The subject of taxes has been a controversial one since the beginning of civilization. I’m not someone who thinks taxes are completely unnecessary. They are. We could not run our government – either state or federal – without some kind of a tax system.
Our Founders believed that a strong central government needed to be sustained financially through taxes. In Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution, they wrote:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. [sic]
They continued on to enumerate the specific powers that the federal government was given under the Constitution. (NOTE: “general Welfare” [sic] as used in the Constitution did not mean welfare as it exists today. It meant the federal union as a whole as opposed to particular States or the special interests of select persons or groups.)
On the other hand, God instructs His people to give money to church or synagogue for specific purposes. The custom of paying “tithes and offerings” to the church goes back millennia. The first tithe the Bible records was that which Abraham paid to Melchizedek. A tithe represented 10% of a person’s income or property. In the Old Testament, a tithe was given to support the priests, as well as the stranger, the fatherless (orphans), and the widow (Deut. 26:12-13). The purpose of the tithe in the New Testament is not as clearly spelled out as in the Old Testament, but there is nothing to indicate that the purpose of the tithe had changed – except the New Testament seems to stress that giving should be voluntary and done cheerfully.
Taxes and Tithes – a synoptic chart
Comparing the way taxes and tithes are supposed to be spent struck me as very interesting.
|Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution, enumerates the powers of our government, and thus the things our tax money should be spent on, as follows:
- To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
- To regulate commerce & establish uniform rules of naturalization and on bankruptcies;
- To coin money and establish its value, as well as fix the standards of weights and measures;
- To provide for the punishment for counterfeiting;
- To establish a Post Office and post roads;
- To promote science & the arts by issuing copyrights;
- To establish courts
- To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas and against the law of nations;
- To declare war and establish rules of engagement;
- To raise and support armies (for two years at a time)
- To provide and maintain a navy;
- To make rules for government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
- To call out the militia in case of rebellion or invasion,
- To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia (except that States appoint militia officers and serve as the training authority),
- To create the District of Columbia (D.C.) and buy other lands to build forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, etc., and:
- To make all laws necessary and proper for the carrying out of the powers vested in the government by the Constitution.
|By contrast, the church is supposed to spend our tithes and offerings on the following:
- Supporting our clergy and the operating costs of the church;
- Helping the fatherless (orphans);
- Helping strangers;
- Helping widows.
Taxes and Tithes Today
The US Constitution. Photo: National Archives of the United States
While the directive of the church hasn’t changed, it no longer needs to support the fatherless, the strangers and the widows. The government now does that through a myriad of social/welfare programs – and takes more than 10% of our money in taxes to support these programs. To be fair, much of our tax money is spent properly on running the government as prescribed in our Constitution. But nowhere in the powers listed for government in our Constitution is the government given the authority to support our orphans, widows or strangers.
Don’t misunderstand, providing a safety net for the disadvantaged is a good thing – but it should come from the church in the form of charity and not from the state in the form of entitlements.
Whether the church has willingly abdicated its responsibilities to those in need or the government has usurped the church’s responsibilities, is an argument worth having. As someone who has advocated for limited government, I continually come to realize that limited government is not possible unless We the People fill in the gaps. We have been content to let government take care of those in need but we are outraged that people have become dependent on government and develop an “entitlement” mentality.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that life doesn’t quite work out as well when biblical principles have been perverted. When government became the chief distributor of charity, relabeling it “entitlements”, personal accountability went out the window and the dole increased almost exponentially. That should be expected. After all, when charity existed only within the realm of the church, accountability was built into the system. If your neighbor was out of work through no fault of his own and needed help feeding his family, you knew if his need was legitimate. You also knew if he was a lazy good-for-nothing that lounged around all day and drank beer and watched television. Churches know who the truly needy are in their neighborhoods and they know how to minister to them in ways that go well beyond the physical. Government doesn’t know such things.
Consequently, government has grown as dependency on government has grown – ironically enslaving those they seem to be helping by replacing the Church’s work ethic with an entitlement mentality. Since we have allowed government to take care of things previously under the auspices of the Church, the government has felt free to start dictating morality as well – further replacing the Church. As our government has become more benevolent with our money, our hearts seem to become harder. Maybe we’re content to have government do what we’re supposed to be doing personally and through our churches.
Unfortunately, government is more than willing to do what we’re supposed to be doing personally and through our churches and the churches have been content to let it. As a result, accountability suffers, compassion is delegated by strangers, the standard of morality is now being set by government, and the church becomes more and more inconsequential – along with its message. After all, who needs the church when you have Uncle Sam?