Make a Church, Avoid Tax Dollars

Churches Run the Gamut from Cathedrals to Living Rooms -- Photo Illustration by VP

Churches Run the Gamut from Cathedrals to Living Rooms -- Photo Illustration by VP

Last weekend, my family attended church at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church near Laurie, Mo., at the Lake of the Ozarks. A visiting priest stirred up quite a bit of controversy with his sermon, leading to a woman confronting him after mass and declaring that he had just given the worst sermon she had ever heard.

What was the cause of all this controversy? The priest had dared to say that the Catholic Church was the original, and therefore, true path to God. While I may not entirely concur with the priest’s assessment, his choice of setting (a Catholic church) was good and his historical facts indisputable.

The Catholic Church is the original Christian church. It was founded when Jesus said to Peter, “I for my part declare to you, you are ‘Rock,’ and on this rock I will build my church, and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it” (1). Peter became the first Pope of the Catholic church, with the apostles assuming roles which were the precursors of the bishops of today.

The priest’s point that so angered the congregant that day was that if you do not walk the Catholic path, then you are going the wrong way. She said that because St. Patrick’s is filled with visitors in the summer, including many non-Catholics, all he just did was ensure that many of them would never return. He said all he did was speak the truth and if they did not wish to return, that was their decision. This, of course, only served to infuriate her more.

While I do not completely agree with the priest’s belief that the Catholic way is the ONLY way to God, I applaud the fact that he stood his ground. He said we all most defend the Church, a statement with which I most definitely concur.

I think there are many paths to God, but I must acknowledge that the priest did present many valid points in his sermon that day, some of which came as quite a surprise to me. After giving an account of the history of the early Catholic Church, the priest discussed the Protestant Reformation, which led to the formation of many of the Protestant denominations still in existence today.

He said the Catholic Church’s wounds grow a little more every day as more Christian denominations are created, leading to a further dilution of the original message of Jesus. What was started by Martin Luther in 1517 has now grown into more than 39,000 different Christian sects throughout the world.

That’s the number that got my attention — 39,000. I had no clue there were so many different Christian denominations. Therein, lies the problem, said the priest. Just about anyone can start preaching in their basement to three or four friends and call it a church. Many people do this just to avoid paying taxes, since churches are tax exempt.

Based on my research, it would be relatively easy for me to set up my own church. There are even web sites out there intending to help you do just that (of course you have to pay a hefty fee to purchase their “Step-by-Step Guide” to setting up your own church) (2). Once a religious organization qualifies as a “church,” it is automatically exempted from taxes by the Internal Revenue Service.

While the IRS does have guidelines for when a religious organization can be deemed a “church,” and thus be declared tax exempt, “it is not a requirement that a church meet all the criteria. Instead, the IRS offers some flexibility, giving various religious institutions the opportunity to qualify for the highly coveted tax exempt status,” according to (3).

Who knew it was so easy? Who knew I could just purchase a do-it-yourself-kit and create my own church? Who knew it was just like a giant color-by-numbers’ deal?

No wonder the priest said what he did in his sermon. No wonder. When the talk is more about avoiding taxes, paying for do-it-yourself kits and creating a business that looks easy to some people, and less about Christ and his teaching, there definitely is a problem and the Church is facing a crisis — a crisis of the death-by-a-thousand-cuts variety, or in this case, 39,000 cuts.

Thanks for checking out my article. Feel free to leave any of your comments below. Take care and God Bless You.

(1) The New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition, Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York: 1970.




12 responses to “Make a Church, Avoid Tax Dollars

  1. there are many things that could be said on this subject. As far as the Catholic Church goes, the only thing I will say is this: Peter was not a Pope. When Jesus made the statement about the rock, he was refering to Peter’s answer to his question “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Matt 16:16 Now that is a rock on which you can build a church. A revelation, not of a man, Peter, or his supposed predecessors, the Popes, but on the Son of God himself, who came to the earth to spread the truth of the Kindom of Heaven. Which did not lie in adherance to works or deeds but in faith in Christ and the Power of the Holy Ghost.

    When you read the new testament books you also find out that Christ did not set up one man as the head of his church but a group of 12 men whom he personally trained and taught. Even Peter himself called himself an Apostle in his letters. Giving himself the same status as Paul and John who’s letters are also preserved for us in Holy Scripture.

    The first christian churches were in houses and were overseen by elders not by priests.

    The end result is this… Jesus came preaching a new idea. LOVE. Love for God and Love for your brother. The kind of love that is self sacrificing. The kind of love that will cause a man to lay down his life for the benefit of his friends. The same benefit that we now share through faith. That was his commandment. He said “if you love Me, you will keep my commandments.”

    God is just. That means he will always do the right thing. So, whether you are Catholic or prodestant, God sees the heart of man. He will make the right decision for every man. The question is, “Do you love him?” If so you will keep his commanments. LOVE. That is the sign of the true church. God bless.

    Your Brother in Love,
    Scott Hunt

    • Vantage Point Productions


      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I believe if we love as Christ did, if we live as He did, we will all do all right.


  2. First, let me note that I have no use for people who found churches to get tax exemptions. While I can understand the lure, it’s reprehensible. Then again, IMO, so is much of the federal tax code, but I’ll save picking on our lawmakers for another time.

    Next, working backward, I’d like a little more information on just where the numbers come from. If he’s counting everyone who founded a church to avoid taxes, that’s hardly fair in terms of his main thesis. Given the Protestant propensity to split hairs, I can easily believe a few hundred, maybe a thousand or so actual denominations. Then there are the “independent” congregations– does he count each of them as a denomination, or lump them all together? Is he including cults? If so, where does he draw the line between merely misguided denomination, cult, and outright heathens? Or does he?

    Next (or previous, since we are still working backward) the Catholic version of history is slightly at odds with that of the Protestants. Luther had no intention of breaking away from the Church. He wanted reform. Whether the problems were real or perceived, at the time the Catholic Church brooked no argument; they excommunicated Luther; then the emperor (joined at the hip with the Pope) outlawed him. Whether his subsequent actions were for the best or not, I hold the Pope at least equally culpable for the outcome. In the Book of Acts, the Apostles were willing to get in each others’ faces (including Peter’s) for it. Nobody got excommunicated or outlawed over it.

    As to whether the Catholic Church is *the* Church, I will simply note that the Orthodox have (IMO) at least as good a claim to the title. Having considered at various times the claims of each of these two, and whether I should support and join one of them, I have, in working out my own salvation (Phil 2/12) determined that God has not called me to either of these. This says nothing about either or the merits of their cases, other than their contention that I may only attain full fellowship within their boundaries.

    With all that out of the way I would like to explore the concept of the Church divided.

    In your words, “He said the Catholic Church’s wounds grow a little more every day as more Christian denominations are created, leading to a further dilution of the original message of Jesus.”

    I can certainly see where the Catholic Church’s wounds might grow as actual denominations (as opposed to tax shelters) spring up. But do the wounds of the Church at large grow from this? Probably, but I don’t believe it’s as nearly terminal as this priest suggests. Part of that ties in with the concept of the dilution of the message of Jesus.

    One thing Jesus verbally clobbered the Pharisees for was adding their own commandments to the list. Luther and others objected to similar problems with the religious leaders of their day. It continues today in many Protestant denominations, as hairs, congregations and families are split over everything from baptismal validity to carpet color to whether girls in two piece bathing suits have to wear tee shirts at “church” functions (or in some cases, anywhere).

    What did the Bible say? [0]

    [ ] By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have doctrinal perfection.”
    [ ] By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have a direct Papal lineage from Peter.”
    [ ] By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye canst not see one square inch of thy sister’s skin between the hair upon her head and the hair upon the soles of her feet.”
    [ ] By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

    The correct answer, of course, is the last one. It’s in John 13:35, often in red letters. I understand the need for doctrinal purity (and unity). I do not expect us to attain it in this life. Some will disagree, and that’s OK. It proves my point. 8^) I understand how awesome it is to have a Papal lineage clear back to the Lord through someone such as Peter, and even how helpful this can be. It may even qualify as a Spiritual Principle, with additional chapters in the book of Numbers once we cross the Great Divide; I don’t know. What I do know is that without love for one another, we fail the test.

    As you can probably guess, I am far more concerned with fellowship than doctrine, relationship than rules. Yes, I understand the importance of rules and doctrine. A healthy relationship requires boundaries, even one between Creator and created. The fence (real or imagined) around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the prototypical example of this. Yet in the end, had the relationship been full, the boundary would not have been broken, and the relationship would not have gotten better rather than worse. [2]

    It’s a tough question. The Old Testament shows us a great deal about God’s zeal for holiness. The New Testament shows us a great deal about God’s zeal for the Church as the Bride of Christ. [3] Same God, and God reminds us over and over that He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So doctrinal purity does matter, but so does pure relationship. When confronted with the problem of adding Gentiles to the Church, the apostles did not add to the list of laws, they stripped away all but a few (Acts 15:20).

    In short, while I applaud this priest’s zeal for the Lord’s house, I disagree with his premise at some level, and very much with his conclusion.

    Possibly tangentially, there is a great deal about the New Testament Church that I do not see in either the Catholic or Orthodox systems (or, for that matter, in the Protestant lineages). The NT believers did meet in the synagogues, but they also met from house to house, and a variety of of Jesus’ teachings were rather squashed over the years by the Church leadership(s), including the later Protestants. These include pretty much all the signs that were to follow the believers, and of which the Book of Acts is full, and to which the later NT letters at least allude.

    [0] I have used the King James version because (a) it’s nearly ubiquitous, (b) some denominations recognize nothing else and (c) it’s what Jesus spoke. [1]
    [1] I have occasionally run into someone who believed this, BTW.
    [2] See C. S. Lewis’s _Perelandra_ for an excellent description of how this might work.
    [3] Too often we come off as the Bride of Frankenstein.

    • Vantage Point Productions


      This is such a great example of why I wanted your voice, your opinion on here. Thank you so much for taking the time. I was intrigued by what you had to say.

      The priest did talk about 39,000 different Christian denominations. I think this includes any religious organization claiming to be Christian, whether cult or not. I do not know his source, but if you Google the query, “How many Christian denominations are there,” you come up with many sites quoting numbers right around his.

      Thanks, Miles. What you wrote was truly fantastic!


  3. Cynthia Bender

    I think the priest had a right to say whatever he wanted in the Catholic Church. If that woman was offended, she should choose another church. I am not Catholic, but when I visit a Catholic Church, I am not offended to hear beliefs different from my own (I’m a Presbyterian).
    Historically, John, you are right on. The Catholic Church was the original Christian Church until Martin Luther came along. Surprisingly, many people don’t know this, and think that if one is Catholic, one is not a Christian. I certainly don’t know how they ever got that idea, but there it is.

    • Vantage Point Productions


      First off, I just want to say thanks for reading and commenting. It is great to hear from you and I hope all is well in your life.

      Next, I do think it is odd that people somehow equate Catholicism as something other than Christian. It is too weird since Catholics were the first Christians. Every denomination today can trace its lineage back to Catholicism.

      Thank you and have a great day, Cynthia!


  4. walter harrison

    I do not agree with the priest assessment that only through the church or even one particular church is the way to god. My schedule does not allow for me to go to church every sunday, but I do not believe that lessens my belief, and even if I went to church in a non-catholic church does that mean I am not on the right path, and therefore to be cast into eternal damnation. There are many parts of the bible that have yet to be explained. Such as if the jewish people are god’s chosen people, then does that make god a racist?? after all according to the bible we all god’s children. Throughout history religion has been used as an excuse for personal gain. There were thirteen crusades to prove it.

    • Vantage Point Productions


      I know what you are saying. I was somewhat shocked by what the priest was saying that day, as he basically said if you were not following the Catholic way then you were going the wrong direction. Why would God limit the road to him to one highway? That would only lead to a traffic jam!

      I do think, however, that Jesus never intended for there to be 39,000 Christian denominations. He said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. He sought unity, not discord.

      My complaint is not with denominations that seek to spread the teachings of Christ. If a church is bringing people closer to Jesus, more power to it. My complaint is about those “churches” out of the 39,000 that are not focused on that. I just imagine there are many that do not maintain that as the focus.

      And, as you say Walter, some people have a personal relationship to God and do not work through organized religion at all. If they strive to live as Christians to others, who am I to complain?

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Walter. Have a great day.


  5. hmmm….very interesting entry. This has several “goodies” on which to comment. Let me just say I agree with the priest. If it is true (that is, Jesus was the Christ, came to Earth, died, was resurrected), then the Catholic/Orthodox church(es) are the true churches…all one need to do to understand this is read early Catholic/Christian history. In my view the other churches are like drinking diet cola (which is to say many of them have very good elements about them).

    There definitely are some charlatans out there with “churches” as fronts–a consequence of the great American ideal of of “freedom of religion,” which can take you to wild places 😉

    • Vantage Point Productions


      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. The “drinking diet cola” analogy is an interesting one.

      The constitution does leave a great deal of leeway for “churches” in that its definition is very broad. Do you think there should be more limits placed on what constitutes a church?


  6. Pay your taxes; your soul is not worth the discount.

    As for access to salvation, the priest at the parish you visited this weekend is 100% “on the mark”. However, there are a thousand tangent discussions that are worthy of time and energy. Christ came into time, for the purpose of giving us, and all generations, the tools to come to Him, in other words to build a Church (a Mother) for his Mystical body. Is Christ present in the many ecclesial communities where He is preached (more fervently, I might add)? Without a doubt!!! The 39,000 and growing seperated, ecclesial communities have access to Christ not on their own, but because of their relative proximity to the Church. Consider the quest, the many paths to salvation, as an Archery Range. Christ gave us the Bullseye, His One, Holy, Universal, Apostolic Church with his priesthood and successors of authority in “the chair” of St. Peter. Any other Christian “church” is somewhere else on the target, some closer to the bullseye than others. And all things not Christian are the seemingly unlimited arrow “paths” that never hit the target. A week or so back my 8 yr old son and I were at Bear Camp with his Cub Scout den. His attempts at the Archery Range were to be expected; He landed a few but many whizzed by the target without stopping. His failures and learning to site the bow, and work to control his muscles, and listening to the range masters instructions taught him with each arrows “path” toward the bullseye. The goal is the bullseye, the Archery range is pointless without the bullseye. In practice we, require by our concupiscence many paths, to figure out how to find the bullseye of salvation. But in truth there is but one path from our bow to the bullseye.

    In the end is comes back Christ, and teaching ALL that he came to teach. This is the mark that the Catholic Church is what it has always been; it does not change the truth to fit its modern times, for it does not have the authority to do so. SO it continues to preach . . . Unless you eat my flesh you have no life with in you . . . for my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink . . . and many walked away saying this teaching is too hard to take. (John Chapter 6) The priest at St. Patrick’s is not the first to speak the truth and let people walk away from it; he is only imitating Christ.

    • Vantage Point Productions


      Wow. All I can say is wow, that was well said. You really made it all clearer for me. My only argument would be that many of these 39,000 denominations are not even on the target and some are not even near the range. Some so distort Jesus’ teaching as to become more an obstacle on the path to him than an aid. It is the denominations that lead people the wrong way, or that are not even truly about the quest for Christ but solely for someone’s personal gain that cause me concern.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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