This article was originally published in 2009
Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. Psalm 127:1
This past Sunday nearly 1,500 pastors nationwide participated in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, sponsored by Alliance Defending Freedom. The morning Sermons will recommend that people vote for a particular presidential candidate. This action is in violation of the 1954 "Johnson Amendment" to the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from endorsing any candidate by name. This could jeopardize the 501c3 status.
My view of the church and what its responsibilities are have changed over the past few years. My new biblical outlook on church life has raised a lot of questions for which I wasn't getting straight answers. From my observations, the model we have in the Bible doesn’t look like what we call church today. It has been severely molded by our secular culture.
It has been a case of many men and women having great intentions, but following the wrong model. I have always wondered how we have strayed so far away from the biblical model. In the process of starting a church in 2007 it hit me. I thought to myself, “If someone plants a church, what’s one of the first things they try to get out of the way?” There it was; a 501c3 status. Many churches believe that they must have a 501c3, this is not true.
I had some information in my office and after reviewing it, I came to realize that when a church excepts 501c3 status, they have agreed to follow the government’s model and definition of a "faith based" organization. Once this is done, your group is no longer a "church". For example, the first thing on the list for filing for tax exempt status is to formulate a mission statement of how you are going to serve the community. Stating you are just going to equip and train believers sounds too exclusive, so we’ve included wording about all of the programs we have to offer.
Secondly, they want you to form a board of directors for your new organization. I’m sure the Apostle Paul would have said, “You meant qualified elders, right?” Then, they want you to file to be incorporated. Hmm, it’s beginning to feel more and more like a business--but wait, there’s more! Next on the list is to draft bylaws and then develop a strategic plan to grow. Then, develop a budget and business model. Since the biblical model is not too impressive, we choose to use one from one of our newly appointed board members who is a CEO in the business world. As you can see, in just 50 years since churches were added to section 501c3, we have followed the government’s guidelines closer than we have followed God’s.
501c3, good or bad, has had a very distinct effect on churches and how they operate. It has shushed the church on any topics concerning politics and has eliminated a powerful influence that it had on shaping public policy. In essence, the church was bought by the government for a few tax breaks in exchange for saving a few pennies here and there for never addressing political matters from the pulpit. Then, we took the government’s outline on how to build a church, which is basically building a business.
Note: It is so unfortunate that many Church leaders, including those in Simple/House Church believe that they have to join hands with the government. If we conduct our business as the early apostles did, there is no need for such a union. Many churches believe that they must have a 501c3, this is not true.
All churches should read page 3 of the tax guide for churches and religious organizations, which says:
"Automatic Exemption for Churches that meet the requirements of IRC section 501(c)(3) are automatically considered tax exempt and are not required to apply for and obtain recognition of tax-exempt status from the IRS."
Now, the modern day church looks exactly like the largest not-for-profit community service organization in America--the YMCA. The YMCA boasts having introduced millions of people to sports. One of their themes, “It’s more than a gym, it’s a community,” sounds a bit like the theme of the modern day church. Go to http://www.ymca.net/ and view their website and compare it with most church websites. They are almost identical. Sadly, the modern day church has a lot in common with the YMCA.
Pastors who want to build churches by attracting people through programs and community, the YMCA could use your help. No one would say the YMCA functions like a church, but we can say many churches function like they are a YMCA. The question remains--what do you attend?