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The Law, the Gospel, and Social Justice

Within a Biblical framework, the term "social justice" refers to a situation in which the equity of God's law prevails, leveling society. As understood by liberals, however, "social justice" becomes a mere buzzword with racist and Marxist overtones.

  • John B. King, Jr.
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Within a Biblical framework, the term "social justice" refers to a situation in which the equity of God's law prevails, leveling society. As understood by liberals, however, "social justice" becomes a mere buzzword with racist and Marxist overtones. "No justice; no peace," they cry as they fuel the flames of racial hatred and class envy to solidify their grip on power. As seen by this emphasis on class antagonism, the liberal view of social justice has definite economic implications. In particular, "social justice" is thought to include "economic justice" and thus a so-called "equitable distribution of wealth." In other words, the liberal view is thoroughly socialist and therefore unbiblical to the core. Since God's Word alone forms the necessary and sufficient basis for a just society, the liberal program produces a result that is neither social nor just.

That socialism is unbiblical follows from the fact that the forced redistribution of wealth violates both the law of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. With respect to the law, socialism violates the Eighth Commandment by allowing a person to claim another's property. With respect to the gospel, socialism undercuts the concept of grace by holding that benevolence may be constrained by considerations of need. In other words, socialism entails a mindset in which salvation (in this case economic salvation) is a needs-based right rather than a gracious gift. Thus, in seeking to constrain salvation within a man made legal system, the liberal notion of social justice attacks both the law of God and the gospel of Christ. It is simultaneously antinomian and legalistic.

The liberal view is antinomian because its program of wealth redistribution violates the equity of God's property laws. For instance, according to the Eighth Commandment, a man may not steal his neighbor's property (Ex. 20:15; Dt. 5:19). Since one may not steal even to sustain his life (Pr. 6:30, 31), it follows that even extreme need does not constitute a claim upon another person's property. Biblical law bases property claims on ownership rather than need. Since one cannot use his need to claim another's goods, it follows that the liberal view of social justice violates the equity of God's law. Of course, some will argue that socialism is not stealing since the government has the power to tax. However, the legitimate taxing power of government pertains to functions like civil justice and common defense, from which everyone benefits and so must pay their fair share (Rom. 13:1-7). Programs like socialized medicine and public education involve an attempt to appropriate another's property for one's own personal use, and any such attempt is covetous and larcenous, even if the government acts as the middleman. Christians must oppose welfare, public education, and related socialist schemes in principle, and not just because of their high cost and ineffectiveness.

In levying property taxes, the government claims ultimate ownership of the land within its domain. In theory and in fact, home ownership is nullified by state ownership, and the supposed homeowners in fact rent from the state. A failure to pay property taxes results in a government lien against one's property that has priority over all private claims. Continued failure to pay these liens eventually results in government foreclosure and sale of the home, thereby revealing the true locus of ownership. Thus, in assessing a property tax, the government implicitly claims ownership over the property itself thereby robbing the homeowner of his rightful claim. Since such a claim is implicit in every property tax (no matter how small), it is the principle of such a tax and not its amount that is so dangerous. Christians must oppose property taxes in principle, and not just quibble over the amount. The legitimate taxing authority of the government must operate through other means.

If the property tax implies state ownership of land, the income tax implies state ownership of people. After all, in working for a wage, a person is simply trading his knowledge, skill, and/or strength for money. Implicit in such an exchange is the assumption that the person owns himself first of all, and, therefore, the talents he possesses. Owning himself and his talents, he is free to exchange a specified use of them for a specified wage. However, when the government steps into this transaction and demands a share of the wages, it asserts its ownership over the person and his talents. Since the amount of the tax is determined strictly by the whim of the government and could therefore rise to 100%, the claim to state ownership is total in principle. Of course, since God is the ultimate owner of everyone, He is entitled to charge the income tax that He requires in the tithe. The state, however, is not God and therefore has no business imposing an income tax. In doing so, it asserts state ownership of people as units of production, thereby reduces its citizens to the status of slaves. Since such an assertion is implicit in every income tax (no matter how small), it is the principle of such a tax and not its amount that is so dangerous. Christians must oppose government income taxes in principle, and not just quibble over the amount. The legitimate taxing authority of the government must operate through other means.

The Social Gospel
In addition to violating the law of God, the liberal socialist program also violates the gospel. In particular, by seeking to constrain economic salvation by considerations of need, it turns such salvation into a needs-based right, rather than a gracious gift. Since charity and the gospel both rely on the principle of unconstrained benevolence, they are alike manifestations of a common principle of grace. In seeking to constrain benevolence, the liberal program directly attacks the very principle of grace upon which both charity and the gospel rest. Of course, the salvation to which the gospel refers is eternal, regenerative and, therefore, deeper and broader in its effect than a merely economic salvation (although in its regenerating power the gospel has economic implications as well). In advancing the principle that physical salvation is a needs-based right, socialism attacks the very character of grace and, therefore, lends itself to a parallel notion that eternal salvation is also a needs-based right. Thus, on the basis of socialist logic, one should shake his fist in the face of the Almighty, demanding eternal salvation apart from grace and apart from Christ simply because he needs it! As horrid as such a thought is, it is a direct consequence of the socialist idea. Christians must oppose socialism in principle since its core idea is antithetical to the gospel and, thus, to the central reality of the Christian Faith.

In opposing socialism, however, one must remember the legitimate and pressing needs of the poor. After all, God commands His people to remember the poor and give generously to them through tithes and offerings (Dt. 14:2-29; 16:10-14). Because the needs of the poor must be met, the state will naturally step in to fill the gap whenever Christians fail to meet legitimate social needs. In fact, it is precisely because Christians have largely abandoned their social responsibilities that the welfare state has arisen in the first place and then assumed such great authority. To fight socialism it is necessary not only to oppose various welfare schemes, but even more basically to encourage tithing among all Christians so that the church has sufficient resources to meet various social needs. After all, when the church implements such a program, she, unlike the state, will be in a position to minister to the whole person and to provide loving guidance in addition to financial assistance. Because of this more personal approach, she will be able to give people a hand up and not just a handout. The social need, which is used to justify the welfare state, will wither away so that government programs implode from the lack of clients. At such a point, the electorate will be more receptive to political arguments calling for the elimination of such programs that will have become superfluous. Thus, the welfare state will be supplanted by a godly social program that will truly minister to the poor out of love and compassion. Of course, such a program will be a far cry from current policies that imply that the poor can demand the property of others on the basis of physical need. After all, since Biblical charity is based on giving rather than taking, it is rooted in the concept of grace rather than coercion. And while it is true that God commands charity, it is at the same time free and voluntary since it is not enforced by the state. In contrast to the liberal view, the Biblical notion of social justice produces a result that is both social and just. It is social because people of varying economic means are drawn together through godly concern rather than wrenched apart by class warfare. It is also just, because a system based on giving rather than taking honors the property rights of the giver. Within the framework of Biblical law, true social justice prevails because mercy and justice come together to form a just society. May God give us clergy with the insight and integrity to declare these simple truths.

  • John B. King, Jr.

John B. King, Jr., a free lance writer from Corvallis, Oregon, holds a Ph.D. in engineering. He is also a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary West. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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