Letter #5: What Kind of Government?
The Bible has important principles about government but it does not prescribe any particular form of government or political affiliation. Sometimes Biblical texts are used improperly or out of context to support government programs. It is important for any Christian to have a good understanding of government and politics from the Bible.
Conservatives typically want a smaller government with more reliance on individual responsibility and charity to meet the needs of the poor. Liberals typically want big government and lots of government assistance. Which is right? How do you decide?
The Bible teaches that Man is the pinnacle of creation – more highly valued than plants or animals, made in the actual Image of God (Imagio Dei is the Latin term) – a little lower than the angels. On the other hand, Man has a sin nature and is capable of many kinds of wickedness including an incredible capacity for self-deception. Man is subject to temptation, to lust and greed and so on.
Evil does not arise from poverty or social conditions. It is in our nature. We exercise moral choices and sometimes (often) we make immoral choices (even sometimes when we truly believe we are doing good). Poverty matters, but it is not determinative of good or evil. Many live in poverty but choose the good; conversely, many live in wealth but choose wickedness.
The Bible teaches that one of the first roles of government is to restrain evil. Thus we have a police force and a justice system to arrest people who break the law and to see that they (and their victims) receive a just punishment or correction. We have an army to protect our citizens. These roles are Biblical. Psalms 82:2-4 Romans 13:1-7
Men are to be stewards of the earth; gardeners that are responsible to care for and nourish it and make beautiful things grow (including taking out the weeds). It is proper for government to have a role in protecting our environment from destructive human behavior.
In the Old Testament the nation of Israel was a Theocracy (a nation ruled by God) and is therefore a special case. America is not a Theocracy (even though liberals like to accuse Christians of wanting to make it one), it is a democratic republic, a pluralistic society composed of people of all religious faiths and no religious faith. We cannot directly apply God’s instructions to Israel to America.
The Bible teaches that we are to care for the poor, for orphans and widows, and to seek justice and mercy. In the New Testament, all of these instructions are for the Church; they are never directed at government. I think that liberals who use the Bible’s instructions about caring for the poor to argue in support of government welfare programs are wrong – they are the ones attempting to bring about a Theocracy by applying these teachings to government.
The best way to love the poor is (1) as a Christian, to give to charitable organizations that help the poor – this is Christ’s teaching – and (2) as a government, to provide a free market system that enables people to work and improve their standard of living, and to provide a true safety net for those who cannot help themselves.