A Biblical Tax Burden
For some people winter is the most depressing season of the year. They suffer from sunlight deprivation, which brings on the “winter blues” — a naturally produced depression. But an increasing number of people in America suffer from an unnatural “winter blues” that isn’t relieved until April 15 of each year, the deadline for filing income tax reports. American citizens have invited this annual dose of artificially induced depression because we have allowed civil government to grow out of control. As our Biblical view of civil government declined through the generations, an anti-Biblical concept of government has grown, bringing increased government spending and taxing.
Tax Freedom Day
Tax Freedom Day is the day on which Americans finally earn enough money to pay their taxes. In 1900 Tax Freedom Day was January 20. It only took 20 working days to pay off the combined “tax bite”: seven days for the federal government, and 13 days for state and local governments.
In 1900 the total effective tax rate was only 5.7% (2.1% at the federal level, and 3.6% at the state and local levels). But over the years, as the role of civil government expanded, Tax Freedom Day occurred later until in the year 2000 it was on April 30. Today it takes the average American 120 days (three whole months!) to free himself from the grasping bite of taxes (84 days for the federal, and 36 days for state and local governments). The total effective tax rate in 2000 rose to 33.0% (23.1% for federal taxes, and 9.9% for state and local taxes).1 In 1 Samuel 8, the prophet warned Israel that a persistent rise in taxation would occur when the people rejected God as their king and asked for a “king like other nations.” Prior to that time the Israelites were blessed by living in a decentralized republic where civil rulers had very limited power.
The real level of taxation in America has risen much higher than the above numbers indicate. Since establishing the Federal Reserve Bank in 1913, monetary inflation has “taxed” citizens by secretly confiscating their accumulated savings and incomes by debauching the purchasing power of the dollar. The monetary collusion between the federal government and the Federal Reserve Bank made 1913 the black, black year of the republic. Political actions practically guaranteed — through unlimited taxation and open-ended power to create money — the growth of a powerful and potentially tyrannical central government in Washington, D.C.2
The Consumer Price Index (CPI)3 was 25 in 1900, but by the year 2000 the CPI had risen to 516 — an increase of 20.6 times!4 The average person is so busy working to provide for his or her family as to be almost completely unaware that our centralized government grows from the open-ended power to tax and create new fiat money. How many of us realize that our parents and grandparents lived in a political climate that blessed them with much greater political and economic freedom than we enjoy today?
One line of propaganda upholding the growth of steadily increasing government taxation and intervention is this: “As the population of a country grows, it is only natural that taxes and government controls increase.” This indeed is what has happened in America because of the general acceptance of a humanistic view of civil government, but it is a false and misleading argument.
Does a family, church, business firm, or other voluntary organization increase the economic burdens on individual members as the organization grows in membership? No! The opposite occurs because of the economic laws of the division of labor, specialization of effort, and the reduction of costs through quantity purchasing and mass production. Thus business firms are consistently able to benefit workers through rising wages and consumers with lower prices. So too can family, churches, and voluntary organizations follow similar practices. It is not until unnecessary and costly bureaucracy enters the picture that the efficiencies of economic growth are stymied. The Achilles’ heel of humanistic civil government is that political leaders live at taxpayers’ expense contrary to God’s admonishment in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Naturally, we try to distance ourselves from freeloaders and thieves. But, since government exists by imposing forcible mandates on the populace, expensive and costly bureaucracy is encouraged. Yet a viable concept of civil government and taxation can be found in the Bible.
Is There a Biblical View of Government and Taxation?
Unfortunately, it is not likely that today’s churches will teach about the Biblical view of the state. Seminaries — even the best Reformed seminaries — fail to instruct their graduates about the Biblical role of civil government. Consequently, many pastors have difficulty understanding what Scripture teaches about civil government and economics, and they, in turn, pass on this ignorance to their congregations.
Confounding the problem even more is the existence of state-chartered corporate churches (501-C-3 churches) that fear to speak out on so-called “political issues,” lest their tax-deductibility be taken from them. Such churches have been effectively emasculated from performing some of their most important roles in society (Dan. 2:44; 3:1-18; 6:1-10) because they fear the state more than God.
Rushdoony writes about the Babylonian concept that the King was the earthly mediator between man and God, which concept has carried over into modern society. He explains why the prophecies of Daniel were an offense to rulers in his time, just as Biblically oriented church leaders are sure to be an offense to political leaders today:
Daniel is offensive because it sets forth predictive prophecy in its plainest form, unpoetic, blunt, and unmistakable…it charts the course of empire for centuries ahead,…this is not only a revelation from God but the manifestation of God’s normal and continuing government of men and of nations. And this is a stumbling block. Men and nations want to believe in their autonomy, their independence of God; they prefer to see themselves as masters of their own destinies, as the movers and shapers — creators, not creatures.5
It is equally certain in the twentieth century that God has at various times handed power and dominion to such men as Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain, Stalin, Daladier, deGaulle, Roosevelt, Mao, Kennedy, Nasser, Nehru, and others, while leaving His saints helpless and apparently impotent in the face of these ordained powers. Not without reason, as they contemplated these things, the saints in Babylon gave voice to their grief:
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Ps.137:4).
This, unhappily, is constantly our calling now, to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, in a world handed over to the sons of Babylon.6
Many Christians today misunderstand Romans 13 concerning civil government — about “being subject unto the higher powers” (v.1) and “paying tribute” (v.7). Romans 13 must be read and understood in conformity with the book of Daniel, the oppression of the people that the Old Testament prophets railed about, and the admonitions given in Psalms about not trusting princes unconditionally (Ps. 146:3). God’s people are not admonished by any passage of Scripture to give unquestioned obedience to civil rulers. Legitimate obedience is always conditional. We are to follow the example of Daniel in the New Testament age, lest tyranny reign supreme in the absence of our witness for Christ. In short, Romans 13, standing alone, is not normative; but, rather, Daniel and Romans 13 taken together are normative.
When considering the paying of taxes, we must view the Old Testament and New Testament passages as a whole. Many Christians mistakenly interpret Romans 13:7 and Matthew 22:21 as directions to pay, without question, any level of taxation demanded. Such an attitude guarantees the unopposed growth of tyranny! How does this fit in with God’s desire that we live as free and self-responsible individuals before our Creator (Ex.8:1)? How does it correspond with God’s admonition that we honor Him by tithing our income (Mal. 3:8-12)? If God admonishes us to pay Him a tithe (10%) of our income, do not civil authorities raise themselves above God by demanding more than God allows? This idolatry must be opposed. But what would such opposition look like?
What Would a Biblical System of Taxation Look Like?
Over the last 100 years, lawmakers and taxing authorities at all levels of civil government have developed ingenious ways of relieving citizens of their hard-earned incomes. This has occurred because neither the citizenry nor the civil authorities have looked to the Bible for guidance. Who was there to teach them? The church and its many seminaries certainly do not fill this need.
Through many years of studying God’s Word, I have become convinced that there is only one Biblical way to support both church and state. Through the tithe, each individual can give that which he owes directly to God’s service by supporting Biblical work of the church and of private individuals. The tithe belongs to God, and so it is not to be controlled by the church. Rather, when it comes to supporting church ministries, each believer has the personal responsibility of weighing church programs in the scale of value and then determining whether or not they are worthy of support. This statement might appear radical because it runs counter to the viewpoint that we owe a full tithe to the ecclesiastical church. However, the responsibility of administering the tithe belongs to the tither and not to the church; and the church’s real work is simply to preach the saving Gospel of Christ and to edify the saints by applying God’s Word to their lives.
As the church expands its primary calling beyond Biblical guidelines and demands a right to an unquestioned tithe from church members, it unbiblically arrogates to itself a similar alleged “right of taxation” we hear in the civil arena.
The only Biblically authorized civil tax is the head tax or a census tax — a half-shekel mandated by the Lord in Exodus 30:11-16. During Jesus’ day the Hebrew shekel was worth a day’s wage. Imagine supporting the many varied activities of civil government today by each person over age 20 paying only one day’s wage, and the rich paying no more!
Yes, a head tax of one day’s wage would be sufficient to support God’s narrow mandate for civil government (Rom. 13:4). Around 1900 we supported all levels of civil government for less than five-percent of our Gross National Product. Our national debt was zero, we had no IRS to fear, and practically no government involvement in our personal lives.
R. J. Rushdoony sheds interesting light on church and state:
We find in Scripture two institutions of very great symbolic and typical significance yet with very limited and circumscribed powers. These are church and state. The state is the ministry of justice ( Rom. 13:1-7), and it very clearly has thus a very important function. Justice being basic to the Kingdom of God, the state’s function is thus an obviously important one. Moreover, the analogy between the state as a realm, dominion, or kingdom and the Kingdom of God is a very obvious one also, although the state can never be identified as the Kingdom of God, but, like the church, as only an aspect thereof.
God, however, very severely limits the powers and the scope of the state by restricting its taxing power to the head or poll tax, whose purpose is the civil covering, atonement, or protections of society (Ex. 30:11-16). Beyond this, apart from possibly some fines, the state has no taxing power and is thus given, as its legitimate area, a severely limited field of activity. The modern state, by exacting, directly and indirectly, taxes on various levels equal to about 45 percent of the citizen’s income, is thus illegitimate, lawless, and godless. The state in Scripture thus has an important meaning but a restricted and secondary function.
This is no less true of the church. Whereas the state is the ministry of justice, the church is the ministry of grace. As such, the ministry of the word of grace is its essential function. The response of man to that word of grace is in part worship, and worship thus constitutes a central aspect of the life of the church. Worship wanes as the word of grace is adulterated and neglected, because worship is the grateful response of the people of grace. The church is the body of Christ, and its meaning is one of very profound and far-reaching implications, but again, as with the state, Scripture severely restricts its power and scope.7
Again, he states:
The state has instituted a number of godless forms of taxation: the property tax, the inheritance tax, the income tax, and so on and on. Statist taxation is revolution against God: its purpose is to supplant God’s order with man’s order. The function of God’s tax, the tithe, and God’s ordained civil tax, the poll tax (and limited fines), is to establish God’s order.8
A truly Biblical system of taxation would eliminate the tyrannically invasive and feared federal income tax along with its counterparts at the state and local levels. Individuals and corporations would then have to earn their incomes rather than being given welfare subsidies at the expense of citizens who do work, which is legalized theft. The long list of taxes we now pay would disappear. And the healthy breeze of freedom wafting across America would enliven our creative spirits. Each person’s property and accumulated wealth would be beyond the grasp of envious powers lurking behind the political facade (Eph. 6:12).
We must recognize that the evil spirit of “Babylonian civil government” exists in our age just as it did in the age of Daniel, and we must direct ourselves accordingly. Does this mean armed rebellion? Certainly not! While God did raise up Jereboam as an intermediate magistrate to rally the people against the oppressive taxation of King Rehoboam (1 Kin. 12),9 our role as Christians is to pursue peaceful educational endeavors, instructing people to seek and follow Biblical precepts. This is our holy calling!
© Tom Rose, 2004
1. J. Scott Moody, America Celebrates Tax Freedom Day ( Washington, D.C.: Tax Foundation, 2003), 1-4.
2. Tom Rose, “90 Years and Going Strong?,” Chalcedon Report 443 (August 2002), 12.
3. The Consumer Price Index is an index of the variation in prices paid by typical consumers for retail goods and other items.
4. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, “Consumer Price Index (Estimate) 1800-2000.” http://minneapolisfed.org/Research/data/us/calc/hist1800.cfm.
5. R. J. Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1978), 4-5.
6. Ibid., 22.
7. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, vol. 2, Law and Society (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), 127.
8. Ibid., 219.
9. For information about the role of civil magistrates in the process of governmental interposition, see: Tom Rose, Reclaiming the American Dream by Reconstructing the American Republic (Mercer, PA: American Enterprise Publications, 1996).
Topics: Biblical Law, Economics, Government, Statism