Copyright © December 10, 2012
Revised April 22, 2014
Note. This is a modified version of Section VI, Chapter 7 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application; Chapter 7 of Separation of Church and State/God’s Churches: Spiritual or Legal Entities?
II. How a church can remain a spiritual entity under the authority of God (Scripture) only, not under the legal system in any way
III. Distinctions between a church corporation holding property and a pastor/trustee holding property for the benefit of the Lord
A. First distinction
B. Second distinction
C. Third distinction
D. Fourth distinction
E. Fifth distinction
F. Sixth distinction
G. Seventh distinction
IV. Other benefits of pastor/trustee holding property for the benefit of the Lord
V. The use of biblical terms within the legal system
VI. Conclusion: For the Glory of God
Note: You may go to the colored titles in this article by left clicking the links. Click “Reasons given for church incorporation,” “Non-theological reasons given for church incorporation,” or “Theological reasons given for church incorporation” to go to links to all of articles on spurious reasons given for incorporating churches. Those links are also in the left column of this blog.
Today, the most common reasons given by churches for incorporating and seeking 501(c)(3) status are (1) limited liability; (2) to allow a church to hold property; (3) civil government recognition of tax exempt status assures church leaders, members, and contributors that the church is recognized as exempt and qualifies for related tax benefits (For example, contributors to a church that has been recognized as tax exempt would know that their contributions generally are tax-deductible); and (4) convenience—it is easier to get a tax deduction for tithes and offerings given to an incorporated 501(c)(3) religious organization than for tithes and offerings given to a New Testament church, (5) tone’s convictions, (6) winning souls is more important than loving God; .
This article will deal with the second reason, to hold property. The first reason, limited liability, has already been addressed in the article “Church Incorporation Increases Liability of Church Members.” Spurious rationale for church corporate-501(c)(3) status: tax exemption and tax deductions for contributions OR Tax reasons given for church corporate 501(c)(3) status: a biblical and legal analysis covers the third and fourth reasons; Spurious rationale for church corporate-501(c)(3) status: one’s convictions the fifth; Spurious rationale for church corporate-501(c)(3) status: winning souls is more important than loving God/The Most Important Thing: Loving God and/or Winning Souls the sixth;
To properly understand the relationship between church and state, one must understand the ultimate relationship between the spiritual and the earthly, between a church and the property upon which that church assembles. I have thoroughly explained the spiritual-earthly distinction in God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application which is available free in online form (this article is a modified version of Section VI, Chapter 7 of God Betrayed and also Chapter 7 of Separation of Church and State: God’s Churches: Spiritual or Legal Entities?), in PDF form, and on the “Audio Teaching: Separation of Church and State” page of this website and on the “Radio Broadcast” page of“Church and State Law.”Ordering information for those who wish a hard copy may be found on the “Order Information for Books by Jerald Finney Page.”
Christ foretold, but did not explain the church (Mt. 16.18). The revelation of this mystery was committed to Paul. In his writings we find the doctrine, position, walk, and destiny of the church (1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 1 to Ep. 4.11, p. 1253). Other New Testament writers only touch on church matters. The New Testament makes clear that the church is a spiritual body which cannot own property. However, since a church is a spiritual organism and body made up of saved human beings, she must occupy earthly space. A group of human beings, although saved and spiritual, cannot meet in outer space. Thus, a spiritual body must meet together in an earthly space, upon earthly property. God has given no other alternative. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (He. 10.25).
There is no teaching in the New Testament that condones a church becoming an earthly or legal entity. In fact, a church which becomes a legal or earthly entity violates biblical principles. Only a legal or entity can own property. A spiritual entity cannot own property. Thus, no church in the New Testament owned or held property since thoses churches were spiritual entities only. Churches in the New Testament assembled on property which the churches did not own.
The love of property, not property in and of itself, has contributed mightily to the decline in the number of New Testament churches in America and the advance of heresy and apostasy. Churches have jumped to unbiblical conclusions as to how to possess property upon which to meet. Two considerations are important. First, as shown in Section II ofGod Betrayed and in corresponding audio teachings, from nowhere in the Bible can one infer that a building or property is a church. Nowhere in the New Testament is there any indication that a church owned property. This is because a church, under God, is a spiritual body. By owning property, a church violates biblical principle, becomes a legal entity, entangles herself with earthly matters, and ceases to be a New Testament church. A spiritual body cannot own property.
Nowhere does the Bible mention that the first churches owned property or that the Lord told churches to own property. In fact, the Great Commission says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mt. 28.19). Christ did not bring people into the temple or synagogue. Evangelism occurs outside the meeting place. Christians meet together for the preaching of the Word of God, for worshipping the Lord, for baptisms and for the Lord’s Supper. There they are uplifted and prepared to go into the World to evangelize. The church who is doing what God desires is in the world where she is a light to those who are lost, not under a bushel where her light is hidden. New churches must go out into the world where they can be a light, so they meet in storefronts or other rented spaces. Maybe some churches grow because they go into the world.
Jesus told church members that they would “be witnesses unto [Him] both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Ac. 1.8). He said nothing about them getting big buildings or property. None of the conversions in the New Testament occurred in a church building, nor were the lost or new converts ever invited to a church building. Rather, “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Ac. 2.47). “[T]here was a great persecution of the church who was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea, and Samaria, except the apostles…. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Ac. 8.1, 4). Everywhere Christians went, they preached the Word publicly. Never was any concern for property, real or personal, expressed. This is because a church is spiritual, not earthly. Most “churches” today are consumed with their property. They will do anything to get property in the name of the church, and they will do anything to keep it. Church owned buildings are idols to them.
Second, the Bible and reality reveal that a church, a spiritual entity, since the spiritual part of the Christian is still housed in an earthly body, must occupy an earthly space and, therefore, property when meeting. Originally churches many times met in a church member’s house. Thus, a church must be concerned with at least one temporal, earthly, secular matter—it has to decide upon what property it will meet and how it will gain the right to possess and assemble on that property. A church must make some type provision for property in order to be able to assemble together and exist.
All property is connected with civil government through a title. Someone must hold legal title to the property upon which a church meets. Since the church must possess property to exist, she should endeavor to possess property in a manner consistent with biblical principle. Again, a church cannot own property, since she is a spiritual entity.
Churches who ignore biblical principles can always rationalize incorporation and 501(c)(3) status. However, incorporation is not an option for a church who wishes to please our Lord and remain a New Testament church. In the colonies and early republic, as pointed out inGod Betrayed and other audio and written teachings by this author, Baptist churches ignored Scripture and sought incorporation for several reasons. For a time, one reason for betraying and displeasing God and incorporating in Massachusetts was to comply with the decision in the Cutter v. Frost case in 1785, and thus be sure that religious taxes paid by Baptists would be returned to their ministers by parish or town treasurers. That reason disappeared with the passage of the “Religious Liberty Act” of 1811, which reversed the Cutter Case by interpreting Article Three as applying to all churches, incorporated and unincorporated. For some Baptists a more compelling reason was to enable a congregation to make binding contracts between its members and its pastor, thereby guaranteeing regular payment of a decent salary. Those Baptists obviously cared little for the teaching of Scripture concerning contract and the manner in which a church was to provide for her pastor. In addition, incorporation gave all persons in the congregation the right to vote on building or repairing a meetinghouse as well as paying the minister’s salary and other matters both spiritual and earthly. Some Baptists argued that incorporation was necessary to hold property or endowment funds in the name of the church. The obsession with property, among other things, has caused churches to jump to unbiblical conclusions and join hands with the state.
II. How a church can remain a spiritual entity under the authority of God (Scripture) only, not under the legal system in any way
If the laws of men allow a church to utilize property openly, the church should do so only in a way that complies with biblical principle. Two biblically acceptable options for a church are the leasing of property by the pastor/trustee under a Declaration of Trust, or, if possible, using someone’s property at no cost. These options would be especially attractive should the pastor/trustee lease from someone who loves God and His church and makes a lease available at a nominal cost or at no cost. Some American churches are utilizing one of these methods.
Another means some churches are pleasing the Lord in the manner in which they meet on property is as follows. A pastor/trustee can hold property for Lord Jesus Christ as beneficiary. A church can execute a Declaration of Trust which proclaims to the world that the church is placing property under the care of a pastor/trustee who will hold the legal, earthly title to the property for the benefit of the true and equitable owner of the property, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Declaration of Trust and necessary associated documents are in line with both biblical principle and American law.
“Declaration” means: “Publication, manifestation; as the declaration of the greatness of Mordecai. Esth. X.; A public annunciation; proclamation; as the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776”( MERRIAM WEBSTER’S AMERICAN DICTIONARY OR THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE (1828) definition of “DECLARATION). Declaration of Trust is defined as follows:
“The act by which the person who holds the legal title to property or an estate acknowledges and declares that he holds the same in trust to the use of another person or for certain specified purposes. The name is also used to designate the deed or other writing embodying such a declaration” (BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 408 (6th ed. 1990) under definition of “Declaration.” This definition is consistent with the definitions in more authoritative legal references such as AMERICAN JURURISPRUDENCE 2D and CORPUS JURIS SECUNDUM).
This type of Declaration of Trust does not create a charitable trust or other trust which is a legal entity—this type of trust is only a means of holding property. This is important because the IRS recognizes that charitable trusts are creatures of the state, legally organized under state law, along with unincorporated associations, nonprofit corporations, and corporations sole (IRS Publication 1828 (2007), p. 2).
“It has been said that trusts are generally divided into two main classes: private trusts and charitable trusts. A ‘charitable trust’ is one in which the beneficiary is a governmental entity or in which the purpose of the trust is to implement public welfare or convenience. The primary differences between a charitable trust and other private trusts are that a charitable trust may be perpetual, the denominated recipients of the trust income may be indefinite, and the intended beneficiary is the community itself. It has also been said that the fundamental distinction between private trusts and charitable trusts is that in a private trust, property is devoted to the use of specified persons who are designated as the beneficiaries of the trust, while a charitable trust has as a beneficiary a definite class and indefinite beneficiaries within a definite class, and has a purpose which is beneficial to the community” (76 AM. JUR. 2D Trusts § 4 (2007)).
This manner of holding property, that is by a pastor/trustee for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ, is according to biblical principle and is entirely distinct from the man invented anti-scriptural practice of holding property through incorporation. This manner of holding property does not affect the organization of the church at all and does not place the church under the state in any way.
III. Distinctions between a church corporation holding property and a pastor/trustee holding property for the benefit of the Lord
A. First distinction
Incorporation can be distinguished from the holding of property by a pastor/trustee for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ in many ways which emphasize that incorporation is unbiblical and the concept of holding property in trust is found throughout Scripture.
First, under church incorporation, the church becomes a legal entity and holds property. I have done a much more detailed analysis of incorporation with cited authority in Section VI of God Betrayed as well as in other articles and audio teachings on this “Separation of Church and State” blog. I will not go into as much detail on the nature of incorporation in this article. Should you desire more legal citations for the assertions about incorporation, go to Section VI, especially Chapters 1-3, of God Betrayed and/or—to a lesser extent—the corresponding audio teachings which are available on this “Separation of Church and State Law” blog. Under the trust method, the pastor/trustee, not the church, holds the property for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ—a church holds no property when this method is used. This is totally in line with biblical principles as well as American law as is shown below.
B. Second distinction
Second, unlike a corporation which comes into existence with the consent or grant of the state, holding property in trust in this manner does not create a legal entity. The right to act as a corporation is a special privilege conferred by the sovereign power of the state or nation. On the other hand, God left property in trust to mankind to maintain it for His benefit. God Himself initiated the concept of holding property in trust. For a pastor/trustee to hold property in trust for the Lord Jesus Christ is biblical.
The basic purpose of incorporation—to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, own it, or whom it employs—is at odds with the purpose of a church who is to glorify God by submitting herself to her Husband in all things. When a pastor/trustee holds property for the true beneficiary of all property, the Lord Jesus Christ (“For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him[.]” (Col. 1.16) by executing a proper Declaration of Trust and other necessary documents, a church is not placed under the state because no legal entity is thereby created. When a pastor/trustee holds property for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ, God is glorified in that the property is held by the pastor, not the church, in trust for the Lord Jesus, the equitable owner.
Secular law interprets “trust” in a manner consistent with biblical principle:
“A trust is not a legal entity. A trust is not an entity distinct from its trustees and capable of legal action on its own behalf, but merely a fiduciary relationship with respect to property. A trust is not a legal ‘person’ which can own property or enter into contracts, rather, a trust is a relationship having certain characteristics” (76 AM. JUR. 2D Trusts § 3 (2007).
This concept of trust is not overruled by Black’s Law Dictionary which defines “Entity” as follows:
“A real being; existence. An organization or being that possesses separate existence for tax purposes. Examples would be corporations, partnerships, estates, and trusts…. ‘Entity’ includes corporation and foreign corporation, not-for-profit corporation, business trust, estate, partnership, trust….” BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 532 (6th ed. 1990). Black’s Law Dictionary defines numerous kinds of trusts. For example, a business trust is organized for the business purpose of making money.
However, that definition definitely does not apply to the type trust relationship created by a Declaration of Trust by which a pastor/trustee holds property for the beneficiary, the Lord Jesus Christ. “Legal existence” means “An entity, other than a natural person, who has sufficient existence in legal contemplation that it can function legally, be sued or sue and make decisions through agents as in the case of corporations” (BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 893-894 (6th ed. 1990)). The trust contemplated by the author of this book, and as recognized by the law generally, only contemplates holding property by a pastor/trustee for the true beneficiary. No legal entity is thereby created. Black’s Law Dictionary is not the authoritative law. Sometimes it is wrong, or sometimes, as in regards to trust, it is partially wrong, or when taken in context of all it has to say on a subject, has combined some truth with error as to legal conclusions. Here, Black’s is internally inconsistent and clearly overruled by more authoritative legal sources which are cited in this article.
There is a caveat which, if biblical guidelines are followed, is inconsequential to a trust relationship in which a pastor/trustee holds property for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ. Modern civil law is beginning to treat a trust somewhat like a legal entity, but only so far as the relationship between the trustee(s) and the beneficiary or beneficiaries is concerned. An outside party still cannot sue a trust. No one can sue a church which is not a legal entity.
“Observation: The Restatement states that increasingly modern common-law and statutory concepts and terminology tacitly recognize the trust as a legal ‘entity,’ consisting of the trust estate and the associated fiduciary relation between the trustee and the beneficiaries. This is increasingly and appropriately reflected both in language (referring, for example, to the duties or liability of a trustee to ‘the trust’) and in doctrine, especially in distinguishing between the trustee personally or as an individual and the trustee in a fiduciary or representative capacity” (Ibid.).
This caveat should be of little or no consequence to church operation because the church does not own the property and cannot sue or be sued. The pastor, as pastor/trustee, has obligated himself under God to lay down his life for the sheep within the church he pastors, something a licentious pastor may not wish to do and something which a licentious, worldly Christian member of a church may not want him to do.
Even should a pastor or other member of a New Testament violate biblical law which is not criminal, the Bible teaches: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren” (I Co. 6.1-8).
No matter the status of a church—New Testament church or corporate 501(c)(3)—state courts may possibly attempt to assume illegal jurisdiction initiated by a disgruntled member against a pastor or others in the church as regards temporal matters (just as almost all state courts will assume jurisdiction in a divorce petition initiated by a husband or wife married solely under God without state authority and without a state marriage license). This applies no matter how property utilized by a church is held. However, a court will find it impossible to achieve jurisdiction over a New Testament churc which is a spiritual entity. Appropriate courts may assume jurisdiction over a pastor/trustee who abuses a fiduciary duty.
C. Third distinction
Third, the state is sovereign over a corporation which is an invention of man and a legal entity. A trust relationship whereby a pastor/trustee holds property for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ under a Declaration of Trust, implements a principle God laid down in the Garden of Eden and which is seen throughout the Bible, and, as civil law agrees, does not create a legal entity over which the civil government has control. No principle in the Bible supports incorporation; rather, biblical principle is contrary to church incorporation and probably to any type incorporation.
D. Fourth distinction
Fourth, under a corporation, man does not hold property in trust for God. The corporation, a creature of the state, owns property. Under a properly drafted Declaration of Trust in conjunction with other properly worded documents, legal title to property is vested in a pastor/trustee for the benefit of the Lord Jesus. The church owns nothing, and cannot own anything as long as she remains a spiritual entity.
Who owns all things? The sovereign God owns it all—not only the land, but also everyone and everything. That ownership is implicit in the fact that He created it all. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Ge. 1.1). Then God created light and divided the light from darkness. Then He created the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from those which were above the firmament. Then He created grass, herb yielding seed, and fruit trees yielding seed. Then He made the sun and moon, then living creatures whom he told to be fruitful and multiply. Then He created male and female in His image (Ge. 1).
He clearly stated His ownership of all in His Word:
- God said, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine” (Ex. 19.5).
- God said, “The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (Le. 25.23).
- “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee [God], and of thine own have we given thee” (I Chr. 29.14).
“The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24.1).
- God said, “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Ps. 50.10).
- “The heavens are thine [God’s], the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them” (Ps. 89.11).
- “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts” (Hag. 2.8).
Thus, God owns all people and all things. When a church assembles together, God owns the land upon which they meet. The land is temporarily loaned to man for God’s benefit, but God owns it. Although man has the temporal legal title to the land, God has equitable title. God is the equitable owner. An equitable owner is “[o]ne who is recognized in equity as owner of the property, because real and beneficial use and title belong to him, even though bare legal title is invested in another” (BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 539 (6th ed. 1990)). “In a trust relationship, as distinguished from a ‘contract,’ there is always a divided ownership of property, to which the trustee usually has legal title and cestui [que trust] an equitable title” (BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 539 (6th ed. 1990)).
Mankind holds all property in trust for God. “Trust,” as a noun, has been defined as follows:
“1. Confidence; a reliance or resting of the mind on the integrity, veracity, justice, friendship or other sound principle of another person. He that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be saved. Prov. xxix.
“2. He or that which is the ground of confidence. O Lord God, thou art my trust from my youth. Ps. lxxi.
“3. Charge received in confidence. Reward them well, if they observe their trust. Denham.
“4. That which is committed to one’s care. Never violate a sacred trust.
“5. Confident opinion of any event. His trust was with th’ Eternal to be deem’d Equal in strength. Milton.
“6. Credit given without examination; as, to take opinions on trust.
“7. Credit on promise of payment, actual or implied; as, to take or purchase goods on trust.
“8. Something committed to a person’s care for use or management, and for which an account must be rendered. Every man’s talents and advantages are a trustcommitted to him by his Maker, and for the use or employment of which he is accountable. [Bold emphasis mine.]
“9. Confidence; special reliance on supposed honesty.
“10. State of him to whom something is entrusted. I serve him truly, that will put me intrust. Shak.
“11. Care; management. 1 Tim. vi.
“12. In law, an estate, devised or granted in confidence that the devisee or grantee shall convey it, or dispose of the profits, at the will of another; an estate held for the use of another. Blackstone” (MERRIAM WEBSTER’S AMERICAN DICTIONARY OR THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE (1828), definition of “TRUST”).
A more modern dictionary defines “trust” as a noun as follows, in relevant part:
“… 3. a : a property interest held by one person for the benefit of another. … 5. a (2) : something committed or entrusted to one to be used or cared for in the interest of another….—in trust: the care or possession of a trustee” (WEBSTER’S COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY, 1269 (10th ed. 1995)).
76 American Jurisprudence 2d Trusts § 1 (2007) defines trust as follows:
- “The fundamental nature of a trust is the division of title, with the trustee being the holder of legal title and the beneficiary that of equitable title. By definition, the creation of a trust must involve a conveyance of property.
- “A ‘trust’ exists where the legal title to property is held by one or more persons, under an equitable obligation to convey, apply, or deal with such property for the benefit of other persons. A trust has been defined as a fiduciary relationship with respect to property, subjecting the person by whom the title to the property is held to equitable duties to deal with the property for the benefit of another person, which arises as a result of a manifestation of an intention to create it. The Restatement definition is similar, providing that a trust, when not qualified by the word ‘resulting’ or ‘constructive,’ is a fiduciary relationship with respect to property, arising from a manifestation of intention to create that relationship and subjecting the person who holds title to the property to duties to deal with it for the benefit of charity or for one or more persons, at least one of whom is not the sole trustee.
- “Caution: A trust consists not only of property, but also of the trust instrument, the trust’s beneficiaries and trustees, and the trust administrator [if any]” (WEBSTER’S COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY, 1269 (10th ed. 1995)).
The principle of “trust” runs throughout the Bible. God entrusted mankind with all property, real and personal. He owned all things—even the body, soul and spirit of man—but left all things, including the land, to man to be used for Him. God trusted man with all His earthly creation and left it to him in trust, as trustee or steward. “Trustee” means, in relevant part:
“1 a : one to whom something is entrusted…. 2 a : a natural or legal person to whom property is legally committed to be administered for the benefit of a beneficiary (as a person or a charitable organization)…” (WEBSTER’S COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY 1269 (10th ed. 1995), definition of “trustee.”).
Adam and Eve were trustees of the earth and all that was in it. In what some call the Edenic Covenant, God gave responsibilities to mankind.
“The man and woman in Eden were responsible: (1) To replenish the earth with a new order—man; (2) to subdue the earth to human uses; (3) to have dominion over the animal creation; (4) to eat herbs and fruits; (5) to till and keep the garden; (6) to abstain from eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; (7) the penalty—death” (Ge. 1.28-31. This was pointed out on page 13 of God Betrayed).
Although entrusted with all things, God gave mankind free will as to whether to carry out their responsibilities as trustees. The principle that nations—Gentile nations and Israel—and individuals were left in trust of land and all things for the benefit of God runs throughout the Old Testament. This principle of trust continues to this day.
The Lord spoke of this concept of trust in at least two parables as recorded in the books of Matthew and Luke (Mt. 25.14-30; Lu. 19.12-27). He spoke of an earthly master leaving certain amounts of his goods or money with his servants, according to their abilities. Actually, the more important parallel spiritual meaning was to the Lord and His servants. The master had an absolute right to his own goods, but he distributed to his servants to be used for the benefit of the master, the servants to be awarded according to their profitable use of the property entrusted to them. Some used the money productively and upon the master’s return presented him with a profit. The property belonged to the master, and the servants were to use it for the master’s benefit, not for their own benefit. Of course, they would be rewarded if they used the property wisely for the benefit of the master. One servant in each example returned only the original amount left in trust with them. The master instructed that the goods which he had left with the unprofitable servants be taken from them, and they were left with nothing. The profitable servants were rewarded by the master. In the story found in Matthew, the Master said, “[C]ast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 25.30). Men, as servants of the Master are likewise left in trust of all things for His benefit and will be rewarded or punished according to their use of His goods.
Timothy was a pastor, and a pastor has a special position of trust unlike other members of the body. Timothy was a trustee of a spiritual heritage: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called” (1 Ti. 6.20)[Emphasis mine]. The Bible proclaims that pastors rule over the body. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the Word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (He. 13.7). “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (He. 13.17). “Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints…” (He. 13.24).
Biblically, a pastor must meet much more stringent God-given requirements than other members of the body:
- “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop [pastor [En1], he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (I Ti. 3.1-7).
- “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre” (Tit. 1.7).
- These requirements are strict because the bishop is entrusted by God to “take care of the church of God” (I Ti. 3.5). He is a “steward of God.”
- The pastor is an overseer of the church: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Ac. 20.28). “Overseers” here refers to pastors. [En2]
- “The elders [pastors [En3] which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’sheritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (I Pe. 5.1-5).
The pastor then is obviously responsible to act as ruler, trustee, steward, overseer of the church. Therefore, the Declaration of Trust must, to be biblical, name the pastor as trustee acting in trust for the beneficiary, the Lord Jesus Christ.
This does not mean that all men are not trustees. God has appointed every human being who has ever lived as trustee over himself, all that God has given him, his spiritual heritage, and his spiritual destiny. The earth was still God’s, but man was told to care for and possess His earth. Mankind was “trustee” of the earth. The pastor is trustee of the church.
A declaration of the relationship between property held by a person for the benefit of Christ better serves its purpose if the terms “trust” and “trustee” as opposed to “stewardship” and “steward” be used. “Steward” means in relevant part:
“1. A man employed in great families to manage the domestic concerns, superintend the other servants, collect the rents or income, keep the accounts, &c. See Gen. xv. 2—xliii….
“5. In Scripture and theology, a minister of Christ, whose duty is to dispense the provisions of the gospel, to preach its doctrines and administer its ordinances. It is required instewards, that a man be found faithful. 1 Cor. iv” (MERRIAM WEBSTER’S AMERICAN DICTIONARY OR THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE (1828), definition of “STEWARD”).
The first meaning of “steward” is reflected in several passages of the Bible: Ge. 15.2, 43.19, 44.1, 44.4; I K. 16.9; Mt. 20.8; Lu. 8.3, 12.42, 16.1-8 (parable of the unjust steward). The last meaning is reflected in I Co. 4.1, 2 and Tit. 1.7. “Stewardship” simply means “The office of a steward” (Ibid., definition of “STEWARDSHIP”). The terms “stewardship” and “trust,” are distinct. The term “trust” better describes the desired relationship between the Lord and the person who holds all he has for His benefit. Likewise, the meaning of the terms “steward” and “trustee,” are distinct. “Trustee” better describes the position of a person who is to hold property or anything else for the benefit of the Lord. Compare the definitions of “trust” and “stewardship” and “trustee” and “steward.”
Luke 16.1-8 is the parable of the unjust steward. Following that parable, Jesus said,
“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Lu. 16.10-13). [Bold emphasis mine.]
E. Fifth distinction
Fifth, incorporation creates several contracts. The primary contract created by incorporation of a church is a contract between church and state which places an incorporated “church” under the contract clause of Article I Section 10 of the United States Constitution as already shown. The articles of incorporation constitute a contract between the corporation and the state, between the corporation and its members (owners), and between the members (owners) themselves. Furthermore, the corporate church must also have bylaws which creates contracts between the members (owners) of the corporation, and between the corporation and its members (owners). All these contracts come under Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution. A Declaration of Trust, as described in this chapter, creates no agreement or contract at all with or between anyone. Under such a Declaration, a trustee merely holds legal title to property for the benefit of the beneficiary, the Lord Jesus Christ. “Contract,” is an enlightenment principle. According to enlightenment thinking, man—who is basically good according to this manner of thinking—through his reason can solve all problems. “Trust” is a biblical principle. According to the Bible, God is the Sovereign and only the application of His principles will bring positive consequences.
The members of the church, under the contracts of an incorporated “church,” not only control the church property, they also control the spiritual direction of the church. Corporate trustees become the de facto rulers and overseers of the church. Members are beginning to realize and understand and exercise the power given them in the contracts entered into between themselves and the sovereign state, between themselves and the corporation, and between themselves. Dr. Greg Dixon explains:
“Fundamental Baptists have operated through a strong pastor/leader who has been able to control his board, but as David Gibbs, Jr. told me [Dr. Dixon] 20 years ago, ‘We have a new breed of trustees now who are educated and understand their fiduciary responsibility.’ Even after the Baptists gained liberty through the First Amendment, they held property by the Protestant method through lay trustees. In reality they had a church board contrary to biblical and Baptist polity which lasts till this day. These trustees are now firing preachers for cause. One old preacher in Ohio testified at a fellowship meeting and said that the trustees fired him on Saturday night and changed the locks, and he couldn’t even get in on Sunday a.m. Another preacher in Colorado said that they fired him on Sunday p.m. and told him not to come back on Sunday night. They have power to call the police. They can violate the constitution and by laws, how can the preacher sue?
“Catholic clergy understand the effect of lay control of a ‘church.’ The Catholic laymen came to America without priests to begin with and started ‘churches’ including buying ‘church’ property and holding the property through the Protestant system with lay trustees. When the priests came they tried to take the property over through the corporation sole method as in Europe where the Bishop of the Diocese holds the property in his own name. The lay trustees didn’t want to give up their power, but finally did; and the Catholic polity of corporation sole prevails to this day.” [En4]
F. Sixth distinction
Sixth, a corporation is established under a charter from the civil government and conclusively established by filing articles of incorporation with a state agency, the contents of which are commonly specified by a state’s corporation statutes. Statutory requirements as to the form and content of the articles or certificate must be substantially followed. No such requirements exist for the drafting or filing of a Declaration or Trust. A Declaration of Trust can be drafted in any logical manner which contains the elements of the trust and need not be filed to establish the trust relationship. A Declaration of Trust in no way either subjugates a church to the state or creates any contract of any kind between anyone.
G. Seventh distinction
Seventh, whereas incorporation of a church creates a monstrosity, a pastor/trustee holding property for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ implements biblical principle. An incorporated church gets part of its powers from God and part from the civil government. It is under two heads. It operates partly under Satan and partly under God. A church who sees fit to become incorporated under state law is obligated to conduct its business activities in compliance therewith, including governmental regulation of its employment relationships, so long as the employment does not depend on doctrinal matters.
A church who meets on property held by a pastor/trustee for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ and does not connect herself to the state in any other way is totally under God. No “business” practices or requirements in the operation of the church are initiated. By utilizing property held in trust by a pastor/trustee for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ, no entanglement of church and state results, no elections, board of directors, no officers, no employees, no business meetings, etc. are required since the civil government has absolutely no control over the secular or spiritual affairs of that church.
IV. Other benefits of holding property by a pastor/trustee
Holding property in the recommended manner has additional benefits. Not only does holding property in this manner comport with biblical principles, holding the property in this manner lessens the chances that the property, and especially the buildings, will become idols. “Their idols are … the work of men’s hands. … They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them” (Ps. 115.4-8). Finally, holding property in this way does not require that the church be structured as a business. A church who loves the Lord and desires to please the Lord will leave no stone unturned in her quest to structure herself as a New Testament church.
V. The use of biblical terms within the legal system
Thus, God instituted the concept of trust in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden. It is a biblical concept which is utilized in America today. Just because the law uses the concept and uses some of the same terms, does not mean that Christians can no longer use the concept and the term(s). For example, if adoption of biblical terms by the state means that thereafter use of those terms are prohibited by Christians, then Christians can no longer use the term “justification.” A Christian who objects to the use of the terms “trust,” “trustee,” and “beneficiary” should never again use the term “justification” since that is a term utilized by the state.
Simply put, justification means “a reason to be found not guilty even though you are guilty.” Biblically, all men are guilty before God. The only reason for a finding of “not guilty” before God will be salvation through the blood of Christ. Temporally, the criminal law provides justifications which allow guilty men to be found “not guilty.” The Texas Penal Code provides: “It is a defense to the prosecution that the conduct in question is justified under this chapter” (Texas Penal Code § 9.02 (2007)). Self-defense is a justification for murder. Texas criminal law further provides for self-defense: “… [A] person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree he reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force” (Ibid., § 9.31 (2007)). “Justification” in Texas law is a reason for your crime that provides a defense. If the issue of a defense is raised by the evidence, “a reasonable doubt on the issue requires that the defendant be acquitted” (Ibid., § 2.03(d) (2007)).
The Supreme Court of Texas recently addressed the use of certain secular terms by Tyndale Theological Seminary and Bible Institute, a ministry of HEB Ministries, Inc., a church in Fort Worth, Texas.[En5] In that case,
- “a law in the State of Texas required a private post-secondary school to meet prescribed standards before it may call itself a “seminary” or use words like “degree”, “associate”, “bachelor”, “master”, and “doctor” — or their equivalents — to recognize attainment in religious education and training. Violation of the law was a Class A misdemeanor and was also punishable by a civil penalty of $1,000 per day. The issue was whether this requirement impermissibly intrudes upon religious freedom protected by the United States and Texas Constitutions.
- “HEB ministries was fined $173,000 for violating the law. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of HEB ministries.
- “HEB contended that “the State cannot deny the use of such higher education terminology to religious schools that do not meet its standards.”
The court stated, among other important pronouncements, that
“[T]he government cannot set standards for religious education or training.” … “Neutrality is what is required. The State must confine itself to secular objectives, and neither advance nor impede religious activity.” … [S]etting standards for a religious education is a religious exercise for which the State lacks not only authority but competence.” … “By restricting the terminology a religious institution can use, the State signals its approval or disapproval of the institution’s operation and curriculum as vividly as if it hung the state seal on the institution’s front door.”[En6]
VI. Conclusion: For the Glory of God
More and more churches in America are organizing according to biblical principles. Some have have operated as New Testament churches for many years. Others are learning that they have been misled by unknowing pastors, other “Christians” ignorant of the biblical doctrine of the church, and unscrupulous lawyers and “Christian” legal associations who make a good income by promoting incorporation and 501(c)(3) status for churches. More each day are coming to understand that that those devices are wicked and displease our Lord.
The pastor/trustee who holds property for the benefit of the Lord, since he holds that property in sacred trust for the Lord, is not to utilize the property as a profit-making venture in any way. The purpose of holding the property is to glorify God by allowing the church to assemble together to worship and glorify God, since the worship of an incorporated church is not totally pure and since a church commits a great wickedness by incorporating. An incorporated church can, at best, be within the permissive—not the perfect—will of God. This does not mean that the pastor/trustee cannot sell the property at an appreciated price. All proceeds from a sale of such property, no matter the sales price, should be used for the glory of God. Since the pastor must meet the highest of biblical standards, he is least likely, of all church members, to deal carelessly or in a sinful manner in carrying out his responsibilities to God. Should a saved pastor betray his fiduciary duties to his Lord, (1) he faces far greater consequences from his Highest Authority than from any lower authority; and (2) the New Testament church, having placed their hope in eternal, not temporal matters, has not been affected at all, since that church is a spiritual, as opposed to legal, entity.
1. “Having completed the treatise of doctrine and of the manner of handling of it, as well also of public prayer, he now in the third place comes to the persons themselves, speaking first of pastors….” Geneva Bible Commentary available on SWORDSEARCHER software. Go to http://www.swordsearcher.com for information on SWORDSEARCHER software.
“As [the term ‘bishop’] is never used in the Scriptures with reference to prelates, itshould be used with reference to the pastors, or other officers of the church; and to be a pastor or overseer of the flock of Christ, should be regarded as being a scriptural bishop.”Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible available on SWORDSEARCHER software.
2. “Overseers. In Acts 20:17, they are called elders; here, overseers, which is, in the original, the same as the word rendered sometimes bishops.” Abbott New Testament Commentary available on SWORDSEARCHER software. “Made you overseers – Εθετο επισκοπους , Appointed you bishops; for so we translate the original word in most places where it occurs: but overseers, or inspectors, is much more proper, from επι , over, and σκεπτομαι , I look. The persons who examine into the spiritual state of the flock of God, and take care to lead them in and out, and to find them pasture, are termed episcopoi, or superintendents. The office of a bishop is from God; a true pastor only can fulfill this office: it is an office of most awful responsibility; few there are who can fill it; and, of those who occupy this high and awful place, perhaps we may say there are fewer still who discharge the duties of it. There are, however, through the good providence of God, Christian bishops, who, while they are honored by the calling, do credit to the sacred function. And the annals of our Church can boast of at least as many of this class of men, who have served their God and their generation, as of any other order, in the proportion which this order bears to others in the Church of Christ. That bishop and presbyter, or elder, were at this time of the same order, and that the word was indifferently used of both, see Acts 20.17 (note).” Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bibleavailable on SWORDSEARCHER software.
3. “In this place the term πρεσβυτεροι, elders or presbyters is the name of an office. They were as pastors or shepherds of the flock of God, the Christian people among whom they lived.” Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible available on SWORDSEARCHER software. “That Peter means the officers, not the aged persons, is shown by I Pe. 5.2.” The People’s New Testament Commentary available on SWORDSEARCHER software.
4. Dr. Greg Dixon is pastor emeritus of Indianapolis Baptist Temple. The information concerning the Catholic “church” is from John Cogley, Catholic America (Garden City, NY: Image Books, A Division of Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1960), pp. 200-203.
5. HEB Ministries, Inc. v. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 235 S.W.3d 627 (Tex. 2007).