A Saturday Sermon: Was Jesus a libertarian?

Presented to the Convention of the Colorado Libertarian Party, May 19, 2001.

Posted at Free Republic, Missouri League, and Spintech.

One autumn afternoon in the 1960s, the Green Bay Packers were having a pretty pathetic practice session. Finally, their coach, the legendary Vince Lombardi, had had all that he could take. He blew his whistle, stopping practice, and held up a football. He said, "Guys. We are going to go back to the basics. THIS...IS...A...FOOTBALL."

Upon hearing this, one of the players raised his hand and said, "Coach, could you go a little slower?"

Today, as we ask whether Jesus was a libertarian, we are going to get back to the basics, too. This is a Bible. And this pamphlet contains our two key Founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We are going to examine what they say, rather than what it is culturally fashionable to say that they say.

Before we go any further, let me just state that I am not going to be discussing abortion. The issue is so emotionally charged that if someone asks just the right question, it will derail everything.

What is this about?

If Jesus was a libertarian, he was not one of the capital "L" variety. He no more had a partisan political affiliation than he had a favorite baseball team. In fact, he had no political agenda. He was not a left-winger or a right-winger. He never put a gun at anyone's head and said "Follow Me!" Nor did he ever instruct his followers to initiate force to implement a Christian political agenda.

Christians have a book called the Bible, which they say is the inerrant word of God. They say that it deals with all aspects of life. In addition to being many other things, it is the greatest pro-freedom book in history. And yet this message is far too frequently overlooked in the contemporary church. Yes, God does ordain civil government. But this is just one government among many that he ordains.

However, it is not fashionable to discuss these things in church. For several decades, now, most churches have hidden behind their 501(c)(3) tax exemption, which gives churches a tax exemption if they curtail their involvement in politics. I will go into this more deeply in just a few minutes, but too many churches have fallen prey to the damnable heresy which says that Christians should not involve themselves with politics.

As a sad result, too many Christians have ignored the what Bible says about government, and cast their lot with the modern superstate. A few years ago, Ralph Reed, director of the Christian Coalition, rejoiced about how Christians finally had "a place at the table" in Washington, D.C. Thanks, Ralph, for trivializing Christianity. Thanks for lowering Christians to the status of a mere interest group, to the same level as the teamsters and the asparagus growers.

If more Christians seriously examined what the Bible says about politics, and if ministers devoted more energy to teaching on the subject, you would soon find millions of Christians at the vanguard of the freedom fight.

Jesus Left and Right

Again, Jesus was not a left-winger or a right-winger. Christians are frequently told that economic issues do not matter. If so, why did God us the Eighth and Tenth Commandments (Exodus 20:15, 17), which state that "Thou Shalt Not Steal" and "Thou Shalt Not Covet"? Both commandments are repeated in Romans 13:9, that favorite chapter of big government groupies.

Right-wing Christians never tire of telling us that government force is necessary to instill virtue. Let us turn to Colossians 2:20-23, which states: "Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you still submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Christianity cannot be forced. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." Jesus enters our lives by invitation, not by kicking in doors like some DEA or INS agent.

How are we to finance the church? Not by force. II Corinthians 9:7 says that, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." This is why President Bush's force-based, uh, Faith-Based Initiative is such a horrible idea. Not only will it poison churches by making them dependent on public money -- it is doubtful that Bill Clinton or Al Gore could come up with a more harmful idea -- it also violates Scripture.

Both the left-wing and right-wing worldviews deny the reality of sin. Jeremiah 17:9 says that "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure." This condition can no more be remedied by politics than it can be remedied by pills.

The Bible never promises utopia, much less that we can vote, tax, spend, censor, regulate, litigate, legislate, confiscate, or incarcerate our way into utopia.

Jesus cares profoundly about how we live.

However, Jesus does care profoundly about how we live. In Matthew 5:13-16, he instructs us to be light in a world of darkness and salt in a world of decay. In Matthew 7:16-20, he instructs us that we will be recognized by the fruit we bear.

In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), he says, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." God, not the state, is the ultimate source of authority. This Scripture does not outline a specific, detailed political program.

Jesus is not a social engineer. He has no scheme for a Great Society, a New Frontier, a Great Leap Forward, a Five-Year Plan, or a Thousand-Year Reich. However, he does offer us a new deal, which is vastly superior to that offered by FDR.

This new deal involves a changed life as a result of a personal relationship with God. Hebrews 4:12-13 says, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." The state can tell us what to do and what not to do, but it cannot convict us to the very core of our being.

Christians do need to be involved in politics.

Yet politics do matter, and those Christians who are called need to be active in the political arena. It is indeed a damnable heresy to suggest otherwise. It is fashionable to say that politics is a secular pursuit for secular people. I would invite anyone who believes this to consider the following two quotes.

Rudy Rummel is a retired professor at the University of Hawaii with whom I trade e-mails. He has a page devoted to the business of genocide. He states that, "During the twentieth century, 170 million men, women, and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed, or worked to death, buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners.

You may well have heard the next quote. It comes from Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran minister in Germany in the thirties and forties, who spent several years in Hitler's prison camps. He stated: "In Germany they came first for the Communists, but I did not speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Who will speak for all the apolitical Christians when persecutors kick in their doors at three in the morning, put AK-47s to their heads, haul them off to the nearest train station, and load them on a box car bound for the forced labor camps they have built for Christians on the north slope of Alaska? America is not immune from such an eventuality.

The atrocities perpetrated by the Feds at Waco were a trial balloon floated before a brainwashed nation. One of the saddest aspects of life after Waco is that so many mainstream Christians were either silent about Waco or, worse yet, thought the whole thing laughable. It's like, dude, Koresh was a kook and so was anyone who would follow him.

But being a kook is not a crime. Neither is having weird religious beliefs. Yet so many Christians have become so fuzzy in their thinking that they unquestioningly swallowed the government's line on this tragedy. When they came for the Davidians, they did not speak up because they were not Davidians.

What then should be the Christian approach to politics? Well, let us look to the Bible.

Just what does the Bible say about...?

What does the Bible say about welfare? Go to I Timothy 5:8, which says "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." In Genesis 2:15, God instructs Adam to work the Garden of Eden, not just prance around naked. The whole welfare state is based on theft and envy, which violate the Eighth and Tenth Commandments (Exodus 20:15, 17). Matthew 6:1-4 instruct us "not to do (our) acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them," and not to broadcast our righteousness, as it does not impress God.

What does the Bible say about taxes? Matthew 22:21 does tell us to, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's." But it also tells us to "Give to God what is God's." Caesar has his divinely ordained place, yet it God has His, too. Again, II Corinthians 9:7 says, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." God wants a voluntary contribution of ten percent and Caesar has a gun at our heads for 50 percent.

What does the Bible say about gun control? Let us turn to Genesis 4. Can anyone tell me how Cain killed Abel? Do you give up? Well, it does not matter how Cain killed Abel. The point is that Cain was evil and he killed his brother. The Bible never tells us to blame a tool, a plant, or any other inanimate object for the evil we perpetrate. Also, Proverbs 25:26 says that, "Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked."

Perhaps the biggest battleground in the ongoing church-state controversy is in the schools. What does God say about education? Ephesians 6:4 says, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." God places the responsibility for child rearing squarely on the parents, and never suggests that this duty should be transferred to the state. The right of parents to educate their children as they see fit is guaranteed by the Ninth Amendment to our Constitution.

If Christians paid attention to this, and stopped acting as if there were something sacred about state education, these inane controversies over condoms versus family values, school prayer, and creation versus evolution, would quickly go way.

In a free society, i.e. the kind of society in which God wants us to live, we would have separation of school and state. Parents could choose to home school their children, or to send them to the Resurrection Baptist School, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School, the Joseph Smith Mormon School, or the Allah Akbar Muslim School.

They would not even need to send their kids to a religious school. They could send them to the Whitney Houston School (where the children are the future) or the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young School (where they teach your children well). The point is that decisions on how to educate children would be between parents and God. No one would have to seek the approval of the state. God gives parents the right to make these decisions.

God is the Author of our rights.

In fact, America was founded on the premise that God is the Author of all our rights.

Gary Fallon lives in Phoenix and is a very strong Christian and a great Libertarian. He makes the point that, if Jesus turned water into wine today (John 2:1-11), he would be arrested for doing so without a liquor license or a park permit, and probably would be arrested for serving alcohol to people under the age of 21.

We like to giggle and guffaw about towns in Connecticut with age-old ordinances forbidding Methodists from riding unicycles down Main Street on Thursday. However, the issue of how the modern state militates against our God-given rights is much more serious.

Consider the impact of oppressive taxation. How much easier would it be to provide for our families (I Timothy 5:8), if the current tax burden were lifted? Proverbs 6:6 asks us to observe how the ant stores up provisions for the future. How much easier would this be in the absence of our current tax burden? Proverbs 13:22 states that, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children", thus condemning estate and inheritance taxes. Bearing one another's burdens by giving to charity and insuring ourselves properly (Galatians 6:2) would be a world easier were we not raped on taxes.

Acts 2:42-45 and 4:32-35 describe First Century communities of believers who share all their possessions and give liberally to anyone who has need. Although socialists love these Scriptures, people in these communities were influenced not by a progressive income tax, but by the Holy Spirit.

The gun control movement will disarm Christians along with everyone else. The Second Amendment is the strongest barrier standing between Christians and those who would persecute them.

Isaiah 10:2 inveighs against "those who make unjust laws" and "those who issue oppressive decrees." What have we come to when a simple act of humanitarianism, such as Linda Chavez' (former nominee for Labor secretary) taking a poor immigrant into her home, can be against the law? Consider all the people who die each year because FDA and DEA regulations deny them access to drugs which are helping people in many other countries around the world?

Yes, we are to "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21). Yet the same verse also tells us to give "to God what is God's." This scripture can be applied to many issues other than taxation. Our limitless belief in the competence of the state not only denies us the ability to exercise freely our God-given rights, it never gets us what we say we want.

Jesus had something to say about this, too. In Matthew 6:31-33, he says: "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

More on the Founding

Again, God is the author of our rights. Indeed, this is the premise of the American Founding. Thomas Jefferson was no conventional Christian. However, in his politics, he was far more Christian than any well-known contemporary Christian leader. Consider the language of the Declaration of Independence. It speaks of the "station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitles them." It states that we "are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights." It "(appeals) to the "Supreme Judge of the world." The signers had "a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence."

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution promise us a free society, not a perfect one. The Bible does not promise a perfect society either. In Matthew 10:22, Jesus says "All men will hate you because of me." If anyone was such a good person that he had a right to live in an ideal society where all his worldly needs were met, certainly it was Jesus. Consider his lot in life.

The Founders were very fearful of a strong central authority. In the First Book of Samuel, the elders of Israel asked God to "appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have" (I Samuel 8:5). God took this as a rejection of Him as king. God let them have their king, but warned of the tyranny such an earthly king would impart. (I Samuel 8:4-20)

Isaiah 33:22 states, "For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king." There you have it: three divinely ordained branches of government.

Andrew Sandlin is a very scholarly libertarian Christian who serves at the Chalcedon Institute in California. In a very fine essay on Christian libertarianism, Sandlin points out that the state is but one form of government among many. Others include the self, the family, the church, the school, businesses and private associations. In Sandlin's words, "The governmental area of the state must be strictly limited lest all government be destroyed by the tyranny." (1)

In the words of James Madison, "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions...upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

The Founders' delineation of "what is Caesar's" may be found in the 18 clauses and 431 words of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. If it is not spelled out here the federal government cannot proactively do it.

In Exodus 3:14, God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." God is the ultimate. The be all and end all. This might be considered the supremacy clause of the Bible. The Constitution has its supremacy clause in Article VI.

Where hear frequently how America is a republic, not a democracy. The Founders rightly equated democracy with mob rule. Jesus was crucified and Barabbas was released (Matthew 27:15-26) because Pilate gave in to the whims of the mob.

Many of you have heard the saying that, in a democracy, two wolves and a sheep take a majority vote on what's for supper. In a republic, on the other hand, the wolves are forbidden on voting on what's for supper, and the sheep are well armed.

Democracy is not a biblical concept. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Only in a free society can Christians hear God's call for their lives, and walk forward in accordance with this call, without having to seek the permission of the secular majority.

When they came for the Amish...

Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated columnist whose work appears frequently in the Denver Rocky Mountain News. Whether or not she is a libertarian, I do not know. However, she writes a lot of great stuff. Last December she told the story of how, in 1956, an Amish farmer fought back when the feds raided his farm and seized some of his horses. As a result, the 1965 Medicare bill would carry an exemption for the Old Order Amish, as well as anyone else who objected on religious grounds, from paying payroll taxes for old-age benefits.

When they came for the Amish, the Amish said something.

Why cannot the mainstream Christian leadership commit itself once again to Biblical government and thus help put an end to social insurance schemes?

Romans 13

Perhaps it is because they have so grossly misinterpreted Romans 13 as an injunction never to resist the actions of your government. Romans 13 does not say a lot of the things that it is fashionable to say that it says.

While God ordains civil government, he does not bless its every act. (God created sex, but does not bless every act of sex.)

Romans 13 does not say that the state is the only divinely ordained form of government.

Romans 13 does not say that outlawing evil will eradicate it.

While Romans 13 contains stern warnings for those who rebel. However, it does not say that rebellion is never justified. The American Revolution is a case in point. Many of the Founders paid with their lives for signing the Declaration of Independence. I do not know about you, but I am glad they did what they did.

Titus 3:1 and I Peter 2:13-14 say similar things. Yet neither tells us to be unquestioning little flunkies of our government.

Acts 4:18-19 and Acts 5:28-29 say that when God's law says one thing and man's laws say another, follow God's law.

The bigger government gets, the more it lies, the more it steals, and the more it kills. The bigger government gets, the more godless it gets. At some point, all rogue governments attempt to write God out of the picture altogether.

Rulers are subject to God's judgment, too.

Rulers are subject to God's judgment, too. From the beginning, as a helpless baby, Jesus made the kings of the earth very uneasy (Matthew 2).

Jesus' Kingdom is not of this earth (John 18:36). His followers have their true citizenship elsewhere (Philippians 3:20). Jesus was put to death by people who "(had) no King but Caesar" (John 19:15).

Joseph Stalin was perhaps history's most prolific mass murderer. The blood of some 70 to 80 million people was on his hands. Hitler was not even in Stalin's league as a mass murderer. When Stalin was on his deathbed, he feebly shook his fist at heaven in one last act of defiance. He had devoted his life to writing God out of the picture. Well, in 1953, God wrote Stalin out of the picture.

Was Stalin an atheist? I do not think so. An atheist would not see God as a threat. Stalin, Mao, or anyone else who institutionalizes atheism does so because they see God as a threat, and their subjects' loyalty to God as a threat.

The beast of the Book of Revelation will be a political leader with the "power to make war against the saints and conquer them" (Revelation 13:5-8).

But Jesus will return to reign in the end (Revelation 19). Psalm 2:9-10 carries the following warning for the kings of this world when Jesus does return. "You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery. Therefore, you kings; be wise; be warned you rulers of the earth."

Conclusion: One Solitary Life

Expecting a political savior is not a new phenomenon. It is always tempting to believe that getting the right person or persons in office will make everything right with the world. 2000 years ago, the people of Israel thought the Messiah would ride in on a white horse and spectacularly liberate them from Roman oppression.

But God had other things in mind. He sent a helpless baby who, at least superficially, was the most ordinary of men.

I want to conclude by reading something I wish I had written. It is entitled "One Solitary Life."

"He was the most famous and successful man who has ever lived. His teachings are followed by hundreds of millions of people. He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. Until he was 30, he worked in a carpenter shop, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He wrote no books. He held no office. He never owned a home. He was never in a big city. He never traveled 200 miles from the place where he was born. He never did any of the things that usually accompany greatness.

"The authorities condemned his teachings. His friends deserted him. One betrayed him to his enemies for a paltry sum. One denied him. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only piece of clothing he owned on earth: his coat. When he was dead, he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave.

"Nineteen centuries have come and gone, yet today he is the crowning glory of the human race, the adored leader of hundreds of millions of the earth's inhabitants. All the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever set sail and all the parliaments that ever sat and all the rulers that ever reigned -- put together -- have not affected the life of man upon this earth so profoundly as that ONE SOLITARY LIFE."

Thank you and God bless you.

(1) As I was posting this to my web page, I received an e-mail from Andrew Sandlin. It said that the American Revolution, rather than being an act of rebellion, was a defensive struggle. I e-mailed him back saying he was right, and that the Southern cause in the War Between the States was, similarly, a defensive struggle. (See Proverbs 25:26) (Back)

Special thanks to Michelle Bethke. When putting together the program for the Colorado Libertarian Convention, she spelled "libertarian" in the title to this speech, with a small "l". This was important.

Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman

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