A CHURCH OR A CORPORATION?
(Which Do YOU Attend?)
by Pastor RON MARSH
Salt and Light Ministry
Joshua challenged the people: “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” (Joshua 24:15) Today, government is demanding a similar choice.
The following is intended merely to provide an overview, an introduction to the whole issue of the Church and incorporation. Many sincere, God-fearing Christians in this land honestly believe that they belong to a “church” that just happens to be “incorporated” under the laws of their particular State and that just happens to enjoy a 501(c)(3) status under federal tax regulations. Unfortunately, they are sincerely wrong! We shall herein endeavor to explore the natures of, and relationship between, churches and corporations. We shall also try to explore how and why churches entered the world of the corporation in the first place.
The truth is, there is no such entity as an “incorporated church.” It is a physical, legal and spiritual impossibility.
The truth is, any “church” that is “incorporated” has deposed Jesus Christ from His rightful position as Head over His own Body (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18) and has surrendered that Body to the dominion of the State.
The truth is, “incorporated churches” are subject to total governmental control — whom they may hire, what they may and may not teach and preach, etc. A corporation is a creature of the State and, as such, has no constitutionally protected First Amendment Rights. Check your state’s corporation “law.” The state’s creation (corporation) is subject to demands of full disclosure of its membership lists, members’ giving records — anything the State wants.
The truth is, “incorporated churches” are not, by definition, churches at all. They are merely “not-for-profit enterprises,” viewed by government (and, unfortunately, often by themselves) as indistinguishable from Planned Parenthood (whose legacy includes the blood of some fifty million pre-born American babies) — or a homosexual-rights organization!
“These were more noble . . . in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11) Brethren, Search the Scriptures! And if these things be so, then seek and OBEY the Mind of Christ!
I. A BRIEF HISTORY AND RATIONALE OF INCORPORATION
For many centuries, the Church got along just fine without incorporation. She had no “identity crisis,” no “self esteem” problem. She knew exactly who she was. She knew precisely Who her Lord and her Bridegroom was. She gladly suffered persecution (II Timothy 3:12), prosecution, imprisonment, torture and martyrdom at the hands of civil tyrants throughout the ages.
Then she found herself in a unique and euphoric circumstance: She was “at peace” with civil government; in fact, she had even been instrumental in the establishment of that government! If she were not seated upon the throne, she was certainly the power behind that throne. Like no other time in history, it was “in” to be “Christian” in the United States. Unaccustomed to such prominence, she became drunk with her own importance and let down her guard. She yielded to temptation, forsook her Lord and Bridegroom and joined herself, in an adulterous relationship, to another beneficent lover — the State!
Soon, she no longer had to say, “Silver and gold have I none.” No longer could she say, “Rise and walk.” (Both quotes, Acts 3:6) But who needs power when one has status?
A. THE “LURES” (Why incorporate?) 1. Limited Liability.
In giving her her marching orders, the Bridegroom had promised: “All power is given unto me . . . I am with you alway.” (Matthew 28:18, 20) Apparently, this was not enough for her. The State, her adulterous lover, promised to protect her from lawsuits and other attacks from without if only she would incorporate. Turning her back on the promised care of her Bridegroom, she accepted her lover’s “protection.” (How would you have felt about that if you were her Bridegroom?)
The world knew that the early Church was the Church because of their power (Acts 1:8; 17:6), their love (John 13:35) and their manifestations of the Spirit. Today the world assumes that the church is the church because it is registered with, and defined by, the State. In many cases, this is the only documentation and/or authentication that a church has. How sad! Again, what must the Bridegroom think of the fact that His bride’s adulterous lover defines His bride’s identity?
3. Continuity, Perpetuity.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1 – 14) “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5) But the bride did not believe that her Lord was able to perform His promise to preserve His bride. So she forsook the omnipotent care of the Bridegroom for the “legal” protections of her lover. And the Bridegroom once again finds Himself standing outside, knocking, seeking entry. (Revelation 3:20)
B. THE “HOOK” (Tax Exemption; Deductibility of Gifts)
“God loveth a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:7) But the adulterous lover promised, “Incorporate, and I will return to you up to thirty-five percent of your tithes and offerings!”
And the Bridegroom wept. Now He knew that His bride “purposeth in [her] heart . . . grudgingly, or of necessity.” (II Corinthians 9:7)
Now the bride is discovering, perhaps too late, that favors from Washington, D. C., have strings attached. In this case, the string is a rope that is being used to throttle her once-powerful voice, to squeeze out her very life and, eventually, to hang her by the neck until dead! II. Defining Features
A. THE CHURCH:
1. A living Organism, whose Founder and sole Head is the LORD Jesus, the Christ. (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18)
2. “Invisible” to the judiciary; can neither sue nor be sued.
3. The Bible her sole Authority for both faith and practice.
4. Members added daily, upon conversion (Acts 2:47) and “gifted” (and empowered to exercise their gifts) by the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12, etc.)
5. Members related to one another, to the LORD Jesus and to the Church, His body, in a unique and wonderful way, analogous in the Scriptures to parts (“members”) of the human body. (I Corinthians 6:15, ch. 12; Ephesians 4:25, 5:30; etc.)
6. “Officers” are Pastors and Deacons.
B. A CORPORATION:
1. A lifeless organization, the creator and ultimate authority of which is the State: said powers of creation and oversight usually exercised through the office of the Secretary of State.
2. A “fiction” or “Artificial Person” before the judiciary: capable of suing and of being sued, but bereft of “unalienable rights” as granted by God, set forth in the Declaration of Independence, and protected by the Constitutions, both State and federal. Subject to “compelled-compliance” regulation at the arbitrary whim of the State bureaucrat.
3. Corporation “law” is its rule of practice.
4. Members added pursuant to provisions of corporation “law” and defined as full, associate, active, inactive, voting, non-voting, etc.: again, pursuant to provisions of corporation “law.”
5. Officers may include president, vice-president(s), board of directors, board of trustees, chairman, vice-chairman, moderator, vice-moderator, clerk, treasurer, financial secretary, recording secretary, etc., as defined and/or mandated by corporation “law.”
6. Business meetings and detailed record-keeping mandated and defined by corporation “law.”
III. MUTUAL EXCLUSIVITY
A. YOUR AUTHORITY:
1. At Article III, 2, you say, “. . . the New Testament in particular is the infallible guide of faith and practice for the Church.” Again, at Article IV, 1, “. . . [the Scriptures] are of supreme and final authority in faith and life.”
2. Corporation “laws” (specifically, those applicable to “not-for-profit” corporations), — in the name of uniformity, pluralism or the “compelling interest” of the State — do, indeed, restrict “practice” and “life.” We shall look at specific examples below, but the essential message is, “Believe what you may, but do as we say! — Or risk losing your tax-exempt privileges!” (And, after all, tax-exemption was the reason that churches incorporated in the first place, wasn’t it?)
And forget about First-Amendment Rights. Man, created by God in the image of God, was granted by God certain “unalienable rights” which are constitutionally protected. Corporations, created by the State, are not “real” or “natural” persons and, therefore, have NO constitutional rights!
B. YOUR LEGAL STATUS:
1. At Article I, you set forth the LORD Christ’s Church (whether He would want you to or not) as being a “Corporation . . . known in law.” A true New Testament Church is NOT “known in law”! It is “invisible” to the eyes of the law and can neither sue nor be sued!
2. By voluntarily assuming corporate status, you are reducing the Lord’s Body, a unique Entity in all the universe, to the level of any other “not-for-profit” human organization, AND you are opening the door to lawsuits, both from the government and from private citizens, thereby assuming a degree of liability that did not previously exist.
C. THE LORD’S PROPERTY:
1. As a Church, you enjoy the “unalienable right” of property ownership and are free to buy, to hold, to sell or to give away property, both real and personal, as the Lord leads.
2. As a not-for-profit corporation, you forfeit any rights to property ownership (See Article X, 6, 6). The State would force you to give your net worth to Planned Parenthood, or some other godless outfit, before it would allow you to give it to another Bible believing, God fearing, Christ honoring, Gospel preaching Church — if that Church were not incorporated!
D. YOUR MESSAGE:
1. As a Church, you may preach the Gospel in an effort to convert the world to Christ (Art. II), proclaim the depravity and lost condition of man (Art. IV, 5), assert the exclusivity of the claims of Christ (Art. IV, 7), and pronounce the certainty of the eternal judgment of the lost (Art. IV, 10).
2. As a not-for-profit corporation, you may be restricted to preaching only that which is “politically correct” and that which neither conflicts with “public policy” nor assaults the hearer’s sense of mental well-being, self esteem, sexual orientation, etc.
And don’t take this lightly. Just ask Pastor John MacArthur and many, many others who have already found themselves in the courtroom, at unbelievable expense, defending against some psycho-babble wacko or some sexual pervert who has been offended by the Biblical message. And it will get much worse before it even starts to get better! Believe it!
E. YOUR INFLUENCE:
At Article X, 6, 7, you promise, “The Church will have no substantial part in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office.” This is strictly corporation “law,” with absolutely no foundation in Scriptures. In the days before churches incorporated, pastors used to unashamedly and unabashedly tell their people not only for what principles to vote, but also for whom to vote! Liberals today have reclassified moral issues, calling them “political” issues; then, under the “political neutrality” provisions of corporation “law,” they have blackmailed pastors to remain silent under threat of loss of tax-exemption privilege. Shame on the liberals! And more shame on the pastors who yielded to such blatant and tyrannical blackmail!
Under such restrictions, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and even the Lord Jesus Himself (to name just a few) never could have conducted their ministries as they did. God’s Word commands God’s man to “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1)
Why shouldn’t a pastor endorse and recommend a candidate who stands for righteousness? Why shouldn’t a pastor expose a political scoundrel and warn his flock against ravening wolves and raging lions? WHY NOT? Nowhere does God’s Word allow for the throttling of God’s man OR God’s message. By what authority, then, would any Church dare to presume to silence its own pulpit?
F. YOUR FAMILIES:
At Article II, you declare that one of the purposes of your church will be “the religious training of its youth.” As a Church, pursuant to the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, parents may claim their unalienable right (and fulfill their Biblical responsibility) to train up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
As a not-for-profit corporation, and especially after the certain eventual ratification of the “United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child,” you may be compelled to train your children according to State (or UN) mandates.
In the 1980s, Pastor Everett Siliven and several of the members of the Faith Baptist Church of Louisville, Nebraska were hauled before a judge to answer the charge of refusing to take a state license for the operation of the Christian school operated by their Church. Having removed their children from the government (public) schools, they certainly did not want the government to exercise control over the curricula, philosophy or administration (“faith and practice”) of their Church’s educational ministry.
At the onset of the judicial proceedings, the good pastor and his people challenged the court’s jurisdiction, citing the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The judge asked one question: Is your church incorporated?”
The honest reply: “Yes.”
The judge declared, “Then this court and the State have jurisdiction.”
The ensuing court battle was arduous and expensive. Eventually, pursuant to a court order, a deputy sheriff laced a chain through the handles of the front doors of the Church and affixed a padlock. When a visiting pastor asked the deputy whether he understood what he had done, the deputy replied, “Yes, I have just closed an illegal private school.”
“No,” the pastor declared, “you have just padlocked a church in the United States of America!” This was the first church to be padlocked by government agents since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789!
YOU FACE A CRITICAL DECISION IN THE FOUNDING OF YOUR CHURCH. CONSIDER IT PRAYERFULLY, CAREFULLY AND WISELY! SO VERY MUCH IS AT STAKE!