Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Taxing An Unfriendly Church

An editorial in the NY Times noted today that:

Shortly before the last election, a former rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., gave a fiery antipoverty and antiwar sermon. He did not endorse a presidential candidate, but he criticized President Bush's policies in Iraq and at home. Now the Internal Revenue Service has challenged the church's tax-exempt status.
I.R.S. officials have said about 20 churches are being investigated for activities across the political spectrum that could jeopardize their tax status. … The I.R.S. argues that freedom of religion does not grant freedom from taxes if churches engage in politics.
Important Correction: Freedom of religion does not grant freedom from taxes if state sponsored churches engage in politics. The tax code says nothing about churches that are not state chartered entities.
26 USC Sec 501 (c) 3 is quoted in its entirety below:

26 USC Sec. 501 (01/19/04)
Subtitle A - Income Taxes
Subchapter F - Exempt Organizations

Sec. 501. Exemption from tax on corporations, certain trusts, etc.


(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

This section of the code claims to apply only to corporations, community chests, funds, and foundations. It says nothing about churches. The only way a church could be included in this prohibition is if it is incorporated by the civil magistrate.

Churches that are incorporated as 501(c)3 organizations are legal entities created by the state and put in the same category as your local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals or diabetes foundation. Legally and effectively they are state churches and the content of their preaching is controlled by the state.

Many reformed pastors today would argue that the church shouldn’t be trying to influence legislation. It should be preaching Christ and Him crucified. Therefore this restriction poses no problem to the church.

There are two problems with this approach:
  1. It ignores the legal fact that incorporated 501(c)3 churches are legal entities created by the state and institutionally inferior and subject to the state. If the church of Jesus Christ is not an institution created by the state, then how is it acceptable for it to exist as one?
  2. Is it really biblical that the church should not try to influence legislation?
Scripture says (Mtt 5:19ff) that the church is to make disciples of all nations, teaching the people to observe everything ("all things whatsoever" are the KJV words) God has commanded. In fact this passage is even referred to as the Great Commission given to the church. In other words, teaching the people what God has commanded is the job of the church. Let’s apply this. God has commanded that we respect the life of other humans. Are we going to teach that? Are we going to help the congregation see that abortion is murder and a law allowing abortion is a law allowing murder?

God has ordained marriage between one man and one woman to be a picture of the union between Christ and his Church. Should we teach that? Should we teach husbands that their love for their wife is to be like the sacrificial love Christ has toward us? Should the church teach God’s people that a law allowing sodomite marriage is a perversion of something that is holy and typical of our union with Christ? Scripture says sin is a reproach to any people. Should the church teach that allowing sodomite marriage is a reproach on our nation?

Scripture teaches that we are to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and that we are to honor him. Should we teach God's people that they have a duty to pray for their civil magistrate, to vote in his elections, and render obedience to him? Scripture says that everything we do, even our eating and drinking, is to be done to the glory of God. Should the church teach the people that even in their voting they are to glorify God and that a vote to permit what God has forbidden does not honor the Lord?

Proverbs 20:26 says, "A wise king scatters the wicked, and brings the wheel over them." Should the church teach this wisdom to God’s people and help them apply it in their life? Should the church be seeking to disciple the civil magistrate? Is he included in "all the nations?"

If we as the church are doing all this, aren’t we influencing legislation?

Mat 5:13-18 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith, shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot, be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

It is in the context of reminding us that we are the salt of the earth and that we are to let our light shine before men that Jesus affirms that he did not come to destroy the law.

If we are being the salt of the earth and the light of the world and we are discipling all nations, doesn’t that imply we will be influencing legislation?

I think one can rightly conclude that when the church ceases to influence the legislation of the nation, she becomes salt that has lost its savor; she has become a candle hid under a basket.

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