Would Jesus have legislated by contradicting biblical principles, and by using passages against each other? Since no passage of Scripture gives authority to civil government to confiscate wealth or coerce the transfer of wealth, we can rest assured that Jesus would have condemned socialistic governments across the board, and would have advocated an outpouring of voluntary charity (which He did on many occasions). We don’t have to guess, at least, at what Jesus thought of the politicians of His day. When Herod sent Pharisees to warn Jesus to leave, Jesus responded: “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures for today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal'” (Luke 13:32). Translation: “fox” means “cowardly, conniving scavenger”.
So there Jesus stood with Herod’s willing messengers. He could easily have offered his own legislation to the king. He could have proposed that Herod turn “biblical imperatives into social policy.” Perhaps Jesus could even have told Herod that by creating creating such a social policy, he would undoubtedly gain the favor of the masses of the Jews – something highly coveted among rulers (Acts 12:3; 24:27; 25:9). If the red letters express Tony Campolo’s political agenda as clearly and strongly as he says they do, you would think Jesus would pounce on this perfect opportunity to send that very message to Herod himself: “Set up a social welfare program now! It’s the very basis of judgement day!” But He did not. Jesus displayed absolutely no faith in political salvation, or coercion through taxation. I cast out demons… I perform cures, He said — decidedly individualistic action. We do not need unbiblical social welfare programs. We need more individuals transformed by Christ, giving out of the generosity of their own hearts.
“Fox,” He called Herod, who typifies the vainglorious politician. Cowardly, because he refused to meet at this time with Jesus himself, because Jesus had massive support from the people. Conniving, because he sent Pharisees as “friendly” messengers to do his bidding (note how the churchmen here worked from the hip-pocket of the civil ruler). Scavenger, because, well, he was a politician, collecting taxes for “administrative services.” A bit of wisdom from the lexicographer:
Politician, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When he wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared to the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.
All joking aside, I believe this view approximates that of Jesus. Being that civil government is little more than a monopoly of force, then we can well regard its God-intended ministerial function to “bear the sword as an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). Anyone who wishes, however, to expand this monopoly of force beyond the narrow function of punishing evil-doers to controlling a series of giant wealth redistribution schemes, invites all kinds of corruption. Indeed, they invite the most successful scavengers and connivers in society to find their ways into the seats of power that control that flow of wealth, who then control it expertly so that they line their own bellies well first. Increasing government power is an invitation to gangsterism and organized thuggery. The type of individual who would wish to sit atop such a scheme can only can only be the most pure-hearted savior or the most corrupt status-seeker among us. The reader may judge which of these two types prevails. Jesus knew very well, as the red letters reveal.
This is why biblical charity does not employ government power and force, but rather relies on government’s limited role of protection of private property and enforcement of private contracts. These two things – based on the eighth and ninth commandments – make up fundamental measures of law in the kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus’ parable of the workers in Matthew 20:1-16. Judgement in that parable falls out according to the verbal contract between the landowner and the workers (20:13-14). Even though some workers complained of others who worked much less yet earned the same amount as the first, the landowner rightfully held them to their agreement. They accused him of unfairness, but it was they who wished to be unfair to the contract. Jesus highlighted the rightful enforcement of the contract.
In addition to the centrality of the contracts, Jesus emphasized private property rights. The landowner argued, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” (20:15) Why is this significant? The first workers had complained of unfairness, but the landowner had paid them what they agreed on. As for the latecomers who worked less, their equal payment derived from the landowners private charity: “I wish to give to this last man the same as to you” (20:14) He could voluntarily give whatever he wished because of his God-given right to manage his own private property.
The first workers’ complaints stemmed, as the landowner noted, from their envy of what the other workers received. They hated private generosity on the part of the landowner. They wished to redistribute his wealth to benefit them. Envy is the root of socialistic thinking. Jesus condemns this thinking as evil. Those who wish to socialize a nation’s wealth wish to institutionalize envy; they wish to base government upon jealous hatred of private ownership and private charity. But the Bible calls for private property and enforcement of contracts. Going beyond this invites corrupt beasts, like the very fox Jesus called out, and the murderer (Luke 13:1) who helped crucify Christ.
The preceding was an excerpt from Dr. Joel McDurmon’s book entitled: God Versus Socialism: A Biblical Critique of the New Social Gospel AVPress, ©2009