Is a church a spiritual or legal entity?

A Publication of Churches Under Christ Ministry

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 Jerald Finney
Copyright © November 27, 2017

To answer this question, one must define “legal entity” and “spiritual entity.” See What is a legal entity? for explanation of  “legal entity.” See What is a spiritual entity? for explanation of “spiritual entity.”

Ep.2.19-22God desires His churches be a spiritual entities, not spiritual and legal entities: “Church” in this essay refers to God’s churches, New Testament churches, churches under Christ and Christ alone. A church is composed of spiritual beings, born again believers.

  • 1 Peter 2:5 says, speaking to born again believers: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
  • Ephesians 2.19-22: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”

Ephesians presents the local church. Chapters 1-3 are about the heavenly calling of the church and are doctrinal. Chapters 4-6 are about the earthly conduct of a church and are practical. Believers and churches sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus as they walk on the earth where they are to do God’s work in the family, on the job, in the church, and in the world. Click here to go to more detailed studies on the doctrine of the church from Ephesians and other books in the Bible. They are to walk in the spirit (See, for example, Galatians 5).

Ep.1.19-23_1In Ephesians 1.19-23 we learn that God set Christ “at his own right hand in heavenly places.” The suffix “ly” means “like” or “from,” and when added to a noun creates an adjective. So “heavenly” means like or from heaven. “Heavenly places” therefore means places like or from heaven. When a person is born again of the spirit, he becomes a new creature and the Holy Spirit indwells that person. See, e.g., 2 Corinthians 5.17, Ephesians 2.1-6.

God has put all things under Christ’s “feet and gave him to be the head over all things to the church” (Ephesians 1:22). Colossians 1:18: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” His body is to walk on the earth, and be connected to Him. The body is to be connected to the Head. The New Testament makes clear that Christ desires that a church be spiritual, that all the church does be spiritual, that a church have only one head, a spiritual Head, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Again, a believer and a church are to be connected to Christ who is the head. A church is “his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all (23).” He made believers to “sit together in Ep.1.22-23_3heavenly places in Christ Jesus” while they walk on the earth as new creatures indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit, doing His work as instructed by the Word of God.

Again, Christ desires to be the only head of His churches. Ephesians 1:22 “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” Colossians 1:18 “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”

The Bible has much more to say, but that is enough to establish Bible precept, which describes the church as a spiritual entity or body built by the Lord Jesus Christ, over whom Christ is to be the Head in all things. See, for example, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 for more on the spiritual and eternal organism or body which is the local church.

God allows churches a choice. A church can choose to be what God wants it to be, an eternal spiritual entity under God only; or a church can choose to be a temporal earthly entity such as a 501c3 corporation under both God and man or under man only.

Spiritual blessings follow obedience; curses follow disobedience even though a church under God and man, or under man only, may have some temporal earthly success for a time. In fact, many churches, especially mega-churches are very successful businesses posing as “churches,” under God.

The Bible clearly teaches that the unholy always corrupts the holy when the two are combined. Corruption is inevitable when church and state are intermixed. As history shows, the official corrupted “church,” which was married to and used the state to enforce many of its unholy ways, was vile to the core. The Reformers became especially aware of the corruption within the Roman “church.” The churches which arose out of the Reformation adopted many of the heresies of the Roman spiritual harlot which they rebelled against and discarded.

To quote a great Bible teacher: “The church that sets out to spiritualize the world will soon find that the world will secularize the church. When wheat and tares compromise, it is the wheat that suffers. Light and darkness, right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error are incompatibles, and when they compromise it is the light, the right, the good, and the truth that are damaged.”[1] As Pastor Hank Thompson, has preached:

  • “Holy means set apart for God.  You cannot bring that which is holy and unholy together without making the holy things unholy. Holy things combined with unholy things do not make the unholy holy. It always makes the holy unholy. Being around someone who is sick may make a well person sick. Being around a well person won’t make a sick person well. If you are grounded and touch the ground and a power line at the same time, you are cooked. If you try to touch God and touch the world, you will be corrupted.”[2]

TaxExemptStatusCorruptsThe Holy Bible, the basic source for all truth proclaims:

  • “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God: as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters saith the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6.14-18).
  • Luke 16:13 “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” (Luke 16.13.)[3]

History proves this. Union of church and state corrupted the civil government, the Roman “church,” the “clergy, and the people, except for a remnant.  It also corrupted the established Protestant churches and the nations which had established Protestant churches.

For a more thorough explanation of the doctrine of the church, see the resources in En 4.


[1] W. Graham Scroggie, born 1877, twelve times the Bible teacher at the famous Keswick, England conference, They Knew Their God, Vol. 5, 194 cited in The Berean Call, February 2006, p. 5, available at Separation is a Biblical principle that runs throughout scripture—Pastor Hank Thompson gave a tremendous sermon on “Separation” on Sunday evening, February 12, 2006.

[2] “Separation.” Sermon preached at Capitol City Baptist Church in Austin, Texas by Pastor Hank Thompson, February 12, 2006. See pp. 149-150 of God Betrayed (this is a link to the PDF).

[3] The doctrine of separation is taught extensively in the Word of God.

[4] What Is a Church and What Upholds Her Integrity? [Article], Bible Studies on the Doctrine of the Church, The Biblical Doctrine of the Church, The Biblical Doctrine of the Church

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