Christian liberty

This post is available as a video here: https://youtu.be/mgvzgd6byhk

How do we reconcile politics with the Kingdom of God? After all scripture is full of descriptions of laws, kings, nations and wars. This a rapid-fire post to dispel common misunderstandings regarding liberty, written from a Christian perspective. Hopefully I can convince you of what I think is the most moral and consistently biblical position to have.

Many of the below concepts took me a while to think through as I had unwittingly assumed worldly ideas. In the end I was convinced scripture isn’t silent but is explicit in political philosophy.

Definitions

Coercion – the use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance.

Much of what world calls “common sense” we know really stems from the Christian heritage we enjoy in the West. When we interact with people, most believe it is wrong to coerce.1 Whether at work, the park or shopping centre we sometimes have disagreements. For example, when preaching the gospel, we may use strong language but if someone is coerced, we know God is not glorified and the goal of true repentance and obedience is not achieved. If someone uses coercion for taking someone’s property, we call it theft.

Libertarian

Libertarians recognise that current state governments always use coercion to control citizens. Regulations such as the minimum wage laws for example, are not only harmful to unskilled people (they make it hard to enter the workforce and don’t really lift wages) but libertarians believe they are also immoral because the government is using coercion and intervening between a business and potential worker. Most people believe it is wrong for an individual to intervene so a libertarian will point out that it is therefore immoral for a government official to do the same (even if democratically elected). As another example, government welfare may seem compassionate except that it is always spending other people’s money. This is summarised as the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP)2. It is immoral to be the first aggressor against someone or their property – governments included. Typically, this means libertarians support:

  • Minimal regulation
  • Free markets
  • Little or no taxes
  • Legalising drugs3
  • No state sponsored welfare
  • Maximum individual liberty
  • Minimal defence/warfare
  • Honouring property rights (self, material possessions and land)

Word of caution: libertarian ≠ liberal in the US where it is almost the opposite!…except in the UK and Australia it is very similar to “liberal” … but the Liberal parties no longer hold to the Classical Liberal principals of their founding. These terms get very confusing!

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13 ESV

State – polity that maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence

Many libertarians and conservatives believe the state needs to be as small as possible to establish law and protect property rights. Taxes should be minimal with charities, churches and non-profit institutions providing welfare. If governments gain too much power, they are more likely to become corrupt.

I like to highlight a distinction between a state and government. A state, is a subcategory which presumes authority over a geographical region. Historically, most states were established with military might and can only continue their governing via involuntary taxes.

Anarcho-capitalist / voluntaryist

This scary sounding subcategory of libertarianism goes a step further to advocate the elimination of the state completely. Most would agree via peaceful persuasion. Although sometimes described as anarchy, capitalist means respecting other people’s property. This means obeying rules and laws of property owners. For example, a car park speed limit, conditions of employment and consented retail bag checks. Moreover, Christian ancaps are obviously not anarchists in the literal “no ruler” definition as they choose to obey Christ. From here-on I will argue from this view. Confusingly, left-leaning anarchists do not believe in property rights. IMHO, they are the real anarchists without a coherent political foundation.

If taxation without consent is not robbery, then any band of robbers have only to declare themselves a government, and all their robberies are legalized.

Lysander Spooner

It is important to realise anarcho-capitalists are not really against government or even force (even an employer governs their business).4 Rather the service of policing and government should be voluntary. That is, citizens are given the choice of a provider to defend the property they own. In this way, it is consistent with biblical government descriptions which attribute payment where payment is due.5 Generally, taxes or fees are moral as a payment for services rendered. But a fee taken when no agreement has been made, is called theft. Democratic voting does not get around this moral law.

Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’ Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’ (emphasis mine)

Luke 3:12-14 ESV

Misconceptions and myths

Liberty conflicts with law and order

Regulations do not always require centralised coercion to enforce. For example,

  • Autonomous companies often choose third party legal arbitration to resolve contract disputes.
  • Organic farms voluntarily agree to strict spot audits to enforce compliance for organic certification. Consumers enforce this when they look for this certification.
  • Privatised residential communities that police vehicle speed limits to provide a safe environment for residents. Residents agree to the terms and are free to leave.
  • Many companies and individuals hire security professionals. Security guards help to prevent theft in shopping malls etc.
  • International trade and law. No international state is required for peaceful and organised trade. This is contributing to much wealth distribution in the modern economy.

Also, notice the argument a critic is making: a government should impose an unconsented tax to fund security. In other words, we need large scale theft to stop the bad guys.

Recommended resources:

‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.’

2 Corinthians 10:4-6 ESV

Liberty is incompatible with Christ because it is okay with sinful behaviour

Coming from a conservative world view, I found the high priority on liberty hard to accept. The radical demands of Christ seemed to contradict this advocacy for freedom. It is true some secularists have very unbiblical values, but it’s important to separate this from the political philosophy and claims. Instead, think of liberty this way: politicians are human and are subject to the same moral laws as those they govern.

Is it wrong for a group of school kids take a weaker student’s lunch money?

What about if the kids take a vote?

What about if the money goes towards a good cause?

(Hint: you should be answering “no” to these questions)

If it is wrong for them to forcefully take the money, is it not also wrong for this to happen at a national scale?

Even though they do some good, states also use tax funds to pay for public access to abortion, atheistic public education, unending wars etc.

Libertarians advocate progressive, changing laws and therefore do not believe in God’s unchanging law and character.

Indeed, secularists may very well believe that morals change but this is beyond the political philosophy. God’s law is unchanging, but the New Testament describes a peaceful way of bringing the law to the gentiles. What the world calls liberty, we know as grace because we know we do not deserve it.

In the New Testament, Jesus gives us baptism as a new sign of entering into his kingdom. Notice this new symbol, especially now, is voluntary.

‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’

Matthew 6:10 ESV

Capitlists are greedy and place too much emphasis on money

No doubt many do. But because money, as a product, has been socialised, “capitalism” has become very cut-throat which understandably gives many people a sour taste. If money production were privatised it would work only to serve people like any other product. In The Addictive Cost of Technology, I argue this is why government central banking has caused modern society to be so reliant on tech. Giving governments control of money supply is like giving someone a blank check. Money is now being used to divert purchasing power away from common people and is pricing labour out of the market.

My concern for sound money is not for the wealthy but for those struggling to make ends meet.

You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:35-36 ESV

The solution is monetary freedom.6 I think Jesus hinted this when he described all Roman coinage belonging to Caesar.7 The empire then fell into severe inflation a few hundred years later for debasing their coins. In other words, rather than the scribes and chief priests being too concerned regarding how Romans managed their taxation, the Jews should have found their freedom from living and transacting separately.

The modern secular state, has so much power because of taxes that it extracts from citizens. The definition of a state (a monopoly on force) means coerced taxes are required. Most people incorrectly see this act of extortion as necessary for order. As though something evil will bear good fruit. Scripture is full of theft prohibitions8 so Christians should be on the front line of moral criticism of statism and its involuntary taxes.

Recommending readings:

Pro-liberty themes in scripture

Property rights are essential to the gospel

Closely coupled to the Non-Aggression Principle is moral right of ownership or stewardship over one’s property. If someone is defending one’s self from theft, they are not the first aggressor. In the same way, dumping rubbish on someone’s property is a form of aggression and a defensive response is justified. Since God made everything in Genesis, he literally owns everything. This means God has the right to demand perfection from us. Damnation is God taking a just and defensive action to protect his property from corruption and is consistent with the NAP. When secularists argue that ownership is moral, Christians shouldn’t disagree. Instead we should point to the creator who owns everything. 9

Further, realise that without property rights there is no grace. If God doesn’t own everything then he is not gracious by giving something that isn’t his.

‘The earth is the Lord ’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.’

Psalm 24:1-2 ESV

In the same way, if Christians, are not stewards of their labour and property, then we unable to be generous in giving it away.

Christianity had a major impact on Western values. Most now believe initiating aggression is wrong. If only people realised governments (which are made of people) are also bound to this moral law. Being an advocate for freedom means believing in moral principles based on scripture. There is no coherent foundation of ethics except for the Christian bible but that doesn’t mean I have a problem with secularist borrowing its principles. As they build businesses, help to reduce poverty and even protect their property, they only further demonstrate their knowledge of God.10

‘Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’

2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV

Statism and nationalism

As believers, we love Christ and are called to belong to his Church. We have been grafted into Israel.11 Our national identity is not an earthly kingdom but a heavenly one defined by faith in Christ.12 This runs contrary to earthly states who rely on “social contract” philosophy to justify coercion and taxation.

Consider the following similarities in political views. Some doctrines are in contrast while some complete for our attention.

Earthly statesNew Covenant
Foundational document describing values and lawsConstitutionScripture
MembershipCitizenshipVoluntary act of faith symbolised with baptism
Method of controlCoercionGod’s spirit granting repentance and turning hearts towards him
National borderGeographicalPrivate homes and businesses
ContractAssumed “social contract”Voluntary covenant  
MusicNational anthem to promote faith and commitmentWorship
LeadershipDemocracy. Changing values every few years, controlled by majority voteKingship and local church elders
FundingInvoluntary taxesFreewill offering

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Philippians 3:20 ESV

Thinking about these parallels between worldly politics and the New Testament, has led me to believe Jesus was indeed starting a political movement as promised in the Old Testament.13 He didn’t seem to limit his instruction to personal living only. Or to put it another way, Jesus is Lord over all.

‘Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.’

Isaiah 9:7 ESV

The state may do good with many well meaning people in power. We should obey the state when on its property but we need to be careful that we are not supporting organised crime.

‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’

Ephesians 6:12 ESV

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord . And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.’

1 Samuel 8:6-7 ESV

Tough questions

War

But without states, who would defend us from invaders or save the Jews from Nazi Germany?

The “Machine-gun preacher”, Sam Childers, is a former biker gang member tuned Christian missionary. He has led armed missions to free kidnapped children from the Lord’s Resistance Army in Sudan.

Would you support Sam? Would you be willing to fight beside him? Or to donate financially? My hope is that you would be cautious supporting anyone claiming to use deadly force. If you discover a record of unjust violence, maybe you would choose to support another cause. On the other hand, If he checks out, supporting him could provide a God-honouring defence for thousands of children.

With the same caution, we should be thoughtful and not view wars through the lens of nationalism. There may be a just reason to rescue the oppressed, but all statism does is reduce accountability when it is needed most.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:18 ESV

Romans 13

At first glance Romans 13, doesn’t seem libertarian. Rather than give you a thorough exposition, here are a few relevant considerations before reading:

  • Before chapter 13, Paul describes how the law given to Israel is powerless for redemption. It is good, perfect and required to bring conviction to lead to repentance. Consider that for the Jews, the moral law and civil law are from the same holy scriptures. Imagine a Jew reading, ‘For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.’14 Paul makes it clear in chapter 13 that law and order are still God honouring and should be obeyed. Christian libertarians agree.
  • The question to think about when reading is not just ‘should we obey’ but also ‘who we obey’. Who is the legitimate government? Verse 3 prescribes this when it tells us it is he who has our approval when we do good.
    • For example, imagine government bodies fighting over jurisdiction (perhaps local and federal). In this case, a complex legal presiding would take place to work out who has legal authority. In the same way, we should ask the same question in our minds. Are we serving an institution that acquired authority through unjust military conquest? If that history is practically too old to correct, is it continuing to sustain power via the similar means (e.g. theft, extortion, intervention, coercion). If we support these institutions in our heart and words, we may be giving evil forces more power.15
  • When Paul wrote Romans, Jerusalem was occupied by Rome. It doesn’t seem realistic that he meant the bloodthirsty empire was the correct specification for governance. Rather he is describing the need for justice.
  • Notice Paul never names which government, ruler or authority he is talking about. Should we assume this passage would include Mafian governance? No. Instead of assume, look in the passage for what qualifies an authority.

For more detailed exposition on Romans 13 I recommend:

‘Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!’

Isaiah 10:1-2 ESV

Marriage

In essence, marriage is a covenant or contract. Having a state decree and define the marriage contract gains nothing for God’s glory. They may provide financial privileges but if they are sponsored by a state, then it’s via stolen funds. God honouring marriages do not need financial incentives.

It is true that without a state, secularists may redefine marriage as something else. The solution is simple – let them be. Any persuasion and warnings should be non-coercive. Secular libertarians agree that Christians have a right to discriminate or not associate based on values (i.e. hiring for Christian schools, charities and even businesses). Churches should be free to create their own marriage contracts based on biblical commands instead of state decree. Perhaps the community would start paying attention to the overall process provided in conservative churches. I suspect liberal marriages generally wouldn’t last as long which would give them a negative reputation.

Moreover, this is certainly not a strong argument for a state. How well are modern governments preserving this sacred institution?

Abortion

All abortion is wrong. In fact, I would call it murder16 and law should treat it such. But in the same way that states are very bad at running public education, they have a terrible track record of protecting life, unborn included. For example, it seems many “pro-life” politicians prefer to keep abortion legal and regulate it. Perhaps to secure a conservative voting base.17

Instead, pro-life libertarian solutions include:

  • Stop funding the public health system. This would mean Christians would no longer be funding abortions via tax.
  • Covenant communities where residents agree abortion is murder, illegal and punishable.

Even with these solutions it is likely abortions would not be eliminated from everywhere. In these cases, there is a justification for intervention to defend the unborn (though it shouldn’t be funded via state taxes). But as a Christian, I would rather exhaust every other method to convince mothers to repent and embrace life before using the threat of violence.

The modern culture of death should be thought of like any other pagan society. The best antidote is the gospel. In the meantime, we should support protections for the pre-born just like we can be grateful for the protection state police provide. But we shouldn’t be surprised when an unjust institution doesn’t always uphold justice. Ending statism does not mean allowing murder.

‘Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?’

Proverbs 24:11-12 ESV

The solution

Ok, so after a few months of thinking this through, you are convinced that a state is not a legitimate government because it starts with theft. Not only is it immoral but economists can point out devastating consequences on society (continued poverty, environmental impact, corruption etc).

It can be hard to imagine how statism would dissolve. Maybe private police organisations would be allowed to out compete with state departments. Perhaps public dissatisfaction with government debt and associated tax would force states to sell land and reduce their borders. States may increasingly loose court battles. Just like a badly run business, governments that do not provide value, should and can become bankrupt and fail.

I encourage you to follow the links I have provided. Much of this will take a while to sink in. But as you already know, there are many things in the Christian life that are initially hard to understand. You may need to have a little faith. The Pharisees couldn’t quiet understand how the Messiah would usher in his kingdom without military might. Don’t be like them. Instead, we need to spread the message of liberty grace. A kingdom built on coercion will not stand.

‘Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” ‘

Luke 17:20-21 ESV

Helpful links

  1. Though I find secular reasoning for ethics completely unconvincing.
  2. Biblical support includes Jesus’ words, ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. ‘ John 13:34 and ‘So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’ Matthew 7:12
  3. Not that they necessarily support drug use
  4. Though admittedly, many will use ‘government’ and ‘state’ synonymously.
  5. ‘He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”’ Luke 20:25
  6. As in people are given the choice of money not government compelled fiat currency which is continuously inflated
  7. ‘“Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”’ Luke 20:24-25
  8. Exodus 20:15, Ephesians 4:28, John 10:10 and Leviticus 19:11 for example.
  9. For compelling evidence of God’s design and workmanship in nature see Creation Ministries International.
  10. Romans 1:19-20
  11. Romans 11:11-24
  12. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Philippians 3:20 ESV
  13. ‘And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,’ Daniel 2:44 ESV,
  14. Romans 10:4 ESV
  15. Ultimately, governing forces rely on public opinion not coercion.
  16. Which is a violation of the NAP
  17. For example, Exposing The P R O – L I F E Movement (YouTube), Shocking interview with pro-life leader exposes hypocrisy! (YouTube), Libertarian Christian Roundtable SCOTUS and abortion cases (YouTube) and Republican Establishment Plays Pro-Life Organizations Like a Fiddle

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