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What is a Legal Entity?


A Publication of Churches Under Christ Ministry


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Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 8, 2017


articlesofincorp.jpgA legal entity is a temporal earthly entity created and/or recognized by the law of man. The entity can be charged with a crime, sue and be sued, and act legally by entering into contracts, buying property, etc. Civil government has jurisdiction over legal entities.

Individuals are legal entities which are not created by the laws of man, but recognized by the laws of man. Legal speaks of earthly, temporal, as opposed to heavenly or eternal. A person in his/her right mind is a legal entity. If the person is lost, he is a legal entity only. If he is a born-again believer, he is both a legal entity and a spiritual entity. However, an earthly government cannot assume jurisdiction over his spiritual life. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10.28).

There are also legal entities which are created by the laws of man; these entities are made up of organizations of persons. Included are corporations (aggregate or sole, for-profit and non-profit), unincorporated associations, charitable trusts, business trusts, incorporated 501c3 or 508 tax exempt organizations and the list goes on. These type organizations are subject to the agreements made when they organized under man’s law.

Legal entities include associations; corporations; partnerships; proprietorships; and business, charitable, and other kinds of trusts (but not simple trusts, as explained below). Neither God nor the spirit of God have anything to do with their organization and operation. The law calls them “artificial persons.” They can be charged with crime, sue, be sued, assume legal, temporal, earthly obligations, and act legally by entering into contracts, buying property, opening bank accounts, hiring employees, running businesses (like schools, cafes, day care centers, etc.), and so forth. Satan can infiltrate and take over legal entities since they temporal, worldly, and run at least partially by maybe wholly by the laws of man. See Satan is the god of this world who orchestrates the world system.

All legal entities, other than individuals, are created by man-made civil government law. For example, American corporations, including church non-profit corporations, are created by state corporation law. Other legal entities such as sole proprietorships, are not created by man’s law, but are recognized and controlled by man’s law since they are businesses with income; they must, for example, get an assumed name, file income tax returns, get an Employer Identification Number, pay income taxes on profits and social security taxes on employees, register with the state sale tax office and pay sales taxes, etc.

A simple trust established to  manage money and property for the benefit of a beneficiary is not a legal entity. See  Trust Explained and The Bible Trust Relationship: Links to Essays and Other Resources. Other types of trusts which are either established according to man’s law or which have income are legal entities.

Many churches choose to be both legal and spiritual entities and many are legal entities only. Some churches, the remnant, protected by the law in America–the First Amendment and corresponding state constitutional provisions–choose to remain true to New Testament Church Doctrine and Example by remaining spiritual entities only. See Is a church a spiritual or legal entity? for more concerning this matter.

Churches, unlike businesses or charities, are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and corresponding state constitutional provisions which guarantee freedom of religion. Those laws give churches a choice. Churches choose whether to become a legal entity or remain a spiritual entity only. For more on this, see Is a church a spiritual entity, a legal entity, or a spiritual/legal entity?

Chapter 1: Legal Entity Status and the Corporation Sole

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Note: the Church Freedom and Corporation Sole Website has been removed and the links thereto are no longer valid.

Contents of this booklet (left click link to go to entry):

Introduction

Chapter 1: Legal Entity Status and the Corporation Sole (Below)
Chapter 2: Analysis of “Benefits of the Corporation Sole Compared to a Traditional 501c3 Church”
Chapter 3: Analysis of “Church Establishment Affidavit”

Conclusion

Appendix A: What is a Corporation Sole?
Appendix B: Corporation Sole and Internal Revenue Code §§ 501(c)(3) and 508

Related articles:

Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 2, 2015

Obviously, to one who studies these matters and as will be shown in the following chapters, the conclusion, and Appendix A and Appendix B, the Church Freedom and the Corporation Sole website does not understand the implications of the fact that the corporation sole is a legal entity and the fact that by organizing as a legal entity, a church becomes subject to all the legal requirements and law regarding legal entities.

Before one can understand the implications of corporation sole status (legal entity status), he must first understand the meaning of “legal entity.” BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 893-894 (6th ed. 1990) defines “legal entity” as: “Legal existence. An entity, other than a natural person, who has sufficient existence in legal contemplation that it can function legally, be sued or sue and make decisions through agents as in the case of corporations.” Black’s definition is not totally accurate in that every citizen of America in his right mind is also a legal entity. A citizen may sue, be sued, be charged with a crime, make decisions himself, and function legally (enter into contracts, obtain insurance, get a bank account, etc.). A legal entity  such as a non-profit corporation (includes corporation sole) is obviously subject to the laws of the civil government which create the legal entity.

Thus, a church who is a legal entity may enter into contracts, open a bank account, obtain insurance in her name, go into debt, and act legally in other ways. Since a church is not a natural person, she must utilize specific law in order to become a legal entity and obtain “sufficient existence in legal contemplation that it can function legally, be sued or sue and make decisions.” She may do this by the use of state non-incorporation (includes corporation sole), charitable trust, business trust, unincorporated association, etc. law. Of course, the pastor of a corporation sole church acts legally on behalf of the church he represents.

The concise book, Separation of Church and State: God’s Churches – Spiritual or Legal Entities? by Jerald Finney, explains church legal entity versus spiritual entity status and the practical implications thereof. The booklet is free in both online and PDF form, or may be ordered from amazon.com.

The Church Freedom and the Corporation Sole website and corporation sole law make clear that a church who uses corporation sole law as a means of organization is a legal entity who is not under God only. The website clearly states the corporation sole is a legal entity and that the corporation sole church is a legal entity.

The statute that establishes the corporation sole church as a legal entity: ORS  § 65.067(1), 2013.
The statute that establishes the corporation sole church as a legal entity: ORS § 65.067(1), 2013.

The law they rely on and quote (they quote from 2011 law rather than the amended 2013 law) makes clear that a corporation sole is a type of legal entity known as a non-profit corporation. The latest version of that law—Oregon Revised Statutes, Oregon Non-profit Corporation Law, Volume 2 Business Organizations, Commercial Code § 65.067(1), 2013reads, in relevant part:

“(1) An individual may, in conformity with the constitution, canons, rules, regulations and disciplines of a church or religious denomination, form a corporation under this section to be a corporation sole. The corporation sole is a form of religious corporation and differs from other religious corporations organized under this chapter only in that the corporation sole does not have a board of directors, does not need to have officers and is managed by a single director who is the individual who constitutes the corporation and is the corporation sole’s incorporator or the successor of the incorporator….

“(3) All of the provisions of ORS 65.044 to 65.067 apply to a corporation sole. If the corporation sole has no officers, the director may perform any act that an officer may perform with the same effect and in the same manner as though one or more officers of the corporation sole performed the act.

“(4) If a corporation sole or the individual that constitutes the corporation sole is the only member of a religious corporation, the religious corporation is not required to hold an annual membership meeting under ORS 65.201 if the religious corporation is: (a) Incorporated under the provisions of this chapter; and (b) Of the same church or religious denomination as the corporation sole.

“Approved by the Governor May 16, 2013 Filed in the office of Secretary of State May 17, 2013 Effective date January 1, 2014.”

Note. The Church Freedom and the Corporation Sole website quotes from the 2011 version of the law.

Thus, according to Oregon Corporation Sole law, the corporation sole is controlled by the state law which creates it (not by God’s law) except “that the corporation sole does not have a board of directors, does not need to have officers, and is managed by a single director who is the individual who constitutes the corporation and is the corporation sole’s incorporator or the successor of the incorporator.” So what is a Corporation Sole subject to? The rest of the non-profit corporation law, which can be accessed by clicking Oregon Revised Statutes, Oregon Non-profit Corporation Law, Volume 2 Business Organizations, Commercial Code § 65.067(1), 2013, (left click to go directly to the law) explains what law the Corporation Sole, a non-profit corporation and legal entity, is subject to. This author was going to copy and paste the above law below, but it is too voluminous. The concerned student will find that browsing the above linked to law is very enlightening in his examination of what the Church Freedom and the Corporation Sole website teaches.