S.T. FINCH, J.
The plaintiff-appellant Calvary Presbyterian Church (hereinafter referred to as the Church) was begun in 1941 as a mission of the First Presbyterian Church of Flint. In 1944, the members of the mission organized themselves as the Calvary Presbyterian Church of Flint, an ecclesiastical corporation, agreeing to "worship and labor together according to the disciplines, rules and usage of the [United] Presbyterian Church in the United States of America [represented here by our defendant, hereinafter known as the Denomination] as from time to time authorized and declared by the General Assembly". (Articles of Incorporation.)
Later, the Church formed a building committee, and in raising funds took a loan from the Denomination and gave a mortgage on the real estate as security. Upon repayment, the Denomination deeded the real estate back to the Church.
Still later, in the seventies, a majority of the members of the Church became unhappy with the evolving social and political activities and policies
Subsequently, the matter was tried by the court, which eventually ruled in favor of the Denomination, making a finding that the Denomination had been judicially determined to be hierachical in Jones v Wolf, 443 U.S. 595; 99 S.Ct. 3020; 61 L Ed 2d 775 (1979), and then, following the standard set forth in Bennison v Sharp, 121 Mich.App. 705; 329 N.W.2d 466 (1982), lv den 417 Mich. 1100.13 (1983), declared that the property was indeed held in an implied trust for the Denomination and that the Church was not the beneficial owner, despite the unqualified language of the deed. It is from this decision that the Church appeals.
In equity cases, this Court reviews de novo but we will not reverse the trial court unless we are convinced that the court's findings are clearly erroneous, Coffee-Rich, Inc v Dep't of Agriculture, 1 Mich.App. 225, 228; 135 N.W.2d 594 (1965), or we would have reached a different result had we
LAW & DISCUSSION
The issue is narrow: Did the trial court err in applying the principles of Bennison, supra, to this dispute?
We hold that it did not. In our de novo review of the entire record, we find ample evidence to support the trial court's findings that the Denomination was a hierarchical church, and that therefore the principles of Bennison do apply. Since we would not have reached a different result, we find no reason to disturb the conclusions of the trial court, and no reason to depart from the reasoning of this Court as enunciated in Bennison rejecting the use of the "neutral principles" test
The Church contends that the lower court should have applied the "neutral principles" test, as permitted by Jones, supra, to the dispute, and asks this Court to do so, arguing that Bennison does not apply because the Denomination in fact is neither strictly hierarchical nor strictly congregational, in that the power of the governing body flows upwards to it from the individual church members. The Church has argued that the traditional method of classifying churches as either
In its supplement to the brief, the Church calls the Court's attention to the decisions of Presbytery of Elijah Parish Lovejoy v Jaeggi, 682 S.W.2d 465 (Mo, 1984), cert den ___ US ___; 105 S.Ct. 2361; 86 L Ed 2d 262 (1984),
We see no reason in this case to follow our sister states away from the clear law of this state as pronounced in Bennison. Despite the Church's arguments to the contrary, it is clear that this Presbyterian denomination is hierarchical and that the church government had the agreed and declared power to act as it did in replacing the Session with the Administrative Commission and in determining that the seceding Church could not take the real estate with it.
"Thus, under the polity theory, when a subordinate congregation or a faction thereof secedes from a hierarchical church, it has no right to retain church property where the governing body of the general church has determined it is no longer the congregation or its legitimate successor for which the property was originally purchased or obtained." Bennison, supra, p 715.
The courts should not look behind the veil of the authority of the internal governmental structure of the Denomination. We find that it would be inappropriate to apply the neutral principles test to determine disputes between people who have agreed, as a part of the establishment of their church, to resolve disputes between themselves within their internal power structure.
Times change, and it must be presumed that the original agreement to be bound by the Denomination's decisions included the possibility that the local Church might not agree with all those decisions.
Therefore, we hold that the trial court correctly found that the Denomination is hierarchical even though it possesses a representative form of government, that the decisions of that government (here, the Presbytery) are not reviewable by the state and thus the decision of the Denomination to retain the real estate upon the withdrawal of the Church is binding upon the counts.
The Church further argues that the Denomination is estopped from now asserting an implied trust in the real estate when, in the mid-seventies, it allowed the Church, without dispute, to sell a house similarly held.
For all these reasons, the findings of fact and law contained in the opinion of the trial court of February 28, 1983, and its judgment of June 20, 1983, are affirmed.