Tag Archives: Church trust

Question and reply concerning setting up a trust for a “ministry” from a “prophetess” dedicated to “the manifestation of prophecies”


Jerald Finney
February 1, 2019

I received the following e-mail with questions concerning setting up a trust (identifiers omitted):


I really appreciated your site.  I am starting a prophetic ministry.  I will be operating out of a trust to cover office and travel expenses and whatever other needs, but no salaries or profits, and relying on donations.  I was wondering if  you could answer a couple of questions:

Click the above to go to the LDS article, “5 Righteous Women Called ‘Prophetess’ in the Bible”

1) Is there anything I need to do with any conceivable “entity” to declare myself a ministry?  I am not a pastor, but a prophetess.  My ministry will be dedicated to the manifestation of the prophecies in the Bible.  To the best of your knowledge, must the ministry be connected to a church?  I am a believer in the house church and am not a part of an established church.

2) Is an IRS information return needed for donations received?  I understand that this is required of a 501c3.

3) Do I call myself a non-profit organization, or is does that apply to a 501c3?

Quote from LDS Elder, L. Tom Perry

4) I am encountering a tricky thing regarding beneficiaries, as I don’t want to name other ministries.  Truly the ones with beneficial interest are the “people of God” as a whole, especially the people of the Promised Land, which I believe to be the USA.  I don’t know if I can say that legally.  In addition, the projects that I plan to start in order to bring this about will involve people, places and things that have not yet come into being.  Do you know of anyone who can counsel me about how to establish the beneficiaries of a trust in this prophetic context, in which the Spirit will be my guide?

This comes with a prayer for you, your family, your church, and your ministry – that God may pour out His blessings on you, as you do on us!

Sister _____________________

My Reply

Dear Ms _____________________,

Thanks for your desire to please the Lord. Since you have asked me questions and given me information about what you are doing, I must answer you honestly and in love.

A New Testament ministry must be under the authority of a church under Christ in all things. One cannot separate a God ordained ministry from a church under Christ. A ministry that is not under the authority of a church under Christ is not in God’s perfect will. Also, to be approved of God, a church and a ministry must be called of God and in line with Bible teaching in all things including  leadership, makeup, doctrine, etc.

To answer to your question, “Do I call myself a non-profit organization, or is does that apply to a 501c3?” would require more time than I have, so I just address one facet of the question. If you organize a church or ministry of a church as 501c3 or 508, you have just submitted that church or ministry to a head other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Why set up a trust (a properly ordered trust, not the type of trust you envision) and defeat its purpose by placing the entity you are trying to keep completely out of man’s control, and then partially submit it to man’s control?

I can see by your e-mail that you do not understand the concept of the Bible trust and the beneficiary thereof. The “people of God” are not the beneficiaries of a church Bible trust. The trust used by this Churches under Christ Ministry is patterned after Bible trust doctrine and is recognized, not created, by American law as a non-legal entity.

These matters took me many years of Holy Spirit led study of the Bible (the KJB being the Word of God in English), history, and law. When even a lost person, much less a born again believer, grabs bits of information for which he/she has no studied understanding, he cannot implement the information with knowledge and wisdom. Only those born of the spirit can understand spiritual matters, and the basis of understanding for that person in all matters concerning faith and practice is the Word of God (the King James Bible in English).

Some people such as Peter Kershaw, Ben Townsend of the so-called Ecclesiastical Law Center push a ill-informed and flawed “trust” scheme and other deceivers misdefine and misapply the corporation sole (a type of non-profit corporation whose only difference from any other non-profit corporation is that it has only one, as opposed to several, officers) to allegedly help unknowledgeable pastors and churches organize outside man’s law.  The former mislead  churches in their application of the concept “church” trusts. The latter do not understand but nonetheless falsely promote and define “corporation sole” for unwitting churches who are seeking to do things the Bible way. These frauds who falsely claim to have specialized knowledge and skills mislead believers who seek to do things God’s way rely on these deceivers.

The Bible conclusively proves that the USA  is not the “Promised land” and reveals other errors in your e-mail which I do not have time to address.

I know no one who can help you, including myself, because one of us has been misled by the wrong spirit. I am a born again believer in God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and am convinced that God the Holy Spirit has guided me through my studies so that what I believe and teach is in line with God’s Word. I invite anyone to show me, from the KJB only without reference to any interpretation of the Bible or any other writing, where I am wrong on these matters.

Click the above image to go to ““What Books Should I Read?”: Essential Readings in Mormonism for Every Member”

Again, I trust that you are sincere, but sincerely uneducated and misinformed about many matters. The evidence suggests that you have fallen for the lies of the LDS cult; if not, your email assertions match some LDS lies. I believe that the LDS church uses the King James Bible but other books take priority and are considered as authoritative. I believe that the LDS church teaches that the King James Bible is correct insofar as it is correctly translated and interpreted and that other LDS books fill in a lot which your prophets and teachers, as led by the god of this world, assert was left out of or incorrectly preserved in the KJB. Those deceivers have to correct it and fill in so as to accommodate the teachings of the devils, disguised as angels, who inspired them to believe their lies. The LDS church teaches a false Jesus and false doctrine and leads millions to hell.

I write this to you in love hoping that you will see the error of your ways. I am not your enemy because I tell you the truth. I especially suggest that you diligently seek the Lord and the salvation He offers through His son (not the false Jesus of the LDS religion). I recommend the following as you seek the truth about God and eternity: What the Word of God teaches about Salvation and After Salvation.

For His Glory,
Jerald Finney

The Church Bible Trust Relationship Explained and How a Church Can Nullify Her Efforts to Remain Under Christ Only

Jerald Finney
Copyright © January 11, 2019

More and more churches are seeking to exercise their Bible freedom and duty to operate under the Lord Jesus Christ in all things; to repent, do the first works as churches of Christ before He removes their candlesticks. American churches who desire to do so are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and corresponding state constitutional provisions. This short essay will give a simple explanation of the trust relationship used by churches in order to remain under Christ and Christ alone. Then, it will explain ways some of those churches nullify that attempt to honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

The “common law” or “Bible” trust is a fiduciary relationship with real and personal property (personal property includes intangible property such as money and bank accounts) recognized but not created by man’s law. This relationship is created by an agreement between a trustor and trustee, is private, creates no contract with the state (the state is not a party), and is not subject to control by civil government and its courts. Trust documents, if any, are never required to be filed in man’s legal system through any of its courts or agencies. This type of trust is not a legal entity. The trust relationship can be established orally or in writing; a properly drafted writing is better.  If not in writing, and if the facts show the intent to establish a relationship with property to be held by a trustee for the benefit of the true owner of the property then a trust relationship has been established. This is so no matter the terms used. It is not necessary to use the terms “trust,” “trustor,” “trustee,” “trust estate,” or “beneficiary” for a trust relationship to come into existence if the essentials of the relationship are there.

The trustor creates the relationship and names a trustee who agrees to administer a trust estate funded by the trustor (and others, if any, who wish to contribute to the trust estate) solely for the benefit of another, the true owner of the trust estate, the beneficiary. The trustor merely establishes the trust relationship. The trustee administers the trust estate solely for the benefit of the owner of the trust estate. Once assets are placed in the trust estate, those assets permanently belong to the beneficiary, not to the trustor  (in an irrevocable trust).

An inactive trust is no trust at all. The elements of valid trust are: trustor, trustee, beneficiary, and trust estate. If an element is missing, there is no trust. If there is no trustor, trustee, trust estate and beneficiary there is no trust. Without a trust estate, there is no trust. For a trust relationship to exist, all elements of the trust must exist. If there is no trust estate, there can be no trust. One cannot establish a fiduciary relationship with property if there is no property.

Some churches have properly drafted and executed documents establishing a proper trust relationship in order to remain under the Lord Jesus Christ only; but they have nullified their efforts by never listing trust property to the trust estate in an appendix to the trust document. All property and assets in the trust estate should be listed in the appendix. Again, if no property is placed in the trust estate, the trust is non-existent. The Appendix should list all personal property (song books, pews, musical instruments, etc.), real property, motor vehicles, bank accounts and other assets held in trust estate.

Another way churches who have set up a trust relationship with money and property – through a Declaration of Trust, Procedures, or whatever the document is titled – nullify their efforts to remain under Christ only is to act legally. When a church acts legally, she is a legal entity subject to the jurisdiction of civil government.

What is a legal entity? A legal entity is an entity that can be sued, sues, can be charged with a crime, enters into contracts or acts legally in any way. When a church acts legally, she has declared herself to be a legal entity.

How can a church act legally? She can, for example, hold deed to real property, open a bank account, hold title to motor vehicle(s), hold insurance, contract, borrow money, incorporate the church or a ministry of the church, get Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) or § 508 status for the church or a ministry of the church, have employees, pay salaries or do anything else in accordance with or subject to man’s legal system and not according to New Testament church guidelines and example. A church who holds insurance admits that she is a legal worldly entity who can be sued. Doing anything is man’s system makes a church a legal entity subject to man’s law.

A properly implemented trust relationship with money and/or property keeps a church entirely out of man’s earthly legal systems and under the Lord Jesus Christ in all things. That is, if the church does not misstep and declare herself to be a legal entity subject to the law of man in some other way. Thank the Lord and The Trail of Blood of the Martyrs of Jesus who in putting Christ first in all things paid the price that gave all Americans freedom of religion and soul liberty as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and corresponding state constitutional provisions.

“… Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. … For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” (Ephesians 5.25-27, 30).

Recommended Articles To Begin Your Understanding of the Trust Relationship Which Are Included in the Above Link:

  1. The Church Bible Trust Relationship Explained and How a Church Can Nullify Her Efforts to Remain Under Christ Only
  2. How a Church Can Organize to Remain a New Testament Church (Holding Property In Trust For God Is A Scriptural Principle Recognized by American Law)
  3. What God Has Committed to Man’s Trust: “Ye Cannot Serve God and Mammon”: Steward or Trustee?

Other resources which will be of help in understanding the concept of trust.

Law on Church Organization (Trusts, Property Tax, Etc.)

Links to Essays, Articles, and Other Resources:

The Bible Trust Relationship: Links to Essays and Other Resources

WAUSHARA COUNTY v. Sherri L. GRAF, 157 Wis.2d 539 (1990), 461 N.W.2d 143, Court of Appeals of Wisconsin. Submitted on briefs December 8, 1989. Decided August 2, 1990

The complete opinion may be accessed online by clicking here.

This case was appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. To go to my brief of that case click: 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 Wisconsin Supreme Court stated, in its opinion, that:

  • The court of appeals had no obligation to look beyond the issues raised by Bible Baptist, but had the discretion to do so. The “church” was organized as a trust. The principle issue which it in its discretion addressed was the circuit court’s conclusion that for a ‘church’ to claim a tax exemption, it must be incorporated under the laws of Wisconsin or another state. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin agreed with the conclusion of the appeals court that the church need not be incorporated to claim a tax exemption.The Court stated: “We need not reiterate the excellent discussion and analysis underpinning that conclusion that appears in the court of appeals opinion. 157 Wis. 2d at 539-49” [the citation for this case].

This page will look at only the circuit courts analysis that led to the conclusion that a church, which was organized as a trust, need not be incorporated to claim a tax exemption. The following excerpt is from  the opinion of the court of appeals, 157 Wis. 2d at 539-49, on that matter:

We hold only that the church was not required to show that it was incorporated as a religious society or corporation under ch. 187, Stats., or otherwise, to establish that its property is exempt from taxation under sec. 70.11(4).


We recognize that “[o]ne who seeks to have his property exempt from taxation is required to bring himself within the terms of the exemption statute…. The taxpayer has the burden of demonstrating that it is entitled to tax-exempt status…. This is especially true in situations where, as here, there is a great potential for abuse because a church is controlled by an individual, a family or a small group of individuals. Id. The church must come forward with candid disclosure of the facts bearing on the exemption application. Id. What the ninth circuit said with respect to the Church of Scientology’s request for exemption from income tax under sec. 501(c)(3), I.R.C., is equally applicable to the Basic Bible Church’s claim of exemption under sec. 70.11(4), Stats. However, the county, on appeal, does not argue that the church has not brought itself within sec. 70.11(4), Stats., except for the insufficiency of its organization.

We turn therefore to the issue of whether the Basic Bible Church was required to show that it was incorporated to establish that it was an “entity” which could claim tax exemption under sec. 70.11(4), Stats. The statute does not impose the requirement. Ordinarily, this finding would end the case. A combination of factors, however, creates an ambiguity which persuaded the circuit court that to be exempt from taxation under sec. 70.11(4), a church or religious association must be an incorporated entity.


The first factor is the church’s failure to take formal action under state or federal law to “charter” the church. The court cited ch. 187, Stats., and I.R.C. sec. 501(c)(3). Ambiguity may be created by the interaction of separate statutes. State v. Kenyon, 85 Wis. 2d 36, 49, 270 N.W.2d 160, 166 (1978).

The second factor is the church’s failure to seek exemption from federal income tax under I.R.C. sec. 501(c)(3). Section 501(c)(3), I.R.C., however, does not provide for the incorporation or chartering of churches or religious organizations. Tax exemption thereunder is limited to a corporation, community chest, fund, or foundation. The Basic Bible Church does not claim it qualifies as one of the enumerated organizations. No significance can be attached to the church’s failure to seek tax exemption under I.R.C. sec. 501(c)(3).

The final factor is the decision in In re Zarling, 70 Bankr. 402 (Bankr. E.D. Wis. 1987). In Zarling, the court voided a transfer by the debtor of his interest in his farm to the Universal Life Church Charter No. 22406. The court found that the transfer was fraudulent. The court held that because a certificate acknowledging the existence of the Church as a corporation was not filed pursuant to secs. 187.01(2) or 187.09, Stats., prior to the conveyance, the Church-grantee was “a non-existent entity.” The court’s holding must be viewed in context. The debtor, Zarling, filed a certificate of incorporation under sec. 187.09 five years after the transfer, and attempted to make the filing “nunc pro tunc” the transfer. If Zarling is limited to its holding that the filing did not incorporate the Church “nunc pro tunc,” it is good law. To the extent that the decision declares all unincorporated churches or unincorporated religious associations “non-existent entit[ies],” we reject it.

We conclude, however, that these factors are sufficient to make it uncertain whether a church or religious organization must be incorporated for its property to be exempt under sec. 70.11(4), Stats. We therefore examine the legislative history of the pertinent statutes. “One of the most valuable extrinsic aids of judicial construction is legislative history.” [Citations omitted}.

The first exemption from taxation of the property of churches and religious organizations appears in sec. 24, ch. 47, Revised Statutes of 1849. Chapter 47 prescribed the procedure by which persons belonging to a church congregation or religious society, “not already incorporated,” could incorporate. Section 24 exempted from taxation every church, parsonage and schoolhouse belonging to any religious society, with the land belonging thereto, not to exceed three acres in any one town, village or township, or one city lot. The exemption was not limited to religious societies incorporated under ch. 47.

Chapter 130, Laws of 1868, provided for the assessment of property for taxation and for exemptions therefrom. Section 2, 3d exempted “[p]ersonal property owned by any religious, scientific, literary or benevolent association, used exclusively for the purposes of such association, and the real property necessary for the location and convenience of the buildings of such association . . . not exceeding ten acres. . . .” Chapter 130 did not define “association.”

Section 2 of ch. 130, Laws of 1868, was incorporated, without substantial change, in sec. 1038, subd. 3, Wisconsin Statutes of 1898. Section 1038, subd. 3 was renumbered sec. 70.11(4), Stats., by sec. 16, ch. 69, Laws of 1921. Throughout its history, the exemption from taxation of property of churches and religious associations has been accorded in substantially the same language. No “linkage” has existed between the exemption statutes and those affecting the organization of churches and religious associations or societies.

Chapter 411, Laws of 1876, provided for the incorporation of religious societies. Apparently this act replaced ch. 47 of the revised statutes of 1849. Chapter 411 is silent as to the taxation or exemption of the property of religious societies incorporated thereunder.

The procedures for the incorporation of religious societies were included in ch. 91, Revised Statutes of 1878. Nash’s Wisconsin Annotations (1914), sec. 1990, ch. 91 at 753, states:

The revisers of 1878 in their note said: “Chapter 411, 1876, is taken to have been intended as a revision of the law for the incorporation of religious societies. The privilege of organizing a corporation is extended to all classes and denominations, it not being supposed the law means to be intolerant of any religious belief or to be partial in its offer of privileges.”

The same annotation at page 755 states:

“Church” and “Congregation.” A church consists of those who are communicants, have made a public profession of religion and are united by a religious bond of common spiritual welfare. It is the spiritual body, not the legal one. But a religious society or congregation, under the statute, is a voluntary association of persons, generally but not necessarily in connection with a church proper, united for the purpose of having a common place of worship and to provide a proper teacher to instruct them in doctrines and duties, etc. [Citations omitted.]

Thus, the legislature distinguished a church, as the spiritual body, from a religious society, incorporated under the statute, as the legal body of a voluntary association of persons united for religious purposes.

Decisions interpreting ch. 91, Revised Statutes of 1878, make plain that failure of a church or religious organization to incorporate thereunder did not affect the power of the church or religious organization to hold title to property.Under the repeated decisions of this court, we must hold that the mere fact that [a] church or religious society had not yet been incorporated at the time of the delivery of [a] deed in no way frustrated the trust thereby created, if such trust was otherwise valid.” Fadness v. Braunborg, 73 Wis. 257, 278-79, 41 N.W. 84, 90 (1889) (emphasis in original). The county does not claim that the trust pursuant to which the subject property was conveyed to Sherri L. Graf and Barbara J. Pogue as trustees for the church is invalid.

In Holm v. Holm, 81 Wis. 374, 382, 51 N.W. 579, 581 (1892), the facts included that the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Roche-a-Cree was a voluntary association until February 7, 1889. The court noted that “[p]rior to that date the title to the churches in which the members of the association worshiped was vested in trustees named in . . . deeds, and their successors in office. . . . The trusts imposed by such deeds appear to have been valid upon the principles stated by this court in Fadness v. Braunborg. . . .” Id.

In Franke v. Mann, 106 Wis. 118, 131, 81 N.W. 1014, 1018-19 (1900), the court said that the power given to trustees of a religious corporation formed under ch. 91, R.S. 1878, was limited to the particular purposes expressly or impliedly named in the act of incorporation. The court further said that “[w]hat has been said is in harmony with the law regarding trusts for religious useswhether the trustees be officers of a religious corporation or of an unincorporated ecclesiastical body. . . .” Id. at 131-32, 81 N.W. at 1019 (emphasis added).

It is plain from these decisions that the court did not consider that the legislature, by offering to ecclesiastical bodies the advantages of incorporation, intended to impose corporate structure upon such bodies. The property of unincorporated ecclesiastical bodies was commonly held in trust for the benefit of the members.


The Basic Bible Church established that title to the real estate subject to foreclosure was held in the name of the trustees for the benefit of the church. We conclude that the trust constituted an “entity” which could claim tax exemption under sec. 70.11(4), Stats., for the benefit of the Basic Bible Church. We further conclude that the legislative history of the pertinent statutes does not disclose a legislative intent to require that a church or religious association be incorporated before it may claim tax exemption under sec. 70.11(4).

By the Court.—Judgment reversed.





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.

Click here to go to online publication of he entire case.


The Procedural History and Opinions [Trial Court, Court of Appeals, Supreme Court of Minnesota]:

  •  Trial Court: The issue considered was “whether the holding of religious services on a parcel of real estate, even though extending over a period of time, exempts that property from real estate taxation. In holding that it does not, the trial court concluded: “[Basic Bible has] not followed any of the traditional or authorized means of obtaining tax exempt status on this property. They have indicated that there is no need to do so. Under the position proposed by respondents, any person could contend, and could actually hold religious services upon a parcel of real estate and declare it exempt from taxation. This could be carried to an unworkable extreme. There would be no control and no means of follow-up. Since all lands are subject to tax unless exempted by law, the burden is upon respondents to show why they are They have failed in meeting this obligation. (Emphasis supplied).”The court found that since Basic Bible was not incorporated and had no 501(c)(3) status, there was no entity to claim  exemption as a church or religious association  [The alleged church held property through trustees.]. The court found that the County complied with the statutory foreclosure requirements, that Basis Bible was not a legal entity, and held that Basic Bible was not tax exempt. It placed emphasis on Basic Bible’s failure to incorporate.
  • Basic Bible, acting, pro se, appealed through three of its members, raising only two issues: (1) Did the trial court err in proceeding without responding to challenges to its jurisdiction? (2) Did the trial court have the authority to hear a case concerning the property of a church (nonstate entity)?

    Court of Appeals: Reversed the judgment of the trial court, totally ignored the only issues raised by Bible Baptist, reviewed the entire trial court decision and concluded that the trial court’s holding that a church must incorporate before it can claim tax exempt status before it can claim tax exempt status under the statute was erroneous. The court held that, by not arguing on appeal the bona fides of Basic Bible waived that issue. The court further held that the title to the real estate was properly held in the name of the trustees for the benefit of Basic Bible, and that the trust was an “entity” which “could claim tax exemption. The court did not decide whether Basic Bible was tax exempt.
  • The county appealed to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin: 

    The Court stated that the court of appeals had no obligation to look beyond the issues raised by Bible Baptist, but had the discretion to do so. The principle issue which it in its discretion addressed was the circuit court’s conclusion that for a “church” to claim a tax exemption, it must be incorporated under the laws of Wisconsin or another state. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin agreed with the conclusion of the appeals court that the church need not be incorporated to claim a tax exemption. The Court stated: “We need not reiterate the excellent discussion and analysis underpinning that conclusion that appears in the court of appeals opinion. 157 Wis. 2d at 539-49. (The analysis in that opinion will also be looked at and added as a post on this webpage). That conclusion was, however, substantially irrelevant. It was not outcome determinative of the fundamental question posed by this litigation: Did Basic Bible meet its burden to demonstrate that it was tax exempt?” The Court stated that Basic Bible did not even assert on appeal a basis for tax exemption. It only asserted that the circuit court was without jurisdiction. However, [the law] confers plenary subject matter jurisdiction upon the circuit court and [the law] grants circuit courts the jurisdiction to hear tax foreclosure cases.As to the assertion that the court was without jurisdiction “bordered on the frivolous,” and this, the only issue before the court of appeals, could have been dealt with fully in a very summary opinion affirming that court. The fact that the court of appeals correctly concluded that the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it held that incorporation was necessary for a tax exemption did not in itself warrant a reversal of the circuit court. The only question posed is whether the taxpayer has sustained its burden to prove tax exemption. It is clear from the record that it did not. The appeals court concluded that the entire record, which demonstrated taxpayer’s lack of proof of right to exemption, was non-existent because the county waived any objection to the bona fides of the church by not attacking the bona fides on appeal.

    The county had no reason at all to assert or argue a position on which it had prevailed—a position that was not assailed by the appellant in the court of appeals. It is obviously unfair to expect the “respondent” to “respond” to issues not raised by appellant. The record shows a total failure of proof of tax exempt status. The trial court’s error in that respect cannot be converted into an affirmative tax exempt status. It merely demonstrated that one of many reasons for not affording tax exempt status was incorrect. The controlling issue on this review is whether Basic Bible is a “church” or “religious association” entitled to property tax exemption under sec. 70.11(4), Stats. The burden of proving tax exempt status is upon the taxpayer. “Tax exemption statutes are matters of legislative grace, and they are to be strictly construed against the granting of the exemption.” Where the facts are established, the determination of whether a taxpayer is a “church” or “religious organization” under sec. 70.11(4), Stats., is subject to de novo review.

    The court then stated five tests necessary to prove that a church” or “religious association” entitled to tax exempt status under [the statute]: (1) the taxpayer must be a bona fide church or religious association; (2) the property must be owned and used exclusively for the purposes of the church or religious association; (3) the property involved must be less than 10 acres; (4) the property must be necessary for location and convenience of buildings; and (5) the property must not be used for profit.

    The first test requires the circuit court to consider the sincerity of the organization’s asserted beliefs, considering all the evidence and determining whether the beliefs are held in good faith or whether the “forms of religious organization were erected for the sole purpose of cloaking a secular enterprise with the legal protections of religion. [two federal cases cited which accept this means of determination]. “Moreover, it avoids the inherent constitutional difficulty in attempting to define “church” or “religious association” in a theistic manner.”

    Again, the court stated that incorporation is not a prerequisite to tax exempt status. 459. “It is clear that had the legislature intended to require churches and religious associations to incorporate to gain tax exempt status, it in all likelihood would have specifically so provided…. Most importantly, however, the trial court must consider whether the alleged religious beliefs are sincerely held or whether they are merely a subterfuge designed to evade taxation. 460. As the trial court noted, any person could contend, and could actually hold religious services upon a parcel of real estate and declare it exempt from taxation. In 1978, the acting IRS Commissioner described a modern ‘tax avoidance device’:

    “Some individuals and organizations are marketing and promoting ‘plans’ to avoid income taxes. While the ‘plans’ vary in certain respects, a common theme calls for an individual taxpayer to obtain minister’s credentials and a charter for a church or religious order by mail for a fee from churches that may or may not be recognized as exempt from federal income tax under I.R.C. § 501(c)(3). No profession of adherence to a creed, dogma, or moral code is required and no duties or fiduciary responsibilities are undertaken in order to receive and administer these charters or credentials.

    “The ‘plan’ then calls for the individual to take a ‘vow of poverty’ and to assign his assets (house, car, savings account, etc.) and the income earned from current employment to the purported church or order. A major portion of the income assigned to church or order from this unrelated occupation is set aside for housing, food, clothing, and other items

    “. . . .

    “Those interested in protecting the preferences for churches must agree that the Service has an obligation to be vigorous in stopping such schemes.”

    The court then examined the facts in the record and concluded that the record as a whole supports the conclusion that Basis Bible is not a bona fide church or religious association under [the law—sec.70.11(14]. “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 is not tax Exempt.


Basic Bible conveyed real estate to Sherri L. Graf and Barbara J. Pogue in trust for the church’s benefit. Basic Bible was not incorporated, nor did it obtain 501(c)(3) status. Basic Baptist filed a property tax exemption certificate with the local tax assessor and the exemption was not granted. The county began in rem tax foreclosure proceedings.

“Basic Bible responded that it was a religious organization, and pursuant to sec. 70.11(4), Stats., was not subject to taxation on the real estate because it was used for religious purposes. Basic Bible presented numerous witnesses, all of whom testified that they had attended “religious services” on the property at various times since 1977. Other activities on the property included bible studies, a memorial service, counselling, agricultural training, and legal research.

“Sherri Graf, an ordained minister in the Life Science Church, testified that she is a trustee of Basic Bible, that her husband, Wilbert Kelly, is the pastor of Basic Bible, and that they have resided on the property since 1977. Sherri Graf testified that the parent church in Minneapolis is an exempt organization under I.R.C. sec. 501(c)(3), but acknowledged that Basic Bible had not applied for and did not have such status. Sherri Graf acknowledged that Basic Bible had not taken any action under any state or federal law to incorporate or formally charter Basic Bible. Her testimony revealed that neither she nor Wilbert Kelly had any income and that they lived on donations from individuals visiting Basic Bible. Sherri Graf stated that Basic Bible was always open and was open to everyone.

“Assertedly, Basic Bible’s beliefs are based upon the King James version of the Bible, the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Among the “fundamental beliefs” of Basic Bible, set forth in a cover letter its members are charged to distribute along with the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, is the following:

“The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s Creator are in part set out in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. These are the fundamental Laws and are recognized by the Basic Bible Church.

“The members of the Basic Bible Church are bound by oath or affirmation to support these Fundamentals as these represent the Will of the Creator and the Laws of Nature in part; a sacred belief is that each individual owns the right to his own life, that he owns no right over the life of any one else, and that no one else owns any right over his life.

“Other beliefs include a conviction that income taxes are illegal, and that federal reserve notes are “frauds” in violation of the law of God and of the Constitution.

Other facts brought out in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin opinion:

“Included in the record of this case is a solicitation letter issued by the parent church of Basic Bible, which states:

  • “The Basic Bible Church of America offors [sic] a religious program whereby you can set up an Auxiliary Church of the Basic Bible Church of America out of your own home, office or business and use the Auxiliary Church that you and your trustees have complete control of the assets of to distribute the church tenets and doctrine to the general public.
  • “This auxiliary church may compliment your own particular church and gives you the opportunity for religious fulfillment and practice of your own religion according to the dictates of your own conscience.
  • “As is shown in the brief attached hereto, as an incidental benefit you can become completely exempt from income taxes, in some states, property taxes, Social Security Taxes and sales taxes in most states, plus-discounts at most stores and airlines.
  • “The Basic Bible Church of America is incorporated under the laws of Minnesota and as shown by the tax exempt letter attached hereto, has a Federal Tax Exempt letter of recognition.

“Attached to the letter is a ‘brief’ discussing the attributes of a ‘religious organization’ under the IRS Code. Of nine pages included in the letter, one is the above invitation to join, one is a statement of the “fundamental beliefs and philosophy” of the Basic Bible Church, and fully seven pages are devoted to the tax exempt status of the church. The only inference that can be drawn from this letter is that the Basic Bible Church of America is a subterfuge designed to evade taxation. Sherri Graf’s testimony at trial strengthens this inference:

  • “Our Church Charter also informs us that we are created pursuant to 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. As far as state tax exemption, to the best of my knowledge, Chapter 11000 has not applied for such an exemption. We believe, under the laws, the first amendment, as well as the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin, and the tax laws in the State of Wisconsin, that Church property is exempt and that we are doing what is required and would fall into consideration under such law.”