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It’s been more than six months since members and friends of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple watched as U.S. marshals seized the church’s sanctuary and surrounding property in February, but the homeless church has forged ahead, growing in both faith and numbers.
WorldNetDaily caught up with Pastor Greg A. Dixon last week and learned that the church continues to persevere despite the loss of its facilities to the IRS. As reported by WND, the seizure took place on Feb. 13, but the story has a much longer history.
The federal government’s actions in IBT’s case sent shock waves through Christian communities across the nation. Many watched on television as Greg J. Dixon, pastor emeritus of the church, was carried out of the sanctuary on a stretcher while his son, current Pastor Greg A. Dixon, walked beside him. U.S. marshals and local police carried other church members out as well, after the property was cordoned off and the agent-in-charge, Marshal Frank Anderson, read the court order confiscating the church for not collecting taxes from its employees.
Rather than paying employment taxes – various withholdings from employee paychecks – church workers paid the taxes as though they were self-employed. But the IRS refunded the taxes and demanded IBT comply with employment law. The church refused, saying it believes churches are not required to answer to a civic government. Indeed, doing so would be a sin against the church’s only authority: Jesus Christ, it argued. After several court appearances, a federal judge ordered its property seized and sold to pay a $6 million tax bill.
Dixon said he learned the church’s 22 acres, which includes a sanctuary capable of seating 2,000, a cafeteria and gymnasium, a baseball diamond, soccer field, maintenance garages, a two-story school building and other structures, was put on the market. The asking price is $3 million, he said, and inquirers are being told the property could use another $3 million in renovations. But so far, according to Dixon, no one wants the property.
After the seizure, media that had covered the 92-day standoff between parishioners and the Justice Department disappeared. But IBT had rekindled a debate as old as the Union: What exactly is the relationship between church and state?
While courts maintain that “generally applicable” laws related to taxation and the withholding of income taxes apply to churches and do not violate First Amendment-protected rights to the free exercise of religion, some circles in Christendom assert that the government has run roughshod over what the founders intended to be a government that is completely hands-off when it comes to churches.
Whatever the conflict’s ultimate solution, IBT learned first-hand that the IRS has the weight – and the guns – of the federal government behind it. Church leadership and members of the congregation have begun to take an even harder look at what constitutes a “church,” said Dixon. IBT made a theological stand in the mid-1980s that resulted in the congregation defining itself as a “New Testament church,” meaning it rejects the concept that it is subject to civic laws of any kind and belongs only to God. Dixon said he and fellow members have made even deeper theological inroads into defining the “church.” It is not a building, he explained, or even any meeting location, but a state of being.
Dixon is scheduled to make a presentation to that effect at a meeting of the Unregistered Baptist Fellowship in October. The organization consists of churches that have not applied for 501c(3) non-profit status with the IRS due to the religious convictions articulated above.
His speech is titled, “How to run a church with no walls.” In it, Dixon hopes to communicate his belief that a permanent church building “can only confuse that true issue of what a New Testament church is,” he told WND. “I’m not sure the church should be a legal entity.”
“The gospel becomes ineffective when buildings become more important than burdens. The gospel is the most important thing,” he added. “God doesn’t live in temples made with hands anymore. He lives in us.”
And IBT is living proof. Parishioners have met over the summer in rented banquet facilities located about 10 miles from their previous church home. In the fall, the congregation will return to the local high-school auditorium it temporarily occupied immediately after the seizure.
IBT’s location-hopping hasn’t seemed to hurt its attendance, according to Dixon, who said three new families joined the church this summer. And though it lacks the comforts of home, church ministry plugs along. On Sunday, nine people will be baptized in a hotel swimming pool, and participation in mid-week home groups has doubled. The number of home groups has grown from the original seven when the program began two years ago to 32 this fall. Such groups, said Dixon, are key to the church’s numerical growth, effective evangelism and fellowship of church members.
Despite the church’s hardships and its belief that it has been wronged by the government, its pastor understands the ordeal cannot constantly be preached from the pulpit. While the church waited for the inevitable arrival of U.S. marshals, Dixon said he applied sermon messages to the standoff. But at some point, he remarked, the church must return to its original mission: evangelism and discipleship.
“We can become so all-consumed with [the IRS conflict] that we forget this is just part of the problem,” he said. “We’ve really tried to keep our ministry balanced.”
That “problem,” says Dixon, is a world operating outside the guidance of Christ, and it is what drives IBT and other churches in their evangelistic ministry. IBT has certainly encountered its share of battles when religious conviction butts heads with civic government, but it has emerged with its mission intact. Not that the battle with the IRS is over – Dixon said the tax bill has now grown to $6.7 million, and he anticipates continued conflict with government officials as they try to collect. But IBT is determined not to let the conflict slow it down.
“I don’t think battles are what hurt the church,” he said. It’s how the church fights the battles that determines its ultimate fate.
The April edition of WorldNet magazine is devoted entirely to an in-depth examination of the income tax, the 16th Amendment and the legal strategies opponents are using to challenge them. Titled “Tax revolt: How Americans are challenging the IRS and the 16th Amendment,” it is available from WND’s online store.