A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.
Copyright © December 8, 2017
A legal entity is a temporal earthly entity created and/or recognized by the law of man. The entity can be charged with a crime, sue and be sued, and act legally by entering into contracts, buying property, etc. Civil government has jurisdiction over legal entities.
Individuals are legal entities which are not created by the laws of man, but recognized by the laws of man. Legal speaks of earthly, temporal, as opposed to heavenly or eternal. A person in his/her right mind is a legal entity. If the person is lost, he is a legal entity only. If he is a born-again believer, he is both a legal entity and a spiritual entity. However, an earthly government cannot assume jurisdiction over his spiritual life. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10.28).
There are also legal entities which are created by the laws of man; these entities are made up of organizations of persons. Included are corporations (aggregate or sole, for-profit and non-profit), unincorporated associations, charitable trusts, business trusts, incorporated 501c3 or 508 tax exempt organizations and the list goes on. These type organizations are subject to the agreements made when they organized under man’s law.
Legal entities include associations, corporations, partnerships, proprietorships, business, charitable, and other kinds of trusts (but not simple trusts, as explained below), or individuals that have legal standing in the eyes of law. Neither God nor the spirit of God have anything to do with their organization, operation, goals, and purpose. The law calls them “artificial persons.” They can be charged with crime, sue, be sued, assume legal, temporal, earthly obligations, and act legally by entering into contracts, buying property, opening bank accounts, hiring employees, running businesses (like schools, cafes, day care centers, etc.), and so forth. Satan can infiltrate and take over legal entities since they are spiritually dead. Satan is the god of this world who orchestrates the world system.
All legal entities, other than individuals, are created by or recognized by man-made civil government law. For example, American corporations, including church non-profit corporations, are created by complying with the state corporation law. Other legal entities such as sole proprietorships, are not created by man’s law, but are recognized and controlled by man’s law since they are businesses with income; they must, for example, get an assumed name, file income tax returns, get an Employer Identification Number, pay income taxes on profits and social security taxes on employees, register with the state sale tax office and pay sales taxes, etc.
A simple trust established to manage money and property for the benefit of a beneficiary is not a legal entity. See Trust Explained and The Bible Trust Relationship: Links to Essays and Other Resources. Other types of trusts which are either established according to man’s law or which have income are legal entities.
Many churches choose to be both legal and spiritual entities and many are legal entities only. Some churches, the remnant, protected by the law in America–the First Amendment and corresponding state constitutional provisions–choose to remain true to New Testament Church Doctrine and Example by remaining spiritual entities only. See Is a church a spiritual or legal entity? for more concerning this matter.
Churches, unlike businesses or charities, are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and corresponding state constitutional provisions which guarantee freedom of religion to churches. Those laws give churches a choice. Churches choose whether to become a legal entity or remain a spiritual entity only. For more on this, see Is a church a spiritual entity, a legal entity, or a spiritual/legal entity?