The Poor and the Christian Form of Government

By T. Craig Isaacs, M.Div., Ph.D.

In our present political environment we hear a great deal about the unmet needs of the poor and the decimation of the middle class.  We are bombarded with sentiments about needing to level the playing field between all people so that all will be fiscally and socially equal. We listen to the pundits lamenting the fact that there is not enough money in the government to accomplish the desired deeds.  This conversation has taken the form of sectarianism between today’s dominant political parties and is often referred to in public debate as a liberal versus right-wing battle, a big government versus small government philosophy.  Between the mudslinging of these two groups we are called to believe that conservatives are callous, uncaring, and that liberals are irresponsible and tyrannical.  For some this has taken the form of dialectic; the farthest to the right saying each person should be responsible only for themselves, and the farthest to the left blatantly denying the rights of the individual in favor of the group.  Because of this, the liberal, big government approach appears—and is held by many—to be the more caring and loving stance while the right-wing “Tea Party” position seems bigoted, self-serving, and uncaring.  But is this the case? In the midst of all of the propaganda and discord how are we to know the truth? 

The demand that we consider the needs of others and care for them is unquestionable.  Deuteronomy records Moses as commanding the people of God to open their hands and their hearts to the disadvantaged, to care for the poor and those in need amongst them.  Jesus reiterated this same command as he preached among the people.  The need to care for others is indisputable.  We are our brother’s keeper. What is debatable is the manner by which this care is delivered.  We need to transcend political partisanship and worldly philosophies and come to understand the God-given approach to caring for others.  To come to such an understanding we need to find answers to the difficult questions of “What is a Christian approach to government?” and “What are the God-given principles of government?”

The answer to these questions does not lie in attempting to discern which political party holds the truth, but rather in understanding four principles: God’s approach to caring for others; the purpose of our lives; the role of government; and God’s approach to government.  Understanding these principles will allow us to know how to respond to our daily issues and how to apply the weight of our convictions.

We begin with God’s approach to caring for people.  We understand that God loves all people and wants them to be cared for, so he commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. These two thoughts dominate the Christian conscience; due to this, many Christians are persuaded to embrace today’s “liberal” approach to government, for it is one that emphasizes the equalization of all people, which in their minds equates to caring for all people.   This is more accurately referred to as the utopian approach.  Utopianism is well articulated by former Chancellor to Henry VIII and subsequent saint, Thomas More, in his book Utopia, and also in Plato’s Republic.  Mark Levine, in his work Ameritopia[i], states that “Utopianism has long promoted the idea of a paradisiacal existence and advanced concepts of pseudo ‘ideal’ societies in which a heroic despot, as benevolent sovereign, or an enlightened oligarchy claims the ability and authority to provide for all the needs and fulfill all the wants of the individual—in exchange for his abject servitude.”  It is a philosophy that intends to care for all, a philosophy based on making sure the community as a whole organism is nurtured by means of imposing demands on the individuals of the community. As such, utopianism is based on the good of the whole body of society, where the individual is seen as serving this whole.  This appears altruistic and benevolently good.  Oddly, though, as caring as it may initially appear, it is a proven fact of history that such an approach to government has led only to one place: tyranny and destruction. 

Whether it is 20th century utopian attempts of the communism of China, the socialism of the Soviet Union, the fascism of National Socialism of Germany (later known as Nazis) or the 18th century effort of the French Revolution, this utopian philosophy and the system it demands has resulted in devastation and death at the hands of Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Robespierre, and Napoleon.  Again odd, and certainly telling, should be the fact that even though the Christian Church often seems to ally with this philosophy, not one of these utopian systems was able to function in concert with the Church.  In each case the Church must be dominated and relegated to the background or in some cases completely eliminated.  The Nazis, the Soviets, the Communist Chinese, and the French Revolutionaries all had to remove the Christian Church for their systems of government to work. Why?  Because the Church teaches that you the individual are loved by God as an individual and that God desires that you unite your life with Him.  The Church teaches that the community is a congregation of individuals valued by God.  It does not teach that the individual is merely a functioning unit within the more valued whole of the community.  The latter teaching is that of the utopian ideal set forth by Plato, by More, and the present Progressive movement.  Therefore, for the utopian philosophy to ascend, the Church—the very ways of God—must be crushed.  What is promoted as liberal and utopian forms of government are not the natural patterns of God but are conceptions of human endeavor and pride. They are a new tower of Babel.  So it is that these utopian forms of governing fly in direct opposition to the natural laws of God and therefore are doomed to failure, and those who are governed by them are subject to tyranny and destruction.

Since the utopian philosophy of governing does not work, what might be the “way of God”?  This was the same question that would inform the 18th century establishment of a new form of government that would become the Federal government of the United States.

At the founding of the United States of America a new philosophy of government was being pondered.  The colonists had a unique opportunity presented to them.  As they deliberated their separation from the English crown the founders could either set up another traditional form of government or do something totally new.  With the thoughts of John Locke and Adam Smith in their consciousness they would move toward a new way.  But as they did so they knew something that we have today forgotten: any government that would be effective and survive must be based on God’s natural principles.  Even Thomas Jefferson, who rejected much of the established Christianity of his day, would utter this.  Even Thomas Paine, who likewise wrote many a treatise against the Bible, when he heard of a prostitute being placed on the altar of Notre Dame and declared “Lady Liberty”, would board ship for France to implore those revolutionaries to not reject God’s principles, knowing that to do so would set the stage for the disaster that France eventually became.

So it was that Jefferson, Paine, Franklin, Adams, and many others took up the task of addressing the question of God’s natural laws of governing people.  The outcome of their deliberation was summarized in the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

What they found was that God’s first and greatest gift to the individual was life itself.  For in the beginning God took the mud of the earth, breathed into it, and it made it a living soul. It is therefore one of the first principles of Godly government that it preserves for each individual the security of God’s first gift: life. No government therefore could unjustly take the life of any individual citizen. 

Next God gave to each person the liberty of choice, the first choice being to love and obey Him or not.  Freedom to make choices is another of God’s gifts to every individual and therefore liberty for each person is a prerequisite for any Godly government.  Such choice demands that the government not dictate the faith of any individual.  God gave the human being the right to choose, even if the choice is a bad one. The Founding Fathers agreed with this and demanded a division of Church and State.  Not a division in the manner in which it is presently interpreted—that the Church have no place in the “public square”—but that the government could not dictate the beliefs of any person.  It was the liberty of choice that was being promoted, not the loss of religion in the life of the nation.  Those Christians today who desire a theocracy in America in principle differ little from the Muslim who demands Sharia law to govern the people.  Both remove God’s gift of freedom of choice from the individual and therefore violate the natural order of God.

Thirdly, God in Jesus put before each person the aspiration to be “perfect”, that is, to become complete and whole, to fulfill his or her destiny.  This is what was meant by the pursuit of happiness.  Happiness is not our modern hedonistic sense of gaining some passing pleasure but the deeper meaning of finding and fulfilling one’s destiny in life.  A Godly government must then function to assist its citizens to pursue their destiny: their happiness.

How is a government to fulfill this?  We find our answer in observing how God set up the first government of His people.  This we see in the beginnings of the formation of Israel, from Moses to Saul. 

Moses was the first real leader of the Hebrew people.  As the tribes left Egypt on their journey to the Promised Land, Moses took on the role of judge and prophet.  He would decide disputes amongst individuals and between tribes; he would reiterate the words of God and lead according to both the revealed and natural laws of God.  Moses led alone, but this was not God’s ideal, so Moses then delegated many of these duties to elders from each tribe. After the death of Moses, Joshua would continue in this role as leader of the tribes and arbiter between them until the Hebrew people became established in the Promised Land. Then would come the period of the Judges, individuals who rose up in time of national trouble and who also deliberated between the tribes of Israel.  What was established at the outset was essentially a form of federal government, with a leader with limited powers.

This was not lost on the Founding Fathers of the United States, as the colonies (and later states) would play the role of independent tribes within the whole of Israel (the federal government). The role of the judge was limited and came to prominence when an external force threatened Israel as a whole.  Then the judge took on the role of a military leader, one such as Gideon or Deborah. If there was contention within a tribe, the tribal elders resolved it, but if dispute arose between tribes the judge would then take the role of arbiter.  This form of limited federal government lasted from the time of Joshua up to the time of the Samuel’s sons.  As such it is that form of government which most closely resembles the commandment and desires of God.  In this sense it is the type that most closely follows the natural laws of God.

Then problems arose.  The sons of Samuel performed their duties badly.  The government was more self-seeking and self-indulgent than it was serving the life, liberty, and destiny of the individual within the tribes.  Internal economic problems arose, external forces began to threaten the existence and freedom of the tribes of Israel, and the sons of Samuel as judges were negligent in protecting the people.  Rather than observing that these judges were merely incompetent, the people of Israel blamed their form of government and began to call for a change.  They demanded a king. 

They wanted a king just like other nations had kings. They looked to the other nations and saw in those nation’s kings someone who took care of them, and the people Israel no longer wished to care for themselves.  They looked to the nations and saw someone who took responsibility for them, and the people of Israel wanted to relinquish responsibility for themselves. They looked to the nations and saw someone who provided for them, and the people of Israel wanted to get what they individually had not worked for.  They looked to the nations and saw that it was a king who does all of this. Kings take care of their kingdoms; kings care for and protect their kingdoms; and kings provide for their kingdoms.  There was one important thing the people did not realize: kings are concerned with kingdoms, God is concerned with individuals.  Kings are concerned with realms and governments, federal governments are designed to facilitate the life, liberty, and destiny of the individuals governed. Kings become tyrants over big governments, small federal governments “secure the rights” of the citizen.

God warned the people of the danger.  He told them that if they had a king they would lose their freedom and their lives would be subject to a tyrant.

This is what the king who will reign over you will do: he will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.  He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.  Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.  He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. (1 Samuel 9:11-17)

Taxes, servitude to the government, loss of freedom, loss of choice, loss of individual destiny, tyranny, these are the “gifts” of a king, these are the fruits of the centralized, big government schemes to care for all people.  This is in direct opposition to the principles of God’s natural order of the gifts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But when times are troubled, when the economy falters, when people’s lives feel threatened, when all seems to be spinning out of control, people call for a “king” and call down upon themselves their own destruction. 

The form of government that more suits God’s natural laws was seen by the Founding Fathers to be that of the Judges; a small federal government with limited powers which functioned to “secure the rights” of the individual.  If the people of Israel had called for a renewal to these principles rather than the call for salvation from a king they would have avoided the pains of a Saul and all the kings that followed.  If the people of Germany had sought such governing in their time of horrible turmoil they would have avoided a Hitler.  If people of Russia had rejected the false promises of communism and Marxism as their relief from other despotic kings they would have avoided Stalin and the demise of their country. 

As we face our time of turmoil, of economic hardships, of terrorism, of war, and of crime, we must make choices of how to be governed.  These choices are not to be made based on personalities.  They are not to be made according to political or cultural alliances. As Christians these choices are ones that need to be guided by the ways of God, and by the natural order God created.  As we vote for leaders and as we promote policies we need to do so with the principles of a Godly government in mind, one that is guided by the reality of the natural order rather than guided by the fanciful theories of subjective philosophers.

We must apply the following questions that rise from God’s natural order and design: (1) Does the leader or policy for which I vote promote life?  (2) Does the leader or policy I support respect the freedom of the individual? (3) Does the leader or policy I defend assist the individual to pursue his or her destiny? (4) Does the leader or policy support a small, limited, form of federal government?  If the answer is yes to these questions then we can say that that leader and policy will be in line with God’s natural order and so will succeed and be a blessing to the citizens.  If not, then we are potentially doomed to tyranny and disaster.

There is no question of whether or not we are to care for those in need—this is an established appeal of God—rather the question is how we go about such caring.  Applying the four principles of life, liberty, pursuit of destiny, and small government, will lead us to the right method. These call upon each individual to be responsible for his or her neighbor, not with a delegated responsibility of merely paying taxes to care for others without personal involvement.  These call upon each individual to support the life of all others, and to promote each person’s pursuit of happiness.  The individual is called upon to be responsible for his or her life, and not ask a government to take on that responsibility.  The responsibility of a government is solely to secure the rights of the individual.  Even though Jefferson may have been more Deist than devout churchman, we as Christians can affirm that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”   Individual life, liberty, pursuit of destiny, and small government: these are the principles that guide the government of God’s natural order.

[i] Levine, Mark (2011)  Ameritopia

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