In my last post, I asserted that leftist unbelievers aren’t the only ones who fail to understand Jesus.
Even rigorously orthodox Christians still find ways to adulterate Jesus, His Kingdom, and His Gospel, especially when it comes to determining what makes for a just legal system and righteous economic policy.
Some of us think that we, as Christians, shouldn’t be sullying our hands with the unredeemable grime of “worldly” politics, while others of us believe it is fine to engage the culture, just so long as it isn’t us who are asked to do the engaging.
However, neither position makes much sense.
Aren’t we all to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven (Matt. 6:10) and, if we are to pray for such a thing, then shouldn’t we also strive to implement it insofar as we are able, given, especially, that we are His workmanship created for good works (Eph. 2:10)?
Aren’t we also uniformly exhorted to destroy lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5), to expose the works of darkness (Eph. 5:11), and to overcome the evil in our midst with good (Rom. 12:21)?
If we are commanded to overcome evil with good, then we can’t leave the wide expanses of politics, jurisprudence, and economics to those who have no fear of God, and we can’t depend upon a select few to don the whole armor of God in our stead.
Lowly nobodies like me should explore and even confidently traverse these important topics, so long as God’s Word serves as their lodestone.
These issues should not be left only for the most daring, intrepid, and credentialed explorers of the bunch.
Sure, there will always be experts who are wiser than the rest of us, but, nevertheless, maturity demands that we establish a workable, Biblical framework for responding wisely to the ideological dilemmas and cultural battlefields that spring up around us.
Therefore, let us not reduce God’s Word to something as crude and as limited as an ancient seafaring map, which, at its most helpful, still left explorers uncertain of the terrain and, at its worst, left them frightened of imaginary monsters they believed were dwelling beyond the familiar frontiers.
Today’s objective is a fairly straightforward one that I hope will encourage others to press deeper into those daunting political, economic, and judicial waters with God’s glory in mind and His Sword in hand.
We will be begin by taking a bird’s-eye view of two competing orders for society, one being lawful, godly, and free, whereas the other is humanistic, pagan, and enslaving.
We Must Define Our Terms
American evangelicals often effuse about our nation’s Constitution or the liberty our colonial forefathers fought for, but, as I mentioned last time, such pivotal terms, concepts, and historical events, even, are gutted of their vitality unless they are tied to a Christian understanding of law, justice, and liberty.
If such terms aren’t founded, in faith, upon Christ and the Law and the Prophets, then whatever foundation we think we have beneath our feet will inevitably erode and give way to idolatry and Nimrod’s heavy yoke.
Sadly, we are living in an age of cultural erosion, of encroaching tyranny, that has been long in the making, and it’s a direct consequence of flimsy, toothless theology.
We need to address this insidious socialism that lurks unnoticed in the crevices of our sound theology and repent if we want God’s favor to be poured out upon our nation again.
As you may recall from the last newsletter, the late economist Murray Rothbard defined socialism as the “compulsory abolition and prohibition of private enterprise, and the monopolization of the entire productive sphere by the State.”
As the size and power of the State grows, the liberty and property of individuals and their right to use it as they see fit necessarily diminishes, because the State is funded through taxation and debt.
While taxation is an obvious imposition on people, economist Robert Murphy explains how government debt imposes burdens and costs of its own, although they are less apparent.
“Government deficits siphon savings from the private sector and thus divert real resources from potential investment and waste them on unproductive lines. This means that the structure of physical capital goods that the next generation inherits will be less developed than if the government had refrained from deficit spending. In this sense, our descendants will indeed be materially poorer, because their labor and other resources will be less productive (since they are augmented by fewer tools and equipment). But the point is, it is not the accounting figure of the national debt per se that indicates their relative impoverishment; rather, it is the reduced supplies of capital goods with which they can work.”
Even the gentlest strain of socialism, let alone unfettered Marxism, would require a massive centralized State and a sizable curtailment of individual liberty, in addition to a great relinquishment of private property.
What Saith the Socialists?
The Democratic Socialists of America, the premier socialist political advocacy group in America, concede about as much.
Their stated purpose, according to their constitution, reads as follows:
“We are socialists because we reject an economic order based on private profit, alienated labor, gross inequalities of wealth and power, discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, disability status, age, religion, and national origin, and brutality and violence in defense of the status quo. We are socialists because we share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships…”
This list features all of the predictable hallmarks of socialist rhetoric: private profits are bad, employers are exploiting and alienating employees, and wealth is too highly concentrated among the elites — proof that markets don’t work, but are messy and unfair.
So, What Does Godly Government Look Like?
But how well does this socialistic vision agree with a just order prescribed by God?
Not well at all.
Good government begins with the recognition that the Lord owns the earth and everything in it. The earth is neither the State’s, nor the property of the institutional Church. This is declared clearly in Psalm 24:1, which reads “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” as well as in Exodus 19:5, in which God tells Moses that “…all the earth is mine.” “All that moves in the field is mine” (Ps. 50:11), says the Lord.
Adam is placed on God’s property, His garden, in order to work it, keep it, and to name every living creature within it (Gen. 2:15,19)…that is, until Adam violates the stipulations of the covenant contract and is evicted from God’s property (Gen. 3:22-24). God can, of course, do with His property as He pleases (Exod. 33:19).
So, while God has ultimate authority over the earth, He has, nevertheless, delegated real authority to us. He made us to bear His image, in order to be His analogues upon the earth, serving as His privileged stewards who are to fill and subdue the earth (Gen. 1:26-28) in faith.
However, we must understand that these rights are inherent to our status as image-bearers and are not simply privileges conferred to us by “beneficent” magistrates.
Civil government, then, rather than being this sprawling and monolithic curative for every perceived social ill, is to be diminutive, at most, under the Law of God, and should allow for the flourishing of self-government.
No ruler is to be a law unto himself, but he is, in character and rule, to be subject to and constrained by the Law of God.
In Israel, the king was even required to make a personal copy of the Law and read it “all the days of his life” in order that he “may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left” (Deut. 17:18-20).
Rather than being handled as an open-ended “living document,” much like our U.S. Constitution has for generations, creatively interpreted and reinterpreted as children would a passing cloud, God’s Law is purposefully succinct, clear, and set in stone. Literally.
It affords almost no room for the creative manipulations of men, though the Pharisees might be imagined as clear evidence to the contrary.
However, the Pharisees didn’t exploit the manifold loopholes of an inarticulate and convoluted law code, because God’s Law isn’t convoluted or clumsily worded and no such loopholes even exist.
Instead, the Pharisees, rather than being sticklers for God’s rules, taught as doctrine the commandments of men (Matt. 15:3-9) and were actually living apart from the Law (Rom. 7:8-9).
The Basic Role of Magistrates
Whether we look to the Old or New Testament, magistrates exist to maintain order, which meant preserving the rights of the people as they are laid out in God’s Law (Prov. 29:14) and punishing those who would dare transgress them. “A wise king,” Solomon tells us in Proverbs 20:26, is one who “winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.”
Paul says much the same in Romans 13:4 where he remarks that the magistrate “is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
A good king doesn’t flex his muscle, really, but for two things: the punishment of criminals, and only those who can be convicted with sufficient testimony (Deut. 19:15), and the expulsion of enemy invaders, which I’ll likely expound upon in a future newsletter.
True Justice Is Decentralized Justice
Even then, criminal justice is not concentrated in the king, but is highly decentralized.
As you may recall, Moses was rightfully overwhelmed by the burden of trying to adjudicate all of the cases of the Israelites. It wasn’t only wearying him, but it was surely creating a bottleneck and obstructing justice in the process.
Therefore, Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, teaches Moses that what he is doing “is not good” and that he needs to appoint capable, trustworthy God-fearing men “as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves” (Exod. 18:22-23).
Jethro’s counsel is later subsumed in the wisdom of King Solomon, which tells us that when lesser judges find certain cases too difficult, it’s “the glory of kings…to search things out” (Prov. 25:2).
The Righteous Must Have Freedom to Do Good
Paul tells us that a lawful magistrate doesn’t just punish the wicked, though. He also gives his approval to those who do good (Rom. 13:3).
In other words, he allows ample freedom for good men to, well, do good. He might praise them, but that’s it. After that, he leaves them alone to pursue righteousness.
What this doesn’t mean is that he appropriates money by force in order to subsidize opportunities for people to do good. He doesn’t forcibly redistribute a dime to benefit a soul.
Nowhere do we find Scriptural warrant for wealth redistribution, even though the practice has since become ubiquitous across our contemporary political landscape.
So, What Does Bad Government Look Like?
Evil rulers are cut from a different cloth, however. Restraint and humility aren’t their strong suits. The centralized authority that burdened Moses is the heart’s desire of arrogant and covetous men.
In 1 Samuel 8, Samuel reports to God that the Israelites want a king like the surrounding pagan nations. God tells Samuel to “obey their voice” but not without warning them as to what they can expect when they replace God’s perfect kingly authority with the tawdry imitation of men, the false messianism of the pagan state.
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Sam. 8:11-18).
Little imagination is required to see the overlap of this ancient mode of pagan rule and the New Deal and wartime economy implemented just less than a century ago under Franklin Roosevelt — you know, the same president who is routinely eulogized by Keynesian economists, liberals, and court historians as the savior of the United States.
However, God tells Samuel that free men become slaves under a magistrate who directs the economy for his purposes, plowing his ground, reaping his harvest, building his weapons, forfeiting property for his commanders, and fighting his wars.
Only Tyrants Demand a Tithe
The coup de grâce, though, is that this ghastly king, this divinely-described oppressor, would even dare to extract a 10 percent income tax, a tithe, for himself.
For him to siphon a tithe from the people meant that he was exalting himself as a rival power to God, feigning divinity and crudely mimicking the sovereignty of God, as if he’s the one who owns the earth and its fullness.
God is owed a tithe, not the State (Lev. 27:30). Not only that, but the State is surely owed something considerably less than the portion due to the King of Creation.
Even the priests were only entitled to a tenth of what Israel provided the Levites, a tithe of the tithe (Num. 18:26).
If the Aaronic priesthood only had a lawful claim on 1 percent of Israel’s total income, then what about civil magistrates?
Where Do We Go from Here?
If we are going to press on to mature manhood, then we’ll need to consider more than what I can provide here in this cursory overview.
Just remember that godly government is always in subjection to God and constrained by His Law, leaving it, at most, small, decentralized, and very limited in its God-given authority. Self-government is the more fundamental order.
On the other hand, pagan government sees itself as supreme in its power and authority and, thus, is a law unto itself. Any freedom it grants to the people is a mere privilege and a gift that can easily be curtailed, leaving little room for actual liberty and self-government.
Marxism and its more genteel cousin, Democratic Socialism, both require a large centralized State, usurp God’s ultimacy, and demand an illegitimate claim on the earnings and property of men. Socialism in all of its forms is, therefore, irredeemable and unworthy of Christian consideration.
Next time, in order to understand how to avoid the fowler’s nets, we will study these two rival orders in greater detail. We will look into the particular freedoms and limitations that God has granted to men and the State and how civil government has, over the course of several generations, abandoned those limitations and careened headlong into the lawlessness of messianic socialism.
We must know the dangers and pitfalls of the past and present, not only to avoid the snares of the future, but also to walk with sure footing as we establish a Christian social order in the years ahead.