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One of the most prevalent of myths is that vast properties across the land escape taxation because they are church-owned.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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One of the most prevalent of myths is that vast properties across the land escape taxation because they are church-owned. The tales are endlessly repeated as fact: church-owned businesses, farms, and properties which by subterfuge are removed from the tax roles. As one critic of tax exemption for churches said, ominously, a few days ago: “Nobody knows just how extensive this kind of thing is.” The fact is that any and every business activity, whether privately, corporately, or church-owned, is taxed, and the taxmen are eager always to ferret out and tax new sources of revenue. If any such activity is untaxed, we can be sure of this: it is, like Jim Jones’ Peoples’ Church, a tacitly established “church,” receiving state or federal funds, and serving some statist purpose. It is not true of legitimate churches.

There are, of course, vast untaxed lands, as much as 90 percent in at least one western state. These lands are often exploited. In at least one state, one of the country’s most powerful publishers long had, and may still have, very extensive grazing rights therein, while owning very little land himself; he is thus a cattle baron at minimal cost. Small ranchers get no such preferential treatment. These vast untaxed lands are federal and state lands. The myth holds that only such lands as the civil government holds can be protected from exploitation and abuse. The fact is that the much-abused lumber “barons” take far better care of the forests they own than do the federal or state governments; if they did not, they would soon be out of business.

By what right is the state entitled to hold vast properties, and to hold them tax-exempt? The answer to this question is a religious one: we are told, “The state is sovereign,” i.e., the state is lord. Who made the state into a god or lord, and gave it the right to play sovereign over man? According to Scripture, “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1; Exod. 9:29; Job 41:11; Ps. 50:12; 1 Cor. 10:26, etc.). On this fact rests God’s right to govern, to legislate, and to tax. The Sovereign or Lord is the source of government, law, and taxation. The prophecy concerning Christ was that “the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isa. 9:6), and the most common title applied to Jesus in the New Testament is Lord, or Sovereign. The tithe is simply the confession that the Lord is indeed our Lord. The state in Scripture is allowed only the head tax, and no more (Exod. 30:11–16; see Arthur J. Zuckerman: A Jewish Princedom in Feudal France, 768–900, Columbia University Press, 1972, for a later history of this tax). To refuse to tithe is to deny Christ’s lordship, government, and law.

For this reason, the early church refused to pay taxes to Rome or any other power, or to allow any licensure, regulation, or control. The church as Christ’s realm cannot allow any other power to claim the right of legislation, taxation, and government over it. To do so is to deny the Lord.

For this reason too, as the church gained freedom from persecution, it encouraged the accumulation of land and properties for Christ’s Kingdom; this included also the subjugation and development of new areas. The amount of land held by church agencies in the medieval era is commonly and greatly exaggerated; humanistic propaganda colors our picture of these properties and greatly distorts it. The fact is that these properties were governing agencies. Their receipts or production provided for the care of the poor, for health services and hospitals, and for education. All the basic social services were thus cared for.

When Henry VIII seized church properties and gave some of them to his henchmen and used the rest to fatten the crown, one immediate result was a social crisis. There was no longer any agency to care for the basic needs of society. Some years later, Thomas Lever, in his St. Paul’s sermons (1550), dealt with this problem. The rich had become richer, and the poor had become destitute, because of the impropriations of church properties. Here was a strong Puritan attack on impropriations, and a remedy proposed shortly. A great outpouring of funds to set up foundations and charities to revive what Henry VIII had ended soon followed. Quite naturally, the Tudor divine rights were militantly hostile to his revival of “medievalism.” The Puritans, they felt, had to be suppressed. (No accurate history of the Puritans can omit the impropriations issue.)

By 1600, however, both the Reformation, and the Counter-Reformation, had been defeated and controlled by the monarchs of Europe. The monarchs could resume the course of pagan statism, of the various medieval monarchs, and of the Holy Roman Empire, i.e., the assertion of state sovereignty or lordship. With Hegel, the state was plainly defined as god walking on earth. The present and working god of society had become the state; the God of Scripture was exiled to heaven.

The government, said the modern state, is upon our shoulders; sovereignty is the prerogative of the state. The state alone is lord, and hence the taxing, governing, and lawmaking power.

In terms of this lordship, the state said, the earth is the state’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein. Earlier, the papacy had, in Christ’s name, rightly or wrongly, divided the newly discovered continents among the nations. Now the nations claimed the earth for themselves. Previously, it had been church lands that were tax-exempt; now, those lands were steadily limited, and state lands gained the privileges of lordship.

There was a very grave difference, however. Church lands paid no taxes, but they provided a vast variety of social services. The lands were productive, and they were usually productively used. These, together with tithes and offerings, provided a growing and important government for Christ’s people. True, there were abuses, but these were pale compared to current statist abuses. When Henry VIII seized church properties, he justified it by indicting relics, and by charges of immorality leveled against the monks, more than a little of it invented. Not even Henry VIII could deny the validity of their charitable works and ministries.

The states, having seized the church lands, and the whole earth, ostensibly for the general welfare, made no such use of these properties, except as national or state parks. Instead, it turned on the people, to tax them with ever-increasing taxes, to take care of the needs once provided for by the tithe and by church lands. Today, taxation has become expropriation, and the greedy power state, owning most of the earth, hurls charges of special privilege against the meager church properties, almost exclusively limited now to churches and schools.

To add insult to injury, the claim is now openly and loudly made that tax exemption is a subsidy from the state! Nothing could be a more flagrant and blasphemous lie. The conflict with Rome by the early church was over this issue: who is the lord, Christ or Caesar? If Christ is the Lord, He cannot pay taxes to, or be controlled by, Caesar.

The church fought for and gained exemption from taxation as a paroikia, a foreign power, an embassy of the King of kings. Christians are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20; Eph. 6:20). Our English words parish, and parochial, come from paroikia. The church is an embassy whose duty it is to conquer the whole world, and to make all nations, peoples, tribes, tongues, vocations, and areas of life aspects of Christ’s parish. The embassy is under God’s sovereignty, law, and taxation. The early church, as part of its mission, took in the abandoned babies of the pagans. (If a woman could not, in those days, abort her baby successfully, she had it abandoned at birth. In Rome, the babies were abandoned under the bridges, where wild dogs could speedily dispose of them. The Christians collected these abandoned babies, passed them around among church members, and reared them in the faith, as a step in the Christian conquest.) Another aspect of the early church’s mission was the care of the sick, aged, and needy in its own midst, and, as far as possible, among their pagan neighbors. These ministries were resented by Rome, which regarded them rightly as a form of government.

Rome saw the early church as a revolutionary and tax-dodging organization. Tax-dodging is, in the eyes of the state, a most serious offense; money is the lifeblood of the state, and, to threaten the state’s source of taxes is to threaten its life. Everything was done to defame these “tax-dodgers”: they were called cannibals and sacrificers of human beings. (The communion service, the slander held, involved eating the flesh of the babies the Christians rescued, and drinking their blood.) They were accused of the sexual crimes which actually marked the Romans. (The Christians obviously loved one another, and the Romans could not dissociate love from lust, and they hence concluded that sexual rites marked the life of the church.) On and on the defamation went, seeking to discredit the church and its work.

Today we have the same process at work. The churches, we are told, are rich, and the pastors rolling in money. The fact is that, in 1980, the average pay of church pastors in the United States was $10,348 a year. (In 1976, federal authorities called everything below $15,000 poverty.) Fourteen percent of all pastors earned less than $6,000 and had to support themselves through other jobs; only five percent earned more than $15,000. In the same year, truck drivers averaged $18,300, electricians $18,000, lawyers $25,000, and dentists over $40,000. The “rich” clergy is not so rich! (Because many are provident and thrifty, they are mistaken for rich because they make a little go a long way.) But what of the rich television and radio preachers? Penthouse, Playboy, and like publications have been outspoken in their attacks on all this “wealth.” Little is said, however, of the high costs of such communications, and the normally very careful use of all funds received. The abusers are few, and, as compared with misuse of public funds by statist officers and agencies, a comparative rarity.

Charges of financial abuse, however, are commonplace. It is the stock in trade of various statist agencies and their running dogs in the press to accuse any enemy of tax fraud, financial manipulations, and the like. It is a usually successful way of discrediting churchmen, and of drying up their funds. Who wants to give to a cause charged with fraud?

The modern power state is also hostile to critics in its own ranks. When Senators Edward V. Long and Joseph Montoya began investigations of the Internal Revenue Service, the IRS leaked data to the press to imply dishonesty on their part; this was enough to defeat them at the polls (Saturday Review, May 1980, Blake Fleetwood, “The Tax Police, Trampling Citizens’ Rights,” pp. 33–36). Congressman George Hansen had like treatment, but was able to get reelected (George Hansen and Larrey Anderson: To Harass Our People, pp. 27–35). J. A. Schnepper has given us a long chronicle of such tyranny and oppression (J. A. Schnepper: Inside the I.R.S., Stein and Day, 1978). It is not, however, simply the IRS; it is the whole apparatus of the supposedly sovereign state. To claim sovereignty is to claim lordship, divinity, prior and ultimate right and power over all things. Although the U.S. Constitution deliberately avoided all claims to sovereignty, the modern United States claims it, and seeks to exercise it. Sovereignty by the state is assumed by every bureaucrat and agency; it occurs to none of them, however much more some may claim to be Christian, that only God is sovereign. “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me”: thus saith the Lord God to the modern state.

To single out one agency of the federal government as the offender is to miss the point. The offender is the state in the totality of its being.

The issue is coming into focus today because of the federal claims to the power to determine what is or is not properly a part of the church and its ministry (i.e., a Christian school, a ministry to delinquent children, etc.), and its claim to be granting a subsidy with the “grant” of a tax-exempt status. In the first instance, for the state to claim the power to declare what is or is not a church is to claim the right to establish religion. This is a violation of the First Amendment. Prior to World War II, no such power was claimed, and abuses were rare. Is it not time to examine the question as to why the entrance of the state into an area seems to lead to abuses in that area? In the second instance, a tax-exempt status is not a subsidy from the state but a recognition by the state of its limited jurisdiction. Only if we accept the premise that the state is sovereign or lord, god walking on earth, and that the state has total jurisdiction over every area of life and thought, can we call any area of exemption or abstention a subsidy or a grant. In his own day King Canute wisely ridiculed the idea that he had total jurisdiction: he commanded the waves, which paid no attention to him! Canute thereby illustrated the limitations of his power and jurisdiction. The modern states (and NASA) show no such humility.

We must not forget that the word Baal simply means lord, owner. Baal worship was any and every kind of human activity and religion which acknowledged a lord other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The modern state is simply a modern Baal. Molech worship was king worship, Molech, Melek, or Milcolm meaning king. Modern statism is Baalism.

Tax exemption is thus not a gift of the state; it rests on Christ’s sovereignty or lordship. Moreover, the state itself must be no more than what God decrees that it should be, a diaconate or ministry of justice (Rom. 13:4, 6). For the state to claim to be more is to claim to be god.

The tax-dodger allegation is thus a fraud; it rests on a false and blasphemous claim to lordship or sovereignty, and it denies the lordship of Jesus Christ. This is not to deny that tax-dodging is not commonplace: it is. Every man who does not tithe to the only true Lord and God is a tax-dodger and is therefore liable to far more severe penalties than the state can impose (Mal. 3:8–12).

Moreover, such tax-dodgers cannot complain if the Baal-state whom they worship oppresses them. People having rejected God’s tax now pay 40 percent of their income to the state, and they cry vainly for relief, because it is relief rather than the Lord they want (1 Sam. 8:10–18).

The very status granted to the church as a tax-exempt organization is insulting. It is classified, when exempted, as a 501(c)(3) operation. This is a classification for a wide variety of charitable trusts. It can include a humane society, and a pet cemetery, a lodge, or a local charity. The federal government claims increasingly the right to govern all these 501(c)(3) agencies as public trusts which are to be required to conform to public policy and to use all funds, assets, and properties for the general public. The federal and state governments are steadily claiming jurisdiction over all 501(c)(3) organizations; the assumption is that they are creatures of the state, and their lives are totally under the governance of the state.

The claim of Scripture is that all of life is religious. Because God the Lord is maker of heaven and earth and all things therein, all things are under the triune God. All things live, and move, and have their being in Him (Acts 17:28), and, therefore, are under His jurisdiction, His government and law. For this reason, all life is religious. The Kingdom of God cannot be reduced to meat or drink (Rom. 14:17), nor can it be reduced to purely spiritual concerns: it is total in its jurisdiction. Paul could therefore say, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31, emphasis added).

The present attitude of the statist-humanists is that all of life is political and hence under the jurisdiction of the state. Supposedly, it is the state in whom we live, and move, and have our being; certainly, it is the goal of the modern state to bring this to pass. The state seeks to govern our eating and drinking, and to control our families, vocations, and the totality of our lives.

The state holds that it is the focal point of power and intelligence in history, and therefore it must govern all things. The intellectuals, being humanists, agree, and hence they seek to control the state. Groups like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and others have certain common premises. First, they bypass or reject Christianity as the means to the good society; implicitly or explicitly, they are all humanists. Second, they hold to the perfectibility of man by man. Their presuppositions are derived from the Enlightenment and from Rousseau, not from Scripture. Man’s problem is not sin and the Fall, but a failure in problem-solving. Third, a true world order is possible on statist premises. The modern states, working together, can solve all of earth’s problems. This may mean a world state, or it can mean an informal interlocking by means of money and commerce. By uniting the world economically, there can be an implicit political unity. Such a step, however, requires the prior subordination to political goals. Present-day departments of state are thus deeply involved in international politico-economic goals. Foreign loans and politically governed foreign trade become basic tools for this goal of a humanistic and statist world order.

Fourth, the architects of this new order are philosopher-kings and more. To Plato’s dream another element has been added: the banker and the industrialist. The student revolts of the 1960s were in part directed against this interlocking Establishment of the state, the university, the banks, and industry, with Big Labor as sometimes a very minor partner. (Charles Levinson, in his thorough study Vodka Cola, does not deal with the role of labor.) The modern university, state or private, is subsidized by the federal government and is an ally in the state’s claims to and exercise of the prerogatives of sovereignty. Elitism is basic to the new world order dream, in Marxist and non-Marxist versions. There is infighting as to which of these elitists are to take priority, but all four groups tend to agree on elitism. Neither a democracy nor a republic are to their taste: the form is honored, not the substance. Lip service is paid to equality, but elitism prevails.

Fifth, the facade of benevolence is maintained. Human good and human rights are the professed goals. The elite rulers bring together tax funds and large foundation funds for their use; all men thus tithe to them as the new lords of creation, and the Lord’s tithe as an agency of non-statist government is never considered. The reason is obvious. The tithe creates a noncoercive, grassroots government under God; the state tax, with big foundation money, creates a statist rule from the top down.

Yet we are asked to believe that the church represents vast wealth which goes untaxed! The state owns more land than perhaps all the people combined, pays no taxes, grows fat off the people, and it asks us to regard the church as a rich tax evader! As we have seen, the average pay for 1980 for the American clergy was $10,348. The average pay for Christian school teachers was (and is) dramatically lower. All too many Christian school teachers can only survive if the wife teaches school also, and one or both hold summer or night jobs. The burden on these Christian schools and teachers is increased by the cost of litigation, because they are now an especial target of the statist tyrants. (A tyrant, let us remember, in its ancient and original meaning is anyone who rules without God. Whether or not the people like him makes no difference; a tyrant is one who rules without God, and tyranny is godless rule in any area of life. The word tyrant, Greek in origin, means, like Baal, lord or sovereign. A tyrant or a Baal is some human agency or person who claims lordship or sovereignty. In our very use of the word tyrant we witness to God! Apart from Him, all rule is evil.) We live in an age of tyranny, an era in which the modern state declares, I am the lord or sovereign, and the earth is mine, and the fullness thereof.

Theology has been replaced by political doctrines, which are the new theology. The gospel of humanistic statism is seen as man’s hope rather than the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When Moses asked God for His name, he was asking God to define Himself. Names in the Bible classify and define. Adam’s calling to name the animals (Gen. 2:19) was a scientific task: he was asked to understand the animals in terms of God’s order and to classify them. The command and the guidelines came from God, the Creator. Because God is the Creator of all things, He is the only source of all true definition and interpretation. Since God is the Creator and definer, He Himself is beyond definition. A definition limits; it calls attention to boundaries. God declared to Moses that He was beyond definition: “I AM THAT I AM,” or I am He Who Is (Exod. 3:14). He is knowable, not by man’s definition, but by self-revelation. He is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exod. 3:15f.). All things are to be defined in terms of Him and His revelation.

Now, however, newspaper stories tell us of federal efforts “to define religious activity,” or to define the church, and so on. All these attempts by statists at definition have a common purpose. They seek, first, to make religion a creature of the state. If the state is god, then this is a most logical step, and a necessary step. Otherwise, it is a dangerous and tyrannical activity.

Second, the purpose of these efforts at definition is tax-oriented. The money-hungry state wants to increase its taxing power and its tax resources. A greedy and evil people assent to this. “Tax the rich” has become a reality, but now the income and inheritance taxes hurt virtually all the people, perhaps least of all the very rich. Envy is a great weapon, used over the centuries, to enslave men; if envy can be used to create laws to harm those we resent, then the same laws can be used to harm us, and will be so used. Let us remember that, when the Sixteenth Amendment was under consideration, the idea that the income tax would ever be applied to any but millionaires was ridiculed as impossible in a free country. Those who today want to see the churches taxed are forging the chains and bars for their own enslavement. The death of the First Amendment is not too far distant, if the present trend continues. It will also be the death of freedom.

Slaves see freedom as license; free men see freedom as responsibility. The less free Greece and Rome became, the more they granted sexual license. The fools of the day believed themselves to be free because license had been granted, explicitly or implicitly, to a wide variety of sexual sins. Then as now, for all too many, freedom means the right to be irresponsible, and the right to penalize, tax, and harass the responsible. Romans grumbled about the growing powers of the state, but they saw themselves as more free because sin was favored and even subsidized.

St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:1–8, as B. T. Viviano, in Study as Worship (1978), has shown, argued for Christian courts and Christian judges and lawyers to handle cases involving Christians. Because Jesus Christ is Lord, Christians are to live in terms of His government and law, and create courts and agencies to adjudicate and govern their problems.

Through God’s tax, the tithe, they are to establish God’s reign in every area of life and thought. (See E. A. Powell and R. J. Rushdoony: Tithing and Dominion, Ross House Books, Vallecito, CA 95251.) Through their self-government under the Lord, they are to become a walking law-sphere and government. The family, as God’s basic institution, is fundamental to God’s free society and realm.

Only by the self-government of the Christian man under God and His law can the forces of the tyrant state be pushed back and overcome. Only by God’s tax, the tithe, can we finance God’s Kingdom. Every day, in every way, we choose whom we will serve. The choice cannot be a matter of words only. It is a matter of faith and life, of action and money. You have made a choice already. Is it Christ or Caesar?

(Reprinted from Roots of Reconstruction [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991], 98–106.)

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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