Personal property and individual rights are basic ideas of the Christian religion. One of the distinctions of the Hebrew civilization was the concept of land ownership. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land of Palestine, they were given land according to tribe and family (Joshua 13-21). This is one reason why “home” was such an important concept to the Hebrews. It was theirs – their place, their possession.
The warlords of neighboring Mesopotamia knew of no such thing. Might made right and territory changed hands from ruler to ruler, swayed only by who had more swords and expendable men.
When Israel demanded a king, God warned them that they would get tyranny. 1st Samuel 8:10-18 says:
So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”
In other words, the king will take your sons to war, put you to work for his purposes, take your daughters, your property, and your money. Apparently, in God’s mind, these were bad things.
Early in American history, we revolted against tyranny and established, not a theocracy, but a government based on the biblical model of fewer laws, smaller government, and greater freedom. Thanks to pastors like the Presbyterian “Black Regiment,” who took up the role of Samuel, the cry for liberty went out in the colonies. Pastors defended freedom and understood the ideas of liberty.
It wasn’t long, however, until the concept of American “exceptionalism” crept in and took root, causing many to see the nation as a type of new Israel, God’s special place. And, like the Israel of 1st Samuel, we grew tired of liberty and demanded a king. We still call him the President, but that’s just semantics. All the things God warned Israel about, we now experience.
At least the colonies had the Black Regiment. Modern America has a corps of pastors that are about as useful to liberty as the Lutherans were during Hitler’s reign (around 90% or so supported the Fuhrer). At least the Russians had to go through the trouble of tearing down churches and bribing priests; but American pastors have emasculated the Church by mangling Bible verses.
Romans 13:1 has become the “life verse” of these sophists – “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” This verse is used to advocate blind allegiance and quiet acquiescence to government authority. “Just pay your taxes” and “obey man’s law,” comes the evangelical whimper, followed by another quotation of Romans 13:1.
Such an interpretation (if it could be called that) ignores several important details. First of all, Scripture is full of examples men of God calling out government authorities for tyranny and evil – Moses, Nathan, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and John the Baptist, to name a few. Even Paul (who also wrote Romans 13) refused orders from the magistrates in Acts 16.
Furthermore, taxes and government authority have limits, according to Romans 13. The text continues:
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
Rulers are to be a “terror…to evil” and serve the good. That is why they bear the sword and we pay taxes only so that they may perform those lawful duties. That is what rightly belongs to them. This is why the Founders, Patrick Henry in particular, held that “taxation without representation is a violation of God’s law.” Modern Christians are confused by this, not because Patrick Henry was wrong, but because modern Christians don’t know God’s law.
The Constitution reflects this same view of government, with Article I, section 8 stating, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes…to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” Taxes go to defending against evil and protecting the good.
How does the modern “Christian” response of submitting to blatant tyranny and abusive taxation relate to Romans 13? It doesn’t.