EPILOGUE (50 years later— 07/29/2013)
Those of us who took part in the efforts of Brother Maurice Johnson were thankful for the judgment rendered by Judge Alfonso J. Zirpoli on November 15, 1962, and we were grateful for the opportunity to give testimony to the one true church of which the Bible spoke. We rejoiced for 37 years, walking with a clear conscience and resting in the judgment of Judge Zirpoli. However, in 1999, our conscience compelled us to change the way we handled funds. The IRS questioned us from time to time over those 37 years due to the unusual nature of our claim for tax deductions. In each case, we referenced the decision of Judge Zirpoli, and our claims for deduction were granted. However, in time it became necessary to seek legal counsel, and our attorney advised us that we were no longer in compliance with the current tax law or the Internal Revenue codes that address such claims. In addition, we were told that if the case were tried again, we would surely lose it. We were also advised that in all probability, the IRS had not retried the case because the dollars involved were not large enough to make doing so worthwhile.
Based on this advice, our own examination of the current law, and the way we were handling funds, we concluded that we were out of compliance for two reasons. First, the tax code had changed since 1952, 1954, and 1955, and the ruling of Morey v. Riddle was based on the code as it stood in those years. Second, we had changed the way we were handling monies as of the time the judgment was rendered. Contrary to our brethren’s testimony during the trial, we were no longer expending monies upon receipt, and we had a considerable amount of personal assets, including cash that was held by individual ministers for the support of his ministry to the church and to the world.
Those of us whom the ministry supported, along with other responsible brethren across the United States, began counseling together about this matter between 1996 and 1997. Once we were convinced that we were out of compliance with the current tax code, we believed that we needed to do something to be in compliance. In Romans 13: 4-6, the scriptures clearly state: For [the government] is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending to this very thing.
According to our heavenly father and The Head of The Church, we should be in compliance with the tax law as part of our Christian testimony to have a clear conscience and to avoid the trouble that comes from disobeying the law. As we came to this conviction, we looked for ways that we could interface with the IRS in such a way that we would be in compliance with the current tax law and IRS code in the way we were handling funds and not violate the biblical principles that were laid out in Morey v. Riddle. If we did so, we could not start a church, name a church, or join members to a church other than the one found in the Bible. It would also mean that we could not come up with alternative statements of faith. We agreed that if there was no way that we could do these things, we would give up the financial benefit of taking contributions for the support of the ministers and the function of the church as a tax deduction from the personal income taxes of donors.
The change we felt convicted to make did not reflect a change in our confidence in the biblical truths pointed out in the Morey v. Riddle case, a change in our ministry, or a change in our walk in areas directed by God’s word. By our understanding, three things have changed from the testimony given by our brethren in Morey v. Riddle: the tax law and codes, the way we were handling money, and the idea that we could use a legal entity called a corporation to handle the funds and assets used by the minsters to support their ministries and the work of the church. We concluded that we could adapt to these changes without compromising the truth we preach or changing our understanding of truths presented in the Bible. Therefore, if the IRS accepted these terms, then we could continue taking the aforementioned tax deductions. We formed a 501(c)(3) corporation, which was not a church and did not have members or a statement of faith other than the one found in the Bible. Its purpose was to receive, hold, distribute, and account for the contributions made for the support of the activities of the church and the ministers who were in full-time ministry. We would be recognizing a distinction the Lord Jesus Christ made in Mark 12: 13-17 when he was specifically questioned about paying taxes: Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.”
So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him. In this way, those of us in the ministry would be accountable to the brethren for the handling of funds as we always have been. In addition, we would have the added responsibility of reporting the use of the funds to the IRS so they would know the funds were used in a way that was consistent with the law and IRS regulations. We believe 34 that if the IRS is going to give the tax relief, then they have a right and responsibility to know how the funds are being used; otherwise, the privilege could be abused.
If we could get this status with the IRS and it worked as we envisioned it, then we could have a clear conscience before God and ultimately pursue that course. If it required us to change the content of our ministry or the IRS would not grant the status unless we applied as a church, then we would give up the deduction. We realize that any attorney can look at the law and the way we were handling funds and develop an argument for or against the necessity of the decision we made. Some attorneys might say we could have stood rock solid on the judgment of Morey v. Riddle, and other attorneys might say we did what was necessary to be in compliance with the law and IRS regulations. We prayerfully considered the arguments on both sides before making a decision, and we believe the decision we made was wise and godly. After several exchanges, the IRS approved our decision. On November 19, 1999, I was the first of those in the ministry to begin using “Robert A. Grove Ministries,” a 501(c)(3) corporation, to fund my ministry and service consistent with what I had been rendering for the preceding twenty plus years of full-time ministry. Prior to November 19, 1999, I was receiving funds and tracking them through the Robert A. Grove Gospel Fund checking account. Now, I am tracking them through the “Robert A. Grove Ministries” checking account and accounting system. I report their use to the brethren as I always have, in addition to filling out the required forms with the IRS. In time, all of the ministers who were supported in full-time ministry began handling their funds the same way. To my knowledge, over the past 13 years, there has been no effort on the part of the IRS to influence what we believe or what we preach. Aside from the inconvenience of having to keep more careful records and fill out additional forms, we have not changed the way we function.
Before coming to this conclusion, we had several meetings across the United States to discuss the situation and study the scriptures with ministering brethren, responsible men, and assemblies as a whole. We went over our understanding of the law as well as our history of handling funds. We allowed time for questions from brethren, which were answered privately and in meetings, both verbally and in writing. We received written objections, which we prayerfully considered and to which we responded, and with increased confidence, we went ahead with our decision. Some members took a wait-and-see attitude. At that time, there were a very small few who did not think it was the wise or spiritual thing to do. Since 1999, I and those who made the same decision have been able to serve the Lord as we have served sinners and saints with the confidence that we were obeying God, being in compliance with the law and not violating biblical truths by starting, naming, or joining members to a man-made church. I rest in the confidence that we are obeying Mark 12:13-17 “… 17 And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at Him.”
I and those supporting me are committed to in a practical way function consistent with the truth in 1 Corinthians 12: 13, which states “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” We believe this is instruction to the very practical and very visible church that is described in the Bible, of which all believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are a part. They are made members by The Head of The Church, Jesus Christ, as we are told in 1 Corinthians 12: 13. It is sad to say that most of its members believe that in some way they can better serve and please God by joining or supporting some other church. In a lifetime of studying the Bible, I have been unable to find support for this understanding or conviction.
– Robert Grove