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Issues that affect ministers and churches
Church Property and Denominational Ownership
A California court ruled that a provision in a church's deed that required church property to revert to a denominational agency was legally enforceable by the civil courts.

Key point 7-04. Churches and denominational agencies can avoid church property disputes by adopting appropriate nondoctrinal language in deeds, trusts, local church bylaws, or denominational bylaws.

* A California court ruled that a provision in a church's deed that required church property to revert to a denominational agency in the event that the agency determined that the church no longer was in fellowship with it, was legally enforceable by the civil courts. For many years, a church was affiliated with the Church of God denomination, and one of its regional associations ("regional church"). The church acquired property by a deed containing the following provision: "To have and to hold, so long as [the church] maintains fellowship and doctrinal unity with [the regional church] and the property remains in use by said church. If this property falls into disuse or, if in the opinion of said [regional church] the church is no longer in fellowship and doctrinal unity with the [denomination] this property shall go to, vest in and become the property, in fee simple, of the [regional church]."

In 2004, the regional church revoked the ordination of the church's senior pastor. The regional church's administrative board adopted a resolution stating that: (1) the pastor's credentials had been revoked; (2) the church's board of trustees had voted to retain him as pastor, despite his removal from the approved list of ministers; and (3) therefore, the church no longer was in fellowship and doctrinal unity with the denomination. As a result, the regional church filed a lawsuit in which it asked a court to rule that it was the lawful owner of the church's property by reason of the above-quoted clause in the church's deed.

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