“Paging Balaam’s ass…”

God sometimes reveals truth in the most unlikely of places: on August 16, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled against the “Foundation for Human Understanding” (FHU) which had appealed an IRS action revoking its nonprofit status as a church. The Court ruled that FHU was not a church and it based its finding in part on a 14 point test created by an IRS commissioner in 1979. Those 14 points were:

(1) a distinct legal existence
(2) a recognized creed and form of worship
(3) a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government
(4) a formal code of doctrine and discipline
(5) a distinct religious history
(6) a membership not associated with any other church or denomination
(7) an organization of ordained ministers
(8) ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies
(9) a literature of its own
(10) established places of worship
(11) regular congregation
(12) regular religious services
(13) Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young; and
(14) schools for the preparation of its ministers
(emphasis added)

So, let’s make sure we understand: In order to be a church in the eyes of the federal government, you need more than a charismatic leader and willing followers. You need a liturgy, doctrine, a learned ministry, accountability among ministers, regular worship in a regular place of worship, and Sunday school!  How does your church measure up?

Why is it that the secular world can see what so many in our own circles cannot see? Too many of our own church leaders are actively downplaying each one of these elements in favor of something so bland and nondescript that soon it will be hard to distinguish the average church from neighborhood associations, MOPs groups, and fraternal organizations.