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The Case Against Incorporating Churches

Written by Gary North on February 27, 2016

And the king said, Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech, thou, and all thy father’s house. And the king said unto the footmen that stood about him, Tum, and slay the priests of the Lord; because their hand also is with David, and because they knew when he fled, and did not shew it to me. But the servants of the king would not put forth their hand to fall upon the priests of the Lord. And the king said to Doeg, Turn thou, and fall upon the priests. And Doeg the Edomite turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day fourscore and five persons that did wear a linen ephod. And Nob, the city of the priests, smote he with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and sucklings, and oxen, and asses, and sheep, with the edge of the sword (I Sam. 22:16-19).

It should be obvious to any right-thinking, well-informed American lawyer where Ahimelech, his family, and his priestly associates and their families went wrong. They had neither formally applied to nor had received from the Israelite State legal incorporation for their local congregations. By refusing to do so, they abandoned the sure-fire protection afforded by corporate limited liability laws.

Why incorporate? To gain limited liability protection for all church members. Limited liability! If only the Armenian Orthodox Church had possessed such legal protection through the centuries. Why, the Turks could never have touched them! If only the Russian Orthodox Church had possessed such legal protection. Stalin would have had to restrain his anti-ecclesiastical actions to making hostile speeches in front of the Politburo.

Please forgive my sarcasm. It is inherent in my calling. I am forever being asked to reply to the published opinions of contemporary Christian theologians and Christian lawyers.

King Saul was wicked, and he was after the priests’ very lives. No official piece of paper would have saved them. The same is true of any congregation today that becomes the target of wicked civil rulers. No piece of paper is likely to have much effect during a systematic attack on a church by the State. The paper may deter less dedicated, less evil, and less confident bureaucrats, but it will do little to protect anyone in political power when wickedness abounds.

What about during the interim? What if the Church-State crisis has not come to a head? Does incorporation provide a degree of legitimate protection? To answer this, we must first consider the question of legitimacy. Is limited liability a legitimate goal for an individual, a church, a profit-seeking corporation, a limited partnership, an insurance company, or any other institution? Let us begin with personal liability.

Cosmic Personalism

The Bible tells us that we live in a universe which was created by God at the beginning of time, and that this world is sustained by Him, moment by moment. The twin doctrines of creation and providence are therefore linked. The universe which God created, He presently sustains. We therefore live in a world of cosmic personalism. God’s answer to Job, beginning in chapter 38 and continuing through chapter 40, presents a summary of the total control of all events by God.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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