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The Church as a Non-Profit Organisation October 6, 2010

Posted by Henry in Matters of the Faith.
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My good friend Glasseyedave, over at “The Gospel According to the Gospel” suggested that I put out a complimentary post to the topic “Should Pastors be Salaried”, to address whether churches should be non-profit organisations and subjected to government rules. In my view these two subjects naturally go hand in hand and this will become clearer later. However the best starting point to looking at this subject is from the position of the early church as well as to take a cursory glance at its evolution.

 When Christ started the church He most certainly did not create so much as an “organisation” but rather established a “social movement”, which in essence constituted a “community” of believers. Whilst individual members of this informal community were subjected to the laws of the state there was no organisation as such which needed to be regulated. People met in each other’s homes or in the open to worship and shared what they had with one another and the pastors (who were the elders) certainly did not draw a salary. The modern church in contrast is characteristic of formal structures that are clearly defined and distinct from each other. Perhaps Emperor Constantine has a lot to answer for here since it was he who first came up with the idea to organise Christianity so it could be more effectively managed, due to its perceived threat to the state. As a result the modern church has inherited a system from the Roman church whereby churches meet as a group of people in a building and with namely one pastor (or priest) presiding as the head. It was Constantine who built the first church buildings (or temples) in Constantinople and elsewhere in 324 A.D (see here for an Historical account). With the advent of church buildings, the priestly class was raised up in order to minister over the affairs of these churches. This resulted in the division between priest and laity and it was during this period that the idea of salaried pastors began. Constantine initially sponsored the building of churches but over time the congregations were required to give contributions in order to sustain the ministry of the priest (or pastor) and the maintenance of the church. Giving was thus seen as tantamount to religious piety and this construct allowed for forms of giving such as the “tithe” to be reinstituted. The system that was instituted in churches therefore was pretty much like the Levitical system of the Old Testament (see here for an historical account on the salaried pastor)

 The reformation movement, which arguably began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenberg Door, went some way into addressing some of the heretical practices that had seeped into the church as a result of the influences of Constantine, but this did not go far enough. Today the modern church has still not shaken off the shackles of the Roman church and most of its practices in terms of how we “do church” are still intact. However, if we should return to the example of the early church there is clearly no need for the church to operate as a formal organisation, which owns or meets in a specific building. Perhaps however the practices of the established churches are entrenched and therefore somewhat hard to shake and this could be why this model of church is still used. What then is the motivation of newly formed churches today to establish themselves as non-profit organisations, subject to the rules and regulations of national governments?

 I will submit that one of the primary motives for churches today to register themselves as charities/non-profit organisations is because of MONEY. By centralising ministerial activities from a church building this of course necessitates fundraising activities both to sustain the officiating priests/pastors and to maintain the building. There are therefore certain financial advantages for having such a venture registered as a non-profit organisation. In the UK for instance, if charities raise more than £5,000 per annum they are legally required to register as a charity with the Charity Commission (the body which oversees charities). It is evident however that most churches that meet in a rented building or own their own building cannot sustain themselves on a paltry £5,000p.a. because this will not meet the operational costs which includes the salary of the pastor and the maintenance costs. Most churches therefore would need to raise far in excess of £5,000 in order to meet these costs so therefore the way to go about it without falling foul of the law is to register as a charity. The benefit of registering as a non-profit making organisation is that the church would therefore not be subject to income or corporation taxes. Another motive is that when donations are made by the church members/attendees they may give under the Gift Aid scheme. This means that the church can claim back 28p in the £1.00, for every £1.00 of donation given, from the Tax Office (HMRC) which helps to swell the funds of the church. Money is therefore the main reason why churches come under the regulatory framework of governmental bodies.

 I do not believe that the current status quo is what Christ intended for His church though! In my view however, the church is the body of Christ and as such is (should be) regulated by Jesus Christ and He alone since He is the only Head. The church in essence is the Kingdom of God – a spiritual Kingdom – and therefore is not of this world (John 18:36).  As such the Kingdom of God is not (should not be) subject to temporal authority. In God’s Kingdom Christ is King and His commandments are the laws, which govern the operations of His Kingdom – laws not written on tablets of stones but upon the hearts of every believer (2 Cor 3:3). We are in this position today though because of the love of money and also because we have left the true path to follow the heretical path instituted by the Roman church under Constantine.

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Comments»

1. Don McAllister - October 6, 2010

Hello Henry,

“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the Ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and the worker derserves his wages.” (1Tim.5:17-18)

The mention of “double honor” means “double giving.” and I would say that a pastor or the overseer within the church is at least teaching the people.

“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” (Gal.6:6)

There are other verses that speak in regards to sharing monitarily with those who share spiritual truths, but I thought I would list just a couple.

2. glasseyedave - October 7, 2010

Don,

I think you are missing what Henry is saying. He was not advocating not paying these individuals. He only mentioned that at first they were not paid. I would like to know if you agree with the main point of his post. That is, the church model today is not what we see in scripture.

I contend very strongly that it is not and this is one reason the church today does not have the power to move in the Spiritual gifts, such as healings, let alone the power to keep either England nor the US from going pagan. I believe we are loosing ground because we the church left Christ our head a long time ago. Do you agree with this?

glasseyedave

3. Henry - October 7, 2010

Hello Don,

Your response would have been more appropriate under the topic “Should Pastors be Salaried”. Nevertheless thank you for your contribution and I will attempt to address what you have said. I recently wrote another post titled “The First Pastor: The Good Shepherd” and the purpose of that post was to remind the church that Christ was indeed the very first Pastor and He remains as the chief of pastors. So therefore if we need questions answered concerning ministrations in the church we should look first to His example. Did Christ draw a salary for His pastoral work? I can hear some people saying, “Oh but that was different” but I contend that it is not different at all. Christ fulfilled the role God had sent Him to do and so too pastors fulfill the work that Christ called them to do. So a pastor works not for man but for God and therefore should not seek an earthly reward but an Heavenly reward.

It is interesting therefore that you should cite 1 Tim 5:17-18 to justify the salaried pastor but in truth the verse was not talking about a double salary (or double giving) to the pastor. There are two themes in the passage that Paul was addressing and these were to do with giving honor to those it was due and rebuking those that needed to be rebuke (honor and rebuke). If we look at verse 3 it says:

3Honour widows that are widows indeed.

Am I to believe that Paul was saying we should pay a salary to widows because they were widows? Of course this is ridiculous so why should we substitute the word “honour” in verse 17 to mean financial payment? The verse was simply saying that the elders who ministered in preaching and teaching should be doubly honoured because they are elders and because of the work they do. In any event Paul would be contradicting what he said to Timothy with what he said in 2 Cor 12:14:

See, I am now for the third time prepared to visit you, but I will not be a dead weight to you. I desire not your money, but yourselves; for children ought not to put by for their parents, but parents for their children.
Here, Paul being an elder is saying clearly to the church that he do not desire their money because he does not want to be a burden – but moreover he is using the analogy that it is not children who should lay up for parents but vice versa.

Going back to Christ’s example, whilst He did not draw a salary He did have His needs met from the women who ministered to Him (see Luke 8:3). This is the same support that was available to the elders of the church including the pastor – not a salary. Moreover the church has a responsibility to meet the needs of everyone and not just the elders.


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