Numerous unlearned pastors and “ministries” advise churches on the matter of organizing as churches under Christ and Christ alone as opposed to legal organizations such as corporations, corporations sole, charitable trusts, unincorporated associations, and Internal Revenue Code §§ 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(1)(A) tax exempt organizations.
The Ecclesiastical Law Center was founded by Robin Wright. Brother Wright was a member of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple in the 1980s. Attorney Al Cunningham helped churches, including IBT where he spent a lot of time, reorganize under Christ, as opposed to legally organizing under man’s law. During that time, Robin Wright picked Attorney Cunningham’s brain on the use of the common law trust by churches.
Brother Wright left IBT and became pastor of a church. He also founded the Ecclesiastical Law Center. He modified the principles he had learned from Attorney Cunningham, as the ELC began to help churches organize. The ELC claimed to have come up with a Biblical as opposed to a legal solution for church organization. Actually, the concept, if correct in the details, is Biblical; but neither Wright, his close confidant Ben Townsend, or the ELC originated the concept, nor did they correctly implement it and related matters.
Ben Townsend was a friend of Robin Wright at IBT. He also left IBT and remained a close associate of Wright. He co-authored books and articles dealing with the trust and other church matters with Wright. When Robin Wright passed away, Townsend took over the ELC.
The ELC advises churches to hold real estate in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. The ELC method places churches in the position of legal entities since ELC churches hold the property through a trustee or trustees. The church property is to be managed by persons or a person solely for the benefit of the true owner of the property, the Lord Jesus Christ. See, ibid. This type of church legal status does not, of course, come with all the organizational requirements as does corporate status, charitable trust status, or federal tax exempt status; but it does make the church a legal entity which is under the jurisdiction of civil government courts for some purposes.
An ELC church or trust does not and cannot get a bank account. The ELC, by admission in their own writings, are establishing a common law trust. They do so without a writing executed by the church. ELC churches operate in cash. The ELC ignorantly advises that putting the trust relationship into a written declaration will get a church into trouble. In fact, no church has ever gotten into trouble because of a properly drafted, executed, and practiced Declaration of Trust and associated documents in spite of the fictitious reports published by the ELC. Furthermore, it is wise to properly draft and execute trust documents. See, 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).
The Churches under Christ ministry just aided a church which had obtained real estate some years ago, with the help of the ELC, in the name of “The Lord Jesus Christ with the [Name of Church] (Church) as Deacons of His Property.” The trustee of the trust saw the flaws with the methods of the ELC. He desired to open a trust bank account. He called this ministry. The trustee talked many hours with this ministry, studied materials published by this ministry, and answered Questionnaires 1 and 2. The ministry explained to him many of the problems with and misconceptions of the Townsend/ELC methodology. The church executed trust documents and is in the process of deeding the property to the trust. The property, which will be deeded to the trust and placed in the trust estate, is still owned by the Lord Jesus Christ, as in the present deed; but the property in the trust estate is not “church” property which is held by the trustee for the church. Once the property is placed in the trust estate under the new arrangement, it is no longer “church” property. The next step will be to open a bank account.
Opening a property constituted common law trust bank account in no way compromises the position of the church as a church under Christ alone or the status of the common law trust as a fiduciary relationship with property only, not a legal entity (organization) of any kind.
Churches should be diligent as they seek to glorify the Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. This requires dedicated study, and consultation with those who love the Lord and do their homework before diving into God’s preeminent matters.
The Churches under Christ Ministry helps churches with all matters related to the church irrevocable common law trust agreement which conforms to Bible principles of trust. See, EN [i]. For example, the ministry advises trustees as they open trust bank accounts. Once a church executes proper trust documents, and the trust relationship is up and running, the trustee of the trust usually opens a trust bank account (not a church bank account) in which to hold God’s money.
More and more, banks are refusing to open the accounts without an Employee Identification Number. As explained in Obtaining a Common Law Trust Employee Identification Number “For Banking Purposes Only,“ obtaining an EIN for the trust for banking purposes only does not compromise the status of either the church or the trust as non-legal entities. This is true for the church, because the church is not the trust and the trust is not the church. Once the church establishes the irrevocable common law trust, everything placed in the trust estate is thereafter the property of the Lord Jesus Christ, not the property of the church. The Lord Jesus Christ, not the church, is the owner of the trust estate. All this, and much more, is made clear in the documents by which the church (not the state or the church and the state) establishes the trust.
Here is a short explanation of why an EIN can be obtained by the trustee “for banking purposes only.” See the above article for more details. The church has established a common law trust, a private matter which is need not be filed with or approved by the state. The church has not organized as a trust and has not contracted with the state to become a legal entity. Remember, the church common law trust is merely a relationship with property, not a legal entity. This EIN, obtained “for banking purposes only,” does not compromise the non-legal status of the trust.
A charitable trust, a business trust, or any trust which is established in accordance with a law of civil government, man’s law, cannot get an EIN for banking purposes only. Such a trust is a legal entity. When a church contracts with the state according to the terms of state charitable or business trust law, the church, in organizing as a trust, becomes an earthly legal entity.
Practically, how does a trustee of a church common law trust agreement open a bank account? The trustee tells the bank that he wants to open a trust bank account. He gives the bank a copy of the executed Resolution to Adopt the Declaration of Trust and Declaration of Trust. Those documents, if properly drafted and executed, lay out all the details of the trust relationship including: the Bible principles, the common law of trust, and the highest American law, the First Amendment religion clause, which protects freedom of religion from civil government control for those churches under Christ who reject any type of legal status under laws which allow churches to contract with civil government for corporate (sole or aggregate), charitable trust, business trust, and/or tax exempt (under Internal Revenue Code Sections 501(c)(3) or 508(c)(1)(A)), status. Usually, the banker will submit the documents to the bank legal representatives for an opinion. The legal department reviews the documents and tells the bank that everything is in order.
After the bank agrees to open the account, the trustee can give the bank either his social security number, if the bank will accept it, or an EIN. Should the bank require an EIN, or should the trustee prefer to use an EIN rather than his social security number to identify the bank account, the trustee obtains an EIN “for banking purposes only.” To apply for the EIN “for banking purposes only,” the trustee of the trust should properly fill out and submit Form SS-4. See EN [ii]. Once the identifying number for banking purposes only is given to the bank, the bank opens the trust banking account. This ministry has a line by line PowerPoint that presents a line by line guide on how to fill out the SS-4.
Sometimes banks will open the account using the trustee’s social security number. A bank in Massachusetts insisted on the use of the trustee’s social security number. Some banks insist upon an EIN. In either case, every trustee has been able to open a trust checking account with the “for banking purposes only” identifying number: either the trustee’s social security number or an EIN. The trustee makes sure that the account is not classified as a “dba” account.
In the majority of cases where churches have established a common law trust and the trustee has applied and been assigned an EIN “for banking purposes only,” the Internal Revenue Service has come into the picture. However, the IRS has recently began to contact trustees who have established the common law trust relationship, applied for and been given an EIN “for banking purposes only,” and informed the them that they have to submit Form 1041 to the IRS. This ministry has contacted the IRS on behalf of those trustees and explained why their concern that Form 1041 be submitted is unfounded. In all cases, that ended the matter without further action. As the letters explain, the IRS must honor the position of the trustee since the IRS can, in no way, relate such a trust to the types of trusts for which filing of form 1041 is required.
The first time this happened was in 2017. The church executed trust documents, applied for a trust banking account, obtained an EIN “for banking purposes only.” The bank opened the account. In applying for the EIN, the trustee did not correctly fill out Form SS-4. The IRS wrote the trustee and asserted that he had to file Form 1041 each year. I wrote the IRS, and the trustee did not have any future problems arise on the matter. That ended it.
The second instance occurred in 2019. The trustee correctly filled out Form SS-4; but the IRS nonetheless informed him that he had to submit Form 1041 each year. I wrote the IRS, in January, 2020, and that ended the matter.
The third time occurred in 2019. In that case, the trustee probably incorrectly filled out Form SS-4. He did not keep a copy of the Form. I wrote the IRS.
The last time this occurred was in 2020. The pastor kept a copy of the completed Form SS-4.
See EN[iii] for links to copies of the above letters, without identifiers. Each letter points out to the IRS that the trust is a common law trust, not a legal entity such as a charitable or business trust. IRS regulations regarding “trusts” are applicable to legal entities which include charitable and business trusts, not to the common law non-legal entity trust. These and other facts can be ascertained by anyone who has the minimum of expertise in legal research. The letters also point out that the church is the creator of the trust, that the trustee of the trust has a duty to manage the trust estate solely for the benefit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true owner of the trust estate, that the church does not have 501(c)(3) or 508(c)(1)(A) tax exempt status, and other such matters.
In short, the letters to the IRS linked to above explain the basics of the common law trust relationship. This is solid proof that churches in America can, without persecution, openly do things God’s way; and proclaim to the world—both religious (including misled “Bible believing” Baptists) and secular (including the federal government and its agency, the Internal Revenue Service):
That they are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and corresponding state constitutional provisions;
The true history and meaning of the First Amendment and corresponding state constitutional provisions; See, EN [iv].
That they can, without fear, apply and proclaim some of God’s important truths concerning the local church, the God-desired relationship between church and state, and other matters to the world;
That they remain under Christ and Christ alone, in accord with New Testament Church doctrine and the First Amendment;
That, as churches under Christ alone, they are not subject to any man made law such as laws creating corporations, charitable trusts, business trusts, federal tax exemption laws (Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) or § 508(c)(1)(A) tax exemption law and the rules and regulations which come with that status);
That correctly establishing a common law trust does not subject either the church which does so, or the trust relationship established by the church, to the jurisdiction of civil government or any government agency such as the IRS;
That, as churches under Christ alone, they are under the sole authority of the Lord Jesus Christ;
That churches can still be a light to the world as they do things God’s way, as opposed to compromising and adopting the dark methods used by churches who have abandoned their duty to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God (En [v]), in this case the mystery of the church (EN [vi]).
These matters are practiced fact, not unproven theory or speculation; just as is the fact that real estate used for a church meetinghouse can be owned by, and titled in the name of, the Lord Jesus Christ, the owner of the trust estate. A remnant of churches in America prove the assertions in this article.
According to God’s word, the goal of believers and churches is to glorify God. What matter can be more important, for a local assembly of believers, than honoring the sole authority of Christ over His churches? As stewards of the mystery of the local church, can you and the church you attend be found faithful? The truth, when explained, need not be argued about with “them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
[v] 1 Corinthians 4:1-2: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.”
[vi] Ephesians 3:1-12 (These verses reveal the mystery of the local body, the local church, the local assembly of believers who choose to remain under Christ and Christ alone.): “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.”
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 estateand 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:
"Churches under Christ" is a ministry 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).