Incorporation ? For real ?

I ended up finding S I by doing a search on church Incorporation. There was talk in my church of doing so and I wanted a working understanding so I could offer a well informed vote once the time came.

There is a great deal riding on the outcome of this vote. For me personaly as well as for the other members and the church its self. I know from what I read on the old site that feelings run high on this subject and I don't wish to cause strife but at the same time I really wish input from all points of view and so I would ask anyone who would post to meet a couple of quilifiers. First being that you pray before you post. Hopefully not too odd a request on a christian site. And the second thing I would ask is that you state where you stand. I.E. a person holding a position in a church that stands the chance of being named should legal action ever be taken against that church. I can understand that person having a point of view different from someone not in the same "hot seat".
My stand is from being director of Baptist men and so a member of the church counsil.
My personal stand is all about who is head of the church. And I took this up with some of the deacons. I was told that the church by-laws etc would stand. And yet the charter etc will have to be drawn up all over. And I was told that nothing would change and that the state would not be able or would not try and run or rule the church. 2 weeks ago a document was left out for those who cared to read. It stated that once Incorporated, The state would not ALLOW us to speak for or against anyone running for public office.

As we stand,(the church) We have every right to say what we like. The constitution does not allow the government to make or enforce a law otherwise. "Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion."

Is the financial security of a few worth selling out the whole congregation ? Right now we are free and clear. We have only GOD to answer to.

Either Christ is sovereign or the state. It can not be both. Those are my feelings. I have no idea if I am in a "Hot seat" or not but I'm very sure that it don't matter. Does it ? If I feel this way can I remain with this church if they do Incorporate ? Can I agree to be bound not to speak as I feel led ?

Thanks.

2048 reads
John Benzing's picture

Quote:
It stated that once Incorporated, The state would not ALLOW us to speak for or against anyone running for public office.

I don't think that's quite right. You can discuss politics from your pulpit, if you so chose, even if you are incorporated. If you have tax exempt status through the I.R.S. or a state revenue office, you are limited in how you may support a candidate. You are not limited, as I understand it, from saying that you personally support a candidate. For myself, I'm not interested in seeing church services turned in to political rallies. Our incorporated church is not limited in any way and we know clearly our head is Christ. Still don't really see the problem, but the most important consideration is congregational unity.

Brent Marshall's picture

Marty, these are complex questions, ones that I am not sure are susceptible to simple conclusions in an online forum. You have two basic layers of issues. First, you need to understand the legal issues and realities. Second, there are spiritual issues implicated by the legal realities.

For the legal issues, you need competent legal advice, which you will not find here. This is not throwing stones at SI or at lawyers, especially since I am one :), just that careful lawyers are not going to give legal advice here. If your church is considering incorporating, I hope that you have qualified legal counsel preparing the legal papers (I would strongly discourage a do-it-yourself approach in which someone copies forms from a book or the Internet). The church leaders need to talk to counsel, ask good questions, and understand (1) what a corporation will and will not accomplish for the church and (2) how it could change how things are run. For example, you should have counsel explain to you whether incorporating will prevent church leaders from being sued in a personal capacity (probably not) and whether it will prevent leaders from being found personally liable (ask about "piercing the corporate veil"). Whatever the answers (and they may surprise you), you do not want to go into this with false expectations.

In addition, recall that a corporation is a legal person, a creation of the state. Having created it, the state controls the term and conditions of its existence, and the state can change these if it pleases by amending its laws. I anticipate that your corporation would be established pursuant to your state's nonstock corporation act. It would be worth your church leaders reading through the appropriate corporation act and see the scope of what it covers. Not long ago I finished some significant work with a non-profit organization (not a church) that had incorporated but then not given attention to corporate formalities. Fortunately, nothing catastrophic happened before the issues were caught, but much time, effort, and money was expended getting things addressed. The church leaders should have counsel explain the potential consequences of a corporation not staying within statutory limits or of operating as if it were an unincorporated association.

I am not in a position to be more specific, but I would be skeptical of claims that the bylaws will not need to change and that nothing will change. If that is not the reasoned opinion of your church's counsel, be careful of how much weight you put on it. (The ice may be thin!)

Once you understand the legal situation, then you are ready to consider the spiritual issues raised by the legal realities. I have not been in a situation where I had to make a decision on this, so I will not offer an opinion on the ultimate issue.

Hope this helps,
Brent
Things that Matter

Things That Matter

As the quantity of communication increases, so does its quality decline; and the most important sign of this is that it is no longer acceptable to say so.--RScruton

ChrisC's picture

Marty H wrote:
2 weeks ago a document was left out for those who cared to read. It stated that once Incorporated, The state would not ALLOW us to speak for or against anyone running for public office. As we stand,(the church) We have every right to say what we like.
this really underscores brent's comment about getting proper legal advise. if you act on your belief that unincorporated churches are allowed to endorse or oppose political candidates, you are jeopardizing your church's tax status. 501(c)(3) organizations aren't allowed to speak for or against any candidate. it has nothing to do with them being a church or being incorporated.

the irs has prepared a short booklet http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf ]tax guide for churches and religious organizations . pages 5-15 are about political activities.

Becky Petersen's picture

Brent Marshall wrote:

Once you understand the legal situation, then you are ready to consider the spiritual issues raised by the legal realities. I have not been in a situation where I had to make a decision on this, so I will not offer an opinion on the ultimate issue.

good advice.

Marty wrote:
Either Christ is sovereign or the state. It can not be both. Those are my feelings. I have no idea if I am in a "Hot seat" or not but I'm very sure that it don't matter. Does it ? If I feel this way can I remain with this church if they do Incorporate ? Can I agree to be bound not to speak as I feel led ?

Good questions for you to answer. We can't begin to know. If you don't yet know what incorporation actually requires, then how can you begin to know if you could "stand for it in silence"? If you believe very strongly against it and can't remain silent, my advice would be for you to quietly leave the church if they all vote for it. You don't need to be stirring up dissention during business meetings. Plus, if it is a matter of "spiritual right/wrong", you won't be at ease until you are not in the middle of the situation. I live in Poland and many churches to the east of us have split right in the middle due to this issue. (Registered/unregistered Baptist churches...it's a big deal!)

My home church is incorporated, and I don't see the problem with it. I am uncomfortable with a church talking politics from the pulpit as well. I believe my home church printed out voting guides, though and laid them on the back table--mostly stuff like information on where the candidates stood on certain issues and where they had voted in the past. The people had to decide for themselves how they were going to vote. No church leader ever asks people how they voted, etc.

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Over the past 16 years I have led 3 churches and one one national ministry in the incorporation process. If you incorporate as a religious, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, I just don't see how there will be any problems. If the governement wants to go after your ministry, they will go after you whether you have this or not. If there is a legal problem in your ministry, people can still get charged whether you are incorporated or not from what I understand. Actually, if you are incorporation, the organization is often targeted instead of individual people.

Some talk of fear of governement control of the organization. I just don't see this. All of our incorportation documents state that the Bible, and our Constitution/By-laws are the documents that guide our organization.

The tax benefits are stronger for incorporated ministries. We are exempt from sales tax which saves a lot of money here. Givers to our ministry have a stronger assurance that they can receive a tax benefit from their donations.

While our church has no loans, it is easier to get funding when you are a corporation than when you are not one.

I am quick because I do not have much time this morning, but in the end, I believe the people are better protected and benefit more if their church is incorporated than if it is not.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Incorporation is a very wise move for churches because it brings a number of benefits. It has nothing to do with who is in charges of the church. It has more to do with legal protection from lawsuits, etc.

As for speaking about politics, that has nothing to do with incorporation. It has to do legally with tax exemption. However, IMO, it has more to do with the Bible. Since the church is to preach the Bible, that leaves no room to endorse candidates or take stands on political issues. So whether tax exempt or not, the church should stay out of things that the Bible does not speak to.

Jay's picture

Quote:
Either Christ is sovereign or the state. It can not be both. Those are my feelings. I have no idea if I am in a "Hot seat" or not but I'm very sure that it don't matter. Does it ? If I feel this way can I remain with this church if they do Incorporate ? Can I agree to be bound not to speak as I feel led ?

Marty, you can put me down as a voice for the incorporation of your church, but I won't expound on that too much since Pastor Joe and Brent covered the salient points.

What I wanted to say was that as a leader in your church [I'm not sure whether you're an pastor / elder / deacon / bishop ] it does behoove you to study this out and respond in a way that will best represent Christ to the flock. By all means, you should do your study and then discuss what you've read with the others in your church, but I think that once the vote is taken or decision is made, you should abide peacefully by the decision. If incorporation is going to be a cause of strife or division within the body, then I think that it is more important to preserve the unity of your church and to continue studying it out until everyone is of one mind [provided, of course, that there's not one person refusing to go along with it just because they refuse to, thereby gumming up the works. ] If you're seriously convinced that incorporation leads you to violate God's law, then perhaps you should consider withdrawing from the church peaceably.

I've never had a problem with being incorporated, and several of those churches have, on occasion, delved into politics briefly, although we could not endorse a specific candidate or party. Most of those churches have preached against abortion, for example, and we are still within our rights to do so.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Marty H's picture

I want to thank you all for your input. This is what I need. Input from christians.

Jay, I am an ordained deacon but I have never served as such in this church. The church held nominations for deacons Sunday. We lose six this year and so there is a chance that I will be asked. Should it be that I am asked, it would only make this situation worse. But as it stands right now, as I said above, I am director of Baptist men. Being such puts me on the church counsel. I cook for the church most every Wed evening and I make repairs on the buildings and grounds.

As to the restrictions on speach, Its not so much that I can't speak against or for anyone... Although I can see that setting the stage so that one day anti-christians may run and not worry about churches speaking against them.

The big deal is knowing that this sets things up for the church not being able to say NO when they are told you can't preach this or that from the Bible. And when that comes about, it won't be because they took it away from us, but because we GAVE it to them. There is little we can do should the government force it. But to just give it away ?

To one day stand before GOD and have to say we took something belonging to him and just gave it to the state ? And for what reason ? Money ? comfort ?

Maybe you can see it like this. How did things get to this point ? How is it that a nation such as ours aborts babys in the thousands ? Allows gays to preach their garbage while saying we don't have the right to say its wrong ?

It is because the Christians of this nation have voted for those pushing for such things simply to put more money ( so they think ) in their pockets or make some gain.

As unpopular as this may be in todays world It is simply the way I see things. And that being the case it seems some of you are saying that I should say nothing and just walk away ? What if I do leave and in 5 or 10 years things roll around and it turns out that what I was worried about comes to pass ? Would I then be guilty because I saw and said nothing ?

Eze 33:1 ¶ Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

Eze 33:2 Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:

Eze 33:3 If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;

Eze 33:4 Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.

Eze 33:5 He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.

Eze 33:6 But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take [any ] person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.

Thanks again for your input. And please don't think for a minute that if I don't seem to agree that I am not taking in what you are saying. That is what I need. I need to try and see all sides and here I can do so (With your help) without the risk of tearing down.

So again, Thank you all..

James S.'s picture

Ah, there you are.

I came across this thred some weeks ago, and that is why i joined SI. However I was unable to find it, so I did a search on 501c3 in this site. If you do the same you will see my post on the thred with 501c3 in the title. I direct you there because I think I made an agreement not to duplicate posts.

Dave G's picture

0.o

Well, I'm definitely outnumbered here, having no knowledge of church non-profit this nor that, but my opinion is:

I personally wouldn't let any gathering of saints get to the place that it needed a "public building"...I mean, yeah, it's a real convenience if a group larger than about 10-15 people get together in one spot, but the whole "house-to-house" thing is real attractive.

I hate getting on the government's radar about anything...;)

Dave.

Sola Scriptura, both mentally and physically.
That means no other books about Bible interpretation on my shelf, sorry...;)

1 John 2:27-29