Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) or 26 United States Code § 501(c)(3) is a law enacted by Congress and signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954. It is in Volume 26 of the United States Codes. The government grants tax exempt status to 501c3 organizations and churches who choose to apply for and who are approved for 501c3 status.
As originally passed 501(c)(3) had four commandments or rules to which 501c3 organizations and churches agreed. Those rules are:
“1. must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific, or other charitable purposes,
“2. net earnings must not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder,
“3. no substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation,
“4. the organization may not intervene in political activity.”
5. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service added another rule in a case involving Bob Jones University. Bob Jones University appealed to the authority for disagreements over IRS rulings, the federal court and the case went all the way to the Supreme court. The Supreme Court upheld the rule. Bob Jones University, 461 U.S. 574 (1983). The applicability of the “fundamental public policy” added in Bob Jones University has never been applied to a church, but many pastors of incorporated 501c3 churches and “Christian” lawyers such as David Gibbs have long feared that it will be so applied. David Gibbs gave this advice on this issue many 15 or 20 years ago: “Pray about it.”
501c3 is 100% voluntary.En1 The First Amendment and corresponding state constitutional provisions guarantee that churches do not have to submit to any man-made law.En2Most churches choose to apply for 501c3 status. Such status gives the federal government some control over 501c3 organizations, including 501c3 churches. Those applying for the status know the commandments that come with 501c3. They also understand that the sole authority for 501c3 disagreements with the IRS is the IRS agency with appeal to federal court by the losing party an option. They also know that neither God nor His Word will be allowed in any such controversy. In other words, a 501c3 church submits herself partially to an authority or head other than the Lord Jesus Christ. 501c3 is a government education control scheme which has worked, especially as to churches, but also other types of organizations.En3
To obtain 501c3 status, a church or other organization must fill out IRS Form 1023. Any pastor, as a Bible student, should know from looking at the form that he and his church violate Bible Church Doctrine by applying for tax exempt status.
One of several examples of how this affects a church and what a pastor preaches in church is examined in the article, 1,000 Pastors who pledge to defy IRS and preach politics from pulpit ahead of election misunderstand the law and the hierarchy of law. Pastors of 501(c)(3) churches have mounted this challenge several times. The IRS has ignored their actions. The pastors know, or they should have known, that 501(c)(3) is a law passed by Congress which respects an establishment of religion and prevents the free exercise thereof; so why did they voluntarily seek 501(C(3) status, especially considering the fact that the agreed authority which would decide disputes was the IRS subject to appeal to federal court? By agreeing to 501(c)(3) status, they voluntarily gave up their First Amendment status. Yet, they still planned to stand on the First Amendment should the IRS take action against them for violating the rule which prohibits church endorsement of a political candidate by preaching for or against a candidate. They planned to take their stand before their authority on the matter – the Internal Revenue Service subject to appeal to federal court. These pastors do not understand the issue. The issue is one of authority. Their chosen authority or head for the matter is the federal government, not the Lord Jesus Christ.En 3 and En4
President Trump, desiring to help churches and “Christians,” and according to the advice of those “Christians” who surround him, pledged to eliminate the Johnson Amendment which limits all nonprofits from endorsing and opposing political candidates. See Endnote 1 for links to articles on this matter. I believe he is sincerely trying to help churches. Accordingly, he signed an executive order easing restrictions on political activity by non-profits. Of course, he cannot unilaterally change the law; but he did all he could do to help – ease but not eliminate one of the five restrictions which come with 501(c)(3) status. Just as non-profit corporation status puts the state of incorporation over a church for many matters, 501(c)(3), a man made law, still puts the federal government and the IRS agency over churches with respect to certain rules and a multitude of regulations that come with the chosen 501(c)(3) status. See Endnote2 for list of some of the regulations that come with 501(c)(3) and links to resources which explain 501(c)(3) and 508(c)(1)(A) tax exempt status in some detail.
Does this action by the President correct the problem with 501(c)(3)? No. I explain why in this article.
One should be aware that the highest man made law in America, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and corresponding state constitutional provisions make clear that churches have a choice – remain under Christ only or submit to the state and federal governments through corporate 501(c)(3) status.
Keep in mind, for example:
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.” Is a church built partially or wholly by man (man’s law) a church of Christ? Is such a church His church?
Ephesians 1:22 “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” Is Christ the head over all things to an incorporated 501(c)(3) or 508 church? The simple to comprehend answer is an emphatic, “No!”
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.”
Let us first briefly examine or look at what church 501(c)(3) status really is. This will highlight the real issue. We will have to touch on incorporation since the two are intertwined.
Most churches choose to apply for both corporate and 501(c)(3) or 508(c)(1)(A) tax exempt status even though a choice not to do so is protected by the First Amendment and corresponding state constitutional provisions. 508(c)(1)(A) status puts a church in the same position as 501(c)(3) status. See, Church Internal Revenue Code § 508 Tax Exempt Status. Churches who incorporate and/or get 501(c)(3) or 508(c)(1)(A) status are established churches. They combine with civil government under man-made law. They get some perceived “benefits” and powers from civil government. In return, they agree to abide by the non-profit corporation laws of the state of incorporation and the commandments which come with the federal 501(c)(3) law they sought and agreed to. They also agree that, in the event they have issue with a commandment imposed by the law, the authority who will decide the issue is the government through its court systems. Their authority for many matters is the civil government, not the Lord Jesus Christ. One might call those churches who constantly defy and complain about the rules or commandments they agreed to “hypocrites.”
Churches who seek and obtain 501(c)(3) agree to abide by the rules and regulations that come with 501(c)(3), and also to any future rules added by the federal government though legislation, or by the Internal Revenue Service and upheld by the courts. Maybe some do not realize what they are doing when they get such status; some may proceed without knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Nonetheless, when they get the status, they agree to the rules and commandments which come with the status and they agree that, in the event their authority who will decide the issue is the first the agency process with appeal to federal court available to the losing side, not the Word of God. Corporate 501(c)(3) churches proudly proclaim victory when their authority rules in favor of their position and moan and groan when their authority decides against them. They cannot understand that they lost no matter what their authority decides because they have put themselves under the wrong authority, according to the Word of God; and even their so-called victories are riddled with compromise.
Originally, a church who chose 501(c)(3) status agreed to 4 commandments or rules, added by legislative law. The IRS added a fifth. Prior to Bob Jones University v. United States, 461 U.S. 574 (1983), there were four rules. Bob Jones University upheld the IRS “shall not violate fundamental public policy” rule. Now there are five commandments. The fifth one has not yet been applied, as far as I know, to a church. However, many pastors do not preach of certain matters because they fear that they will be in violation of that rule—they do not wish to offend their master, their authority, by preaching certain matters covered by the Word of God. Many pastors openly preach on prohibited matters knowing that the state may exercise their authority and command them to comply or lose their status and suffer other penalty imposed by their master. The only authority to which a church can appeal, should the IRS agency rule against them, is the civil court system. By the way, the court will not allow such a church to make Bible based arguments.
As one can see, corporate 501(c)(3) status comes with the loss of many of the church’s First Amendment rights. A corporate 501(c)(3) church is a “legal entity,” an artificial person who has placed herself under the Fourteenth Amendment for many purposes thereby giving up much of her First Amendment protection. A First Amendment church cannot be sued for violation of the rules that come with 501(c)(3) or 508(c)(1)(A) because such a church has not submitted herself to the Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3) or Section 508(c)(1)(A). She cannot be forced to get such status because the First Amendment religion clause says, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
A 501(c)(3) church also agrees to many regulations. See Endnote2 for list of some of the regulations that come with 501(c)(3) and links to resources which explain 501(c)(3) and 508(c)(1)(A) tax exempt status in some detail.
One who does just a little study can easily understand that the governments of the state of incorporation and the federal government are the authorities, for many purposes, of a corporate 501(c)(3) church. The Lord Jesus Christ is, at most, only one of their authorities or heads. For many churches, Christ is completely eliminated from the equation and their sole authority is civil government. Churches grieve our Lord by submitting to another head. Christ is not over “over all things to” those churches. According to the Bible, this raises a very important question, “Are corporate 501(c)(3) churches churches of Christ, built by Christ and Him alone?” They are churches, but are they Christ’s churches? The answer is obvious.
So the main issue is one of authority. Looking beyond that, only the legislature, not the President, can eliminate the Johnson Amendment or any other rule that comes with 501(c)(3) status. It is a law, passed by Congress and signed by the President. The President, of course, is the law enforcer. Like any law enforcer, he can choose to ease or relax his efforts to enforce what he deems to be an unjust law, you might say. He cannot do away with the fact that the authority of the 501(c)(3) church, as to the rules that come with it, is the federal government through its agent, the IRS. The courts, not the President, decide unresolved clashes between 501(c)(3) churches and the IRS. Only the legislature, not the President, can repeal a law subject to his signature of approval. The legislature has taken no action to overrule the Johnson Amendment in the many months since President Trump filed his executive order nor has President Trump encouraged the legislature to do away with either 501(c)(3) status or any of the other rules that come with 501(c)(3).
Even should the Johnson Amendment be eliminated by legislative law signed by the President, there would still be four other rules that churches agreed to comply with when they chose to apply for 501(c)(3) tax exemption. It is no secret that churches and so called “Christian” lawyers have also been worried about rule number five, the fundamental public policy rule, for at least 15 or 20 years. Their advice: “pray about it.” I would like to hear one of their prayers. I do not think they will pray, “Lord, forgive us for dishonoring you and causing you much grief by prostituting your churches. We repent. Help us to honorably withdraw from our unholy alliances.”
I have touched on the main issue. Let me restate some of the above points and list some other matters. President Trump’s speeches and his executive order reflect Christian revisionist history. They:
ignore the fact that churches are required to give up some of their First Amendment protections when they choose to become 501(c)(3) organizations who submit to the federal government as to certain matters;
ignore the fact that churches voluntarily put themselves under 501(c)(3) with all the rules and regulations that accompany their choice ;
ignore the fact that churches voluntarily give up much of their First Amendment protection when they place themselves under a law which commands them not to do certain things;
ignore the fact that churches who incorporate and get 501(c)(3) status put themselves, for many purposes, under the Fourteenth Amendment;
do not take into account that 501(c)(3) was a law implemented in 1954, 164 plus years after the adoption of the First Amendment;
ignore the question of whether 501(c)(3) is even constitutional since the First Amendment religion clause says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or preventing the free exercise thereof;”
reflect a lack of understanding of the true history of the First Amendment;
reflect the “Christian” revised history of the First Amendment;
misrepresent what church/state establishment meant when the Constitution and First Amendment were adopted;
misrepresent what Thomas Jefferson, for example, stood for (He stood for a secular state with complete separation of church and state); (See, Endnote 3 for links to an unrevised history of the First Amendment)
disregard and go contrary to Bible principles concerning church, state, and the relationship God desires between church and state;
ignorantly work for the end-time one world union of church and state under the beast;
I wish to make one other point: I believe that freeing 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations to become active in politics will unleash liberal 501(c(3) organizations–atheist, secular, and religious–who will fight for liberal candidates, and that those organizations substantially outnumber and have much more money and power than the conservative churches who constantly attack the rule. Those liberal organizations include Planned Parenthood, Inc. (an organization that gets a lot of government money), the Church of Wicca, Inc. and many many other incorporated 501(c)(3) organizations and churches who will support liberal candidates.
In conclusion, I believe that President Trump is sincerely trying to help the cause of religious liberty. But he is being misled by certain “Christian” persons and organizations who will use any means necessary to achieve their goals. Their false Biblical interpretations and goals hasten fulfillment of end time prophecies—religion and government will unify and bring in a 3 ½ year of peace followed by 3 ½ year period of great tribulation, and finally the appearance of our Lord who will crush the world powers who are coming against Israel and then establish His 1000 year reign on the earth.
Note. This is a modified version of Section VI, Chapter 4 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application; Chapter 4 of Separation of Church and State/God’s Churches: Spiritual or Legal Entities
A 501c3 church agrees to abide by the rules that come with the status. See article below for full explanation of those rules. A 501c3 church also has many regulations which it is required to honor. See Publication 4221: Compliance Guide for Tax Exempt Organizations(“Federal tax law provides tax benefits to nonprofit organizations recognized as exempt from federal income tax under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code). The Code requires that tax-exempt organizations comply with federal tax law to maintain tax-exempt status and avoid penalties….”).
In the twentieth century, the federal government added more cheese to the trap—26 U.S.C. or Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) § 501(c)(3) (“501(c)(3)” or “501c3”) tax exemption. The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) exerts a certain amount of control over an incorporated 501(c)(3) “church.” Scripture makes clear that God wants no one else—especially the unregenerate—controlling, defining, and restricting His bride from totally following His precepts. IRC terms set limits on and control the activities of the corporate 501(c)(3) religious organization. Definition of terms used in the IRC by IRS personnel who do not have the expertise to define biblical terms further results in the operation of a corporate 501(c)(3) organization in ways inconsistent with biblical principles.
501(c)(3) invites churches to seek a tax exemption from civil government, even though the First Amendment already has erected a “high and impregnable wall” of separation between church and state which forbids civil government from making any law, including any taxing law, respecting a New Testament church. A New Testament church, which is a non-legal entity, is also a First Amendment church. 501(a),(c)(3),(h) reads in relevant part:
“§ 501. Exemption from tax on corporations, certain trusts, etc.:
“(a) Exemption from taxation. An organization described in subsection (c) … shall be exempt from taxation under this subtitle [26 USCS §§ 1 et seq.] unless such exemption is denied under section 502 or 503 [26 USCS § 502 or 503]….
“(c)(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office….
“(h) Expenditures by public charities to influence legislation. (1) General rule. In the case of an organization to which this subsection applies, exemption from taxation under subsection (a) shall be denied because a substantial part of the activities of such organization consists of carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation…” (26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3) (2007) in relevant part).
Notice, in the above law, that churches are not mentioned in 501(c)(3). It does mention, among other things, “[c]orporations … organized and operated exclusively for religious … purposes.” Even the federal government thereby recognizes that the basic character of a church who seeks and obtains 501(c)(3) status has changed and that church has become a “religious organization.” That happens when a church incorporates under state law. When a church incorporates, it becomes a corporation organized exclusively for religious purposes.
The state controls, defines, and instructs a corporate 501(c)(3) religious organization to a large degree. Control and definition go hand in hand. The federal government, not God, defines “religious purposes” as to an incorporated church. What if an incorporated 501(c)(3) religious organization considers an activity to be God-ordained and spiritual, but the civil government disagrees? The civil government with authority over that issue controls.
Under the IRS interpretation of 501(c)(3), to qualify for tax exempt status under 501(c)(3) religious organizations must meet the following requirements, i.e. abide by the following rules:
“1. must be organized and operated exclusively for religious, educational, scientific, or other charitable purposes, “2. net earnings must not inure to the benefit of any private individual or shareholder, “3. no substantial part of its activity may be attempting to influence legislation, “4. the organization may not intervene in political activity,
“5. the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate fundamental public policy” (IRS Publication 1828 (2007), pp. 3, 5. This and all IRS publications referred to may be accessed at irs.gov. IRS details on proscription #3 are on pp. 5-6 of IRS Pub. 1828. Just mentioning a candidate may violate proscription #4. Detailed guidelines with consequences of violation of proscription #4 are on pp. 7-11 of Pub. 1828. As to proscription #5, public policy is determined by the courts.).
Notice that the last requirement—“may not violate fundamental public policy”—is not from law; that is, it is not listed as a requirement in § 501(c)(3). This requirement was made law by the Supreme Court of the United States in Bob Jones University, 461 U.S. 574, 578, 579, 580, 581, 582-583, 586-588, 588, 591 fn. 10, 595-596, 602 fn 28, 603, 604, fn. 29 at 604 (1983):
“On January 12, 1970, a three-judge District Court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the IRS from according tax-exempt status to private schools in Mississippi that discriminated as to admissions on the basis of race…. Thereafter, in July 1970, the IRS concluded that it could ‘no longer legally justify allowing tax-exempt status [under § 501(c)(3)] to private schools which practice racial discrimination.’ IRS News Release, July 7, 1970, reprinted in App. in No. 81-3, p. A235. At the same time, the IRS announced that it could not ‘treat gifts to such schools as charitable deductions for income tax purposes [under § 170].’ Ibid. By letter dated November 30, 1970, the IRS formally notified private schools, including those involved in this litigation, of this change in policy, ‘applicable to all private schools in the United States at all levels of education.’ …
“The court permanently enjoined the Commissioner of Internal Revenue from approving tax-exempt status for any school in Mississippi that did not publicly maintain a policy of nondiscrimination….
“Bob Jones University [was] a nonprofit corporation located in Greenville, S. C. Its purpose is ‘to conduct an institution of learning …, giving special emphasis to the Christian religion and the ethics revealed in the Holy Scriptures.’ Certificate of Incorporation, Bob Jones University, Inc. [Bob Jones University had a policy that] Students who date outside of their own race will be expelled…. After failing to obtain an assurance of tax exemption through administrative means, the University instituted an action in 1971 seeking to enjoin the IRS from revoking the school’s tax-exempt status.
“The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina held that revocation of the University’s tax-exempt status exceeded the delegated powers of the IRS, was improper under the IRS rulings and procedures, and violated the University’s rights under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment…. The District Court found, on the basis of a full evidentiary record, that the challenged practices of petitioner Bob Jones University were based on a genuine belief that the Bible forbids interracial dating and marriage.
“The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in a divided opinion, reversed…. The Court of Appeals concluded that § 501(c)(3) must be read against the background of charitable trust law. To be eligible for an exemption under that section, an institution must be ‘charitable’ in the common-law sense, and therefore must not be contrary to public policy. In the court’s view, Bob Jones University did not meet this requirement, since its ‘racial policies violated the clearly defined public policy, rooted in our Constitution, condemning racial discrimination and, more specifically, the government policy against subsidizing racial discrimination in education, public or private.’ … The court held that the IRS acted within its statutory authority in revoking the University’s tax-exempt status. Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected petitioner’s arguments that the revocation of the tax exemption violated the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment.
“[Included in the case was Goldsboro Christian Schools, a nonprofit corporation located in Goldsboro, N. C., a private Christian school which prohibited interracial dating based upon sincerely held religious beliefs.]
“[The Supreme Court reasoned in adding the ‘public policy’ requirement to the [IRC]:]
‘The general words used in the clause …, taken by themselves, and literally construed, without regard to the object in view, would seem to sanction the claim of the plaintiff. But this mode of expounding a statute has never been adopted by any enlightened tribunal — because it is evident that in many cases it would defeat the object which the Legislature intended to accomplish. And it is well settled that, in interpreting a statute, the court will not look merely to a particular clause in which general words may be used, but will take in connection with it the whole statute… and the objects and policy of the law….’ … (emphasis added by the Court).
‘Section 501(c)(3) therefore must be analyzed and construed within the framework of the Internal Revenue Code and against the background of the congressional purposes. Such an examination reveals unmistakable evidence that, underlying all relevant parts of the Code, is the intent that entitlement to tax exemption depends on meeting certain common-law standards of charity — namely, that an institution seeking tax-exempt status must serve a public purpose and not be contrary to established public policy.
‘This ‘charitable’ concept appears explicitly in § 170 of the Code. That section contains a list of organizations virtually identical to that contained in § 501(c)(3). It is apparent that Congress intended that list to have the same meaning in both sections. In § 170, Congress used the list of organizations in defining the term ‘charitable contributions.’ On its face, therefore, § 170 reveals that Congress’ intention was to provide tax benefits to organizations serving charitable purposes. The form of § 170 simply makes plain what common sense and history tell us: in enacting both § 170 and § 501(c)(3), Congress sought to provide tax benefits to charitable organizations, to encourage the development of private institutions that serve a useful public purpose or supplement or take the place of public institutions of the same kind.
‘The predecessor of § 170 originally was enacted in 1917, as part of the War Revenue Act of 1917, ch. 63, § 1201(2), 40 Stat. 330, whereas the predecessor of § 501(c)(3) dates back to the income tax law of 1894, Act of Aug. 27, 1894, ch. 349, 28 Stat. 509, infra. There are minor differences between the lists of organizations in the two sections, see generally Liles & Blum, Development of the Federal Tax Treatment of Charities, 39 Law & Contemp. Prob. 6, 24-25 (No. 4, 1975) (hereinafter Liles & Blum). Nevertheless, the two sections are closely related; both seek to achieve the same basic goal of encouraging the development of certain organizations through the grant of tax benefits. The language of the two sections is in most respects identical, and the Commissioner and the courts consistently have applied many of the same standards in interpreting those sections. See 5 J. Mertens, Law of Federal Income Taxation § 31.12 (1980); 6 id., §§ 34.01-34.13 (1975); B. Bittker & L. Stone, Federal Income Taxation 220-222 (5th ed. 1980). To the extent that § 170 ‘aids in ascertaining the meaning’ of § 501(c)(3), therefore, it is ‘entitled to great weigh.’ … [the Court analyses ‘charitable trusts’]….
“Act of Aug. 27, 1894, ch. 349, § 32, 28 Stat. 556-557. The income tax system contained in the 1894 Act was declared unconstitutional, Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., 158 U.S. 601 (1895), for reasons unrelated to the charitable exemption provision. The terms of that exemption were in substance included in the corporate income tax contained in the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, ch. 6, § 38, 36 Stat. 112. A similar exemption has been included in every income tax Act since the adoption of the Sixteenth Amendment, beginning with the Revenue Act of 1913, ch. 16, § II(G), 38 Stat. 172. See generally Reiling, Federal Taxation: What Is a Charitable Organization?, 44 A. B. A. J. 525 (1958); Liles & Blum….
‘The exemption from taxation of money or property devoted to charitable and other purposes is based upon the theory that the Government is compensated for the loss of revenue by its relief from financial burdens which would otherwise have to be met by appropriations from other public funds, and by the benefits resulting from the promotion of the general welfare.” H. R. Rep. No. 1860, 75th Cong., 3d Sess., 19 (1938).
‘A corollary to the public benefit principle is the requirement, long recognized in the law of trusts, that the purpose of a charitable trust may not be illegal or violate established public policy. In 1861, this Court stated that a public charitable use must be ‘consistent with local laws and public policy,’ Perin v. Carey, 24 How., at 501. Modern commentators and courts have echoed that view. See, e. g., Restatement (Second) of Trusts § 377, Comment c (1959); 4 Scott § 377, and cases cited therein; Bogert § 378, at 191-192….
‘[The Court then explained why racial discrimination now violates clearly defined public policy.]
“[The Court concluded:]
‘Racially discriminatory educational institutions cannot be viewed as conferring a public benefit within the ‘charitable’ concept discussed earlier, or within the congressional intent underlying § 170 and § 501(c)(3)…. ‘This Court has long held the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to be an absolute prohibition against governmental regulation of religious beliefs, Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 219 (1972); Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 402 (1963); Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940). As interpreted by this Court, moreover, the Free Exercise Clause provides substantial protection for lawful conduct grounded in religious belief, see Wisconsin v. Yoder, supra, at 220; Thomas v. Review Board of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707 (1981); Sherbert v. Verner, supra, at 402-403. However, ‘[not] all burdens on religion are unconstitutional…. The state may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest.’
‘On occasion this Court has found certain governmental interests so compelling as to allow even regulations prohibiting religiously based conduct. The governmental interest at stake here is compelling.
“[The Court noted:] We deal here only with religious schools — not with churches or other purely religious institutions; here, the governmental interest is in denying public support to racial discrimination in education.
[The Court also stated:] “The IRS policy at issue here is founded on a ‘neutral, secular basis,’ Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437, 452 (1971), and does not violate the Establishment Clause.”
Although Bob Jones University was limited to religious schools in that a church was not being attacked in that specific case, the same rationale that supported the Court’s conclusions can also be applied to 501(c)(3) religious organizations, although more hurdles will have to be jumped. It is common knowledge that the IRS regularly attacks such organizations for infractions of requirements of IRS regulation. The outcome of such a case against a church hinges upon the liberal-conservative makeup to the Court. Liberal dominated courts have no problem clearing whatever logical, legal, and/or spiritual hurdles they encounter.
God wants members of His body, the church, to decide what is spiritual and what is not. If His body messes up, He will take care of it. The IRS requirements require instruction, definition, and control. The IRS determines, subject to costly and time consuming court challenge, whether a restriction has been breached by a 501(c)(3) religious organization. These restrictions subject a religious organization to suit in the courts for violating a federal government law.
Especially notice the last IRS requirement. Fundamental public policy is above biblical principle if the two conflict. Certain public policies can, do, and will conflict with biblical principles. It is the responsibility of the church, not the state, to determine biblical principle as to the doctrines of the church. A nineteenth century Supreme Court wisely observed:
“The question, what is the public policy of a state, and what is contrary to it, if inquired into beyond these limits, will be found to be one of great vagueness and uncertainty, and to involve discussions which scarcely come within the range of judicial duty and functions, and upon which men may and will complexionally differ; above all, when that topic is connected with religious polity, in a country composed of such a variety of religious sects as our country, it is impossible not to feel that it would be attended with almost insuperable difficulties, and involve differences of opinion almost endless in their variety. We disclaim any right to enter upon such examinations, beyond what the state constitutions, and laws, and decisions necessarily bring before us” (Vidal v. Gerard’s Executors, 43 U.S. 127, 198; 11 L. Ed. 205; 1844 U.S. LEXIS 323; 2 HOW 127 (1844)).
New Testament churches under God are non-taxable. 501(c)(3) and IRC § 508 religious organizations are tax exempt. IRC § 508 (the codification of Public Law 91-172 ratified in 1969) provides in relevant part:
“§ 508. Special rules with respect to section 501(c)(3) organizations. “(a) New organizations must notify secretary that they are applying for recognition of section 501(c)(3) status. “(c) Exceptions. [Emphasis mine.] “(1) Mandatory exceptions. Subsections (a) and (b) shall not apply to— “(A) churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches” (26 U.S.C. § 508 (2007)). [Emphasis mine.]
Note. A church applies for 501(c)(3) recognition by filling out and filing IRS Form 1023.
§ 508(a),(c) says churches are excepted from obtaining § 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. § 508 churches are an exception to the civil government requirement that certain organizations file for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status.
However, a church should rely on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, not on § 508 status for three reasons. First, the First Amendment is a statement of the biblical principle of separation of church and state. This principle is fully explained in Sections I-III and the history of how the blood of millions of Martyrs led to the adoption of the First Amendment is explained in Section IV of God Betrayed (PDF OF God Betrayed, online version of God Betrayed,Order Information for God Betrayed and other books by Jerald Finney). When a church relies on the First Amendment, they are relying on a biblical principle. Should the biblical principle be abused or ignored by the civil government, so be it—a church should then rely only on the biblical principle.
Second, to rely on § 508 contradicts the First Amendment. The First Amendment religion clause states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Obviously, § 508 is a law made by Congress which regards an establishment of religion. § 508 does not state that the First Amendment forbids Congress from making any law in violation of the First Amendment and, therefore, a church is non-taxable. § 508 states that Congress is declaring an exemption for churches. Hence, an adversary in a court proceeding can argue that a church has submitted herself to Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) regulation and ignored her First Amendment status by relying on a law instead of the First Amendment. The Internal Revenue Service Publication 1828 states, that “churches which meet the requirements of § 501(c)(3) are automatically tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS.” However, the New Testament (First Amendment) church will not be in court anyway for several reasons: the church is not a legal entity; is not a business; has no income; has no employees or staff; claims no § 508 status; and, no matter what the particular civil government does, honors the biblical principle of separation of church and state which is reflected in the First Amendment in America.
Third, a New Testament church (a church organized according to the principles of the New Testament), among other things, receives no income, has no employees or staff, and runs no businesses (daycare, “Christian” schools, cafes, etc.). Church members give their tithes and offerings to God, not to a religious organization, for use in ways consistent with New Testament teaching. All monies given to God are disbursed in accordance to the guidelines of the New Testament, and no money is left over. Even a business which makes no profit pays no taxes. A church which does have net income should be taxed since she is operating as a business and not as a New Testament church.
If a church does not apply for § 501(c)(3) tax exempt status or claim § 508 tax exempt status, and if it is organized as a New Testament church, according to the First Amendment which agrees with the biblical principle of separation of church and state, the non-taxable status of that church must be honored. No matter what the civil government claims, that church cannot be taxed anyway because they have no income.
If a church successfully applies for § 501(c)(3) or claims § 508 exempt status, the government is granted some jurisdiction over the church since the civil government now declares and grants an exemption.
“EXEMPT, a. Free from any service, charge, burden, tax, duty, evil or requisition, to which others are subject; not subject; not liable to; as, to be exempt from military duty, or from a poll tax; to be exempt from pain or fear. Peers in G. Britain are exempt from serving on inquests.
“2. Free by privilege; as exempt from the jurisdiction of a lord or of a court. “3. Free; clear; not included. “4. Cut off from. [Not used.] Shak.” (AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, NOAH WEBSTER (1828)).
“exempt … 2: free or released from some liability or requirement to which others are subject” (WEBSTER’S COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY 406 (10th ed. 1995)).
“PRIV’ALEGE, n. …
“1.A particular and peculiar benefit or advantage enjoyed by a person, company or society, beyond the common advantages of other citizens. A privilege may be a particular right granted by law or held by custom, or it may be an exemption from some burden to which others are subject.“2. Any peculiar benefit or advantage, right or immunity, not common to others of the human race. Thus we speak of national privileges, and civil and religious privileges secured to us by our constitutions of government…. “3. Advantage, favor, benefit” (Ibid.).
In spite of the fact that biblically sound churches are non-taxable, many, if not most, churches line up to incorporate and to become 501(c)(3) religious organizations. Why do churches apply? The IRS knows the answer:
“IRS concurrence that a religious organization is indeed a church is the best protection for a donor that his or her contribution to the church is tax-deductible and will not be challenged in an audit. This knowledge makes a church’s fundraising efforts much easier” (Peter Kershaw, Hushmoney (Branson, Missouri: Heal Our Land Ministries), p. 30, citing Michael Chitwood, Protect Your Contributions (referring to statement of IRS on p. 3 of IRS Publication 1828)).
God had reasons for denying jurisdiction to the state over spiritual matters and restricting state authority to earthly matters. One reason has to do with qualification for determining the meanings of words. The interpretation of laws and regulations requires the defining of words. Employees of civil government are not qualified to determine the meanings of spiritual terms; but, by dealing with spiritual matters, such people are called upon to determine the meanings of spiritual terms. They must determine the meaning of “religion,” “religious,” “church,” and many other words. Since these employees are operating outside their realm of expertise, the outcome of their decisions on these matters will conflict with the biblical meanings of those words. In defining words, therefore, civil government officials intrude upon the jurisdiction of the church—the church is subjected to the state.
For example, what does the word “religion” mean? The word “religion” is used only five times, in the Bible, and only once in a good sense:
“Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee” (Ac. 26.5). [Bold emphasis mine]. “For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers” (Ga. 1.13, 14). [Bold emphasis mine]. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (Ja. 1.26-27). [Bold emphasis mine].
Thus, from a biblical perspective, religion in the good sense may be defined as:
“2. Religion, as distinct from theology, is godliness or real piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow men, in obedience to divine command, or from love to God and his law. James i. “3. Religion, as distinct from virtue, or morality, consists in the performance of the duties we owe directly to God, from a principle of obedience to his will. Hence we often speak of religion and virtue, as different branches of one system, or the duties of the first and second tables of the law. “Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Washington” (AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, NOAH WEBSTER (1828), definition of “RELIGION”).
Since the Bible also teaches that there is only one true God, there can only be one religion in the good and true sense. This means that all other religions are bad and false. All other “gods” are actually no gods at all:
“As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Co. 8.4-6).
“What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils” (1 Co. 10.19-21).
Since there is only one true God, there is only one religion with power from God. Before one can know that one true God, one must know Jesus Christ, God the Son: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him” (Jn. 14.6-7).
The Bible, as pointed out above, recognized the Jewish religion. Members of the Jewish religion (and any other religion) who do not recognize the Lord Jesus Christ as sovereign God are false religions and have no piety or power from God. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Mt. 28.18). Unconverted Jews deny that Jesus Christ is God the Son. The Jewish religion, like all other religions except true biblical religion, is therefore a false religion. The IRS and the federal government to a great extent, however, have concluded that all religions are equal and have created a pluralistic code and a pluralistic nation.
Civil government officials are required by § 501(c)(3) to define “church.” By providing that churches can become legal entities by incorporating and obtaining 501(c)(3) status, the civil government assured that the IRS and the courts would have to define “church” because, first, a lot of churches would seek to incorporate and get government declared tax exempt status, thereby voluntarily taking themselves out from under First Amendment or New Testament status; and second, many religious organizations would claim to be churches so as to obtain the benefits offered by civil government. As one court noted,
“We hasten to emphasize that by its use of the term ‘church,’ Congress must have intended a more narrow classification than that embodied by a term such as ‘religious organization.’ Despite the lack of guidance from Congress, and in the absence of a more explicit regulatory definition of the term ‘church,’ we will continue our efforts to give a distinct meaning to this statutory classification” (Foundation of Human Understanding v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 88 T.C. 1341, 1361; 1987 U.S. Tax Ct. LEXIS 75; 88 T.C. No. 75 (1987)).
In attempting to define “church,” the IRS has “given certain characteristics [14 criteria] which are generally attributed to churches” (IRS Publication 1828 (2007), p. 23). The court has recognized that 14-part test in determining whether a religious organization was a church. The 14 criteria are:
“(1) a distinct legal existence; “(2) a recognized creed and form of worship; “(3) a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government; “(4) a formal code of doctrine and discipline; “(5) a distinct religious history; “(6) a membership not associated with any other church or denomination; “(7) an organization of ordained ministers; “(8) ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies; “(9) a literature of its own; “(10) established places of worship; “(11) regular congregations; “(12) regular religious services; “(13) Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young; “(14) schools for the preparation of its ministers.” (American Guidance Foundation, Inc. v. United States, 490 F. Supp. 304 (D.D.C. 1980)).
“In addition to the 14 criteria enumerated above, the IRS will consider ‘[a]ny other facts and circumstances which may bear upon the organization’s claim for church status.’ Internal Revenue Manual 7(10)69, Exempt Organizations Examination Guidelines Handbook 321.3(3) (Apr. 5, 1982)” (88 T.C. at 1358).
The most glaring inaccuracy in the IRS criteria used to decide whether something is a church is the omission of God’s principles from the characteristics. When the natural man defines a church, he leaves God out; or, should he include God, he must have an incorrect conception and definition of God, since he does not know God. That is the most apparent problem with the IRS conception of a church. The natural man, as exemplified by the IRS characteristics of a church, overlooks the fact that Jesus is the one who builds and is the chief cornerstone of the church. If Jesus, and Jesus alone, is not the builder, there can be no church. Paul wrote, speaking to the church:
“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 growth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ep. 2.19-22).
The results of the attempts of the courts and IRS to define “church” are twofold: First, some of those “religious organizations” which are not “churches,” but have sought to be recognized by the civil government as “churches,” have been declared to be “churches” by the civil government; and second, New Testament churches which have sought and obtained incorporation and/or “tax exemption” have become legal entities and lost their status as New Testament churches solely under God.
The state and federal provisions and actions derived and resulting from those provisions which allow incorporation and declaration of tax exempt status of churches and religious organizations demonstrate:
(1) the wisdom embodied in the First Amendment which recognized that the civil government is not qualified to “make [any] law regarding an establishment of religion, or [to prevent] the free exercise thereof.”
(2) the undesirable consequences of deviation from the biblical principles that the church is a spiritual entity, the only spiritual institution ordained by God; the state is an earthly entity ordained by God to operate only within its God-given earthly jurisdiction; and that neither the church nor state should be over the other, but God should be over both.
(3) that the federal government (and the states since the incorporation of the First Amendment by the Fourteenth Amendment) violates the First Amendment when civil government provides for incorporation and tax-exempt status for churches or any other religious organization.
(4) most importantly, that most churches have abdicated their responsibility to honor their husband, the Lord Jesus Christ.
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” (Internal Revenue Service Private Letter Ruling 8833001, 1988 PRL LEXIS 1594). 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” (Ibid.).
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.
The lost and most believers have no clue as to the true meaning of “New Testament (First Amendment) church,” and America is not a nation under God. The civil governments in the United States, following Satan’s principles, have constructed a code that undermines incorporated 501(c)(3) and 508 religious organizations. Yet most American “Christians” are fearful and more concerned with pleasing civil government than they are in pleasing the Lord, more concerned with allowing their members to claim a tax deduction than with pleasing their Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Savior grieves.
Churches under Christ Ministry is under the authority of Charity Baptist Tabernacle of Amarillo, Texas, Benjamin Hickam Pastor. Jerald Finney, a Christian Lawyer and member of Charity Baptist Tabernacle explains how a church in America can remain under the Lord Jesus Christ and Him only. "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church" (Ephesians 1.22).