Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Biblical Model for Civil Government - Libertarianism

Here’s what the vast majority of Evangelical Christians think, summarised by Wayne Grudem in his book, Politics According to the Bible: until Christ returns to reign, some form of democracy seems to be the best form of government (p.96).

Two problems: 1. The Bible NOWHERE teaches that; and 2. Grudem spends entire pages moaning about the problems with Democracy without even realising it.

You see, if 51% of people tell the other 49% what to do then you end up with lots of sad Wayne Grudems who are oppressed by the mob rule stealing their rights to religious freedom.  So you end up with groups lobbying to force their will on each other and neither of them are completely free (even though their governments tell them they are).  Worse still, the richest lobbies can take advantage of this big, all-powerful government system by paying for their own politicians.  They can use government to stifle competing businesses by over-regulating the entrepreneurs and they can even use taxpayer-funded armies to take resources from other nations by force.  This is called Crony-Capitalism or Corporatism – the market would be free if it weren’t for government interference.

‘I’ve got it!’ exclaim some other Christians, ‘Why don’t we all become Socialists?  Maybe if government took control of the businesses instead, we wouldn’t have this problem!’

Again, two problems: 1. The Bible NOWHERE teaches Socialism; and 2. Despite what moody, narcissistic university professors might teach you, Socialism has never, ever worked (Star Trek doesn't count).  Free Markets are the only system for prosperity - fact.

‘But the Bible does teach Socialism!  The early church had “all things in common”!’ exclaim the Christian Socialists.  Historical evidence shows that the early church were not Socialists at all and the Bible is clear that people still owned houses etc. decades after Pentecost.  They hadn’t surrendered property rights at all but were in fact just charitable with what they owned, because ‘God loves a cheerful giver’.  And, in any case, what does the charitable nature of fellow-Christians with their property have to do with government seizing control of everyone’s stuff and the fruit of their labours by force?  Charity is the place of individuals, like the Good Samaritan, which invokes a sense of gratitude in the recipient. Government forcing you to hand over your money to someone else only invokes a sense of entitlement.

And yet other Christians then say, ‘Well, to hell with government altogether.  Big governments are represented as destructive monsters in Scripture and they are enemies of Christ and His church.  I want everyone to be free and to have personal responsibility and to stop having government poke their nose into everything.  I’m going to be an Anarchist!’
Slow down there, Tolstoy!  I want people to be free too.  I don’t want one sinful king or dictator with absolute power, nor do I want 51% of people with absolute power, but firstly we need to deal with Romans 13!

Romans 13:1 & 4  Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…for he 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.

Most people interpret this as teaching God ordained government, just like marriage.  Read it again.  The authorities 'which exist' are there in providence of God - that's all the OT teaches and it's all Paul taught.  If they did not exist, would that no also be predetermined by God?  Certainly, they bear the sword or rather should administer justice, but is government needed to do this?

The sword reference has been recognised by the majority of scholars to be from Genesis:

Genesis 9:6  Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

After the flood, the world had been overrun by cruel tyrants who completely opposed the purpose for which God made us – to be His stewards and representatives on the earth, loving God and each other.  We each personally bear this responsibility before God with the life and the property and the neighbours He has given us.  But men want to dominate everything, including other men, taking from them the freedom to serve God according to their conscience, instead forcing them to serve their own desires.  Ultimately, they seek to put themselves in the place of God, ruling over and often being worshipped by men.  God wanted to stop this and so after the flood had destroyed those tyrants, God made a covenant in which He commanded all mankind to enact Capital Punishment as retribution for murder.  This command would have been understood by its ancient audience to be referring to crimes against property also, as Leviticus 24:17ff. reveals.

Therefore, if any government exists, it is for the sole purpose of protecting life, property and liberty.  The biblical limit of government's function is intended to counteract the actions of those who would infringe those rights.  So, government should not take it upon itself to seize some property from one group of citizens and give it to another or to take some liberty and give it to others, to create monopolies by providing services to the public, becoming the people’s doctor, banker etc. and becoming so large and powerful that it can be abused by the same tyrants God intended to thwart in the first place!
A biblical government would be a very small government which only acts judicially against crimes to the person or property of those it serves.  But, we must understand that government does not necessarily need to exist for judicial punishment to be administered or even for Capital Punishment to be normative (as many Anarcho-Capitalists have pointed out - e.g. Block & Rothbard).  Nevertheless, where government does exist, it must rightly be reduced to its least despotic purpose or, preferably, removed altogether.
Today, this view is called Libertarian Christianity and it is frequently misunderstood and dismissed.  Recently, Al Mohler rashly declared, ‘The ideological base of Libertarianism is idolatry.  It’s Ayn Rand, it’s Randian individualism.’  Mohler and others need to do their homework because this view actually grew out of the Protestant Reformation, the separation of church and state and real life struggles in which Christians sought to reform to a biblical system of government and/or self-determination.  The agnostic economist and historian, Murray Rothbard, had to confirm that the original Libertarian experiments in the U.S., during the 1600's, were conducted by Christians.  (For a helpful summary Libertarianism, see this video)

We’re not called to pray that government would force everyone to behave more like Christians when they don’t want to.  We’re called to pray for peace and freedom and, if we want it for ourselves, we should expect others to have it also, so long as they aren’t harming another’s person or property.
The church’s place in this world is to live godly lives, reflecting the love of Christ and preaching the Gospel to our fellow-sinners, our neighbours, with the desire that they might be saved.  Whether they are walking in obedience to Christ or not is no concern for a lobbied government, but for a loving pastor and brother in Christ.

See also my article The Bible is Anti-statist