To Whom Is a Church Accountable? What About Taxes?

13 All of you must yield to the government rulers. No one rules unless God has given him the power to rule, and no one rules now without that power from God.2 So those who are against the government are really against what God has commanded. And they will bring punishment on themselves. 3 Those who do right do not have to fear the rulers; only those who do wrong fear them. Do you want to be unafraid of the rulers? Then do what is right, and they will praise you. 4 The ruler is God’s servant to help you. But if you do wrong, then be afraid. He has the power to punish; he is God’s servant to punish those who do wrong. 5 So you must yield to the government, not only because you might be punished, but because you know it is right.

6 This is also why you pay taxes. Rulers are working for God and give their time to their work.

~ Ro 13:1-6 (NCV)

Why do these weird topics always seem to come up when I have a raging headache?  Maybe I should just lay off Facebook for a while.   People point out things I’d rather just ignore at times.

We should examine the above passage with a clear mind, rather than giving in to flights of fancy.  It clearly says:

  • We all must yield to the civil government.
  • God has given the government the right to rule.
  • To go against the government is to oppose God.
  • If we are punished for rebellion, then it is our own fault.  A ruler has the power of the sword to enforce his rule.
  • Those who do not rebel have nothing to fear.
  • It is right to yield to the government.
  • Even money, in the form of taxes, that is claimed by the government should be turned over to them.

There is only one loophole.

29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

~ Ac 5:29

When there is a conflict, we need to obey God.  However, we had be certain that there really is a conflict to begin with and that it isn’t just our imagination!

Jesus also made a statement about taxes.

16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

~ Mt 22:16-21

Now, we in the US don’t have Caesar’s imprint upon the money, but when I look at a bill, it clearly has “United Stats of America” written upon it.

You know what all this tells me?  At minimum, it tells me that a sovereign country has the right to tell people  what is and is not taxable.  A nation has the right to dictate who has to pay taxes and who does not.

In addition, if a country wants to allow their citizens to apply for certain exemptions, it has the right to do so.  Who in their right mind would not take exemptions if they can claim five dependents?  That would not be showing good use of God’s blessings.  Jesus gave many parables using money as an example of good stewardship, so doesn’t it make sense that being a Christian demands using money as wisely as possible?

Tax exemptions and deductions are given for a reason.  They are to encourage the funneling of monies to certain types of works.  In these days of big government, it may sound odd to say that these donations to private organizations often reduce the expense that the federal government would have to otherwise expend.  It is an implicit acknowledgement that government is not very efficient at certain things.

They also do something else, however.  They encourage more giving.  It isn’t likely that someone will choose to give or not give according to tax deductions, but it often will have effect upon how much.  If they can give more to an organization that needs it and also pay less taxes, then everyone wins.

However, there are those who will say that it somehow affects the message.  To someone who has a deep rooted distrust of the civil government, any involvement of government in religious affairs is suspect.  They claim that it is effectively handing over power to the government.

Power for what?  What power is being handed over?  Re-read Romans 13 above, and you’ll see that the civil government already has power over a Christian.  Since individual Christians make up the Body of Christ, then the civil government has a certain amount of God-given authority over the Church.

What authority doesn’t it have?  Again, what did we just read?  It doesn’t have the authority to tell the Church anything that goes against God’s commands!  That’s it!

So, how about some questions?  Hopefully, these won’t strain you too bad.

  • Does a town or city council have a right to zone where a church building can or cannot be built?
  • Does a town or city council have a right to restrict the size of meetings in a residential community?
  • Does a governmental agency have the right to prohibit religious authorities from making statements that incite riots?
  • Does a governmental agency have the right to take some sort of action against church leaders who encourage their members to shout “Fire!” in public theaters?
  • Does a governmental agency have the right to tax a religious organization?
  • Does a governmental agency have the right to not tax a religious organization?

I hope you can see that a civil government does have the right and obligation to create rules and laws that affect the public order, even over religious institutions.

There is one unique clause in the United States 501(c)(3) code, though, that does get up the back hairs of many who are against government “interference” in religious institutions.  It is the restriction of being engaged actively in “politics”.  However, this objection is downright laughable in its degree of delusion.

5. What political activities are prohibited under the Internal Revenue Code?

Religious organizations, as well as all other organizations exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, are prohibited from participating or intervening, directly or indirectly, in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office.7 This prohibition encompasses a wide array of activities. It precludes direct political campaign intervention, including the making of statements, whether oral, written or in an electronic medium, supporting or opposing any candidate, political party or political action committee (“PAC”); creating a PAC;8 rating candidates;9 and providing or soliciting financial support (including loans10 or loan guarantees) or in-kind support for any candidate, political party or PAC. It also precludes indirect political campaign intervention of a sort that reflects bias for or against any candidate, political party or PAC, such as distributing biased voter education materials or conducting a biased candidate forum or voter registration drive.

6. Must religious organizations restrict their discussion of issues during election campaign periods?

No. The political campaign intervention prohibition does not restrict discussions of issues that are not linked to support for or opposition to candidates. The fact that candidates may align themselves on one side or another of an issue does not restrict the ability of religious organizations to engage in discussions of that issue.11 That said, a religious organization may nonetheless violate the political campaign intervention prohibition if it communicates preferences for or against particular candidates as part of its issue discussions.

~ Pew Forum, “Preaching Politics From the Pulpit

In reality, there have been cases where obvious references have been made about candidates without naming them by names and tying them to abortion or other issues, and yet the IRS refused to go after even these obvious cases.

The fact of the matter is that there is no restriction on discussing issues such as abortion, same-sex “marriage”, gays serving openly in the military, whether or not we live in a welfare state, etc.

Now, let me state plainly that it could come to that one day.  However, at least in the US, that day is not here yet.  However, my hunch is that it will have a lot less to do with whether or not an organization is a 501(c)(3) exempt organization or not.  Rather, all we have to do is look at Britain and Canada for some disturbing trends in how some have been prosecuted for “hate crimes” for being bold enough to speak out against homosexuality.

You want to know what is particularly loathsome about such discussions, though?  The grumblings are never about no fault divorce, single parent moms in ghettos or chastity before marriage, all issues involving the value of family.  No, the grumbling and complaining is always about pet sins that are specifically chosen  and singled out.

10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

~ Jas 2:10 (NIV)

In reality, is one sin “greater” than another?  On our plane of existence, perhaps.  However, from God’s viewpoint, it is all sin, and even one unrepentant sin, no matter how “minor” will block you from the Kingdom!

We are to send out a warning message, both to the descendants of ancient Israel and to the world.  However, is that a warning message about only particular sins, or should it be about all sins?

In the end, though, who would you rather give your money to?  Someone who has the foresight to be good stewards and allow you to be good stewards of the money God has blessed you with, or someone who only wants to pick and choose favorite sins to rant and rave about?  Someone who has gone to the trouble of becoming legal in the country they are in, and therefore are accountable on some level to the civil authorities, or a maverick who may or may not stay within the limits of the law, which could mean outright rebellion towards God and man?

It’s your money.  You decide.

I’ll leave you with Wallace Smith’s words near the end of his article “Follow up to “501(c)(3) and Herbert W. Armstrong’” on Thoughts En Route:

But Christ gave his admonition in Matt. 7:6 about being wary of those who will “turn and rend you” after you try to help them. When someone has been dishonest with you, publicly accused you repeatedly of grievous wrong, ignored all the evidence you researched to try and help them, ignored all the answers you’ve already provided as if you had said nothing, and ultimately demonstrated that they are so self-deceived that they can see none of this for themselves, what is left for you to do? Like I said in the previous post: shake the dust off of your feet in the manner of Matt. 10:14-15 and let them say what they will.

2 thoughts on “To Whom Is a Church Accountable? What About Taxes?

  • Andrew

    My apologies, John. I’ll avoid soapboxing over here on this subject, as I think I owe you for making you aware of this. :)

    Good link to Mr Smith’s post on the topic. I was looking those over the other day after your recommendation on his blog. Another reason I was shaking my head at this topic today.

    Once again, my apologies for the headache. I didn’t mean it!

    • John D

      @Andrew: Just to be clear, it didn’t cause the headache, but it certainly was not helpful. However, I don’t blame you. I still could’ve dropped it, and maybe I should’ve. It took what I had left in me for today. I was going to wait and respond tomorrow, but someone sent me a PM just a moment ago.

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