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never have any voice in who ruled over them in authority, how much they paid in taxes, which laws would be passed or repealed, etc.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 here. But 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?