So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Two And A Three-Quarters Cheers: Clear (Biblical) Thinking About Taxes

            It’s an old saying bordering on cliché: There’s nothing certain in this world but death and taxes. We talk quite a bit about death in the TAWG Blog, but here’s where we’re going to talk some sense about the other certainty.
            If I believe so strongly in property rights, that theft is not justified by majority vote, then what about taxes? Aren’t they just another term for theft by majority vote?
            Some radical libertarians (with or without the big “L”) claim so. But as always, we need to get our worldview from the Bible, not our own prejudices or interests.
            Scripture’s pretty clear on this, of course. To the church situated in the heart of an Empire famous for its onerous taxes, Paul gave some pretty explicit instructions:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
            There you have it. Christians should be especially careful in paying the taxes that their governing authority tells them to pay, not just because the state has a “sword” in its hand (symbolizing lethal force) but “as a matter of conscience.” Even if you know you’re never going to get caught, even if the “governing authorities” don’t really enforce the law that you don’t like, you’re still supposed to submit to the law of the land (unless it’s demanding you do something contra Scripture).
 I’d like to point out something here as well. When Paul first wrote this, the vast majority of the people who would first hear this epistle read would have virtually no voice in their government. Throughout history, most of the recipients of this epistle would never have any voice in who ruled over them in authority, how much they paid in taxes, which laws would be passed or repealed, etc. We live in a representative democracy, with more political freedom than anyone in the history of mankind. Therefore, I’d contend that we have even less excuse to break the law than some Christian who’s been commanded by Paul to submit to an oppressive system.
But there are a couple of more things to consider.
First and foremost, I need to issue a disclaimer. Nowhere in Scripture does God set forth a universal percentage that he expects us to pay our government, especially in the N.T. era where we don’t have a theocracy. God said “Don’t steal,” so that settles that debate over whether it’s alright to steal. But nowhere does he tell us what the ideal tax rate for a non-theocratic government should be.
But when the Israelites went to Samuel to demand a king, he tried his hardest to dissuade them. Let me paraphrase one of his main arguments: “If you get a king, he will tax you so oppressively that you won’t even think straight. You’ll be groaning and nostalgic for the days when your taxes were so low before you took on a king. He might even. . . (pause for dramatic effect). . . take even ten percent of your income!!! This was so unthinkable to them that he said the king might take 10% of their property “and you yourselves will become his slaves.” Such a high tax of 10% in their minds was virtually equivalent to slavery. 10 percent. He’s trying to scare them away from demanding a monarchy with a hypothetical ten percent tax rate.
The reason we call the standard for Christian giving to the church “the tithe” is because it’s a tenth. Christians disagree about whether it’s 10% off gross or net. If you’re really interested in my theology on this matter, you can read it hereBut the base fact remains that under the Old Covenant--in which God instituted not just a system of personal morality but a civil system with public laws and a tax system—10% was the standard. 10% of their income and property—generally speaking—was good enough for him.
Right now, there’s not a person who’s reading this who isn’t paying more than 10% of their income in taxes. You might be saying “But I didn’t pay anything in taxes last year!” You might have paid nothing in federal income taxes, but I guarantee you paid more than 10% in state and local sales taxes. Did you pay for electricity? Water? Gasoline? Clothing? If you didn’t, then someone else did. And when they paid for them, they paid taxes along with them.
And Heaven forbid you had a good year in your income. If so, you paid probably 25% to 35% and up in federal taxes, and if you’re in a state like California, you’re paying a lot more. Kind of makes you long for the days when you could pay 10% to God’s work and (in the worst-case scenario) pay 10% to the government, doesn’t it?
And if our federal government stuck to what it’s supposed to be doing under the constitution, if it took the Tenth Amendment seriously, we could probably approach that ten percent. I know that’s a dream. But it seems like a reasonable goal to work towards, doesn’t it?

No comments:

Post a Comment