Answer to a Bible College Vice-President’s Article on Church Incorporation: “To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate?”

Many Bible Colleges and their leaders give advice on church incorporation without Bible, legal, or historical knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Click here to go to an article giving such advice by “Dr.” Charles Brown, Executive Vice President of Landmark Baptist College; plus a rebuttal article by Jerald Finney published in “The Trumpet.” The title of the article is “To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate.?” The issue is also covered in Chapter 9, page 97 of the 3rd edition of Separation of Church and State/God’s Churches: Spiritual or Legal Entities?  (Click to go to a PDF of that book).

Note. I would now change some terminology used in the rebuttal argument mentioned above. For example, I referred to “pure New Testament church” in the article. After many more years of study, I would now use instead, “church under the authority of Jesus Christ and Him only” or something similar to that. Nonetheless, such minor misnomers do not change the truth of the conclusions.

Matthew 16:18: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” This is the first verse in the Bible with the word “church.” There are many “churches” (local visible assemblies) in America today who profess to follow Jesus Christ. Is it not important that such a church, for one thing, be built under the sole authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and the principles for Christ’s churches (assemblies) laid out in the New Testament?


[Click here to go back and review Question 2 and other questions.]

Reply and Answer to Question 2

Some very relevant questions among many others for a church who desires to please our Lord are:

(1) Do your documents of church governance conform with Bible principle and example? For example, are your documents designed to address a law of man such as state non-profit incorporation law or federal IRC Section 501(c)(3) or 508? Even if your documents state Bible principles, is not the authority who decides contested issues should the civil government challenge your stated policies the relevant civil government agency with provision for appeal to civil court? In other words, who is the ultimate authority over the issue (this is the question to be answered, not, “Will your civil authority rule correctly should they contest your statements and practices?”)
(2) Does not a church who incorporates voluntarily contract with civil government? Does not that church agree to abide by all the law of incorporation under which they freely choose to incorporate? To understand church corporate 501c3 adn 508 status see Does not a church who applies for 501c3 status agree that her authority as to the rules that she freely agree to will be the federal government? Does not a church who assumes 508 status agree that she is placing herself under the authority of a law of man for many purposes? See
(3) Do not New Testament principles for church organization make clear that God, even though He gives man free will to go by His commandments and principles, desire that a church be under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ only? See, e.g., Ephesians 1.22, Ephesians 4, and the whole book of Ephesians (See, Colossians 1.18.
(3) Does not the First Amendment separate church and state (not God and state) in conformity to Bible principle? See, e.g.,
(4) Do not the constitutions of all states give churches a choice: operate outside the authority of state non-profit corporation law or become non-profit corporations (or other types of legal entities) under the authority for many purposes of man’s law?
(5) Does earthly, temporal, legal church organization (incorporation (aggregate or sole), 501c3 and 508 status and other types of legal entity status) conform with Bible principles for church organization? Does not Bible principle make clear that a church is to be under the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ only? Does not incorporation and any other type of legal church organization (organization under man’s law) place a church under the authority of man’s law for many purposes? Does not church legal status transform a church from spiritual, eternal, heavenly status only to a hybrid organization partly spiritual, eternal, and heavenly and partly worldly, temporal, and earthly?
(6) Who is a church to obey – God or man? See, e.g., the epistles of Paul, 1 and 2 Peter,
(7) Do Romans 13, 1 Peter 2.13, etc. require that churches obey every ordinance of man except, possibly, a proscription against preaching the gospel? See

The above are a sampling of questions which a church and a “Christian” attorney should ask when deciding how to organize. The answers to the questions will determine what documents a church drafts and what she puts in those documents. Will she draft, for example, a church covenant? Will her controlling document be the Word of God only? Will her controlling documents for many purposes be a charter, a constitution, by-laws, Internal Revenue Code Section 501c3 or 508? The choice belongs to the church. Their choice to remain under God only is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and corresponding state constitutional provisions.

I humbly submit that, according to Bible principle, a church should be a spiritual organism, not a worldly organization. Using man’s methods (which do not conform to God’s methods) always ultimately results in dire consequences. Taking a first step in dishonoring one’s lover, the Lord Jesus Christ, puts a church on the slippery slope down toward heresy and apostasy. Revelation 2:4-5: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”

God bless you and all ADF staff and lawyers as you seek to please our Lord.

As to the proper response by believers and churches to the Obergefell decision, I respectfully offer the following: RESPONSE TO OBERGEFELL, THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT SAME SEX MARRIAGE DECISION


Reply and Answer to Question 1

[Click here to go back and review Question 1 and other questions.]

Dear Pastor ________________,

Thank you for contacting me. I respectfully submit the following reply with all humility and love to a brother in Christ.

Your letter indicates that you may have some problems, at least technically, with your trust arrangement. As long as nothing happens to bring those problems to the forefront, what you are doing will “work.” Let me respectfully point out some potential flaws in what you have done.

For example, you state that your “church” is deeded to the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes people refer to a meetinghouse as a “church.” A church, in the Bible sense, is an assembly of born again believers (perhaps infested with some tares impersonating believers). A trustee can acquire or convey property to and from the trust estate, but one cannot put a church in a trust estate. Only property (real and personal) and money can be put in a trust estate. In order for a real property to be properly deeded to a trust estate, the trustee has to sign the deed. In a trust relationship, the trustee as legal owner of the property can sign a deed. The trust documents make clear that the true, equitable, and beneficial owner of the property is the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the trustee, the legal owner, manages all properties and monies in the trust estate for the benefit of the true, equitable, and beneficial owner of the property.

I do not send out generic DOTs. To do so would be a disservice to you and your church. I would be glad to guide you to resources which explain the principles. In fact, you can find the principles on my website.

There are no certain words needed to create a trust relationship, just so the elements of the trust are present in the relationship. If you understand the principles, your church can establish a proper trust (with a caveat mentioned in the P.S. below). For reasons I have stated in at least one essay or article on the website, creating a trust relationship in writing is much to be preferred over a non-written trust arrangement.

As you probably know, you need a trustor (the church), a trustee (the legal owner of the trust estate), and a beneficiary (the Lord Jesus Christ) who, if the trust is properly established, is the true, beneficial, and equitable owner of the trust estate.

In order to properly establish a trust relationship, a church (or at least leaders in the church) need to understand all about the assets they wish to put in trust, the debts if any and who holds the debts, etc. One also, in order to do this in a way that glorifies our Lord, needs to understand certain Bible principles, the history of the First Amendment and corresponding state constitutional provisions and the relationship of this type of trust to the legal system in America. American law did not originate or create the concept of trust, but American law recognizes the relationship. In establishing a trust, one should be careful to make sure that the trust created is not a legal entity.

Another factor involved is whether or not a church has made itself a legal entity in some way other than church organization. For example, does the church hold a bank account, insurance, etc. in the name of the church? Has the church entered into any contract(s) explicitly or constructively?

Since you know all the facts about your church situation, you can take the principles and tailor a trust accordingly (taking into consideration the caveat in the P.S. below).

I hope that helps.

Brother Jerald Finney

P.S. I respectfully add this caveat.

It appears from your letter that you may have consulted, not only with _______________, but also with others. I have come across several trust relationships which are pushed by certain pastors and others. All the ones I have seen, except that of the BLC, are a disgrace to our Lord. One of the so-called “law centers” (operated out of a church under the leadership of a pastoral authority heretic) which has successfully misled quite a number of churches does not even understand that what they promote is a trust, that the trust they establish actually makes the church a legal entity in that, in their published words, “the church holds property through a trustee in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Their understanding of what they are doing is severely flawed. Others which I have seen have no less problems. It seems that believers think they can just jump into the arena of church and state law without spending the time to grow in the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom needed to proceed in a manner which glorifies God.

1 Corinthians 12:8 “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit. A great pastor and Bible teacher said this, commenting on that verse:

“‘Wisdom’ means insight into truth. I do not think everyone can come to an understanding of the Bible, which is the reason we need teachers, and the Spirit of God has given us teachers. ‘Wisdom’ is insight into the truth of the Word of God. ‘Knowledge’ means to investigate or to dig into the truth. Many people simply do not have the time to dig into the Word of God to dig out the nuggets. I think [teaching the Bible] is my gift. The teacher and the student should be working together as partners, each exercising his own gift.”

The Holy Spirit gifts everyone in a church.  A pastor, or any man, who tries to master too many things will fall short on most, or all, of the matters he deals with. For example, many lawyers practice in several areas of law. Practicing in more than one, or at most 2 kinds of law means that the lawyer cannot possibly keep up with the constant changes in each area of law being implemented by the court system, by the legislature and executive branches, etc.

Similarly, a pastor who thinks he can practice law, pastor a church, lead all meaningful ministries of the church,  properly carry out his duties as father and husband, etc. is violating Bible precept. A pastor who delves into church organization and the concept of trust while carrying on his other responsibilities cannot possibly understand all he needs to know to properly deal with the issue of trust.

The Lord has gifted me, and I boast on Him, not on me, with special knowledge in the area of church organization. That expertise was gained through many years of intense study of first the relevant Bible principles, then history and law. Perhaps you have someone in your church who has the calling and time to take on such an endeavor.

Feel free to contact me at any time for any reason.

May the Lord bless you as you proceed according to His precepts and His will.

Questions on the trust, incorporation, etc. answered

At one time, I would keep questions from pastors and other men of God concerning church incorporation, 501c3 and 508, establishing a trust by a church, etc. After I had accumulated a number of questions to which I replied, I would publish them. In this post, I will publish the questions and answers as I receive them starting 8/1/18.

Question 2

I am an ADF Honor Corp attorney. Attorneys post questions to other associates. The following question was posted on 8/14/18:

Re: Documents of church governance
Sam –
ADF and CLS both put out some excellent white papers on the issue a few years back after the Orbergefell decision.
I’m guessing that those papers are still online. They have sample language to include in church docs that I have used as templates for a number of different churches.
God bless
Ben Boyd

Click here to see my answer to this question.

Question 1

E-mail received 8/1/18:
Dear Brother Finney,
I am Pastor of ________ ___________ Church, [City, state, and e-mail address]. …  Our Church is deeded to the Lord Jesus Christ, its true & Beneficial Owner. I am reviewing our docs, & tried to find a ‘sample’ of your Bible Trust doc.
The site link is not operational.  Is it possible you could send me a pdf?
I just located your publications, & plan to order accordingly.  Thank you for any help you can provide.
Regards, [Name omitted]  [Phone no. omitted]
PS: [Website omitted] I have an avocation as an inventor.

Click here to go to my answer to that question.