Do you go to a “real” church?
A small news item blipped on my radar this week about a federal court ruling that a religious nonprofit organization that primarily conducts worship services via the Internet and radio does not meet the Internal Revenue Service definition of a church (that has 14 criteria), according to a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling reported on by The National Law Journal.
Those criteria include that it has a recognized creed and form of worship; a formal code of doctrine and discipline; a membership not associated with any other church or denomination; ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies; and holds regular religious services.
The organization in question with this ruling is The Foundation of Human Understanding – The Federal Circuit panel deemed the associational test the most important. It agreed with the lower court that the foundation’s “electronic ministry” did not satisfy the test.
As the pastor serving an online congregation that does likely meet the “associational test” I was at first taken aback at a the line of demarcation from our feds. Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t need Rome to validate our little gathering of disciples. Call me old school, but the notion of federal criteria for declaring a fellowship church or not church seems a little hinky to me.
Take a look and see what you think – does your church meet these? How about my emergent sisters and brothers? And what social movements or celebrity fan clubs can you think of that might meet these criteria?
According to the IRS there are 14 criteria that determine whether or not a group is a church:
*Distinct legal existence
*Recognized creed and form of worship
*Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
*Formal code of doctrine and discipline
*Distinct religious history
*Membership not associated with any other church or denomination
*Organization of ordained ministers
*Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study
*Literature of its own
*Established places of worship
*Regular religious services
*Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young
*Schools for the preparation of its members
The IRS generally uses a combination of these characteristics, together with other facts and circumstances, to determine whether an organization is considered a church for federal tax purposes.
Just thinkin’ out loud and would love to hear your thoughts. What criteria would you make for whether not a bevy of believers were actually a church?
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