In the Foreword to Tony Campolo’s book Red Letter Christians, Jim Wallis tells a story about a secular Jewish country-music songwriter and disk jockey who told him that a new social movement was being birthed as a result of Wallis’ God’s Politics and other “social-conscience” books. Here’s how Wallis tells it:
“I love your stuff and have been following your book tour.” Then he told me he believed we were starting a new movement, but he noticed we hadn’t come up with a name for it yet. “I’ve got an idea for you,” he said. “I think you should call yourselves ‘The Red Letter Christians.’ You know those Bibles that highlight the words of Jesus in red letters? I love the red-letter stuff. The rest I could do without.” (Jim Wallis in the Foreword to Tony Campolo, Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2008), 9.)
Wallis continues by telling how he shared this story with Campolo, who he calls “the ‘godfather’ of Red Letter Christians . . . after all, he is Italian,” and how excited Tony got when he heard it.
Government 101: The Politics of Authority
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Campolo declares “that there are more than 2,000 verses of Scripture that call us to express love and justice for those who are poor and oppressed.” (Campolo, Red Letter Christians, 24.) What Campolo needs to find in these 2,000 verses is one verse that gives authority to civil government to redistribute wealth. Campolo takes verses that are directed at individuals and turns them on their heads by giving them a political twist. Here’s a representative example:
Most important, when we reflect on all Jesus had to say about caring for the poor and oppressed, committing ourselves to His red-letter message just might drive us to see what we can do politically to help those he called, “the least of these” (see Matt. 25:31–46). (Campolo, Red Letter Christians, 22.)
On the day of judgment . . . [God] will ask whether or not we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, received and cared for aliens, and brought deliverance to captive peoples (see Matt. 25:31–46). (Campolo, Red Letter Christians, 24.)
Campolo sees a political solution in these verses when Jesus was addressing what individuals have or have not done. By politically, Campolo means government intervention and wealth redistribution. For example, Matthew 25:42 is not a directive for what the civil government should do. Jesus was condemning the way His followers would be treated by the enemies of the gospel. To attack Jesus’ bride was to attack Jesus. “Jesus … reckoned the treatment shown to His disciples by The Jews during that period as done to Himself, and rewarded or punished accordingly.” (William Hurte, The Restoration New Testament Commentary in Question and Answer Form: A Catechetical Commentary (Rosemead, CA: Old Paths Publishing Co.,  1964), 53.)
Stephen was killed by his countrymen (Acts 7:54–60)). “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (8:1, 3).
James, the brother of John, was put to death by Herod, an act that “pleased the Jews” (Acts 12:3). This led to the arrest and imprisonment of Peter (12:3–5). The book of Acts tells us that the Apostle Paul was a prisoner at Philippi (with Silas), Jerusalem, Caesarea, on a ship across the Mediterranean, and in Rome (Acts 16:22–23; 23:10–11, 31–33; 26:32–27). Epaphroditus from Philippi was a great help to Paul by ministering to his needs (Phil. 2:25–30).
A commenter had this to say about the role civil government has a right to play in the area of social welfare:
There are lots of things that civil government is allowed to do that I, as a private citizen am not allowed to do like execute criminals, have my own private army, print my own money, etc. You need to take off your blinders of ideological dogmatism and think through the logical implications of what your [sic] saying. By the way, as I posted on another thread my Scriptural basis for supporting Welfare, Foodstamps, Social Security, etc. is Matthew 25:31–46.
This is the theology of Baalism, more specifically, Baal-Berithism (Judges 8:33), Baal of the Covenant. “Part and parcel of Baalism and of all non-Christian philosophy,” according to James Jordan, “is statism, the absolute rule of man over other men by means of force. . . . [T]he essence of Baalism as a philosophy is the belief that Nature is ultimate, and that man is the stimulator and thus the ruler of Nature. This also means that man is the stimulator and ruler of other men, since they are a part of Nature.” (James B. Jordan, Judges: God’s War Against Humanism (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1985), 113.)
Rarely do we find in the Bible an outright abandonment of the things of the covenant. Rather, compromises are made and toleration and adoption of elements from competing worldviews are made. “Baal-Berith, the Baal of the Covenant, was a syncretistic (combination) god composed of elements from Baalism and the true faith.” (Jordan, Judges, 156–157.) Israel went from Jerubbaal, Baal Fighter, to Baal-Berith, Baalism (statism) wrapped in the religiosity of the covenant to give it authenticity. The end-result is tyranny as Jotham’s parable of the trees indicates (Judges 9:7–21).
Caring for the poor is a biblical mandate, a requirement of the covenant, but using the State as the means to level incomes to accomplish this is the religion of Baalism. Yes, there are some things that civil government is permitted to do that a private citizen is not permitted to do. Executing criminals and raising an army for the defense of the nation are two of them. Both the Bible and the Constitution are specific about these.
Printing money and going into debt is theft and hurts the poorest among us (Isa. 1:22). To base government programs like welfare, food stamps, and social security on Matthew 25:31–46 is without foundation. The division in Matthew 25 is between sheep and goats, that is, individuals in nations. Nations don’t visit people in prison; private citizens do. Governments put people in prison; private citizens do not.
Civil governments are the biggest hindrance in helping the poor, and it’s not because they don’t tax enough and redistribute wealth. High taxes and control of the money supply (inflation/deflation) enable civil governments to control people and their property. A ten percent tax is a sign of tyranny (1 Sam. 8:15), and yet Red Letter Christians believe in higher taxes on the rich to help the poor. It was a taxing policy by Rome that forced Mary and Joseph to leave their stable home environment and Joseph’s job and spend money they probably did not have to register for a government taxing program (Luke 2:1–7). Wealth redistribution policies, with all their good intentions, have the effect of hurting the poor and making them dependent on civil government—forever. Campolo is advocating what Jesus condemns the Pharisees for in Mark 7:1–13, nullifying the Word of God for the sake of a political tradition that is neither biblical nor effective.
The Establishment and Limits of Civil Government
The Bible tells us that civil rulers are ministers of God. The Greek word translated ministers is the same word used to describe ministers in a church. There are civil ministers and church ministers. Both serve as God's ministers within their jurisdictions. It is unbiblical to assume that civil rulers are autonomous, that they can legitimately rule independent of Gods limiting authority of them. It is a serious mistake to take Paul's instructions in Romans 13 and claim that civil rulers cannot be challenged by the citizenry.Buy Now