Does God Care if our Church is Incorporated?


A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.


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Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 1, 2017


God grieves because His people neither understand nor honor His authority and His precepts. God grieves when a church dishonors His authority. A church can dishonor God’s authority in many ways, to include incorporating and getting 501c3 or 508 status.

God’s grief calls churches and believers to anguish, but few grieve, few cry, few pray, few even know that there is a call to anguish. The call started a long time ago. Authentic churches in the colonies and then the new nation betrayed their roots and compromised the authority of God. In the colonies, in Massachusetts and Connecticut, many Baptist churches applied for certificates whereby they would receive tax dollars on an equal footing with the established churches. Then, as the states legislated religious freedom and separation of church and state but also allowed multiple establishment through their non-profit corporation laws, many churches chose to incorporate to get perceived benefits from man-made laws. Their betrayal passed on to future churches. The betrayal of God increased exponentially for 225 plus years to this very day. This article points out one proof of the consequences of this betrayal that should call believers and churches to anguish.

Please allow me explain by giving one example of the consequences of church incorporation and 501c3. I know of no instance where an incorporated church which does not have 501c3 or 508 status. There is no reason for an incorporated church not to get such status since an incorporated church is already an established church, a legal entity.

God ordained civil government and laid out its jurisdiction. God gave civil government no authority or ability to define “church.” God defines “church” in the New Testament.  God also made clear that church and state were to remain totally separate. Yet, that was never the case, except for a remnant, in either the American colonies or the states. Church establishment in America gives civil government substantial control over churches and included in that control is the ability to define “church;” to determine if an organization is qualified for “church” non-profit corporation status, the state of incorporation must define “church.” Likewise, the federal government must define “church” to determine whether an organization is qualified for 501c3 or 508 status.

How far off base would civil government go in the definition of “church” as multitudes of organizations sought and continue to seek non-profit corporation and tax exempt status? Let us look at an illustration. “A New Religion Forms That Will Worship A ‘Godhead’ Based On AI” states in the introduction:

“Anthony Levandowski has already filed paperwork with the IRS for the nonprofit corporation that is going to run this new religion.  Officially, this new faith will be known as ‘Way Of The Future.’” The article goes on to explain the tenets of the “Way Of The Future,” which include a faith in science which will create a “Godhead” which will make things better and a denial of the existence of God.

Had God remained the sole authority for churches, organizations  like “Way of the Future” could have existed, but they could not have received official sanction as a “church” and “benefits” from any authority, earthly or heavenly.

Religious Americans, to include many Baptists alongside obviously heretical or apostate Protestants and Catholics, gave civil government the power, the authority to define “church.” Civil government took to the task, first in issues involving state non-profit corporate status; then, later in the twentieth century, income tax exemption status.

As to federal tax exemption law, the authority has developed a process and rationale to determine whether an organization applying for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status is a “church.” When determining whether an organization is a “church,” a “religious organization,” or a “religious society,” the IRS (and court, if the IRS ruling is appealed), has a 14 part criteria, which—though not all-conclusive since other factors will be considered when deemed appropriate by the IRS—is a man-made definition; a definition which is partially contrary to the Word of God. En 1 gives the IRS definition of church with link to online IRS webpage; En 2 discusses a sample IRS ruling; En 3 briefly discusses some cases which have attempted to define church and links directly to those cases.

The IRS agency makes initial determinations, but the ultimate authority is the judiciary. Regardless of the ruling of the IRS, the losing party can appeal to the appropriate court asking for reversal and laying out their arguments for their position. Ultimately, the case could go all the way to man’s highest authority on issues such as this, the United States Supreme Court.

What is wrong with this? God made clear that Christ in heaven is to be the only authority (power or head) “over all things to” His churches. Put another way, a church, the spiritual body whose feet walk and work on earth, is to be connected to only one spiritual head, Christ in heaven. This connection was made after Christ ascended to heaven and filled the members of the church with the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost (Ac. 2.4). God the Son, before his ascension, walked with his disciples and apostles. God the Holy Ghost now indwelt them, thereby giving them a direct spiritual link to their God-ordained Head who was now in heaven. See, What is a spiritual entity?What is a legal entity?Is a church a spiritual entity, a legal entity, or a spiritual/legal entity?.

Churches are to be “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit,” not built together as corporate 501(c)(3) or 508 organizations according to man’s earthly, temporal, legal laws.

Most of the credit for the door being opened to Godless “religions” to gain the ability to be labeled as “churches” lies with not only with Protestants and Catholics but also with the progenitors of those martyrs who gave their lives standing for New Testament principles, one of which is separation of church and state. Once they had an opportunity to do so, the majority of even authentic Baptist believers and churches who honored and even died standing for the principle of separation of church and state while persecuted betrayed their head, their authority, the Lord Jesus Christ. They incorporated, and with the advent of tax exempt law, they applied for tax exempt status; along with many new breeds of “churches.”

All incorporated and/or 501(c)(3) and 508 “churches” operate under the authority of the federal government, even those who also have or once had some connection to the Lord Jesus Christ. The latter sometimes operate partially under Jesus Christ and partially under civil government; sometimes solely under the authority of civil government.

New Testament churches who obtain state non-profit corporation status and get federal tax exempt status partially or totally lose the power of God because they become legal entities. They are no longer spiritual entities only under the authority, headship or power of Christ alone. Without the power of God, they are ill-equipped to do their work: the perfecting of the saints (inside the assembly), the work of the ministry, the edification of the body of Christ, going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature (Mk. 16.15), and performance of other duties outside the assembly. They no longer resemble the spiritual bodies described in the New Testament. See Ep. 4.11-16; 1 Co. 12)

2Additionally, by mixing church and state, churches opened the door to the untenable situation where an earthly temporal civil government which has neither the authority nor the ability to understand spiritual matters is granted power over the church and put in charge of defining “church,” “religious organization,” “religious society,” etc. This mixing of the holy with the unholy has resulted in the inevitable consequences we see shaping up as a result of civil government definition of “church.”

In conclusion, should the IRS and/or the court decide that “Way Of The Future” is a qualified tax exempt religious organization or church, true churches will coexist as earthly legal entities alongside not only already existing corporate 501(c)(3) organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Church of Wicca, and the Church of Satan, but also another Godless and God-defying organization which directly challenges God and His existence. Because they do not remain under their God-ordained authority (power or headship)—the Lord Jesus Christ—they will possess either no power of God or, at best, a watered down power of God. They betray their Lord, they lose God’s power, God grieves, and they could care less!

Where is the anguish in the House of God today because of the loss of the power of God? There is none. Listen to the powerful clip from sermon A Call to Anguish.


[For complete studies which cover all issues (such as the Ro. 13 issue, the incorporation issue, etc.) see the resources linked to in En 4.]

Click here to go to Old Paths Baptist Church Website.


Endnotes


En 1 Churches Defined “The term church is found, but not specifically defined, in the Internal Revenue Code. With the exception of the special rules for church audits, the use of the term church also includes conventions and associations of churches as well as integrated auxiliaries of a church.

“Certain characteristics are generally attributed to churches.  These attributes of a church have been developed by the IRS and by court decisions.  They include:

  • Distinct legal existence
  • Recognized creed and form of worship
  • Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
  • Formal code of doctrine and discipline
  • Distinct religious history
  • Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
  • Organization of ordained ministers
  • Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
  • Literature of its own
  • Established places of worship
  • Regular congregations
  • Regular religious services
  • Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
  • Schools for the preparation of its members

“The IRS generally uses a combination of these characteristics, together with other facts and circumstances, to determine whether an organization is considered a church for federal tax purposes.

“Source:  Publication 1828, Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations.”

See DEFINING “CHURCH” – THE CONCEPT OF A CONGREGATION by Robert Louthian and Thomas Miller for a discussion of court application of the above criteria.

En 2: Internal Revenue Service Private Letter Ruling 8833001, 1988 PRL LEXIS 1594:

Just one illustration of what can happen when the civil government determines if an organization is a church, when IRS officials determine what constitutes a church within the meaning of IRC § 170(b)(1)(A)(i), follows. The threshold question in determining whether an organization is a church described in § 170(b)(1)(A)(i) is whether the organization qualifies as a religious organization described in § 501(c)(3). Using the 14-part IRS test to determine whether a religious organization was a church, IRS officials held that an organization with the following purpose as stated in its articles of incorporation and bylaws was a church: “[T]o establish an ecumenical church to help people learn to pay attention, wake up, and discover what both Christ and Buddha referred to as one’s true self.”

The ruling stated:

“The organization was established to develop an ecumenical form of religious practice, place greater significance on the modes of religious expression that would unify western and eastern modes of religious practice, place greater significance on the mystical or interior experience of religious truth than that of most western church denominations, and be more spiritually satisfying to members than other existing church organizations.”

In other words, the IRS determined that an organization whose purpose was directly contrary to the principles for a church laid down by the Lord in His Word was a church.

Note. The above ruling is available on LEXIS, a legal website which charges for its services. The website can be assessed in some public law libraries and law firm libraries.

En 3: A small sampling of cases which have attempted to define church and links directly to those cases. These cases cite many other cases which deal with the definition of “church”:

PARSHALL CHRISTIAN ORDER v. BOARD OF REVIEW, COUNTY OF MARION, 315 N.W.2d 798 (1982)(Supreme Court of Iowa)

A family organized as an incorporated 501(c)(3) “religious society” and claimed property tax exemption. “People may not transform their families into religious organizations and thereby obtain exemption for property over which their dominion and use remain unaffected. Granting tax exempt status to PCO would exalt form over substance and violate the rule of construction that exemption statutes are strictly construed.” The case cites and discusses various cases from other jurisdictions.

Ideal Life Church of Lake Elmo v. Washington County, 1981, 304 N.W.2d 308 (Supreme Court of Minnesota)

Purported religious organization which was organized and operated primarily for motive of tax avoidance by private individuals in control of 501(c)(3) corporation, had no formally trained or ordained ministry, had no sacraments, rituals, education classes or literature of its own, had no liturgy other than simple meetings resembling mere social gatherings or discussion groups and did not require a belief in any supreme being or other being, and whose doctrine and beliefs were intentionally vague and nonbinding upon its members and whose members freely continued to practice other religions, was not a “church” as such term was used in state’s tax exemption laws.

In re Collection of Delinquent Real Property Taxes, State of MN v. American Fundamentalist Church, 1995, 530 N.W.2d 200 (S.Ct. Minnesota) rehearing denied

Threshold question in determining whether real property is “church” entitled to tax exemption is whether entity claiming exemption is “church” within meaning of statute…. The organization in this case was an incorporated 501(c)(3) church. Test for determining whether organization is “church” entitled to tax exemption is subjective one, focusing on sincerity of belief and taking into account evidence on objective issues. … Principal motivation for organizing religious corporation was tax minimization and therefore, organization was not “church” and, therefore was not entitled to real property tax exemption in view of evidence that most of financial contributions to organization came from individual founder, that most of founder’s income came from taxpayer, that founder was primary beneficiary of organization’s financial actions, and that founder and his wife, who was co-founder, dominated meetings of organization’s board of trustees.

FELLOWSHIP OF HUMANITY (a Nonprofit Corporation) v. COUNTY OF ALAMEDA, 153 Cal.App.2d 673 (California Court of Appeals. First Dist., Div. One1957)

The precise question involved in the instant case–whether the reverence of a deity is a prerequisite to the receiving of a tax exemption for church property. A humanist organization organized as a nonprofit corporation under the laws of California, Fellowship of Humanity, applied for property tax exemption on the ground that the property was used “solely and exclusively for religious worship….” The fundamental question–is a belief in God or gods essential to “religious worship,” as those terms are used in the state Constitution? The answer of the court: “No.”

WAUSHARA COUNTY v. Sherri L. GRAF, 166 Wis.2d 442 (1992), 480 N.W.2d 16, Supreme Court of Wisconsin. Submitted on briefs October 4, 1991.Decided February 17, 1992

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin reviewed the evidence and concluded that “The evidence indicates that Basic Bible was established to evade taxation. Basic Bible failed to meet its burden of proving that it is a “church” or “religious association” under [Wisconsin law]. The court held that Basic Bible was not property tax exempt.” The fact that the church held “in trust” the property for which a property tax exemption was sought was not a factor in the decision. The Court concluded that incorporation and 501(c)(3) status is not a prerequisite for church property tax exemption; and, again, made clear that the fact that the church held the property “in trust” did not disqualify the church from property tax exemption.

En 4 For further study for the interested believer:

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