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The Seduction of Statism — and Why the Church Must Hold Fast

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There are many reasons why progressivism is at odds with biblical Christianity, but one of the main reasons is that this ideology assigns limitless authority to the State, which is to make a claim on the Divine…. As Christians, we must resist the urge to validate this form of idolatry.”

JASON MATTERA

Remember the part of Jesus’ parable where, after seeing the beaten and half-dead traveler on the ground, the Good Samaritan rushes to find the nearest Roman official, urging him to impose an obligatory progressive income tax on the locals to bankroll the battered man’s recovery at the nearby inn?

Me either.

Must be in the other red-letter edition, the one edited by Karl Marx.

Nonetheless, coercive wealth redistribution continues to be all the rage in progressive Christian circles these days, even though the welfare state harms those it’s supposedly designed to help and even though its entire existence flouts the limited jurisdiction that God intended for civil government.

Examples run aplenty in this area, with the latest proof-texting absurdity coming from those defending Joe Biden’s lawless student loan debt transfer because, as one writer at the hilariously titled Relevant magazine put it, “unmerited favor is the stitching of the Christian faith.”

So shut up and take your goosed-up inflation like a submissive Christ follower, you ungrateful sinner!

When it comes to mandatory welfare funding, you may have thought that Thou Shalt Not Steal was still set in stone, but liberal Christians are here to tell you that, actually, there’s an exemption clause if the stealing is done by politicians and doled out to their favorite causes.

Then it’s not really stealing.

How can it be?

The State, to them, is the de facto owner of all things.

Notice how every time legislation involving taxes is debated leftists always frame the policy in terms of how much money the federal government will either gain or lose?

They believe the money belongs to the government to begin with.

But it’s not the government’s money.

Theft, even for a sympathetic cause, is still theft and thus unjustified biblically (Proverbs 6:30-31).

Still, instead of rejecting their charity-by-compulsion methods, progressive Christians routinely offer us half-baked lectures on how conservatives are violating the Bible’s many directives to seek justice for the poor and the powerless.

You want to be relevant, now, don’t you? Sorry, it’s hard to get over that name, Relevant. Who thought that was a good idea in the branding meeting? It’s like introducing yourself at parties as “the cool kid.”

In any event, the State is not the owner of all things. God has that designation (Psalm 24:1). And as the Creator, He is the ultimate sovereign, the one in charge, the one who calls the shots.

Granted, seldom does a leftist, especially a Christian one, assert outright that the State is transcendent, but in practice, that’s how they operate.

When was the last time you heard progressives articulate a limiting principle that thwarts the reach of civil government, particularly on economic matters?

Probably never.

That’s why the parable of the Good Samaritan ends up being a metaphor for government redistribution of resources regardless of how obviously removed that interpretation is from the plain reading of the passage — because progressive Christians believe that the State is imbued with unlimited authority.

In short, they’ve succumbed to the seduction of statism, a troubling worldview that assumes progress is only attainable if more and more power is centralized under the aegis of government. Laudable goals like aiding those in need and easing their financial burdens and producing a prosperous country for all citizens are only possible, they contend, through the command-and-control philosophy of central planning.

It’s an attempt to usher in earthly salvation through the American tax code.

Opposition to this dogma is often met with the false accusation that conservatives don’t care about the poor because we don’t subscribe to these social justice shakedowns.

But just because conservatives oppose funding a bloated administrative state doesn’t mean that we are against aiding those in a bind or are against taking steps to create a more equitable society.

That’s like saying conservatives want the population to starve because we’re against the government growing food and setting prices.

No.

We’re against it because the government shouldn’t be in the business of growing food and setting prices since it would likely cause starvation — Soviet breadlines, anyone?

There’s a more fundamental reason, as it turns out, to oppose such government meddling in the private sector than underscoring the wild ineptitude and perverse incentives associated with a sprawling federal bureaucracy.

It was alluded to earlier.

Such arrangements flout the narrow scope that God intended for civil government.

As the author of life, God painstakingly cares about how His creation functions. He’s not agnostic about the details. In fact, He gave us a blueprint on how we are to manage ourselves, our families, and our civil institutions under His created order.

I realize that to make such a statement today is to risk being erroneously branded a “Christian nationalist” by loudmouth atheists who are determined to relegate devoted Christians to the sandbox of “church stuff” only.

Yet the historical reality is that America’s founders very obviously sought wisdom from Scripture as they undertook the monumental task of crafting a new nation. As American University professor Daniel Dreisbach wrote, “The Constitution’s basic design, defined by the separation of powers and checks and balances, reflected an awareness of original sin and the necessity to guard against the concentration or abuse of government powers vested in fallen human actors.”

It’s time we recapture that historical reality, which, in part, means learning anew the different spheres of authority fashioned by God and the jurisdictional boundaries given to each. This framework will help us understand the “decentralized social order” of our faith and equip us to call out the imposters who illegitimately use the pretext of Christianity to champion one government usurpation after another.

And that seems like an appropriate place to start — government usurpation.

While the domain of civil rulers is one among many “authorities” instituted by God, their prerogative is mostly confined to keeping the peace (Romans 13:1-6), enforcing due process (Deuteronomy 16:18-20), and punishing serious crimes like murder and kidnapping (Exodus 21:12, Exodus 21:16). The Apostle Paul even links taxes specifically to the service of maintaining a civilized society (Romans 13:6).

Notice what the State is not embroiled in?

That’s right — wealth redistribution.

Funny how progressive Christians will prattle on and on about “loving thy neighbor” when it comes to injecting a (failed) experimental vaccine into our body but lose that same zeal when it comes to politicians pilfering their neighbor’s pocket and extravagantly wasting his or her money on (failed) government programs.

Make no mistake, though: Loving our neighbor means protecting him from government overreach, and that overreach occurs when the State (or any other “authority”) transgresses its God-ordained boundaries.

The State is also not involved in education.

That’s the duty of parents (Ephesians 6:1-4), as the family is another “authority” established by God (Genesis 1:26-28). And because God established it, He knows best who should “train up a child in the way he should go.” Evidently, that responsibility doesn’t fall to the purpled-haired weirdo who goes by the pronoun “zie,” twirling her rainbow flag around the classroom as she enlists your toddlers to fight “the patriarchy.”

Likewise, the State is not involved in the business of the Church, the other “authority” established by God (Matthew 16:18). The Church is run, not by government officials, but by elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

Now, sometimes there is overlap within these jurisdictions.

The Church, for instance, is called to be a prophetic voice to the political class when they deviate from God’s standard, like when John the Baptist rebuked Herod for taking his brother’s wife. Moreover, the qualifications listed for church officers would similarly be an ideal list for political candidates vying for our vote — “sober-minded,” “self-controlled,” and “respectable.”

In the end, however, these are separate spheres, with separate roles.

The Church shouldn’t be prosecuting criminals, the State should (Romans 13:4). And the Church shouldn’t use the muscle of the State to make converts because we must work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

The thing is, when these jurisdictional lines are respected, freedom and prosperity are maximized, just as we’ve seen for much of America’s history. This isn’t “Christian nationalism,” as the canard goes, but a recognition that societies function best when they adhere to God’s moral code for governance.

By contrast, societies will fall into the trap of tyranny to the extent that they reject God’s moral code for governance. As world affairs have shown with great clarity, human suffering and corruption happen with predictable regularity when “power” is consolidated under one roof.

There are many reasons why progressivism is at odds with biblical Christianity, but one of the main reasons is that this ideology assigns limitless authority to the State, which is to make a claim on the Divine — a status that is set aside for the One who is truly sovereign over all things (Matthew 28:18).

As Christians, we must resist the urge to validate this form of idolatry.

We shouldn’t strive to be relevant.

We should strive to bring the civil government back to its biblical foundation, and that entails, to borrow a phrase from tax reform advocate Grover Norquist, slashing the State “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”


Follow Jason on Twitter! @JasonMattera

Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.