The Morality of Taxation

June 8, 2012 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

A friend of mine asked me to weigh in on a question about the morality of taxation from a Christian perspective.  I usually don’t take the bait on such things.  However, I was feeling it, so I wrote him back.  I liked what I wrote (arrogant, no?), so I decided to make a blog post out of it.
Here is an edited version of the original email:

Pastor Charlie,

Its Not like you have a billion (editors note: a billion is slightly exaggerated. Maybe half billion) other things to do but I would like to get your thoughts if I may so I could discuss this a little more intelligently with my friends.

This is a interesting article that basically makes the argument that the IRS steals money from people and gives it to others and makes the case that it is immoral.  I can appreciate the point.

I was wondering if you could share some thoughts on the biblical principals with respect to this article.  Most teachings I have heard on this subject in church refer to scriptures like Luke 20:25 but when you look at it in terms of stealing from one to give to another there seems to be some sort of contradiction.

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated and confidential (unless the IRS calls then I will have to give you up. (Editors note: Rick Astley would not approve)

Here is my response.  You can be the judge as to whether or not this will help this guy speak “more intelligently or not.”
Whether or not you should pay your taxes and whether or not taxation for charitable purposes is moral are two different issues.
The Bible says you should pay your taxes, period.  Render to Caesar…  The people that asked the question to Jesus about taxation were trying to get him into the morality of the taxation.  They were two different groups.  Herodians that were loyal to Rome and the Pharisees who were not.  They disagreed on this issue but were united in their frustration with Jesus and so set a trap question.  He didn’t take the bait and didn’t address the morality of the Roman govt or their taxation.  He simply said, do what they say.  Romans 13 backs this up.  So from the perspective of the taxpayer, one must pay his taxes or is out of line with what Jesus commands us.
Now, the second issue that Walter Williams addresses is whether or not it is moral from the govt’s perspective to tax us at all, at least specifically for “charitable” purposes–distributing wealth from richer people to poorer people.  I keep my political cards close to my chest, because I want to be thought of as controversial about what I believe about God and Jesus, not politics and not both.  That frustrates some.  I will speak philosophically and biblically instead.  Walter Williams is really challenging the concept of democracy.  51% of people agreeing or 51% of representative voted in agreeing, doesn’t make something right.  Morality is found elsewhere.  I agree with that basic statement.  However, that is not limited to simply taxation.  So then our duty as American citizens is to vote on issues and representatives that we believe will represent what we believe to be the “most moral” viewpoints, while recognizing that direct democracy or representative democracy does not form the basis for our morality.
Said another way.  Is it moral to tell Muslim children from a Muslim home that they have to listen to Christian prayers at their public school? Or would it be moral for my kids to have to listen to a Mormon prayer in school in Utah?  The Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights and then the Judicial branch are established to limit such things.  You can judge whether or not they are doing a good job or not.  Has the government been overreaching for the last several decades? There are many who would say yes and there are many who are hoping that it will reach out even further.
Finally, people then want to know if it is ever OK to justifiably rebel against the government.  Romans 13 would indicate no.  This was written during the reign of Nero who used Christians as human torches.  So it would seem that rebelling over unjust taxation is not a sufficient reason, especially since Jesus was given the opportunity to say it was, and he said the opposite.  The only example of a just rebellion was when the disciples refused to stop sharing about Jesus.  This is backed up through the history of the martyrs as well.  This should give Americans pause about the Revolutionary War that founded the country.  Not trying to be controversial, but you asked for my thoughts.
There you go.  I guess the comments will determine if I started a flame war or not.

This is MY Church–Give

The longer I am a pastor, the more and more I get comfortable with talking about giving. Most pastors have nervousness about talking about money, mostly because people don’t like hearing about it. Also, we want to avoid being perceived as “one of those people” who seem to only talk about money.

However, I am becoming more convinced of how important talking about giving. It’s important because people are struggling with their finances.  People spend more than they make, and they rack up incredible debt.  It’s important because people struggle with honoring God with their money.  People want to do what is right, but they feel they can’t.  We spend our lives pursuing the American Dream and we don’t realize that God has a dream for our lives and our finances greater than any dream we have.

This dream begins with us being givers, generous givers.  Here are three reasons why that is important.

We GIVE because it is right–We cannot and should not ignore this. From the time of Cain and Abel (the second generation on Earth), it is clear that God wants us to take the first and best portion of what he has given us and give it back to Him. It predates the Old Testament law and extends beyond it to the teachings of Jesus and Paul. God requires this of us. We should treat this as a regular command. However, we have made a collective decision to put the command to tithe (10%) as a super command. We believe that do not lie is for everyone, but tithing is only for super spiritual people. Both of these should be considered standard, entry-level discipleship.

Many people get hung up on “what counts” as your tithe.  Does giving to any cause “count”? Does it have to be an overtly Christian cause? Does it have to be a local church?  I have friends that are pastors that make the case that the tithe goes to your church. I have friends that work for missions groups that would make the opposite claim. I honestly am less concerned about that. My conviction has been to tithe to our church and give above and beyond that to other groups.  We consider the tithe the floor not the ceiling and believe that it is important to support the church you are a part of.  That is just what we do. “Well, what should we do?”  The simple answer is ask God, “God what do you want me to give? Where do you want me to give?”

We GIVE because God blesses generosity–Things can tend to get squirrelly (The number of attempts that it took me to spell squirrelly correctly was alarming. I almost switched it to fishy.) when you talk about God blessing generosity. We all know the people who make the promises about if you give, God will give you more in return. Cue guy sitting on odd golden throne: “If you will send us $500, we will send you this prayer blanket and God will give you at least 10 times that in return.” False.

The problem with that is that it is just exchanging one form of greed for another. I heard this first from Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church in Dallas. The spirit of greed that makes us want more and more is what Jesus preached against. Giving just to get is no better than living your life and working just to get more.  God wants us to have generous hearts. In II Corinthians 9 and Proverbs 3, God makes it clear that he blesses us when we give generously.  Sometimes that’s financially, sometimes it is not.  However, just because we cannot tangibly describe it, let us not discount the power of living a life that is blessed by God.

We GIVE because God uses it to change the world–People are always looking for good investments.  ROI (return on investment) is what people want.  If I invest this $1000, I want the most return on that investment.  I believe that the ROI in giving back to God is high.  When you give back, he does not simply bless you, he blesses the world through you.  The money that you give to The Grove Church allows the church to reach people in NWA who do not know Christ.  It allows us to love and minister to our kids.  Ultimately some of every dollar that is given goes all around the world. I’m staring at a map right now that has pins in 24 countries around the world where people from the Grove are or have been in the last year.  I just saw an email from a girl who is in Japan talking about how she is already had the opportunity to share her faith with multiple people and how God is using her.

This is only the beginning.  We are just getting started.  We started together in this journey 2 years ago, and in two years we have seen God move mightily.  What the next 2 years and the next 22 years have in store seems limitless.  It begins with us making a commitment to taking what God has given us, give it back to him and watch him multiply it around the world.

This is MY Church–Connect

We recently spent 6 weeks going through a sermon series entitled, “This is MY Church.”  During this series, we asked a couple of questions.  The first is what could happen, what would God do in and through our church if we united together?  We talked about reaching the lost, sending missionaries all over the world, meeting real physical and spiritual needs in our community, impacting our children, and more.

The second question was what would it mean for each one of us to be committed, united together at The Grove Church? What would be required and expected of me? We put this in the context of what would happen if we switched our mindset from The Grove Church is where I go to church to The Grove Church is MY church.  This is my place and I will do whatever it takes to help accomplish what God has for my church.

During this six week series, we looked at 6 actions that we each to which we needed to be committed to have this kind of attitude.  These 6 actions will ultimately form our new membership covenant and every new member will be taken through these 6 actions as they are making their decision to make The Grove Church their church.  The 6 actions are–Connect, Give, Serve, Pray, Protect and Invite.

I’m going to take some time this week to review these six on the ol’ blog to help us, whether we go to the Grove or any church, focus on the things that we need in order to join with our church in accomplishing the mission that God has given your church.

The first is connect.  We need to connect in 3 ways.

Connect with God–This is obviously our most important connection.  Before we even begin thinking about what God has called us to do, we need to make sure that we have a solid connection with God.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all that we are.  The Bible also makes it clear that the depth of our relationship God determines the kind of life that we will have.  We need to be people who are consistently connecting with God.  We need to pray each and every day and throughout the day.  We also need to take time to listen when we pray.  Is God speaking? If so, what is he saying. We also need to be reading the Bible every day.  There is a richness in God’s word that points to the character of God and helps us know who it is that God has called us to be.

Connect with your church during worship service–This may be the most simple of all requirements to be a church member–”Umm, you should like come to the weekend worship service.”  Nothing incredibly novel here, but we believe that it needs to be said and said boldly.  Being a part of the weekend service is key to being connected to your local church.  It is the time where the whole church comes together to celebrate what God is doing, worship together, serve together and hear from God’s Word.  Hopefully you experience more than just a talk about the Bible.  Our hope is that you will hear a fresh word from God that is for the church, both for the church as a whole and each individual person.  Make the service a priority.  Everyone goes out of town on occasion, but let’s have a mindset that says, if possible, I will be at our weekend service to worship with my people and hear how God might want to challenge me from His Word.

Connect with your people in a small group–Finally, we also all need to be connected in a small group.  There are limitations on what can happen in a weekend service.  While it is the best place for worshipping with other believers and hearing from God’s word, it is not designed to be a place where your personal questions can be answered.  If everyone had a couple of questions and we tried to answer all of them, worship services could turn into a 24/7 operation. It’s also not the most convenient place to share your struggles.  While there are a few exceptions, I’m sure, there are not many people who would enjoy sharing their sin struggles with the church as a whole.  For those two reasons and many more, we have small groups.  These are places where if you have questions, there are people to help you find answers.  There are also people who know you that can celebrate with you and mourn with you and pick you up when you fall.  Small groups are a place where you can know people deeply and you can be deeply known.

Life is too hard to be tried alone, and it is possible for us to be alone even in a crowd of people.  The first step that we need to take is to be connected–with God, with worship services and small groups.

Listen to the series at Grove Podcasts