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Church Cases on Unincorporation
Barnes v. Falmouth- This 1810 Massachusetts case provides us the perfect understanding of incorporation versus unincorporation. This was the Grand-daddy of them all. Justice Noonan in 1988 stated that the "Baptists of Barnes' day believed incorporation was unChristian surrender to the State."
Adams v. Howe- This 1811 case is the follow-up to Barnes v. Falmouth. Adams was a member of the unincorporated Baptist church in Barre, Mass. They came and took his cow to pay for his taxes to the Congregational minister. This is the result.
Terrett v. Taylor- If this case were followed through, it would have provided for no incorporation to churches anywhere. Fortunately, it did decide for Virginia to not allow church incorporation for 200 years.
Hundley v. Collins- 1901 Alabama case which dealt with an unincorporated church being able to hold property or not. Unincorporated churches are treated differently from Incorporated churches.
Matthews v. Adams-1988 Florida case states that courts do not rule in church cases, but only the corporation which the court has jurisdiction over.
Murphy v. Traylor-1974 Alabama case quotes the Hundley v. Collins case above which states churches can operate independently of any corporate existance, and "many do exist, and are never incorporated."
Gipson v. Munson - This 1988 case provides insight into the court's belief concerning what incorporation does to a church. Read the Dissenting opinion and realize the Justice is screaming at the Elders.
ELC's Wisconsin Appeal's Opinion- The decision in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in 1991 was that a New Testament Church is not, nor can it ever be, a corporation. It differentiated between a corporation and a church.
Ogden Church of Christ v. Gospel Temple Church of Christ - A 1974 case in Denver that showed people of a church just cannot decide to form another corporation without notifying all the members. This was used in the case of three men who tried to form a church corporation for an unincorporated church without church approval.
Hollins v. Edmonds - This Kentucky case in 1981 concerned a church that was not incorporated for over a hundred years, and then they incorporated. Seven years after incorporating some of the members brought this action in court to force the church to have a business meeting. This is the famous "realm of Caesar" quote toward the end of the opinion.

Two Law Review Articles on Church Incorporation
San Diego Law Review, Winter 2000- Liam O'Melinn does a good job with an overall understanding of church incorporation in the history of early America. 56 pages (but 24 are footnotes).
Cumberland Law Review, 2002-2003
- Mathew Staver changes the entire view of incorporation so that Jerry Falwell can incorporate in Virginia. This article just makes me sick to my stomach. But we put it here so that all can know that Staver is not a friend of Lordship Churches, but merely a hireling. 52 pages (22 are footnotes).

Other Significant Cases and Opinions
House of Worship Restoration Act- This act was to enable pastors to speak on political issues in church.
House of Worship Report- This Congressional Research report shows how the Act is going to work. If you notice nothing else, please read footnote 9.
1989 Tax Ruling for Unincorporated Churches- This Indiana Attorney General Opinion gave free reign for property tax assessment to Unincorporated Churches.
Church at Pierce Creek Opinion - This Court opinion was in 1995 when this Corporation took out the anti-Clinton add. The IRS revoked their 501(c)(3).
Pierce Creek Article - This article was written by Mathew Staver concerning the above opinion. It is not a bad assessment of the case.
IRS Church Definition- This is a non-published opinion by the IRS concerning the 14 criteria that they view a church being a legitimate church in their eyes.
IRC 508(1)(a)- This is the mandatory exemption for churches that do not file for 501(c)(3). But if you will notice the heading, this is not an out for churches.

Some Excellent Articles and Messages concerning early American Christian Thought

Disestablishment- A message by Charles Spurgeon, addressed to the London City Missionaries in 1861. Holds some of our same arguments against Incorporation.


After Disestablishment: Thomas Jefferson's Wall of Separation in Antebellum Virginia - by Thomas E. Buckley, from the Journal of Southern History, August 1995.


Madison: On the Separation of Church and State - by Irving Brant, from the William and Mary Quarterly, January, 1951.


The Political Theory of the Disruption - by Harold J. Laski, from The American Political Science Review, August 1916.

Isaac Backus Plea Before the Massachusetts Legislature (1774) - Backus explains that Baptist's objection to taxation from Massachusetts is exactly like Massachusetts' objection to taxation by England.




Note: The Indianapolis Baptist Temple cases and documents have been moved to its own page here.






The Declaration of Trust will effect your church badly! - Dr. Townsend pleads with the Baptist pastors to stop using that document that places the church assets in a Trust and makes the pastor a Trustee.



Historical Section

Early America Warren Baptist Association Resolutions About Incorporation

Minutes 1791 - Read on Page 10 of the minutes of this year's annual meeting. A church asks if incorporating a Baptist church is alright. This was voted on by the pastors, and recommended that the churches of the association... well, read it yourself so that you cannot accuse me of bias. They gave the reason for their stance also.


Minutes 1794 - One of the Baptist churches (Haverhill) applied for Incorporation so that Pastor Hezekiah Smith could sue the church for his salary. Once again, the association handled the matter on page 7, section 14. In this meeting was Pastor Stephen Gano, John Gano's brother, and Elder John Leland. The vote was "unanimous."


Minutes 1795 - On pages 6 and 7, the final decision of the Warren Baptist Association on the matter of incorporation of Baptist churches. These, and the above Minutes, were read in all the other associations' meetings in the next year. Therefore, we can conclude that the Warren Baptist Association sentiments were understood and agreed by the great majority of Baptists in the 1700's and 1800's.


Letter to Baptist Church of Haverhill - This 20 page letter, actually six letters in all, was written after hearing of the incorporation of the church at the Warren Baptist Association meeting in 1791. J. M. Williams is known to have written and published several apologetics books in this time period. He is very pointed and blunt as to his Biblical beliefs concerning this Baptist church having incorporated. His letter is consistent in early America with the Baptist pastors' stance on incorporation. (Note: this may take a few minutes to open, but it is worth the wait.)


NEW - Minutes of the Shaftsbury Association 1803 (New York) - On the question of Chuches Incorporating. On page ten a church asked this question. The Pastors decided in the negative: "We view it derogatory to the dignity of Zion's King, and undervaluing his ample code of laws, for Christian Churches to apply to civil authority, to be incorporated as bodies politic, for the purposes of regulating their ecclesiastical concerns..."




Madison's Response to Incorporation


Veto Response to Congress - President Madison responds to the Bill to Incorporate the Protestant Episcopal Church in Alexandria. Including the response for the relief of the Baptist church in the Mississippi territory also.
Newspaper Report of the Veto - This is an early American newspaper, as it appeared in February, 1811. This is a BMP picture file and will open with a photo program.
House Response to Madison - This is what the discussion in Congress was after reading the above document.
Read the original Bills.
(NOTE: These are JPeg Picture files of the actual Bills from the Library of Congress.)
H.R. Bill 12- To Incorporate Protestant Episcopal Church in Alexandria:
H.R. Bill 27- Bring Relief to the Baptist Church at Salem Meeting House in the Mississippi Territory
Boston Chronicle article- This is an article from the Independent (Boston) Chronicle of March, 1811, which responds to President Madison's Veto of the Church of Alexandria's Incorporation. This was written by "A Berean." The pseudonym "A Berean" was thought to have been Isaac Backus, Baptist pastor and Baptist Historian. (Note: This is a BMP picture file. You can read it if you increase the view to 100%.) This is an actual picture of the original article as it was printed in 1








Michigan Compiled Laws that provide for a Church Covenant Wedding.

MCL 551, Section 2: "So far as the validity in law is concerned, marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman, to which the consent of the parties capble in law of contracting is essential. Consent alone is not enough to effectuate a legal marriage on and after January 1, 1957. Consent shall be followed by obtaining a license as required by section 1 of Act No. 128 of the Public Acts of 1887, being section 551.101 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, OR as provided for by section 1 of Act No. 180 of the Public Acts of 1897, being section 551.201 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, and solemnization as authorized by sections 7 to 18 of this chapter."


MCL 551, Section 17: The preceding provisions of this chapter, so far as they relate to the manner of solemnizing marriages, shall not affect marriages among the people called Friends or Quakers; nor marriages among people of any other particular denomination, having, as such, any peculiar mode of solemnizing marriages; but such marriages may be solemnized in the manner heretofore used and practiced in their respective societies or denominations."


MCL 551, Section 18 provides that "original certificates and records of marriage made by the person solemnizing the marriage as prescribed in this chapter" is to be "received in all courts and places, as presumptive evidence of the fact of the marriage."


The entire pertinent section of MCL 551 is HERE