Last year I was contacted by a pastor who had some comments on a situation he knew I was involved in . This gentlemen made a remark that ended the conversation turning it into a one-sided lecture on his part,. He flatly said that a church is wrong to incorporate as it removes the Bridegroom as the head of the church, and by the very nature of incorporation, derives it existence from the state. He further went on to say how we were wrong to file for tax exempt status.
My initial reaction was flat rejection of his statement and thinking this guy is too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. He lives in between Nirvana and la-la land, and most likely why he has had financial problems. Of course, it is a pragmatic reaction, that’s just not how things are done today! Join reality buddy. And there was the defensive mechanism-I have personally drawn up articles of incorporation for a church and been a legal officer of a church corporation previously.
Let’s take a look back into history. When King Henry ended the relationship with the pope centuries back, he became the head of the Church of England, and each king thereafter was to succeed him as the head of the church. Whether the King was active or inactive in any governance or oversight is really secondary to this series, it is the fact he was the de facto head.
When the colonists came to America, they had a great desire to have the church be a institution free from any control by the state. Their dream became reality when our constitution made the church immune to any interference by the government and immune from being taxed.
The early church in America was a great influence in society. The reformed churches became education centers for their children where they were both educated and received religious training. Universities, book publishing houses, outreaches, soup kitchens, the list goes on. The Catholic church realized the impact and started their own schools so they could indoctrinate their children as well. In concise summary, the church was having a great influence on society and on its governance. They were salt and light. Immune from any interference from the state.
As churches began having impact beyond their community and began to amass finances, government introduced the concept of tax exemption. Churches and non-profit ventures of the religious institutions would incorporate and be exempted from taxes. Now what is incorporation? It is a fictious person, that would exist beyond the passing of the person who formed it (perhaps overly concise). It’s existence and authority is derived from the state. Now this may seem like hair splitting, but our legal eagles will tell you there is a great difference between immune and exempt.
Immune is free from any authority, where exempt acknowledges the authority and in exchange for an action or inaction, is freed from its obligations to the authority to pay taxes. So what is the quid pro quo? Tax exemption, and the ability of its member to deduct their donations to the church in exchange for no direct involvement in the political process, as long as they file for tax exemption.
Tax deductions are good, I take them. The idea of the church not paying taxes is good stewardship, isn’t ? Aren’t we to be good stewards of the Lord’s money? A win-win situation pragmatically.
Does Matthew 12:13-17. (cp. Matthew 22:15-22, Luke 20:20-26), Render unto Caesar those things that are Caeser’s, …. Come into play here at all? Historically this was addressing the annual tax to Rome, not the taxes on land, to the temple, or customs taxes, but the tax unto Caesar. Jews were divided about this tax and whether they were morally obliged to pay it. The temple authorities (who gave Jesus up to be crucified) collaborated with Roman rule and endorsed the tax, while those sympathetic to the Roman resistance rejected it. Most commentators do feel Jesus Christ answer was a separation of the two kingdoms/realms and that believers should give what is required of them in both realms.
While the passage show our Lords adept debating style and ability to avoid a trap set for him, and generally believed that since all belongs to God anyway, it has little to do with everyday taxation. So why include it here? I wonder aloud is there application in that since God owns everything anyway, are we in anyway perhaps hindering the mission of the church and its influence we have on society by entering into a voluntary agreement with the state to avoid taxation of the church and the donations of its members?
I look around and see where our churches no longer the education centers for our children, the impact the church has on our communities has been diminished. In Pennsylvania pastors have been ruled to be at-will employees whose employment is “at the whim” of the corporation. In fact I would go one step further and say the outside world is having much greater impact on the church, than the church is having on it. We have watched mainline church after mainline church go the way of the world and be influenced by the world, rather than us being salt and light to the world. To the point commentators are laughing at it calling the devolvement, “Larry, Moe and Curly Joe” or “Our Mother Jesus”,.
I do not come with the answer, or with condemning finger pointing. I am not on the higher road looking down at all you infidels .I have actively participated in “what seemeth right unto man”. I do know the Scripture is very clear that Christ is the head of the church and its bridegroom. I only wonder if we are having an illicit affair with the state, citing we have not yet come to the wedding feast, and are reaping the benefits of that relationship.
I actively am calling for a new reformation, am involved in a group entitled reformation42day, am encouraging youth to rise up and take active roles in the church. In doing so I must be willing to examine my own actions and attitudes and be able to be ready with solid biblical answers. Aping a popular talkshow host-what say you?