the weblog of Alan Knox

I will build my charitable organization

Posted by on Oct 30, 2008 in blog links, definition | 11 comments

Bill at “The Thin Edge” has written a very good post called “So Which 501(c)3 do you Attend?” The article is fairly short:

A sprawling campus is being developed on a hundred acres at the edge of a large suburban area, near the front entrance of a popular housing development with prices “starting in the low $300,000″ bracket according to a sign erected by the property development company. Everyone’s wondering about this beautifully landscaped campus with its winding driveway, small lake, and ultra-modern structure of concrete and glass toward the rear of the property: is it a medical clinic? a health club? an exclusive restaurant? an advertising agency? an animal hospital? a bank? Whoever it was, they obviously had deep pockets and seemed to be sparing no expense to impress their upscale neighbors next door.

Finally, a sign appeared that read, “Coming Soon! Mountain View Church. Offering fresh perspectives on the timeless principles of Jesus Christ!” A church? They must have spent a small fortune on their logo-really cool-portraying mountains, a rushing mountain stream, and a cross. In small print at the bottom, it gave a little more information: “Mountain View Church, Inc. is a 501(c)3 corporation and a member of the Green Valley Baptist Association and the Southern Baptist Convention.” Looking up their founding documents online (through the state department’s searchable database), one will discover, sure enough, they are a bona fide company with officers, trustees, and articles of incorporation.

So is this really a “church” or just another corporation with a cool logo and trendy name? How are we supposed to know the difference? Are we trying to cross-pollinate a living organism with an organizational chart and marketing plan? Is that even desirable? When Jesus declared, “I will build My church,” is this what He had in mind? Or did we misinterpret the statement as “We will build His 501(c)3 ministry organization?”

Bill brings out some good points, but I’d like to use his post to ask a few other questions.

When we decided that we would have multiple elders (pastors) and that we would not choose one of those to be a “senior pastor” or “head elder”, several people asked, “So, who will I say is my pastor?”

When we decided to meet in a rented space on Sunday and in homes during the week, some people asked, “So, where will I say my church is?”

When we decided that we would not focus on programs but on relationships, some people asked, “But how will I serve or how will I be discipled?”

When we decided that individuals will be responsible for giving to those in need instead of giving to the church so that the church could do everything, some people asked, “So, will we still get a tax deduction?”

These are all very important questions, and I’m not trying to belittle anyone who has asked those questions. However, I would like to suggest that the questions indicate that we’re not thinking biblically about the church. Instead, we’re thinking organizationally and programmatically about the church.

Jesus is building his church – which is, his assembly of people – a group of people. When we begin to think of the church as more than or different than a group of Jesus followers, then we are thinking less and less about the church as described by Scripture.

It may be pragmatic and efficient and logical to have a human leader, and a set of programs, and a specific meeting place, and tax-deductible status. But, these things do not define the church. We could argue the benefits or the detriments of having these things, but they would be outside the scope of defining what (or WHO) the church is.

Jesus said that he wold build his church… not his charitable organization. We would do well to remember that Jesus cares about his church, not our organizations and programs.


11 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-30-2008

    Great post, Alan. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. 10-30-2008

    Alan,
    A few months ago I was in search of reasons why we do church as we have. I was in the first steps of leaving my old congregation in order to go to house church. I had found a site about how churches don’t need to be a 501c 3 in order to be a tax deductable intsitution. Anyway I emailed it just as a thought to the elders and some others from the congregation at the time. I asked the question do we give just to get a tax deduction or else some other reason. Needless to say it was just one of the straws that broke that old camels back and I was accused of trying to cause a split by the pastor. He said, it was devisive and that from now on all emails about church issues should be brought to the elders only so as to not to confuse the flock. That was a hot button issue under the surface. Needless to say I realized I was in the wrong place.
    I was just sending that info. out because I thought it would be helpful. So I got the preverbial this is what we believe letter and that was it. Just because I questioned the 501 c3 issue. Plus I was also questioning how we do church against what scripture says.
    Steven

  3. 10-30-2008

    Alan,

    Amen!! Very well put!!

    Gary

  4. 10-30-2008

    have a comparison that might resonate with homeschoolers. I see the 501(c)3 relationship with the government having a similar effect on the Church as virtual charter schools sold as “homeschooling” would have on the independent homeschooler. In return for your “free” computer (tax exemption/deduction) the government gets to dictate your curriculum, inspect your home, effectively controlling your child’s education (disallow political or “intolerant” speech, dictate “valid” benevolence, effectively controlling your doctrine).

  5. 11-1-2008

    Alan–Quick question. When you talk about how your group is structured, was this a new group of believers coming together to form a community, or an already established group that was changing its focus? It seems that it would be hard to move an existing church into such a radically different mindset.

  6. 11-1-2008

    Eric,

    Thanks for the example. I’m not familiar with that government program, but perhaps your example will help some thing about this topic.

    Richard,

    We started as a new group of about 30 people. However, we had all come from a traditional background and were planning on a traditional structure. Those plans changed as we began studying Scripture about the church together. (By the way, everyone did not like the changes, and some do not meet with us any longer because of that.)

    However, I don’t think the discussion here relates to a specific type of structure. Every church has some type of structure and organization – which is not necessarily bad in itself. But, we cannot allow that structure or organization (what it is) to begin defining who we are as the church.

    -Alan

  7. 11-3-2008

    Alan,

    Here is an article that provides a decent overview of virtual charters and some of the implications:

    http://www.hslda.org/courtreport/V18N1/V18N101.asp

    disclaimer: I am a former HSLDA member by choice and views and opinions expressed elsewhere on their site may not necessarily match my own. :o)

  8. 9-12-2011

    Hi Alan! Great post. A lot of people are learning that Constantine moved the church from houses to dedicated buildings. Fewer know that he also gave tax exempt status to ministers. We have a lot of very old traditions that rule the way we do church, rather than our being the church.

    Blessings – Stan

  9. 9-13-2011

    Stan,

    I usually don’t reply to comments on these older posts. (I’m not sure why I don’t… just something I started doing – or not doing.) Anyway, I wanted to reply to your comment. The more I study the church, the more I see the truth in what you said here. Thanks!

    -Alan

  10. 5-7-2012

    If we give to the church just to get a tax reciept then our motive is wrong. Nowhere in The Bible does it say, give unto the lord and get a government tax reciept.

  11. 5-7-2012

    Edgar,

    If we give to anyone just to get a tax receipt, then we have received our reward…

    -Alan

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