Is there a better way than Social Security of providing for one’s old age? And can we find it in the Bible?
Since its creation in 1935, Americans, for the most part, have supported the Social Security system as a supplemental retirement insurance program. In recent years, however, rumors and reports of impending bankruptcy have caused the Social Security Administration to come under increasing scrutiny. Unfortunately, not all reviews have considered the practical question of how Social Security will continue to pay retirement benefits to those who have been forced to participate.
In fact, as “baby boomers” reach retirement age and demands on Social Security increase, many wonder whether they will ever be able to retire. Entire generations now worry about whether they will receive any benefits at all when they are no longer part of the workforce.
The fact is that Social Security needs to be replaced or abolished. And the church ought to be a large part of this dismantling process.
Among the first to raise theological objections to Social Security were the Old Order Amish. Content to pay taxes to the government, they objected to Social Security on the grounds that, in their view, commercial insurance is unbiblical. In 1965, Medicare legislation exempted the Old Order Amish from participation in the system.1
Provisions have also been made for ministers to opt out of the system. This provision is narrowly defined and does not apply to other Christians who may have the same objections. According to Crown Financial Ministries:
[B]y reading IRS Form 4361, the form that a minister must use to apply for exemption from Social Security, it is quite obvious that opting out of Social Security is only justified if the minister conscientiously objects to government assistance. So, if a minister can honestly say that he or she is conscientiously opposed to any and all types of government assistance… then he or she should have no hesitation about opting out of Social Security. But, if the decision to opt out is based purely on finances, then the decision is neither justified nor honest.2
Other objections range from claims that Social Security cards are a national identification card and part of the plan to bring all nations under one world government, to assertions that the withholding of taxes violates the principle of the tithe.
Timothy Terrell calls for the abolition of the Social Security system on the basis that it robs families and churches of opportunities to provide in times of need. He writes:
The presence of Social Security can serve as an excuse for family members, and the church, to dodge their responsibilities to widows and orphans. Because Social Security is available, parents may not be as concerned about maintaining a close relationship with their children, or church members with their church. When one is not financially dependent on another, one may be less inclined to resolve differences and pursue peace.3
What About My Retirement?
For many the Social Security system is about retirement. Most people look forward, all their working lives, to the time when they will no longer be required to go to work. Their monthly Social Security checks, along with the proceeds from various pension plans, are expected to take the place of the paychecks they will no longer be earning.
While looking forward to a little leisure time is certainly not unbiblical, Americans may need to adjust their views on retirement. Scripture does not promote the idea that we should cease all productive activity when we reach a certain age. The only mention of retirement in God’s Word is found in Numbers 8:25, which specifically teaches about the retirement of temple priests.
Scripture often proclaims the usefulness of senior citizens. Look at Caleb. He was 85 years old when he claimed his inheritance and vowed to drive the Anakites from it.4 There is no requirement that we cease to be gainfully employed or to work as volunteers when we reach the Golden Years. But what of those who cannot continue to work and provide for themselves?
The Family Security System
The family should be a believer’s primary source of aid in times of need. In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read, “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.”
Clearly, believers have a responsibility for the welfare of family members. Many have long contended that the government only got into the social welfare business because the church failed in its duties to teach Biblical responsibility and to act as the backup when a family could not provide needed assistance. Terrell advocates that the best thing the state can do for society is to get out of the charity business and let the family and church do their jobs. The state, he asserts:
[C]an assist in returning charity and old-age provision to families by phasing out Social Security. There is no way to do this without someone losing some benefit they expected. Some group is going to receive less than it expected, whether those currently receiving benefits or those currently paying in to the system. Cutting benefits will succeed politically only if a large number are “grandfathered” into the current benefits setup. But the sooner Social Security taxes are ended, the sooner money will be freed up to go into personal savings and charitable efforts.5
Social Security Reform
Several plans have been offered to reform Social Security. Reform was, in fact, one of the political issues of the 2004 election. President George Bush promised that he will investigate means of privatizing Social Security. This would provide Individual Retirement Accounts for workers, allowing more diversification and choice for the account owners. Challenger John Kerry promised that he would not privatize the system, but would ensure that the current system is strengthened so that it will not fail senior citizens.
Conservatives generally back the Bush administration plan. Columnist and economist Thomas Sowell writes:
No matter what you were promised or at what age you were supposed to get it, the government can always pass a new law that changes all of that. But you still have to pay into the system. A private annuity plan run by an insurance company is legally required to pay you what was promised, when it was promised, and to maintain assets sufficient to redeem its promises.6
As interesting and as practical as various reform plans may be — and there are dozens of them — they don’t really deal with the issue properly. The issue is not whether we get our checks at age 65, although after a lifetime of making payments one would certainly like to realize some return. The real issue is reform within the Christian community. We need to return to Biblical teaching on the matter.
Until we wean ourselves from reliance upon the government, we will not be able to regain our rightful places as providers for one another. Government is only too happy to fill the gap and create more generations of dependents.
Will it be easy to break this cycle of dependence? Obviously not. But first steps need to be taken. Terrell asks and answers:
How, then can our society move toward a more family and church-oriented system of economic dependencies, and away from our current dependency on the state? The first step will be a renewed recognition of the mutual responsibilities family members and church members have toward one another, and a preparation to meet those needs.7
Such bold steps require solid teaching from the pulpit and a church that is prepared to stand up for its members and its communities.
1. Published online by Amish Country News, September 17, 2004 (http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/amishss.htm).
2. An opinion offered at http://www.cfcministry.org/pastorsCorner/QA.asp?ID=49.
3. “Social Security and the Family,” Chalcedon Report, April, 2003.
4. Joshua 14:10.
5. “Social Security and the Family,” Chalcedon Report, April, 2003.
6. “Privatizing Social Security,” TownHall.com, September 28, 2004.
7. “Social Security and the Family,” Chalcedon Report, April, 2003.