The Free-Church Myth

 

The following is from a website http://hushmoney.org/free-church_solution.htm that advocates what they term a “Free-Church.” The site was referred to me by a gentleman that was concerned for us because he heard that the Sabbath Fellowship was incorporated as a non-profit corporation for tax purposes. He considers churches registered as non-profit religious corporations to be, “Creations of the State” and consequently to be in an adulterous relationship with Christ since such a church belongs to the state, according to him. This is a serious statement and I gave him a long and respectful hearing. I promised him I would give what he said somber thought and decide if I agreed with him or not. I have done as I promised and can tell you I believe this good gentleman is completely wrong. Let me first quote from the website he gave me for support of what he said. Then I will explain why I strongly disagree.

 

 

A State-Church is a church which is organized by the State, and/or is controlled and regulated by the State, or which exists at the pleasure of the State.

 

A free-church is a church that is truly separate, independent and autonomous from the State.

 

1). We define a State-Church as any of the following:

*   An incorporated church

*   An incorporated 501c3 church

*   A 501c3 "unincorporated association" church 

*   A corporation sole church (contrary to the myths promulgated by the corporation sole peddlers, a corporation sole is a corporation, and it makes little difference whether or not it is also a 501c3. A corporation sole church is a State-Church).

 

The legal support for the State’s lack of jurisdiction over the church in America is not only the Word of God, but the First Amendment to the Constitution for the United States:

*   Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

 

No church in any nation at any point in history can lay claim to the freedoms and liberties that are guaranteed the church in America.

OK. Let me address these points and offer a few of my own.

First, all churches are controlled and regulated by the state. To have a church building you must satisfy certain zoning laws. After that you must be in compliance with building codes. Certain activities may not be allowed: For example, activities that are considered to be disturbing the peace. A church that wants to demonstrate or parade may need a permit or meet other restrictions. Most people would not consider such things necessarily bad, in principle. And I certainly don’t think any of them rises to the level of declaring the church exists at the pleasure of the state. Nor do any of them establish a state church.

With regards to the “Adulterous relationship” aspect I wonder if the same would apply in his mind to a marriage performed by the church and that has been recognized as legal by the state. After all that marriage would be state sanctioned and also sanctioned by God! Doesn’t it seem clear that the state has a legitimate interest from a legal point of view to assure matters such as inheritance and health, to name only two, are not in some legal limbo? Does the legal recognition of marriage somehow create a state church? And how could it be considered adulterous to make sure there is no doubt as to your commitment to your spouse?

 

Remember, we are to give to, (Mark 12:17 NIV)  Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." If the church pays taxes on money that was intended to be used by God then I have to ask you, isn’t that giving unto Caesar what belongs to God? And do you really think it is being a good steward if the church does not maximize the use of money given to God’s church by God’s people?

 

It is true that the state can remove tax-exempt status from a church if the church violates certain standards set by the state. Political campaigning is one area sometimes restricted. But even that is not necessarily a requirement when you consider that political candidates commonly speak in churches. But so what if the state threatens to remove tax-exempt status from a church. I say let them do it. I agree with Peter and John in, (Acts 4:18-20 NIV)  Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. {19} But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. {20} For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." However, I have not had any restrictions placed on me nor do I personally know any pastors that have. One more thing, I really don’t care to preach politics from the pulpit. I will preach the word of God and you can decide for yourself how that applies to the candidates and the issues!

 

There have been a few cases that have made the news in the last few years about preachers being arrested for so called, “Hate speech.” But consider this, they would have been arrested whether or not their church was a registered non-profit religious organization. It’s sad that reading the word of God can be considered a, “Hate crime” but it has no impact on today’s subject.

 

So suppose a church decides to no longer claim non-profit status. The website suggests this might be a difficult thing to do. But, how difficult would it actually be to make the change? The answer is not at all difficult. The easiest way is simply don’t pay the renewal fee. Most churches are not worried about how to get out of their status but more about keeping it. This includes churches in nearly all major denominations and many others as well.

 


Now let me compare actual cases of God’s people involved in adulterous relationships. I won’t go into detail, but think about this list and see if it sounds at all like what we have been talking about.

  1. Golden calf
  2. Sun worship
  3. Sacrificing children
  4. Worshiping trees
  5. Worshiping the creation as opposed to the creator
  6. Building temples and memorials to other gods

Maybe I am missing something here, but I don’t get the connection between taking a legal tax break to protect God’s money and the things in this list.

 

On the top of the website page I mentioned at the beginning is this scriptural quote, “Because that for His name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.”

(III John 7) Now let me read the context of the passage and make a comment or two.

(3 John 1:5-10 NIV)  Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. {6} They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. {7} It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. Does this passage really imply that the pagans wanted to help somehow but were refused that opportunity!? And if a pagan did offer to help in some legitimate way would it be necessary to refuse that help!? {8} We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. {9} I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. {10} So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. See what is said about Diotrephes, it reminds me of the brother that called me and wanted to warn the church of the dangers of a non-profit tax status. Here is why.

 

This gentleman had visited our website and apparently liked much of what he saw there. I asked him to visit us one Sabbath and told him we could talk during the fellowship time face to face. His response was that he would not visit us as long as we are not a free-church. Pretty much the same thing John said, I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. This brother went so far as to refuse to even eat with us afterwards; although I made it clear to him he didn’t have to attend the church service. Listen to the last part of this section of scriptures from 3 John, Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

 

Has it come to the point now that brother cannot accept brother over a matter like this? God forbid!