Copyright © December 10, 2012
Pastors, Christians, and churches give various “theological” reasons to excuse the incorporation and 501(c)(3) tax exemption of churches. The theologies of Catholic and Protestant churches have traditionally supported church-state union and therefore incorporation and 501(c)(3), although such churches have some problems with American incorporation and 501(c)(3) which give civil government considerable control over churches rather than giving the established church control over civil government (select articles from the categories at left for information on the control given civil government through incorporation and 501(c)(3)). In most cases, their objection to corporate 501(c)(3) status and the control such a position gives civil government over their churches does not prevent them from submitting and obtaining that status. The author explains the Catholic and Protestant theologies that support church establishment in God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application (all books by Jerald Finney are also available free in both PDF and online form on this website; for information on ordering the paperback copies of the books see the “Books” page of the “Church and State Law“ website, or the “Order information page for books by Jerald Finney” page of this website); in the article “An Abridged History of the First Amendment“; in his radio broadcasts which are archived on the “Radio Broadcast” page of the ”Church and State Law” website; and in the audio teachings which are linked to on the “Blog” page of “Church and State Law” website. (Click the following link to preview God Betrayed: Link to preview of God Betrayed.))
Bible believing churches are not as sophisticated in their rationale for incorporating and getting 501(c)(3). Their rationale is anemic since biblical principle, without the perversions of Catholic and Protestant theologies, supports separation of church and state (not separation of God and state). One reason given by “Bible believing” churches, especially Baptist, is that the issue of whether to incorporate and/or get 501(c)(3) status is an important issue, but it is not the most important issue; therefore, they reason, if a church finds it impractical to discard or reject the corporate and/or 501(c)(3) status, then just go ahead with that status and do the best you can because the most important thing for believers and churches is winning souls. That reason is false, as the author explains in various resources: for example, (1) the booklet, The Most Important Thing: Loving God and/or Winning Souls (all books by Jerald Finney are also available free in both PDF and online form on this website; for information on ordering the paperback copies of the books see the “Books” page of the “Church and State Law“ website, or the “Order information page for books by Jerald Finney” page of this website); (2) the article, The Most Important Thing: Loving God and/or Winning Souls; and (3) audio teachings on The Most Important Thing: Loving God and/or Winning Souls, available on the “Radio Broadcast” page of “Church and State Law”.
Another reason given by some pastors and Christians of “Bible believing” churches for their decision to incorporate is that it is up to each individual church to decide the issue based upon “their convictions.” The author hears this excuse from pastors all the time. In this article, he addresses this rationale using an article written by Dr. Charles Brown as a springboard.
The question to be answered is: “Can one decide either to incorporate a church (or to continue as an incorporated church) or not to incorporate a church and still please God?” The proper place to begin is by defining “conviction” and “principle.” Relevant definitions of “conviction” are: (1) “a strong persuasion or belief;” (2) “the state of being convinced” (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed., 1995)). Principle may be defined as: “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption” (Ibid.). Of course, if a conviction is based upon biblical principles, that conviction is valid in the eyes of God. Cannot true followers of Christ agree that if one acts upon a conviction which is contrary to or not based upon principles in the Word of God, “sin lieth at the door?”
Dr. Charles Brown wrote an article, “To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate,” which was published in the April, 2008 issue of The Landmark Anchor. In that article, Dr. Brown explains why his conviction is that a church should incorporate. However, he also states in the article, “If a church has theological objections to becoming incorporated, then, by all means, do not incorporate.” In other words, according to that statement of Dr. Brown, since the Bible does not offer any comprehensive principles or doctrine controlling church corporate status one can safely choose either corporate or non-corporate status without violating biblical precept.
However, while making that statement, Dr. Brown also makes his case for church incorporation. Interestingly, he does not state any biblical principles concerning the organization, purpose, fate, or nature of churches to back up what he says. Rather, he bases his understanding upon “research and consultation with a law firm.”
He refers to the law in his article:
(1) He correctly states that a “corporation is a legal status that enables a group joined together for a stated reason … to act as if it is a person. That ‘legal person’ may own property, conduct business, and otherwise carry out its purpose.” A New Testament and First Amendment church (hereinafter referred to as a “First Amendment church”) may not own property, or conduct business (as the word is used in America). A First Amendment church cannot also be a “business.” However, a First Amendment church may utilize property in American in a manner consistent with biblical principles; and, unlike the state incorporated church, she may carry out her purpose within the letter of civil law while still pleasing her Lord. The incorporated church has a “form of godliness, but denies the power thereof.”
Note. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is the implementation of the biblical principle of separation of church and state (not separation of God and State). This is fully explained in the book God Betrayed which, as explained above, is available on this website in both PDF and online form and can be ordered in paperback form.
(2) Dr. Brown then asserts that “Usually a church incorporates to limit its liability.” His statement is true as to a false reason given for incorporation of a church. It is not true that a state incorporated “church” and its members has more protection from liability than a First Amendment church and her members. Again, I explain this in Section VI, Chapter 6 of God Betrayed, in audio teachings available on the “Blog” and “Radio Broadcast” pages of “Church and State Law,” and in the article “Church Incorporation Increases Liability of Church Members.”
(3) Dr. Brown states, “An unincorporated church is owned by individuals. Each share in the liability of the property and all things done in the name of that church. In a church split, the assets of the church may be claimed by either side and lawsuits could erupt, because each member owns the church.” (This is a direct accurate quote from his article.).
His assertions are totally wrong as to a First Amendment church, but correct as to the incorporated church. A First Amendment church, a spiritual entity only, is owned by the Lord Jesus Christ only. A First Amendment church owns no property, although there are many legal means in America for such a church to utilize property without owning property. Perhaps Dr. Brown should reread the Bible, and especially I Corinthians Chapter 6 in regard to lawsuits by church members. All the legal problems occurring within churches are in incorporated churches – to understand this, just make use of Google.
In fact, the incorporated church creates several contracts when it incorporates – contracts between the state and the corporation, between the corporation and the members, between the members themselves, and between the members and the state. The controlling party to all these contracts is the state, and the state will decide disputes based upon secular, not Biblical, law. Try appealing to the Bible when you get into such a dispute. The sovereign of the corporation will quickly explain your error and hold you in contempt if you do not abandon your appeal to God’s principles.
(4) He also asserts: “The United States Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Churches fit in those categories. Anything the state might choose to do (prosecute, regulate, etc.) to a church, they may do regardless if the church is incorporated or not.”
The author explains in detail why this is a totally ridiculous and false statement in various resources. A man who make such a statement is speaking outside his field of expertise.
(5) Dr. Brown proclaims: “[A] church is not state licensed because it is incorporated. A license is a recognition from a responsible authority to conduct an activity that would be illegal to conduct without that license. No church needs to be licensed to be a church. An unincorporated church may legally do the same activities that one that is incorporated.”
That statement by Dr. Brown is a jumbled mess. First, who is a “responsible authority?” Perhaps he is referring to a civil government. What if the civil government which requires a license is not a responsible authority? A First Amendment church which is not a legal entity such as a corporation cannot get a license. A corporate church, since she is a legal entity, can get a license. The author explains that in his resources.
Second, individual believers can choose to get such a license and thereby displease our Lord. One notable Christian who chose not to get a license was John Bunyan. One can read a portion of his trial transcript in the article, “An Abridged History of the First Amendment.” If you read the article, you will find out the reasons a Christian should not get a license for preaching, holding church meetings, and for certain other spiritual activities.
Third, although licensure and incorporation are not the same, they both violate the biblical doctrine of the church.
Fourth, an incorporated church cannot do everything that a First Amendment church, which is not a legal entity in any way, can do.
Furthermore, the corporate church is organized according the law of her sovereign state (the law makes clear that the sovereign of the corporation, including the non-profit religious organization – the correct name for an incorporated “church” – is the state of incorporation). One can find out exactly what non-profit incorporation is in my books, articles, and audio teachings available from “Church and State Law” and “Separation of Church and State Law” blog.
Finally, the nature of a corporate church is entirely different from that of a First Amendment church in many respects. The corporate church has given up much of her Constitutional protections. She falls under the Fourteenth Amendment as opposed to the First Amendment as to many matters. She has also grieved our Lord since she has placed herself at least partially under another head.
(6) He goes on to say that “Incorporated churches are not ‘state run churches.’ Incorporated churches do not have to report to the state what they preach, how much money is spent, how they run their affairs, or who tithes. They do have to give the state an application typically containing: name and address of the church, purpose of the organization, manner of election of ‘officers,’ the name and address of the initial registered agent (usually the Pastor), and three names and addresses of the incorporators (usually trustees or deacons). The church ought to have a constitution and bylaws but they are for the internal working of the church and the state will not review them, nor want them.”
Dr. Brown does give a few isolated facts about incorporation, but he does not examine the law involved in any depth. He does not mention the biblical principles for a church and compare those principles to the facts and law concerning incorporation. He, for example, fails to mention that the “sovereign of the corporation is the state,” that the corporation is a creature of the state, that the corporation must follow the rules that are given her by her sovereign, that the corporation must be structured according to the organizational rules laid down by the sovereign state, etc. The author explains exactly the law of the non-profit corporation in books, articles, and audio teachings.
Again, the author has compared biblical principle with the law and facts about incorporation in various resources including his books (available for purchase on the “Books” page of “Church and State Law”; in articles audio teachings available on the “Radio Broadcast” and “Blog” pages of “Church and State Law;” and in articles and audio teachings on this “Separation of Church and State Law” blog.).
(7) Finally, Dr. Brown mentions the court case, Hale v. Hinkle, a Supreme Court decision. His analysis is flawed. See the article linked to in the next paragraph for my comments on this.
In “To Incorporate of Not to Incorporate: Attorney Jerald Finney Answers Dr. Charles Brown, Executive VP of Landmark Baptist College,” (as a reminder, you can left click the preceding link to go directly to that article; however, the website was hijacked and all the issues of the magazine from which the article was taken, “The Trumpet,” have as of this date – September 4, 2013, to have been restored) an article published in the July-September issue of The Trumpet, the author rebuts to Dr. Brown’s article. That article, which was originally entitled “Responses to Arguments that Biblical Principles Do Not Clearly Warn Against Incorporation of Churches” addresses Dr. Brown’s article in more detail than does this brief article.
All Jerald Finney’s resources comprehensively deal with the issue of separation of church and state. Involved in the issue is the issue of whether incorporation and 501(c)(3), or becoming a legal entity in any way) violates principles in the Word of God and therefore grieves our Lord and ultimately results in bad consequences. When one applies the law and facts to biblical principles, he sees that it is very clear that incorporation and 501(c)(3), etc. of churches are “iniquities” and grieve our Lord.
The church who is serious about her relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ may be ignorant about the biblical doctrines of church, state, and separation of church and state. Sooner or later, she will suffer consequences as will the individuals and families in that church. However, the willfully ignorant church or the church which continues in presumptuous sin, her individual members, and the families within her church family are in greater danger (see, e.g., 2 Peter 1 and Hosea 4).
Responses to Arguments that Biblical Principles Do Not Clearly Warn Against Incorporation of Churches
By Jerald Finney
Lead Counsel for the Biblical Law Center
Dr. Charles Brown recently wrote an article entitled “To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate” which was published in the April, 2008 edition of The Landmark Anchor. In that article, he brought out important issues which, from a biblical perspective, are preeminent for a New Testament church. This article briefly answers some of the common assertions of various Christians which are reflected in Dr. Brown’s article.
I recently completed a book called God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application. In that 453 page book I thoroughly addressed all the issues Dr. Brown raises and more. I want to encourage every Bible believer to get this book and study it. In the above mentioned article, Dr. Brown does not get into United States Code § 501(c)(3) (“501(c)(3)”) tax-exempt status for a church. Since almost all churches which incorporate also get 501(c)(3) status, such status should be considered in conjunction with the issue of incorporation of churches; but since Dr. Brown did not include the issue in his article, I will not address the issue herein. God Betrayed examines the issue of 501(c)(3) tax-exemption of churches.
It is impossible to do this subject justice in a short article, but I will attempt to shed some light on the issues he raised as succinctly as possible.
Dr. Brown stated: “A church does not have to be incorporated to be a real church.” My reply to that statement follows:
- What is a real church? The New Testament gives the answer to that question. The revelation of the mystery of the church, which was foretold, but not explained by Christ in Matthew 16.18, was committed to Paul. In his writings alone we find the doctrine, position, walk, and destiny of the church. God Betrayed delves into the biblical doctrines concerning the church.
- New Testament churches never submitted themselves to the state in any way. In fact, the apostles were careful not to render to Caesar the things that were God’s. They were jealous of God’s churches. Paul said to the church, “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (II Cor. 11.2-3).”
- Is a corrupted church a real church? What if the leaders of a church reject knowledge and succumb to Satan’s seductions? In other words, what if those leaders are willfully ignorant (see Hosea 4)? Individuals have a responsibility after being saved—they are to add to their faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge temperance, to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity (II Pe. 1.4-7). They are to engage in spiritual warfare using spiritual weapons which constitute the whole “armour of God” (Ep. 6.10-18). Included in that “armour” is having one’s loins girt about with truth (Ep. 6.14).
- A New Testament church is a spiritual entity only. Doing anything in America which subjects a church to the civil government in any way renders that church a “legal entity.” A “legal entity” is “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 LAW DICTIONARY (6th Ed., 1990), definition of ‘Legal Entity’).”
- God desires that Christ be the only head over His churches (Ep. 1.22, 23; 2.22; 5.23-24; Col. 1.15-18).
- The church is analogized to a husband and bridegroom of the church (Jn. 3.28, 29; Ro. 7.4; II Co. 11.1-4; Ep. 5.23-33; Re. 19.6-8).
Dr. Brown stated: “The United States [C]onstitution guarantees its citizens freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Churches fit in those categories.” My response:
- The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and the right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In the religion clause, churches are guaranteed freedom from government control. The words and history of the Amendment make this clear. Section VI of God Betrayed gives an unrevised account of the history of the First Amendment.
- The words of the religion clause state, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment or religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Thus, the First Amendment allows a church to remain under God only without persecution, or to repent if they incorporated, gained 501(c)(3) status, or made ithemselves a legal entity in any way. The Biblical Law Center has already helped many churches to return to New Testament church status and is there to help other churches who wish to please God and return to New Testament church status. The freedom guaranteed a church by the First Amendment can be enjoyed within the parameters of the laws of the states and of the United States. The United States Supreme Court still recognizes that the state cannot interfere with a New Testament Church. Of course, there may be rogue governmental agencies and courts that may ignore these protections; but if a New Testament church makes sure to close all doors to being classified as a legal entity, there is no avenue for suit or attack against that church.
Dr. Brown stated: “Anything the state might choose to do (prosecute, regulate, etc.) to a church, they may do regardless if the church is incorporated or not.”
- This statement not only contradicts what Dr. Brown said in his previous two sentences, it also is simply not true. A New Testament church cannot be prosecuted. It is not a legal entity. An individual within a New Testament church may be prosecuted for crimes or sued for torts allegedly committed, whether as principal or party. However, a New Testament church is not a legal entity as is an incorporated 501(c)(3) church; and, therefore, she cannot sue, be sued, or be charged with a crime. Only a member or members who allegedly committed a crime or tort can be charged with a crime or sued under the laws of a civil government.
- The First Amendment guarantees that a New Testament church cannot be prosecuted, regulated, etc.
Dr. Brown’s statements concerning incorporation which follow his last mentioned statement are jumbled and very misleading. He is correct to say that incorporation “is a legal status that enables a group joined together for a stated reason (business, church, club, etc.) to act as if it was a person. That ‘legal person’ may own property, conduct business, and otherwise carry out its purpose.” As I stated above, a corporation is a legal entity. However, Dr. Brown’s description is incomplete. As pointed out in much more detail and with legal citations given in God Betrayed, civil law makes clear that:
- “A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible and existing only in the contemplation of law. As a mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it. A corporation is not a natural person but rather an artificial person, that is, a legal fiction or a creature of statute (18 AM. JUR. 2D Corporations § 1 (2007)).”
- The sovereign of the corporation is the state that creates it. “No corporation can exist without the consent or grant of the sovereign, since the corporation is a creature of the state and derives its powers by legislative grant…. Because the granting of the privilege to be a corporation and to do business in that form rests entirely in the state’s discretion, a state is justified in imposing such conditions on that privilege as it deems necessary, so long as those conditions are not imposed in a discriminatory manner (18A AM. JUR. 2D Corporations § 156 (2007)).”
- A corporation is defined as “An artificial person or legal entity created by or under the authority of the laws of the state.” (BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 340 (6th Ed. 1990), under definition of “Corporation,” citing Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518 (1819)).”
- Early in our national history, the United States Supreme Court solidified already existing precedent—in a case involving a religious institution of higher learning and which influenced many churches to incorporate—concerning the attributes of incorporation which are applied to churches (Dartmouth College). In that same case, the Supreme Court defined the differences between public and private corporations. Public corporations are not voluntary associations and there is no contractual relation between the government and the individuals who compose the corporation as there is with the private corporation (such as railroad companies, banks, insurance companies, charities, churches, religious organizations, etc.); a corporation which does not possess governmental powers or functions is a private corporation (Ibid.).
Dr. Brown states that “[a]n unincorporated church is owned by individuals.”
If an unincorporated church is not a legal entity (incorporating and getting 501(c)(3) status are not the only ways to become legal entities), it is a New Testament church and the church is owned by the Lord Jesus Christ who said, “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 (Mt. 16.18)(Emphasis mine).” A New Testament church remains a spiritual entity only and owns no property. God Betrayed explains how an American church can assemble on property without owning it, etc.
Dr. Brown asserts that churches usually incorporate to limit liability.
However, in addition to limited liability, other reasons for incorporating are given by members of “churches:” incorporating protects their personal assets (1) from liability for the debts of the corporation, (2) from the torts and criminal acts of the corporation, and (3) from liability on contracts entered into by the corporation. Although such arguments are partially correct, they are misleading. These arguments are spurious for several reasons which are more thoroughly discussed in God Betrayed. The corporate veil can be pierced. Limited liability is not absolute as is explained in God Betrayed. Also, biblical principle is against a church going into debt; and if she does go into debt, not only does the Word of God teach that God expects her to honor her debts; but also that church has become a legal entity because she can be sued if she defaults on her debts and she can sue if the other party to the debt defaults on her agreements surrounding the indebtedness. As to torts and criminal acts, only visible members of a New Testament church can commit such acts. A New Testament church cannot commit a tort or a crime. Thus, only people (members), not a New Testament church (a spiritual entity only and not a legal entity), can be charged with a tort or crime to which they have allegedly either been principal or party. As to contracts, a New Testament church (a spiritual entity) has no need to and cannot enter into contracts. One can get around these principles only by means of human reasoning which are contrary to God’s principles.
Dr. Brown asks the question, “Is becoming an incorporated church the same as being a state licensed church?”
This question is a diversionary tactic. Of course the two are not the same; but, according to biblical principles, to license a church is a wicked act, and to incorporate a church is a wicked act. I have already pointed out many of the reasons why incorporation is wrong. God Betrayed gives other reasons and is much more detailed.
Dr. Brown then asks, “What about theological objections to incorporation?”He recommends not incorporating if one has theological objections.
- The Word of God does not leave such an important issue up for grabs, and God expects His children to seek out and apply the principles He has laid down. God Betrayed is theological. Unlike most lawyers, including many or most of those who call themselves Christian, the foundation for all that I believe, as stated in God Betrayed, is biblical. My authority is not Supreme Court cases or civil laws. In God Betrayed, I first go to the Bible and explain the biblical principles of government, church, and separation of church and state. Then I examine history, Supreme Court decisions, and civil law (specifically incorporation, 501(c)(3), and other related laws as regards churches) in light of biblical principle. My main message is to New Testament churches, churches who want to be New Testament churches in obedience to biblical principle due to love for God, and to any other churches or Christians who want to know truth concerning these vital issues.
- The real question should be, “What does the Bible teach about incorporation?” God Betrayed explains the biblical principles concerning incorporation (and 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status) for churches and the consequences for violating those principles. God teaches that a church which incorporates has committed a wicked act. That church may continue to operate within God’s permissive will, but as with the nation Israel, the only true theocracy which has ever existed, when she rejected God as ruler (and God permitted Israel to reject Him), once a church dishonors her relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, that church is on a slippery slope down. The end result will be spiritual apostasy, moral awfulness, and political tyranny. As the Bible teaches, the only remedy for apostasy is judgment.
Dr. Brown states that the Christian Law Association (“CLA”) has some excellent printed material that explains these issues simply and thoroughly.
I disagree. Although simplistic, CLA explanations on the issue of incorporation (and 501(c)(3) status) of churches are wrong according to biblical principles. As a Christian, I contributed to the CLA for a few years and respected much of what they did, as I still do concerning some of their work. Then I was called by God to become a lawyer. A few years ago, I began an intense study of the Bible, history, and the law concerning the issue of separation of church and state. I discovered that CLA founds what it believes on man’s statutory and case law, interprets the Bible according to man’s statutory and case law, revises history, and disseminates myths about the issue of separation of church and state (which involves the issues of incorporation and 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status for churches). In fact, David Gibbs of the CLA once taught biblical principles concerning these issues but was persuaded by powerful pastors who had decided that they were going to seek incorporation and 501(c)(3) status that he should go with them on the issue. According to some sources, these pastors told him that if he did so they would establish his legal practice. It is irrefutable that after Attorney Gibbs switched his position, his earthly power and influence were multiplied many times over and the CLA began to thrive materially as an earthly entity with the financial support of thousands of churches and believers. Perhaps he felt that he should go with them to help and protect them, just as Jeremiah went with some of the Jews to Egypt against God’s warning. However, Jeremiah still spoke total truth as given him by God.
Dr. Brown then states that “Incorporated churches are not ‘state run churches.’”
- In fact, incorporated churches, as fully explained in God Betrayed, are two-headed monsters. “Thus, whenever there is an incorporated church, there are two entities—the one, the church as such, not owing its ecclesiastical or spiritual existence to the civil law, and the other, the legal corporation—each separate, although closely allied. The former is voluntary and is not a corporation or a quasi corporation. On the other hand, a corporation which is formed for the acquisition and taking care of the property of the church, must be regarded as a legal personality, and is in no sense ecclesiastical in its functions (66 AM. JUR. 2D Religious Societies § 5 (2007)).”
- An incorporated church gets part of her powers from God and part from the civil government. She is under two heads. Part of the church, as a legal entity, can sue and be sued as to both earthly and some spiritual matters. Part of the church must have elected officers who conduct business meetings, meet statutory requirements, etc.
- This bifurcation of a church has other consequences. As has been shown, the state is sovereign of the incorporated part of a church. “Sovereign” means: possessed of supreme power or unlimited in extent: ABSOLUTE (BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (6th Ed., 1990), definition of “sovereign”). Incorporation of churches creates contracts between the state and the corporation, the state and the members of the corporation, between the members themselves, and between the members and the corporation. Contract (agreement between two or more parties) is not biblical. The Bible teaches that the proper way to agree with another or others is through biblical covenant (covenant between two or more people and God). The contracts created by incorporation entangle the incorporated church with earthly satanic concerns, solutions, and procedures. Furthermore, the statutory requirements as to the form and content of the articles or certificates of incorporation must be substantially followed. As sovereign, the state has ultimate authority in interpreting the articles of incorporation as well as the various contracts involved in incorporation should disputes be taken to court. By incorporating, a church gives up much of its First Amendment protection. It must, for example, keep records and make those records available to the state, on demand. Only a church which is not satisfied with the freedom and provisions afforded the church by God (which are, by the way, implemented by the First Amendment) seeks incorporation.
- An incorporated church must deal with all the government red tape that comes with incorporation. The incorporated church must now elect officers, hold business meetings, notify members of those meetings pursuant to statutory requirements, keep records, etc. All these secular activities take tremendous time, energy, and resources which could be used in pursuing the God-given purposes of a church. The incorporated church which does not comply with statutory requirements is being dishonest and could face further problems from her sovereign state.
Notice that Jesus said that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against [my church].” What about the church that is partly under God and partly under Satan? That church has fallen for Satan’s seduction:
“SEDUCTION, n. … 2. Appropriately, the act or crime of persuading a female, by flattery or deception, to surrender her chastity. A woman who is above flattery, is least liable to seduction; but the best safeguard is principle, the love and purity of holiness, the fear of God and reverence for his commandments. (AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, NOAH WEBSTER (1828))”
A corporation cannot be the bride of Christ, the wife of Christ. The incorporated part of an incorporated church is not the bride of Christ, the wife of Christ, but rather an extramarital illicit relationship existing alongside the marriage. An incorporated church, having compromised her love for her Husband, will continue to make incremental compromises, and ultimately (perhaps in 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, or 200 years or more) will fall into heresy and apostasy. And from the beginning of that initial compromise, the Lord, even though longsuffering in His love and mercy, is grieving because of His wife’s compromise; and the compromising church gives up at least a portion of the power of God.
With the above information it should already be completely obvious to any born again believer who loves the Lord and who has been saved any length of time at all that a church should never incorporate. Scripture contains no principle consistent with church incorporation or incorporation in general. In fact, everything about incorporation is anti-biblical. If one who loves the Lord and comes into this understanding is in a church that is already incorporated, he will do all he can to shed the 501(c)(3) and/or corporate status of that church.
Dr. Brown then refers to Hale v. Hinkle.
He is partially right about his observations concerning that case. Although God Betrayed very briefly mentions Hale v. Hinkle, 201 U.S. 43 (1906), the case could be eliminated from the book without compromising any assertions in the book. Dr. Brown is correct when he states that the case did not deal with a church. He says that “this ruling had nothing to do with a church and does not mean that a church is a state run entity.” This statement is only partially true in that a church was not involved in the case. However, Hale v. Hinkle presents general incorporation law, and the principles in the case are applied to the issue of church incorporation. For example, an incorporated church does give up some of its constitutional protections such as its First Amendment Rights while retaining only due process and equal protection rights just as the corporate officer in Hale v. Hinkle gave up Constitutional rights, as Dr. Brown mentions in his article.
Dr. Brown closes his article by saying he has “no particular advice to offer for a church to get or refuse to get incorporated.”
In effect, Dr. Brown is stating that God does not care what a church does concerning incorporation since, as he puts it, “It is an issue to decide for themselves.” In other words, according to Dr. Brown, the Bible can be read to both support and condemn incorporation. However, when one opens the Word of God, one opens the mind and heart of God concerning this issue as well as many others.
Loving God is preeminent for a believer and for a church. One does not love God by just asserting that he loves God. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14.15).” The greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mt. 22.37; Mk. 12.30; Lk. 10.27).
Love is action. This love which Christ has for His church and which he desires His church to show Him is seen in the Song of Solomon which is primarily an expression of pure marital love, and secondarily of Christ and His heavenly bride, the church. Song of Solomon 8.7 says, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would be utterly contemned.” “Contemned” means “despised, scorned, slighted, neglected, or rejected with disdain (AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, NOAH WEBSTER (1828), definition of “CONTEMNED.”).” God despises, scorns, slights, neglects, or rejects with disdain all that a church does, whatever professions of love she makes, if those acts and/or professions are without love. A church that does not honor Christ as a wife is to honor her husband, her bridegroom, by remaining chaste, does not display love for the Lord. Thus, loving ones neighbor by witnessing to him, sending missionaries to him, leading him to the Lord, or helping him materially or any other way in obedience to the second commandment—“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”—is vanity in God’s eyes if one ignores the greatest commandment. Souls will still be saved because of the grace of God, but not as many, especially in the long run, as would be saved had the churches displayed love for their bridegroom, husband, and head.
This fact is also articulated in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus is jealous over His churches. If we do not love the Lord Jesus, He despises all the “Christian” work we do and the money we put in the offering plate:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing (I Co. 13.1-3).”
“In a theological sense, [‘charity’] “includes supreme love to God and a universal good will to men. 1 Cor. xiii. Col. iii. 1 Tim. I (AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, NOAH WEBSTER (1828), definition of “CHARITY.”).” Love is an act of the will. A church refutes its proclamations of love for the Lord when it wholly or partially takes the church from under the headship of her Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Love “[r]ejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth (I Co. 13.6).” Iniquity means “Injustice, unrighteousness, … [w]ant of rectitude [rightness in principle or practice], … a sin or crime; wickedness (Ibid., definitions of “INIQUITY” and “RECTITUDE.”)….” Bible truth makes clear that the love of Christ for His church is immense, that He wants to be the only Head and companion of the church which is likened to His wife and bride, and that for a church to even partially put herself under or associate with another entity is a great wickedness and repudiates all professions of love for the Lord. As shown in Section VI of God Betrayed, the church that secures a 501(c)(3) tax-exemption and/or incorporates puts herself partially under another head, commits a wicked sinful act in violation of biblical principle, rejoices in iniquity, and refutes its professions of love for the Lord.
The Lord Jesus gave a warning to the church at Ephesus:
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent (Re. 2.2-5).”
As Dr. J. Vernon McGee teaches us, this warning was for every church that has lost her love for the Lord Jesus:
“It was a warning of danger of getting away from a personal and loving relationship with Jesus Christ. The real test of any believer, especially those who are attempting to serve Him, is not your little method or mode or system, or your dedication, or any of the things that are so often emphasized today. The one question is: Do you love Him? Do you love the Lord Jesus? When you love Him, you will be in a right relationship with Him, but when you begin to depart from the person of Christ, it will finally lead to lukewarmness. The apostate church was guilty of lukewarmness. It may not seem to be too bad, but it is the worst condition that anyone can be in. A great preacher in upper New York state said: ‘Twenty lukewarm Christians hurt the cause of Christ more than one blatant atheist.’ A lukewarm church is a disgrace to Christ (J. Vernon McGee, Revelation, Volume I (Pasadena, California: Thru the Bible Books, 1982), pp. 121-122).”
As the Lord Jesus Christ is jealous over His churches, so should pastors and church members be jealous, with a godly jealousy, over the church they belong to, just as Paul was:
“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him (II Co. 11.2-4; Lk. 18.8; II Ti. 3.1-8).”
The church that really loves her Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ, will seek to maintain her purity, to be subject to her Husband in all things whether that church is persecuted or not. All the professions of love, all the good deeds, the hymns sung, and the messages preached by a church which does not totally submit herself in all things to her Husband, are contemned by the Lord. A church that takes a 501(c)(3) tax exemption, an incorporation, a license, or any type permit from the state, or puts herself under the state in any way, becomes an earthly legal entity subject to the jurisdiction of an earthly power, the civil government. Such a “church” is in fact a two headed monster. In spite of her emotions and professions of love for the Lord, according to her acts she shows, based upon God’s definition of love in the Bible, that she does not love the Lord Jesus Christ.