For a while now, I’ve watched the controversy between brethren who support maintaining 505(c)-3 status for churches and church support organizations, and those brethren who don’t. As usual, I can see both sides of the issue.
In favor of church non-profit tax status is the legal accountability it creates—enough red tape to dissuade most ministers from doing something completely stupid or immoral. Another “Pro” argument is those little slips they get to send out at tax time, proclaiming to the IRS, and the itemizing taxpayer, how well they did their religious duty of tithing. And third … uh … I can’t think of another supporting argument.
Those against non-profit tax status for churches stress the local church’s uncompromising autonomy; the church answers only to God, and it’s no one else’s business what the body gives to support the church, or how much the church receives in support. That argument actually has some Scriptural support. The context for Matthew 6:1-4 does not apply to tithing, but I believe the same principle applies.
The second, and I believe the most revealing, reason for the church not to maintain 501(c)- status is the effect it has on the givers’ motivation. Would they tithe if they didn’t receive that all-important tax deduction? Church pastors and administrators are scared silly that they wouldn’t. Is that fear based on their lack of confidence in their petitioners, or their lack of faith in God? I happen to believe God will prosper those who remain faithful to Christ’s commandments.
And third, preachers who have the non-profit fear factor fixed in the backs of their minds can’t preach what God’s Holy Spirit speaks to them, without dancing carefully around politically incorrect issues. In this age of the government’s exponential escalation of interference with anyone who disagrees with their ideologies, the pulpit’s freedom is more important than at any time since the American Revolution.
Will the church stand for its freedom to proclaim what we believe? For God’s truth? Or will we allow the State’s bureaucrats to tell us what we can and can’t proclaim? At this pivotal time in history, we can’t afford to abdicate our responsibility to stand for the truth, as we’ve done so often before.