“Obtaining 501(c)(3) approval means my church will be a ‘state controlled church’; therefore, the government can tell me what to preach.”
When you do an Internet search on whether or not a church should obtain 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, it is not difficult to find opinions that speak against it. Some claim that when a church incorporates and obtains 501(c)(3) status then that makes the church an organization under the control of the state. This sentiment is simply unfounded.
These voices fail to distinguish the difference between the Body of Christ (members of the Church) and the corporation (a completely separate entity from the members). The claim that incorporation or 501(c)(3) status makes a church “non-biblical by bringing the church under the authority of the government” has no theological validity because their premise for defining the church of Christ is off.
As members of the Body of Christ, we are to live in peace with, and subject to, the authorities that God has established (Romans 13; 1Tim. 2:1-3; 1Peter 2:13-17). We find that there is nothing in section 501(c)(3) that would make us violate any of God’s laws. It does not require us to water down the gospel or keep us from preaching it. It simply raises the level of accountability, which is necessary to combat the growing problem of improper use of tax-exempt status using the church model.
In fact, it is for this reason that Congress passed section 7611, which now states that unincorporated churches shall be treated as incorporated for tax purposes. Although many who claim that receiving 501(c)(3) status is unfounded in Scripture are sincere, their claims are based on old lines of legal thought without any consideration for the current trends that are established through case law, which affect our legal system and the way the IRS enforces the law.