Churches Under Christ Ministry
September 30, 2021
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Lessons on the Bible (Common Law) Trust.
Specific terms are not necessary for a church Bible Trust relationship, a fiduciary relationship with property, to exist. However, as with any relationship, terms facilitate communication. Since a Bible Trust relationship is one in which church reaches an agreement with a person to hold and manage property for the benefit of the owner of the property, the Lord Jesus Christ, convenient terms for the elements of the relationship are trustor, trustee, beneficiary, and trust estate. This lesson will use those terms in explaining the church Bible trust relationship.
According to God’s Word in the Old Testament, God entrusted man with His earth and all that is in it. God created the heavens and the earth, and all that is in the earth, including man and woman. He gave man the duty to hold and manage His earthly creations. A trustor or settlor is the one who establishes a trust agreement. God was trustor of all things. He appointed man as trustee. The earth and the things that are in it compose the earthly trust estate of the trust established by God, the beneficiary (true, equitable, and beneficial owner).
God entrusts man with the earth and all material things in it. He entrusts His children with spiritual matters. God’s churches, churches under Christ and Christ alone, are spiritual organisms totally under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, not worldly organizations partially under the authority of Christ and partially under the authority of civil government. Any church who submits herself to man’s laws of incorporation, charitable trust, tax exemption, etc. is not a church under Christ and Christ alone and is not organized and managed solely under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ according to New Testament church doctrine.
According to New Testament principle and example, a church under Christ alone is a purely spiritual organization (See, e.g., the Book of Ephesians) made up of spiritual beings (See 1 Corinthians 2:14-16). God’s Word defines New Testament churches as spiritual organisms, not worldly organizations (See, e.g., Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12). Their concern is not to be for this world and worldly possessions. Their purpose is eternal and spiritual, not temporal and earthly. Thus, no church in the New Testament owned or held property, real or personal. Members of New Testament churches gave offerings to God to be used for purposes consistent with His will as revealed in His Word, but they did not give to the church they were part of; doing that would have been giving to themselves. A New Testament church under Christ alone, a heavenly organism, has no employees, pays no salaries, holds no real or personal property, has no insurance, and acts legally in no other way.
How can a church remain true to Christ in the matter of property? By holding or owning none. Property is both real (real estate) and personal. Personal property includes money and bank accounts. A church under Christ alone must meet on real estate, but she cannot own the real estate. She can meet in a person’s home, in his building, or under his tree. Or, a church can meet on public property, under a bridge, in a park, etc. Or, a church (trustor) can reach an agreement with a person (trustee) whereby the church gives to God (to the trust estate owned by God) and meets on property owned by the Lord Jesus Christ (the beneficiary). The trust estate, which can hold real estate used for church purposes only, money, and/or a bank checking account held and managed by a person or persons (trustee(s)) solely for the benefit and will of the owner.
Members of a New Testament church give to God a portion of His property which he has entrusted to them, not to the church, since they are the church. When they give to God, their gift is put in God’s trust estate and is irrevocable (See, Acts 5:1-11).
The trustor church declares the trust relationship and appoints a trustee. The trustee agrees to become the legal (earthly, temporal) owner of the trust estate. He agrees to hold and manage the trust estate solely for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the owner of the trust estate. He receives no compensation for serving as Trustee.
The pastor should be trustee named in a church Bible trust agreement. A pastor, deacon or elder man in the church can serve as trustee. The pastor should be as qualified or more qualified as any man in the church to hold and manage God’s earthly property. See EN[i].
A trust document should include language which prohibits the trustee from using any property, or proceeds from the conveyance of any property in the trust estate, for the benefit of himself or anyone else. Language such as:
- “In no event will the ownership of any or all real or personal property or money in the Trust Estate ever be transferred to any member or members of Bible Baptist Church or to any other person, except as provided in this document for …, or for other purposes consistent with Bible guidelines.”
The beneficiary is the true, equitable, and beneficial owner of everything in the trust estate. All property in the trust estate is to be held and managed by the legal (earthly) owner of the trust estate solely according to the will of the true, equitable and beneficial owner of the property, the Lord Jesus Christ. The trustee has a fiduciary duty to use the estate for purposes consistent with the will of God as laid out in God’s Word.
A church Declaration of Trust should include language such as:
- “The Beneficiary of this Trust is the Lord Jesus Christ, and all of the properties of the Trust Estate are held in Trust, by the Trustee, solely for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the true, equitable, and beneficial owner of all property including all property held in Trust. This Declaration of Trust is not naming or making the Lord Jesus Christ the Beneficiary or the Trust Estate; He is the true, equitable, and beneficial owner of the earth and all that is in it (Exodus 19:5, Leviticus 25:23, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, Psalm 24:1, Psalm 50:10, Psalm 89:11, Haggai 2:8). This document is merely declaring that truth.”
Some Concluding Comments to This Lesson
A church can remain a spiritual entity only by utilizing the Bible concept of trust, by declaring and practicing an irrevocable common law or Bible trust, whether declared in writing or not. The church is trustor since the church (the members) return portions of that which God has entrusted to them to the Lord, to God. What is given to God constitutes the trust estate. The appointed temporal legal owner of the trust estate is the trustee. The Lord Jesus Christ is the beneficiary, the true, beneficial, and equitable owner of the property held in the trust estate. Gifts, tithes, and offerings are to God (to the trust estate which is owned by God), not to the church.
This type of trust arrangement is Scriptural. The church is declaring and practicing a relationship with property, not organizing as a trust. The church does not apply to the state, according to state law, for trust status, as with a charitable or business trust. No papers are filed with the state. The trust relationship is private. The church remains totally under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and His word as long as she does not act legally. The trustee does not hold the property in the trust estate for the church. The trustee holds and manages the property in the trust estate solely for the owner of the property, the Lord Jesus Christ, according to His will. The trustee is the legal (temporary earthly) owner of the property and the Lord Jesus Christ is the true, equitable, and beneficial owner.
As to property on which a church meets, the state will declare someone to be legal owner of that property if no one holds legal title and if it is brought to the attention of the state. The law, and the Lord, requires someone to hold temporary earthly title to real property.
A New Testament church is a spiritual entity only. Therefore, a New Testament church cannot hold title to property. Should a church hold title to property through a trustee or trustees, that church is no longer a spiritual entity only because she has entwined herself with the legal system. A title is a legal declaration of ownership.
Only a legal entity can act legally, sue, be sued, enter into contracts, be charged with a crime, or act legally in some other way. To assume ownership of property is to act legally. Every American citizen in his right mind is a legal entity. Likewise, corporations (aggregate of sole, profit or non-profit), charitable trusts, business trusts, and Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) and § 508 organizations are legal entities. A church who owns property through one of these legal devises is asserting ownership. A church who does not hold property, to include money, but puts property into a trust estate of a properly structured irrevocable common law or Bible trust is not acting legally. The trustee of such a trust holds legal or earthly title to the money are property, if any, in the trust estate. He is to administer the money and property, if any, for the benefit of the true owner of the property, the Lord Jesus Christ. On the other hand, a church who holds property through a trustee for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ is a legal or earthly entity.
Holding property in the recommended manner has additional benefits. Not only does holding property in this manner comport with biblical principles, it also 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). Likewise, monetary riches and other worldly possessions can become idolatrous. Finally, holding property in this way assures that a church has chosen not to be structured like a business or a government created organization; that church can operate according to the principles in the New Testament.
EN[i] Timothy was a preacher with a special position of trust. 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). Likewise, elders, which includes pastors, must meet specific requirements which not every man in a church can meet. (See, for example, Tit. 1.5-9). An elder must hold fast the Word of God, “that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Tit. 1.9-16, 2.2; see also, Ac. 11.30, 14.23, (ordained elders in every church), 15.2, 4, 6, 22-23, 16.4, 20.17, 21.18; 1 Ti. 5.1 (“rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father”), 1 Ti. 5.17-19; Ja. 5.14-15; He. 13.7, 17; 1 Pe. 5.1 (Peter the Apostle was an elder, here writing to “the elders who are among you”; 1 Pe. 5.5 (younger to submit to the elder, and all to submit to one another); 2 Jn. 1 and 3 Jn. 1 (John the Apostle was also an elder);
Biblically, a pastor must meet stringent God-given requirements:
- “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop [pastor], 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.” (1 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 a pastor, and every member of a church, is entrusted by God to “take care of the church of God.” (1 Ti. 3.5).
“The elders [pastors included] 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’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.” (1 Pe. 5.1-5).
The Bible proclaims: “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). “Them” is plural, and includes the pastor and other elders of a church.
The elders, including the pastor, are to oversee a 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). Paul was speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus (Ac. 20.17-18).
A pastor is responsible to act as a ruler, trustee, steward, and overseer of a church. As such, he should be as qualified as any other church member to be the trustee of God’s trust estate.