Incorporated Church problems: worldview issues with church incorporation.
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Incorporate church, problems with church incorporation

There are numerous problems associated with a church organizing as a corporation. Attorneys will enthusiastically market the alleged “benefits,” but nary a word is mentioned about all the pitfalls of incorporation. Not only are there legal pitfalls, but there are significant theological ones, as well.

A Creature Of the State

Two of the most serious of all problems for the church that incorporates is the legal fact that:

  • The corporation is a “creature of the State.”
  • The State is “sovereign over the corporation.”

These are legal maxims that originated in ancient pagan Rome, and they survive as governing legal dictum to this very day. The corporation that we know today, with all of its legal attributes, was perfected by the Romans at least 250 years prior to the birth of Christ Jesus. Those who have studied Roman culture will appreciate how every element of society, including its legal system, was imbued by their pagan worldview.

There were no personal liberties in the Roman empire, only State-sanctioned privileges and benefits. The State was sovereign (the supreme authority) in all matters and nothing could be done absent the State’s license. Incorporation became mandatory by 6 A.D. for all “spontaneous collectivities of persons.” The church was not persecuted by Rome because of who they worshipped (there were hundreds of deities that Rome permitted to be worshipped). Persecution began because of the manner in which they worshipped. The church was held to be “illicit” because they refused to seek the permission of the State through incorporation.

Why would the early Christians suffer the wrath of Rome rather than incorporate? The answer is both legal and, necessarily, theological. For the church to incorporate would have been a public proclamation that Caesar was sovereign (the supreme authority) over Jesus Christ, the object of the church’s worship. Those Christians would have considered such a thing blasphemy!

Secondly, they well knew that the church is the body of Christ -- corpus Christi -- not the corpus of the State (the word “corporation” comes from the Latin “corpus” or “body”).

The early church had far more regard for the consistency of their testimony than many churches do today. We should try to learn something from their example. It is because of that testimony that they at no time sought the privileges and benefits of the Roman State:

Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. (3 John 7)

The early church existed to testify to the world the authority and Lordship of its Head and Founder, the Lord Jesus Christ -- an imperial gospel. The local church, though persecuted, was free and unconstrained to impact the culture of the Roman Empire, not become subordinate to its pagan rulers. Incorporated churches in America today, however, are constrained by the dictates of the State by virtue of the myriad of laws which apply to non-profit corporations.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine

Let’s now follow one of the more typical scenarios in how the pastor (and often the elders, and deacons) are convinced to incorporate the local church. Sunday morning the pastor gives a stirring sermon on the passage from John 3:3, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He closes with an altar call and proclaims, “Friends, Jesus is not only the Savior merely of men’s souls, He is the Savior, the Lord, the Sovereign of every area of our lives, Jesus wants to not only save your soul from eternal damnation, His will is to govern every area of your life. Jesus is the Provider. Jesus is the great Protector.” And many a soul is saved that day. They are convinced the Pastor really believes what he says.

With Monday morning into the church comes an attorney who informs the Pastor, “Reverend, in combing through the Secretary Of State’s records, I noticed that your church is not incorported. Don’t you know that most churches are incorporated? Pastor, you’re flirting with danger. Didn’t you hear about the church just down the road here that got sued because some grandmother walked in and fell over a rumple in the carpet and broke her hip. She got a judgement not only against the church, but because the church wasn’t incorporated she was able to attach the personal assets of the pastor, elders, deacons, and any of the members of the church with deep pockets.”

What the attorney just presented to the Pastor is a lie (just ask that attorney to give you a citation for the case of granny and her broken hip, and you’ll never see him again), but lies rooted in fear often sell, and the attorney well knows this. He’s not concerned for the truth, just for roping in another paying client. The law profession is far more competitive than most people realize. There are over one-million attorneys in America (that’s more than the entire attorney population of the rest of the world combined). There are too many attorneys chasing too little legitimate legal work, so many of them have to create work for themselves -- to create a perception of a need where no legitimate need exists.

Just what kind of a testimony is it to the world when the church incorporates, and particularly when we do so out of a spirit of fear? Sadly, the issue of our testimony is seldom ever considered when making that monumental decision. But it is one that many others will ponder when they are presented with the gospel message. “Let’s see, the Pastor just said that Jesus not only saves my soul, but He will be my Savior in every area of my life. He’s my Provider. He’s my Protector. If he’s such a great Protector, why then did this church think they needed to go to the State and get its limited liability protection by incorporating? Obviously the church must not think very much of Jesus’ ability to protect them.”



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