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The Role of Government - What Does the Bible Say

Politicians have a lot to say about what they believe the role of government to be. Those on the left often want more government at the federal level, especially more social programs. They argue that this strategy will be able to help more people because these programs are made available to everyone across all of the states. To meet the funding imposed by such spending, they prefer an increased tax burden at the national level, again where it can be distributed among more people.

Those on the right usually want most of the government to be at the state and local levels, keeping both taxes and spending programs closer to the people. In this way, most of the tax revenues are spent locally, just as most of the projects are for the benefit of only those same people. They want a smaller federal government, with lower taxes and lower spending, that would focus on only a few projects at the national level, and few of which would include social programs.

The Bible

Few people realize that the Bible defines what the role of government should be. Our founding fathers built our republic upon biblical principles. Most Christians would agree that the ideal system would be one that bases its laws and policies upon God's laws. However, as our governing bodies have changed, have we strayed from God's ideals? Let's examine the purpose and scope of government, in particular the federal government, from a perspective of the Bible and history.

The role of government is set forth in the Bible in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, which indicates that we should pray for everyone, including "kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives." This passage tells us that, as Christians, we should pray for our leaders in government, and it also indicates what we should expect from our officials.

National Defense

The single most important role charged to our government is to allow us citizens to live peaceful and quiet lives. In Genesis chapters 10 through 12, God divided people into national entities. He condemned aggression among the nations, but knowing the greed and evil of man's sin nature, He established national defense as a means of protection against enemy aggressors. If our government is to enable us to live peaceful and quiet lives, its first responsibility is that of defense. Furthermore, since the body of government that most often interacts with other nations is our federal government, then this responsibility falls primarily to the federal level.

The Constitution

Since our government was built upon biblical principles, documents such as the Constitution support biblical guidelines. Its preamble limits the power of the federal government to the following:

1. Ensure domestic tranquility - law and order

2. Provide for the common defense - a national defense

3. Promote the general welfare - biblical truths

4. Secure blessings of Liberty - maintain our freedom

In addition, the first three Articles of the Constitution continue to set forth its purpose of limiting the role of the federal government. This document doesn't empower the government, by stating the things that it cannot do. Instead, it limits its power by stating a short list of things that it can do. If a certain thing is not in the list, then the government doesn't legally have the power to do it. Also, the Bill of Rights explicitly names certain rights which the government cannot violate under any circumstances. The Tenth Amendment is particularly interesting, essentially stating that any powers not explicitly given to the federal government are reserved to the states or to the people. Clearly the intent was to limit its size and power.

An Evaluation

Our government seems to do a good job in fulfilling its limited powers as set forth in the Bible and the Constitution. The federal level provides a strong military, and the state and local governments provide law and order. However, besides being inefficient and not well-managed, our federal government consistently oversteps the boundaries defined by the Constitution and the Bible. It has expanded far beyond its appropriate role, always doing more than it's legally permitted to do, and consequently burdening all of us with taxes that are far too high. When our state and local governments follow this pattern as well, the burden on the people is overwhelming. This is obvious when we consider the sheer size of our governmental bodies. It is estimated that our 90,000 government units (including cities, counties, etc.) employ some 20 million people with a payroll of over $600 billion, including some $150B for the payroll for the 3 million civilian employees at the federal level alone. Although these payrolls are only a small percentage of government spending, government employees do add much overhead to the tax burden.

Government Spending

We have excessive government spending, which has led to excessive taxation. The federal government spends several times as much on entitlement programs alone as on defense. Despite complaints from politicians who oppose the war in Iraq, the amount we spend on the war is less than 10% of what we spend on entitlements. This encourages everyone to feel entitled, including banks, insurance companies, automakers, and politicians. Everyone expects a free monthly check.

Our government tries to do much more than what it was intended to do. It can't justify spending money for every cause, just because someone will benefit from it. It is not the government's job to or re-distribute wealth. Politicians have distorted "promoting the general welfare" to mean empowerment for the federal government to do almost anything as long as it's intended to help any selected group or individual. Many Americans don't understand this, and some just look to the government for handouts. Politics seems to be a game, where everyone demands something from the government. We need to stop all of the undeserved entitlements, which are being funded by others.

The Church

While the government should be less involved in social programs, the Church should be more involved in alleviating the need for entitlements by providing more assistance to the truly needy. Galatians 2:10 says the we should remember the poor. This should be the role of the Church, not the government. However, maybe our churches could better fulfil this role if its members weren't overtaxed.

Obeying the Government