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The Trouble with Social Security

The social security system can be criticized on both economic and moral grounds.

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony,
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The social security system can be criticized on both economic and moral grounds.

Economically, the system is cruelly unfair. Thus, if a man pays in $75,000 to social security between the ages of 18 and 65, the likelihood of getting his money back is poor. His life expectancy after 65 makes it unlikely that he will get back all or half the amount he paid in for 47 years. If he dies, his widow's benefits again are too small to add up to any significant return on his "investment." The combined amount paid in by the employer and employee adds up to a very considerable sum, and the returns on it are small. The only real gainer from social security is the federal government, In 1969, Edward J. Van Allen, in The Trouble With Social Security, pointed out that a young worker who began paying into social security at age 18 and retired at 65 would have to live to be 111 years old to break even. If any insurance company or pension plan gave as poor returns, or misused funds as does Social Security, the managers thereof would quickly find themselves in prison!

The social security system, according to the federal courts, is not an insurance or pension plan but a tax. It gives us no claims nor rights; Congress can alter the benefits at will, or cut us out of them, and, for some, this has happened. Moreover, because the federal government uses the funds as they come in, instead of saving them, we must pay interest (in the form of extra taxes) on the federal bonds which have replaced our payments. Moreover, the social security system promotes insecurity. It limits our ability to save; it prevents us from investing in sound pension plans, and it fuels inflation. If, instead of a federally operated system, the law required free-market insurance and pension plans to provide the benefits, we would then have a sound and stable system.

There is, however, another aspect to social security, the moral and religious factor. A simple historical fact tells us much at this point. Some years after the War of Independence, the U.S. Congress passed a pension plan for all veterans of that war. All veterans desiring a pension were to apply at designated places, submit evidence of their military status, and dictate to a court clerk their memories of the war. Those brief memoirs give us sometimes vivid glimpses of George Washington, Putnam, and other leaders of that era. The stories, however, come as a shock to any Christian reader. Were there no Christians in the Continental Army? Almost uniformly, the veterans showed no interest in the faith or the church in their mature years.

The answer to that question is a very simple one. No Christian veteran applied for a federal pension, and the churches were united in their opposition to any such application. They believed that Christian participation in a state or federal pension plan was morally wrong. They based their stand on many texts in Scripture, from the Old Testament and the New, and they saw their position as summed up and required by I Timothy 5:8, "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel." From the days of the early church until this century, and definitely through the first half of the last, Christians saw this as a binding duty and law. For them it meant, first, that every Christian has a duty before God to care for his own family, especially those in his own household or under his roof. This did not apply to those who, like the Prodigal Son, had denied the faith and separated themselves. The family is more than a blood institution in Scripture: it is a faith bond. Indeed, where a son is an incorrigible and habitual delinquent, the family must witness for the faith and against the son by denouncing him to the authorities (Deut. 2l:18-21). On the other hand, all believing members must be cared for. Our Lord denounces all who refused to provide for their parents and felt that the money for parental support could be better used by the Temple, or God's ministry. He equates this with cursing one's parents, which the law says requires the death penalty (Mark 7:9-13). Very clearly, failure to provide for one's needy kin is a fearful offense in the sight of God. The social security system is a welcome fact for all such sinners, who are readier to see this tax increase than to care for their parents.

Second, the "family" of which Paul speaks in I Timothy 5:8 includes our fellow believers. Very early, following Old Testament practices, the disciples took steps to provide for the needy widows and other like persons in the church. In Acts 6:1-3, we do not have the institution of such a practice; it was already a "daily ministration." Rather, what we have is the organization of a diaconate to provide an efficient and well organized ministry in this area. The work of the early church in this area was remarkable. No charity beyond one day was given to able-bodied men, but work was found for them, or work was made for them on subsistence wages. Indeed, one of the telling "advertisements" for the early church throughout the Roman Empire was their care one for another. Hence the saying, "Behold, how these Christians love one another!" To be a Christian meant to be a responsible person and a member of a larger family. This is one aspect of what Paul means when he says, "we are members one of another" (Eph. 4:25). It was not a light thing to be a Christian: it meant joining, or rather, being adopted into, the family of Jesus Christ as a working, obedient, and responsible member.

We cannot appreciate the significance of all this unless we realize that the New Testament was written, and the early church lived, in the context of the Roman Empire. Until our time, Rome provided the world's most massive social security and welfare system in history. It was "bread and circuses," i.e., food, housing, and entertainment. As in our day, the state was seen as god walking on earth, the source of providence and providing. Rome resented the Christian insistence that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord, and the Christians' care one for another. Such care meant that the government of another ruler than Caesar was determining the lives of man, and that a god other than Caesar was the provider.

Third, the early church was mindful of the poor outside the fold. As early as in the days of the twelve disciples, there was a treasury for the care of such poor. We have a reference to this in John 12:l-6, and to the fact that this fund was in Judas' care, and he was a thief. What people have not bothered to note is that funds were obviously being given to our Lord, i.e., tithes and offerings. These were apparently apportioned for various purposes, the care of our Lord's ministry and its expenses, perhaps the support of the disciples' families at home, as well as the poor. There were thus perhaps several treasurers, one for each cause.

We do know that one of the great conflicts of the early church with Rome was over abortion. Not only did the church strongly oppose abortion, but it did more. Abortion was then crude and primitive and not always successful. Unwanted babies were then abandoned, in Rome itself under the bridges, where wild dogs consumed them. Christians quickly began to collect all such abandoned new-born babies and then passed them around to member families. This added to the rapid growth of the Christian population. It also embarrassed Romans, who spread stories saying that the babies were collected to be eaten in the communion services, and their blood drunk.

Much more can be said. Hospitals began as an outgrowth of the Christian ministry, and, until fairly recent generations, all hospitals were Christian. Schooling goes back to the Levite schools (Deut. 33:10), and statist education is a recent, humanistic, and socialistic step. All welfare was once Christian, and so on and on. The Bible provides for the world's only sound social security system, spiritually and materially, and Christians once applied it. It begins with salvation, and it continues with being members one of another. The Lord requires it of us.

(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 119; Chalcedon Position Paper No. 25)

R. J. Rushdoony
  • R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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