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At the recent Evangelical Theological Society conference in November 2012, Wayne Grudem presented a paper discussing the Biblical limits of government. I’ve provided a brief summary of his paper below, followed by some personal application.
“God Does Not Require or Even Authorize the State to Redistribute Wealth
(Except for a Welfare Safety Net)”
Summary of Main Points
The power of government is great and therefore exceptionally dangerous. What does God authorize government to do with its great power? God authorizes the government to punish evil (Rom. 13:4), tax (Rom. 13:6), encourage good, and promote order (see Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13-14; Proverbs 11:11, 16:11). Government is necessary because anarchy is a highly destructive evil (Judges 18-25).
This brings us to the question if government should provide a safety net for basic needs (food, clothing, shelter). Grudem believes they should for these reasons: 1) This is doing “good” for the poor in society (Rom. 13). 2) This is consistent with Old Testament requirements for just rulers (Ps. 82:2-4; Dan. 4:27). 3) In the United States, this is consistent with our founding purposes. Our Preamble speaks of “promoting general Welfare.”
But there does not seem to be any justification in Scripture for governments seeking to attempt to equalize income or property between rich and poor, or to take from all the rich. I do not think biblical terms for “justice” indicate such responsibility. Property in the Bible belongs by default to individual persons, not to society or the government (Lev. 25:10; Ex. 20:15, 17; Deut. 19:14). Does “justice” require more even distribution of wealth? Justice in Scripture is judgments carried out in conformity with the established moral standard (law of God), preventing crime, and enforcing contracts.
I try to stay out of political issues as much as possible from a pastoral perspective, but Grudem has really challenged me to think more on the pastor’s responsibility to help Christians think through the limits of government. Based on Grudem’s observations, I have more to think about and convey the next time I discuss government from the pulpit. Furthermore, as a Christian I have a better grasp concerning why redistributing someone else’s wealth is beyond God’s scriptural description of government and is blatantly unjust. Therefore, when I vote in the future, the candidate’s definition of government will affect my vote in a greater way than before.