All taxes were paid, but not paid the way the Feds demanded. Of course, our command is not to rear buildings, but to reach people. And since the IBT “resigned from the attendance derby” both pastor and people seem to be content with their position and committed to carrying out the Great Commission.
If a pastor is more impressed (maybe obsessed?) with public perception (buildings, crowds, money) than he is with Biblical principle then he would be devastated if he lost those “spiritual merit badges” and became “less influential.” Pastor Dixon seems to be very comfortable with the results of his and his father’s decision because he thinks it was a Biblical decision.
I am firmly convinced that the Bible colleges and seminaries are making a tragic mistake if they don’t give both sides of this issue to their young preachers. In fact, it is irresponsible not to do so. And if a school or church takes the position that a license is always wrong, then it is inconsistent for them to take the position that church incorporation is proper because an incorporated church is a licensed church! It is time for leaders to do what they are supposed to do–lead.
I am sure that most colleges will not implement a major policy change regarding church incorporation; however, I trust they will mandate that professors teach this issue during the school year. There can be disastrous consequences if young pastors make decisions about church incorporation without any basic information. One president told me that his college warns students about the danger of not incorporating. However it is critical that colleges warn them also of the dangers of incorporating! There are very real dangers on each side of this issue. And an educational institution interested in truth with a desire to do a quality job will want to present all the facts so young pastors can make intelligent decisions. If they are going to be hanged in a few years, they should know why.
IX – The Possibilities
Dr. T. Robert Ingram of Texas has been involved in the incorporation controversy for many years. He is an Episcopalian and in an extensive letter to me he explained his position on this volatile issue:
It seems to me the underlying and all-governing principle has to do with the structure of public order under Christ, granting first that such a structure exists and is in place. It is the question of authority. Christian political order begins with the ancient cry of the people at the coronation of a king or emperor: “Christ has conquered! Christ rules! Christ is King!” Obviously the king being crowned is reminded he is a subordinate ruler. It follows that he cannot hold sovereign power, but only a delegated measure. His power is what Christian doctrine has called temporal, limited to that kind of rule which rests upon the just use of force–chiefly enforcing the righteousness of the law by which also virtue is promoted.
Spiritual authority, however, also delegated through the Church to individual men, is greater than temporal (through it the law of nations is made known, justice is revealed and the souls of kings are governed). Thus the classic statement of Christian constitutional order is, “There are two powers by which men are chiefly ruled, kings and priests. And of the two, the rule of priests is greater because they care for the souls of kings.” As I am sure you know, these two powers, while functioning conjointly, exercise a kind of authority which must be unmingled; that is, grace and force cannot be administered from the same power in this world, only by the Lord Christ alive and ruling from Heaven. This I am sure is what most of us have in mind in the unfortunate phrase, “separation of church and state.”
Historically the upholding of the two power structure centers on the ability of the church to exercise independent authority over her own discipline–election of members, making a division of labor and owning her own property. Always the temporal ruler seems to struggle to take away this independence, notoriously as in the Church of England whose royal supremacy was so determinedly rejected by those who settled our land.
With this in mind, it seems to me that when any church body applies to the civil authority, the state, for authority to exist and function as a body, it has abdicated this independence and so given up the spiritual authority which it exists to exercise. Incorporation means the state has set the rules of the corporation’s discipline–its membership, structure of officers and ownership of property.
In practice, what has happened in every instance I have run across where a congregation incorporated…the result has been confusion, and sometimes disaster. The Church already has full authority to exist as a public body politic, that authority from the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever she seeks additional authorization, she has denied her Lord, and He will deny that particular body. I certainly realize this dire consequence is not always the result, but it must be if the issue is forced until some heroic means sets things right again.
That is an amazing comment from an Episcopal leader!
Dr. Greg Dixon of Indianapolis would, no doubt, agree with much of Dr. Ingram’s lucid statement. I asked Dr. Dixon why many leaders of fundamentalism were silent on this issue when people such as Dr. Ingram have taken the “right” position on this controversial matter? (Even many of the Churches of Christ, Amish, and Reformed Presbyterians refuse to be incorporated.) Dr. Dixon suggested that many Fundamentalist leaders are uninformed since most of them “have not studied the issue” while others had “an inaccurate interpretation of Bible passages that deal with government.” He believes that still others don’t take a stand for “fear of getting involved.”
Dixon went on to say: “For the most part, the leaders of fundamentalism are older men who don’t have the health, strength, and vigor to fight as they have in the past….Many of them have fought fierce battles at great personal sacrifice. Many of them lost everything they had–friends, property, ministries–when they came out of the denominations….They don’t relish the idea of [possibly] starting all over again.”
Then he said, “Others have sold their soul to the state. They have a state church and are state preachers and they know it down deep. And they are not willing to take a chance on losing what they have….Our churches have been built on entanglement, accommodation, and compromise. We have built on the sand and not the Solid Rock and the chickens are coming home to roost.” And so they have, but chickens never roosted in such luxury–in debt ridden, multi-million dollar buildings (often built to stroke a pastor’s ego) and walls that are papered with numerous licenses from the state–a state church, rich and increased with goods.
Dr. Dixon unincorporated his church; the church does not pay taxes; it does not have a religious mailing permit; it does not give a tax deductible receipt for tithes and offerings; he marries couples using a marriage covenant–not a state marriage license. (Rumors that the Dixons preach against driver’s licenses, license plates, hospital births, etc., are false.) They feel they are now free men under Christ and the U. S. Constitution–free to carry on the ministry as per the Word of God. They want nothing from government except police and fire protection which every citizen and group can expect. Recently, the FBI confiscated Dr. Dixon’s home and IBT’s six million dollar church building for alleged back taxes. However, the assistant pastors, schoolteachers, etc., had paid all the taxes. The whole issue was one of control and lordship. The power to tax is the power to destroy.
Of course, there are many churches that have unincorporated in the last few years. One friend of mine did so with only three votes against it, although he had taught his people for many months before the vote. I have some suggestions that may be helpful to pastors:
1. Every pastor should thoroughly look at this issue and come down on one side or the other after long periods of prayer.
2. All Christian colleges should present both sides to ministerial students.
3. No pastor should ever incorporate a church if he believes any kind of church license is wrong.
4. If your church is incorporated, you must find your constitution and memorize it–then follow it to the letter. It is dishonest and dangerous not to do so.
5. Whatever side you take, go very slowly. When I was learning to fly, my flight instructor told me never to make any hasty moves or I might put my plane nose-first into a cornfield. That is good advice here also. Take your time. If you choose to un-incorporate, talk about it, teach it, and train your people over a period of a few months before taking action.
- 6. Now is the time to get good advice from a good attorney if you decide to unincorporate your church.
I see that pastors of incorporated churches have three options:
1. You can learn to live with your registered church. Dwell on your large Sunday school, Christian school, your
media ministry, but keep relatively silent about the issues you should be discussing with your congregation. Obey the authorities and continue as you have. You may get to where the compromise doesn’t bother you too much except late at night when you can’t sleep.
2. Continue to serve two masters. Continue to get people saved, baptized, and taught in the Word. Rant and rave rave about abortion, homosexuality, Islam, even speak favorably about good candidates for public office. Re- fuse to hire or fire homosexuals and take your chances, but keep a toothbrush handy.
3. Or cut yourself free. Become a New Testament Church without any legal structure. Don’t give tax deductible receipts, and announce that fact.
Get good information about how to handle the change. You might call Barbara Ketay at 321 724 9275 for some help. You will probably be told to not file any forms for any entity of government; don’t have a constitution or bylaws; don’t take any funds from any government agency nor vouchers; don’t have a mailing permit; don’t accredit your school; etc. I’m sure there will be other things you should do and not do. By all means think and pray it through then teach it to your people. Go slowly, but go forward.
Someone will argue that an unincorporated church will appear to be cultic and invite persecution. Well, haven’t we been promised tribulation, troubles, and trials? Surely that argument cannot be used!
One of the main things will be to surrender the privilege of giving tax-deductible receipts! You are going to lose that privilege anyway, so why not start training your church to give because it is biblical, not to get a tax deduction? In Australia there is no deducting of gifts from personal taxes, and the pastors are free to teach and preach what they feel impressed of God. Oh, to be free again!
Pastor, if you make the very difficult decision to become a totally free church, try to be patient with other pastors who don’t agree with you. Don’t become an obnoxious bore. Don’t make this issue the overriding issue in your ministry. No one will listen very long to a person playing a violin with one string.
Most attorneys will tell you that owning property makes a church most vulnerable, so some are not building buildings. Some rent facilities while others meet in homes. In closing, let’s consider that possibility. Everyone is aware of the great revival going on in China fueled by the house churches, but almost no one is aware that the house church movement is taking place around the world, including the U.S.A. The huge growth in house churches in America is under the radar.
Much of the house church growth is prompted by dissatisfaction with local churches. The complaints are legion: too big; too much wasted money; too much “professionalism”; no heart; clothes parade; etc. The exodus from established churches has been characterized by someone as “turtles and skunks.” The turtles sneak out the back door of the church to find a house church while the skunks leave, often parade-style, out the front door leaving behind a very unpleasant odor. They remind any who will listen that “no one would listen” to them or “they’ll be sorry after we’re gone,” or “they’ll sure miss our tithes and offerings.” The “skunks” almost always manage to congregate with other skunks in a house church across town.
But it doesn’t have to be that way and often is not that way. Christians often meet in a home with other Christians to sing, preach, fellowship, witness, etc., as believers have done since Bible times. In fact, they always point out that all the first churches started in homes! Now, whatever you think of house churches, their assertion is correct. We know that Christ often spoke outdoors and in various homes, and went into the synagogues to confront the unbelievers. Remember also that at Pentecost the rushing mighty wind filled the “house” where they had gathered. There are many other references to support the evident fact that the early believers met in homes: Acts 2:46-47, 5:42, 12:12, 16:40, 20:20; Romans 16:5; I Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon verse 2; II John verse 10. So there is no way we can say that house churches are not scriptural.
There were no church buildings until the third century so the apostles and their disciples were in no hurry to have them. Even after 313, when Constantine made Christianity acceptable and persecution ceased, Christians continued to meet in homes throughout the Empire. (It was also at this time that preachers began to be called, “priests.”) Church buildings became popular, dare I say it, with the growing power of the Roman Catholic Church! So large, ornate buildings are not essential to carry on the work of Christ. That does not mean that buildings are sinful (or a mistake), but there can be problems associated with the way most Christians seem to think it must be done.
There is no debate among informed believers that the building is not the church. A building, even a church building, is only a pile of bricks. I’ve heard my friend Dr. David Gibbs say many times, “If a church building burns to the ground, the church is still intact” (or something to that effect). While the members will be inconvenienced, uncomfortable, and frustrated, the church’s beliefs have not been touched.
The argument is made that millions of dollars are spent on massive buildings that are used one or two times each week. Add to that the heating and cooling, plus the huge staff of pastors, associates, musicians, janitors, etc., which total a massive amount of money that could be used for world evangelism, supporting widows and orphans (a major failure on the part of almost all churches), and other biblical causes.
Some will say that early believers met in homes because of persecution; however that is not true. In Acts 3, Saul harassed the Christians from house to house. How did he do that unless it was common knowledge where the believers met? Furthermore, contrary to common belief, believers in the Roman Empire were not persecuted constantly or consistently. There were many years of tolerance followed by a few years of persecution and that persecution was often uneven as in China today. The level of opposition often depended on the area and local authorities.
Of course, the home does not need a legal structure, has insurance, does not require building payments, and is rather safe from infiltration by homosexuals, etc.
The ministry requires some very difficult decisions and whether or not to incorporate is a major decision. It must not be made lightly. Each pastor must make a decision based on the best information he can get, and I have tried to fill that need. As they say, “The ball is in your court.”
I will remind you of the statement by Martin Luther (often attributed to Francis Schaeffer): “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however, boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
In the fourth century an obscure monk lived and worked in a monastery in Asia. (During this early period, the Roman Catholic Church was not the monolithic power it is today, and many in the church were still Bible believers.) The monk was not especially talented and was not a scholar. He spent his days working in the fields and vineyards, and his evenings were spent in prayer. Most of his friends in the monastery knew he was not destined for greatness, and would spend all his life in the fields and would die in obscurity. He was not expected to travel more than twenty miles from the monastery; however, he was destined to resist authority and strike a blow for freedom, Christ, and civilization!
While working in the fields one day, he felt impressed to go to Rome, many hundreds of miles away. He knew no one in Rome, had no reason to be there, and had no money. But he made preparation for the long, dangerous journey and said farewell to his friends as he left the safety and security of the monastery.
Finally he arrived in Rome during festival time, and the unsophisticated monk found himself caught up in a huge crowd. Following the crowd, he arrived at the coliseum where he watched two gladiators walk over to where Caesar was sitting with his lords and ladies. The monk then heard the gladiators say, “We who are about to die, salute you.”
The monk, standing in the shadows, was appalled when he realized that the men were going to fight for the sadistic pleasure of the crowd. He was also aware that the highest law of the land sanctioned the contests, but he resisted anyway.
As the two gladiators tried to kill each other, the monk decided to stop the slaughter. He jumped upon the stone wall and yelled, “In the name of Christ, cease this slaughter.” The crowd, thinking he was part of the entertainment, roared in laughter.
The monk then jumped into the arena and yelled for the fighters to stop. One gladiator shoved him back into the dust, and about that time the crowd realized that he was not part of the show. The huge crowd began to curse the monk and demand his death.
The brave monk tried to get between the fighters, and yelled, “In the name of Christ, cease.” At that time, one of the fighters slashed him with his sword from his right shoulder down to his waist. The monk fell into the dusty arena and mixed his blood with the dust. His last gesture on earth was to raise his arm and weakly say, “In the name of Christ, cease.” Then he died.
That huge coliseum got as quiet as a graveyard as every eye was on the dead Christian. No one moved; no one spoke. Then, from the top tier a man got up and quickly left the stadium. Two other men nearby followed him. In a matter of minutes, the entire crowd had silently left the coliseum. It had been years since they had seen such selfless dedication, and they would never forget it.
Then the two gladiators turned and left the arena leaving the dead monk alone in the blood and dust. But he had made his mark on the world, and that was the last gladiator contest held in Rome! While there were other contributing factors, this last act of bravery and resistance was the final blow to public acts of butchery in the coliseum!
Who knows what would result if a few courageous pastors would take a stand for the lordship of Christ over His church and all creation? It could be a revolutionary change in our churches, but if not, each church would be true to Christ maintaining His Lordship of His church. .
This report is available for $8.00, including postage. Freedom Publications, P.O. Box 944, Ringgold, GA 30736
(Don Boys, Ph.D., is a former member of the Indiana House of Representatives, author of 13 books, frequent guest on local and national radio and television talk shows, and wrote columns for USA Today for eight years. He and his wife live in the Chattanooga area and travel the nation doing couples’ conferences, child-rearing conferences, revivals, etc. Boys is not giving legal advice. He believes that Christian leaders should make their decisions based on the Bible not anything written by man.)
 The Biblical Studies Website
 H. C. Vedder, Balthasar Hubmaier: The Leader of the Anabaptists, (New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1905.)
 Daniel Webster, from a speech at the foundation of the Bunker Hill monument commemorating the soldiers of the American Revolution, June 17, 1825.
 American Jurisprudence, State and Federal, 2nd ED. P. 573.
 Letter to Bill Small from CLA attorneys, March 13, 1998.
 R. J. Rushdoony, “Incorporation,” (Vallecito, Chalcedon, 1984), Position Paper 50.
 Black’s Law Dictionary, (St. Paul: West Publishing, 1991, 6th Ed.) p. 340.
 Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 74-75.
 Smith, L. Y. and Roberson, G. G., Smith and Roberson’s Business Law, (St. Paul: West Publishing, 1966), p. 796.
 Wilson v. U. S., 221 U. S. 382.
 Bank of Agusta v. Earle, 13 Pet 586.
 Catholic Encyclopedia, “Corporations,” website.
 Mark Moseley, e-mail to author, September 18, 03.
 R. J. Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity, (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1970), p. 256.
 Gary North, Why Churches Should Not Incorporate, I.C.E. Position Paper No. 1, (July, 1984).
 Wendell Bird, “Should Church Ministries Incorporate? Rutherford Institute Newsletter, Jan./Feb., 1985.
 R. J. Rushdoony, “Incorporation.”
 R. J. Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity, p. 257.
 Alan Stang, “The Government is Threatening Your Church,” American Opinion, Jan. 1980, p. 39.
 Bird, “Should Church Ministries Incorporate?, Rutherford Institute Newsletter, Jan./Feb., 1985.
 Gary North
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 The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. C, p. 719.
 Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (Chicago: Benton), p. 198.
 Barlin v. Ramirz, 7 Ph. 41, at 58.
 Leo Pfeffer, Church State and Freedom, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967). p. 13.
 W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, eighth ed., (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897), p. 430.
 ibid., p. 432.
 ibid., p. 436.
 ibid., p. 436.
 ibid., p. 437
 Catholic Encyclopedia, “Church Property,” website
 Quoted by Don Boys, Pilgrim, Puritans, and Patriots, (Indianapolis: Goodhope Press, 1983), p. 120.
 W. G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Pietistic Tradition, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967), pp. 53, 54.
 ibid., 123.
 Dean Kelley, “The Forgotten Champion of Religious Freedom,” Liberty, July/August, 1993, p. 24.
 McLaughlin, p. 222.
 ibid., p. 222.
 James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785.
 Barnes v. First Parish in Falmouth, 6 Mass. 401 1810).
 Noonan, J. EEOC v. Townley, 859 F. 2d 610, 1988.
 James Madison, Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 12, 1788.
 McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat) 316, 327 (1818).
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 Tariff Act of 1909.
 Al Cunningham, quoted in Should Churches be Incorporated? by Don Boys, (Indianapolis: Freedom Publications), 1985.
 John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution—The Faith of our Founding Fathers,(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), p. 110, 111.
 The Annals of Americas, “James Madison: The Civil land Religious Functions of Government,” Vol. IV, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Chicago, 1976), p. 287.
 Everson v. Board of Education, 1947.
 Congressional Globe, 42nd Congress, 2d Session, note 181, at 611, 1872.
 Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, (Westchester IL: Crossway Books, 1981), p. 120.
 ibid., p. 130.
 Francis Schaeffer, speech at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 1982.
 Infoplease Encyclopedia website.
 Leo Pfeffer, p. 25.
 Leo Pfeffer, p. 24.
 Buchan, Alex, “To Register or Not to Register,” Four Issues Surround the Critical Question Facing China’s House Churches, Dec. 14, 1996.
 M. Blez, World on the web, “Caesar’s Seminary,” Jan. 27, 2001.
 ibid., p. 30.
 South Western Reporter, 2d Series, State of Texas v. Corpus Christi People’s Baptist Church, Inc., 1985.
 L. Zike, The Tyranny of Incorporation, (Portland, OR: self-published, 1985), pp. 4, 5.
 Matthews v. Adams, 1988.
 Hollins v. Edmonds, Kentucky Court of Appeals 616s.w. 2d 801.
 Don Boys, quoted in Should Churches be Incorporated? (Indianapolis: Freedom Publications, 1985).
 John Eidsmoe, e-mail on Sept. 17, 2003.
 John Eidsome, Christian Legal Advisor, (Milford, MI: Mott Media, 1984), p. 423.
 Tax Exempt Status for Your Organization (Internal Revenue Service, Publication 557).
 Mark Moseley, Christian Law Association, e-mail on Dec. 4, 2003.
 Internal Revenue Service, Form 1023.
 Mark Moseley, e-mail on Oct. 28, 2003.
 Mark Moseley, e-mail on Oct. 30, 2003.
 District Columbia Bar, D.C. Bar, Washington, D.C. website.
 Charles Craze, Christian Law Association, personal interview, quoted by Boys in Should Churches be Incorporated? 1985.
 Kavanaugh estate (Surr.), 6 N. Y., Supp. 619.
 Al Cunningham, Biblical Law Center, personal interview, quoted by Boys in Should Churches be Incorporated? 1985.
 John Eidsmoe, The Christian Legal Advisor, p. 420.
 Roscoe Egger, quoted by Peter Kershaw, The Modern Church: Divine Institution or Counterfeit? (self-published, 1993), p. 8.
 Alan Crapo, personal interview, quoted by Boys in Should Churches be Incorporated? 1985.
 Barry Bertram, personal interview, quoted by Boys in Should Churches be Incorporated? 1985.
 Don Boys, e-mail to Mark Moseley, Nov. 25, 2003.
 Robert Metzler, Oral Arguments, May 11, 200, Indianapolis Baptist Temple case.
 Charles Craze, personal interview, quoted by Boys in Should Churches be Incorporated? 1985.
 Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43.
 Black’s Law Dictionary, Henry Campbell Black, (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1979, Fifth edition).
 Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1960; edited by D.M. Low, p. 227.
 Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2, (New York: Harper and Brothers, undated; p. 225.
 ibid., 229.
 John Adams, quoted on Heal our Land Ministries website.
 Martin Luther, quoted on The Institute for Theonomic Reformation website.
 D. James Kennedy, quoted in Hushmoney, by Peter Kershaw, p. 22,
 The Eagle and The Cross, “The Rights of Churches and Political Involvement,” The Rutherford Institute, 1996.
 Christian Echoes National Ministry, Inc. v. U.S,, 1972.
 Dean Kelley, Liberty, “In Search of the Golden Era,” p. 11, 12.
 William Cathcart, Baptist Patriot and the American Revolution, (Philadelphia: S. A. George and Company, 1876), p. 87.
 M. Searle Bates, Religious Liberty: An Inquiry (New York: International Missionary Council, 1945), p. 134.
 57 S. Cal. Law Review, pp 12-13.
 Ron Tottingham, e-mail on Sept. 10, 2003.
 Clay Nuttall, e-mail on Aug. 12, 2003.
 Jim Townsley, How to Start a Church, self-published, 1974.
 A. V. Henderson, personal interview, quoted by Boys in Should Churches be Incorporated? 1985.
 Mike Randall, The Baptist Preacher, “Indianapolis Baptist Temple: Right or Wrong,” March/April, 2000.
 Russ Dennis, personal interview, Dec.3, 2003.
 Bob Jones, personal letter quoted by Boys in Should Churches be Incorporated? 1985.
 Bob Jones, email on Aug. 6, 2003.
 Jack Hyles, personal letter quoted by Boys in Should Churches be Incorporated? 1985.
 Jack Schaap, personal letter dated Oct. 23, 2003.
 David Jaspers, e-mail to author dated Aug. 6, 2003.
 T. Robert Ingram, personal letter dated Dec. 12, 1985.
 Greg Dixon, personal interview quoted in Should Churches be Incorporated? 1985.
 Samuel Ericsson, Liberty, “Is Your Home Really Your Castle? March/April 1982, p. 6.
 Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 2, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), p. 126.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Weimar Edition, Briefwechsel [correspondence] vol. 3, pp. 88f.