Tax-Exemption, Favors, and Incorporation
First of all, the legal definition of the word incorporation is “to form into a legal body, or body politic; to constitute a body, composed of one or more individuals, with the quality of perpetual existence or succession, unless limited by the act of incorporation.” –Webster’s Dictionary 1828. Such term is derived from the Latin word incorporo; in and corpus, a body. Put together it literally means “to provide with a body or to embody.” It happens when a group makes one whole. Furthermore, according to the Black Law Dictionary, a corporation is …
“An artificial person or legal entity created by or under the authority of the laws of a state or nation, composed, in some rare instances, of a single person and his successors, being the incumbents of a particular oltice, but ordinarily consisting of an association of numerous individuals, who subsist as a body politic under a special denomination, which is regarded In law as having a personality and existence distinct from that of its several members, and which is, by the same authority, vested with the capacity of continuous succession, irrespective of changes in its membership, either in perpetuity or for a limited term of years, and of acting as a unit or single individual in matters relating to the common purpose of the association, within the scope of the powers and authorities conferred upon such bodies by law.” –Black’s Law Dictionary West Publishing Company, 1991; 6th Edition, page 340.
So a corporation is something created by the laws of a government. What does the government say concerning corporations?
“… the corporation is a creature of the State. It is presumed to be incorporated for the benefit of the public. It receives certain special privileges and franchises, and holds them subject to the laws of the State and the limitations of its charter. Its powers are limited by law. It can make no contract not authorized by its charter. Its rights to act as a corporation are only preserved to it so long as it obeys the laws of its creation. … While an individual may lawfully refuse to answer incriminating questions unless protected by an immunity statute, it does not follow that a corporation, vested with special privileges and franchises, may refuse to show its hand when charged with an abuse of such privileges.” –U.S. Supreme Court, Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43 (1906).
According to the words of the US Supreme Court, a corporation is the product of the state that creates it. To incorporate a church, then, would be to allow the state to create the church. The church then becomes a product of the state. But the question can be asked, “What makes the church a corpus, the state or Christ?”
The Bible says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. … But now are they many members, yet but one body.” “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning …” –1 Corinthians 12:13, 20; Colossians 1:18.
Christ is the foundation and head of His body, the church. It is He who said “My kingdom is not of this world.” In other words, His church does not derive its rights to exist or powers from Caesar. Rather, its rights and powers are directly from the throne of God. To say that the state can incorporate (create) the church is to misunderstand the principle of the first amendment. In 1947, Justice Hugo Black gave the following argument in the famous Everson v. Board of Education case.
“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. … Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, and vice versa.” –U.S. Supreme Court, Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947).
Again, we believe it is appropriate and acceptable to seek and receive gifts and favors from the world and especially from legitimate governments. However, in light of the facts concerning incorporation, we do not believe it is necessary to incorporate in order to seek such favors, protection, or even tax-reimbursements from the government. In fact, such a move binds the church in unnecessary shackles that are becoming more and more restricting as we draw closer to the end. Instead, we favor the route of remaining unincorporated. However, this option comes with risk. According to Gibbs & Associates Law Firm:
“Unincorporated churches are ‘unincorporated associations.’ An ‘unincorporated association’ is a body of persons, acting together without a charter [Articles of Incorporation], to carry out some common enterprise, much like a ‘partnership.’ … An unincorporated church must have a written document to govern the internal affairs of the organization and to set forth the duties and responsibilities of any officers in the church. The Constitution and Bylaws are considered a legal contract between the members, the provisions of which are legally enforceable. … In an unincorporated association, the members are individually and collectively liable for the actions of other members as well as for the contracts and obligations of the organization. … Churches which are not incorporated subject their members to personal liability for the actions of other members and for the obligations of the church itself. … The members of that church should understand the full extent of their personal liability in the event the church is sued. … The appropriate type and amount of insurance is the best protection.” –Gibbs & Associates Law Firm. Incorporated Churches & Unincorporated Churches: A Legal Review, p. 6.