What is a Church? The CFL tells how to say | Allen Matkins

The word “church” has an interesting ancestry. It most likely started as a Germanic word that entered the Greek language and then transitioned into English. The Greek word, κυριακός, means for or of an owner, master or lord (κύριος means master or lord, as in kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy).

Whatever the etymological roots of the word, it is quite another matter to define what a church is. California funding law does not attempt to define “church”, but it does specify how to determine what constitutes a “church”:

What constitutes a “church” is to be determined on the basis of the following criteria, none of which is of decisive weight: a separate legal existence; a recognized creed and form of worship; a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government; a formal code of doctrine and discipline; a distinct religious history; membership not associated with another religion or denomination; a comprehensive organization of ordained ministers ministering to their congregations; ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study; a literature in its own right; established places of worship; regular congregations; regular religious services; schools for the religious instruction of youth; and schools for the preparation of his ministers.

Cal. Fin. Code § 22061(b)(2). Readers may recognize these factors as being substantially similar to the factors listed in the Internal Revenue Service’s Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations.

Some readers may wonder why the CFL cares about churches. This is because the CFL exempts “nonprofit church extension funds” which are defined as “a nonprofit organization affiliated with a churchwhich is formed for the purpose of making loans to the congregational organization or organizations of this church for the acquisition of sites, new facilities or the improvement of existing facilities, purchased for the benefit of the congregational organization of the church”. Cal. Fin. Code § 22061(b)(1).

Although the word “church” is commonly used in reference to the Christian religion, the CFL factors listed above do not prima facie exclude other religious traditions.

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