Should churches be tax-exempt?

One of the foundational lessons the United States’ founders drew from European history was that secular government and the sacred church do not mix well. While the shapes of government and the Christian church are vastly different than they were hundreds of years ago, the principle of separation of church and state remains in the U.S. and many other countries.

In the U.S., one of the primary ways in which this separation is manifested is economic: churches can claim tax-exempt organization status, but in turn, those churches agree to refrain from direct involvement in political campaigns. Here’s a brief explanation of the rules by which tax-exempt organizations must abide.

Since it’s tax day, it seems like an appropriate time to ask: does this tax arrangement make sense today? Here are a few different angles from which to approach this question:

  • Do you think that submission to government taxes puts a church too much under the control of government? Or is that an outdated idea?
  • Is the no-politics rule for tax-exempt churches fair (to both the church and the government)? Can you think of any alternative rules that work better?
  • Have you ever been part of a church that decided to forgo tax-exempt status in order to get involved in politics? Was that a good idea?
  • Share your thoughts!

    6 Responses to “Should churches be tax-exempt?”

    • I believe that churches should not be tax exempt. There is unfortunately, a great separation between church and state, particularly today. There was and still remains an uneasy state between the two ideals. There almost seems to be a deal struck between church and government that places a “gag” on the voice of the church. However, the church accepted the deal, and prostituted itself in exchange for monetary gain in the form of tax relief. Over and over again the bible and history chronicles the accounts of those who stood against government policies, atrocities, and by that, in many cases, have changed the course of history. The church, as designed and ordained by God, needs to train the people of the world in the ways of God. First we as christians, we need to love God with every bit of our being. Second, we need to love one another unconditionally (without any conditions). Third, we need to tell all people about Jesus Christ, and demonstrate the other two points in the way we live. Everything else will fall into place … including government. Amen

    • Edgar B. Land says:

      I belive it’s the people in the church not the church that votes. We all must do all we can to bring christain values into goverment. Each person not the church. It’s just plain lazyness to let anyone even the church to vote for us in anyway.

    • Michael F. Miller says:

      Actually, this article’s statement that churches “must refrain from direct involvement in political campaigns” is misleading. Tax exempt organizations cannot directly support a particular candidate running for office, but can be involved in speaking out on the political issues of our day, supporting legislation and voter initiatives. For instance, Christian churches should be speaking up for the voiceless and condemning abortion. With this you can identify the position of all the candidates on abortion without encouraging support for any particular pro-life candidate.

      Our pastors and elders, fearful that the state may revoke the organizations tax exempt status or blithly ignorant of our world and Biblical truth, seem to avoid even speaking out against the evils of our day, many of which are perpetuated by the state. This is an abomonation; we need leaders with a solid Biblical understanding of the proper roles and jurisdictions of the state, the church, businesses, the family, and individuals. We need leaders that will speak God’s truth without compromise.

    • Beverly Johnson says:


      I think churches should pay taxes and is why. 1. In the scripture it says give César what Cesar is due. 2. Many churches do no function as churches; they are more like big business. 3. They are not serving the community where they are located. I think there are too many homeless and hungry people around and this I think is a sign churches aren’t doing enough.

    • These things are clear in the tax exempt issue:

      1. Most nations do not give tax exemptions unless the organization registers with the government as a not-for-profit organization.

      2. When you register with the government for special treatment regarding taxes, you forfeit your constitutional rights and become an instrumentality of the government. I said that in legal language on purpose, for IT IS A FACT. This is true whether it is the Gay Liberation Task Force of the First Baptist Church.

      3. If you go to Caesar and get a tax break for your members’ donations, you MUST obey Caesar’s rules. This includes any rules about what you preach and teach. It is Caesar’s game you are playing, and you gave him the right to virtually run your church, sack your board of directors, and dissolve your organization and give it to the entity in your dissolution clause, WHICH YOU MUST HAVE TO BE A NON-PROFIT. This HAS been done several times, and it holds up in court.

      4. If you give tax exempt receipts, you have no idea if your members give to the church out of Christian obedience or just to get a tax break. Also, Caesar is, de facto, helping you take the offering each Sunday.

      5. A local church, by ancient law definition, is a lawful entity as it stands. There is NO reason to register a local church with the government. Thus, in the USA anyway, you do NOT have to render to Caesar what is God’s.

      6. If you are not a registered church with the IRS, you can preach anything you wish to preach from your pulpit since you are a private entity. And, you can discriminate as to who enters your local church and who participates, which is NOT the case if you are registered as a non-profit corporation.

      I pastored a local church in Michigan which was a non-profit corporation. We unregistered the church by having the trustees quit claim the physical church over to a new entity called a church. We dropped all contact with the IRS, and we did not give out tax receipts, though there is a tax code allowing this by an unregistered church. We felt that to give tax receipts was to still ask Caesar for a favor which could be used against us later.

      Our giving went up. Read that again please.

      We did only one official thing. We registered our local church name with the Country Clerk so that no one would take our name and so that if the IRS challenged us, we could show that we had done things lawfully. What we registered was the quit claim document. This was also a precaution in case the original got lost. We opened a non interest bearing checking account, so the bank did not have to send a report to the IRS as to our transactions.

      For the record, a lawful church does not have to report anything to the US Government in the USA.

      Here is an article on my online journal on the issue:

      One other issue: Because of the US tax exempt laws, large denominations get exemption for the profits they make in businesses owned by the denomination. This is wicked. The Lord’s Church was NOT in business under the Apostolic model in the New Testament. I feel that, if Caesar wants to restrict tax exemption to only the cash flow to keep the church house and parsonage of a local church function, that would be very much in order. Jimmy Carter tried to do this, and he was slammed. I felt he was 100% right to try to do this.

      The problem is, then the Government is making decisions about what is and what is not religious activity, and that technically violates the First Amendment. Do you see what a can of worms this is?

      The whole things comes back to the perverted mind set of Christians worldwide– they think the church is brick and mortar, organization, hierarchy. It is the believers in Jesus Christ themselves. The early church has NO record of owning real estate or constructing buildings to meet in.

      The first distinct church building on record was about 40 years after John died. The Ephesians build a church building, and the unconverted of Ephesus were impressed and started attending. This resulted in the prediction of Christ in The Revelation to John that they had lost their first love. The Ephesian church died shortly after that.

      Final shot: You people building mega churches with tax exemption giving are a farce. Your monster is a freak when compared with the local churches Paul started, and you are OWNED by Caesar. One day soon, you will be given a list of topics you cannot preach on, and YOU WILL OBEY CAESAR OR BE TRASHED. Some of you have already stopped preaching about certain issues of sin and righteousness because you know the axe could fall if you do.

      We have all watched as Rich Warren has beat a pathetic pedantic path round and round the issue of sodomy. This is what I am talking about. He is obviously feeling the pressure to keep his pulpit friendly to Caesar and public policy.