Friday, May 17, 2013

How They Should Settle Local Church - Denomination Property Disputes

The question of who retains property rights of a local church that decides to leave a denomination is in the news again, in light of the Virginia court's recent ruling that the historic Falls Church building belongs to the Episcopal denomination, rather than the local congregation.  Falls Church  is now seeking a rehearing.

Property deeds in many denominations (including ours) are not held by the local church, but rather by their governing bodies.  This arrangement works fine as long as everybody is in harmony with each other, and in many respects is a safeguard agaist a few rogue members taking over and stealing a church way from it original, intended, historic path.

However,  what happens when the denomination strays from its original, intended, historic path and the local church departs in protest?  Who should get the building?

The way I see it, in disputes like this, church property should always go to its primary investors.

If the denomination was the primary source of funding for the property (purchase, maintenance, repairs, projects, etc.) then it should go to them.  If, however, the local congregation carried the burden of paying for it, then they should retain the right to keep it -- regardless of which entity holds the title.

The responsibility of the courts in such cases, then, should be determining the primary investors.

2 comments:

Lawrence W. Wilson said...

Mark, that's a good thought, but I wonder if it's even more complicated than that. What if the "primary investors" are not statutory members of the church? What if the people who gave the most money and time are a small minority of the congregation (which is almost always the case) and have a different view than the majority of attendees? I'm not sure the primary investors are quite so easy to identify.

MCpastor said...

I don't see anywhere in Scripture where a governing body outside of the local church can dispose of, or commandeer local church property. One could argue that there was no 'local church property' in the N.T. times as there is today. Yep... a denomination person would likely argue that. The local church should be allowed to follow God as they see fit. We don't work for the denomination. They don't roof our building. They don't pay our pastor. They don't perform the ministry in the community. I'll step off of my box now. ;)