The Mint and the Cumin

e-mail box things

As hard as I have tried to unsubscribe to the mailings, they keep coming to my e-mail box. That's annoying, but it's hardly a crime – at least they aren't pushing Viagra or Cialis on me, which I would like to point out is at least mildly insulting.

Anyway, their recent mailing pointed me to two article, the first one being the one which prompted my last blog entry, and the other one being this entry in Jeremy Harrison's blog which links to this essay by Noah Knox. I have PDF'd Knox's essay for the sake of my readers because I think Harrison is going to delink it eventually, and we don't want to miss any context here.

There's one thing that continually aggravates me about they are frankly very fond of money. Now, don't get me wrong – I like payday. I like paying all my bills. I see that as God's provision for me and my family. I like capitalism and I think that capitalism has done some fine things for the world.

But my first prefatory comment on this matter would be that capitalism is not a partner with Jesus Christ. That is, Jesus doesn’t need capitalism to save men; capitalism isn't doing the work of the cross. And it's important to realize that capitalism is also not a function of Christianity. While it may borrow some tenets of Christian ethics – like just compensation and binding contracts – it is hardly an essentially-Christian method of economics.

And the boys at miss this point pretty regularly – so much so that I have had an e-mail exchange with one of its mail-reading guys in which we discussed whether or not they are endorsing some kind of prosperity gospel or some aberrant form of theonomy. They vehemently deny this, which is fine (who would agree that they are advancing a prosperity gospel?) – but then we get the discussion they have posted today on taxes.

Listen: who likes high taxes? Nobody likes high taxes, right? Nobody's volunteering to pony up an extra 5% out of lunatic patriotism or the strong belief that the government does a great job of spending money, right? Nobody like taxes.

But can we transfer that grumbly feeling we get when we have to write a check to Uncle Sam into a theological premise?

Noah Knox is trying to do that exactly – and he starts with the idea that taxes should not be higher than "tithing". It's actually an elegant little Presbyterian-looking argument that which says that taxes are an exercise of sovereignty, and God's tax is the tithe, so any tax higher than the tithe is an attempt to be more sovereign than God – becoming de facto idolatry.

Yeah, I know – it has a sort of charming intellectual feel to it. But the problem is that the foundational verse of Scripture on whether we should pay taxes or not is made by Christ in reference to a government which overtly and consciously affirms its religious, theological place in the lives of people. When Christ saith, "render unto Caesar," (because that verse only makes sense in KJV English)(and this is Mat 22 for those who require the chapter and verse for the sake of being Berean) He is saying, "this guy who calls himself a god, you give him what he asks for, and it's not idolatry."

But interestingly, Jesus didn’t stop there. He also said in that same place, "and unto God the things that are God's." That is, "If the government which issues money demands a tax, pay the tax – but don't make paying the tax about whether or not you're being faithful to God."

Jesus is saying plainly to the Pharisees that there's no idolatry in paying taxes, but there may be idolatry in making money more important than obedience. Let's read the whole exchange together just for good measure:
    Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
Let's hold on a second there because here are two very important matters at stake. The first is whether or not the purpose the Pharisees and the Herodians had in asking a question to Christ was honest – and the Scripture says, "no: they were trying to find fault with Him. They were trying to make Him say something they could hold against Him." So the context here is that men who deny that Jesus is Christ, and are frankly blaspheming by their unbelief, are putting the Son of God to the test.

But a second point is also critical: when they ask Jesus if it is "lawful" to pay taxes, they are asking Him an explicitly jewish and religious question. That is, they are asking Him if it is a sin against God to pay taxes to Caesar who proclaims Himself to be the king of God's people and the god of the Empire. Is it Mosaic-lawful to pay tribute to a pagan god-king who is occupying the city of David?

If that's the question, here's the answer:
    But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said, "Caesar’s." Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
One of the clear points Christ is making here is that these men don't know the difference between civil duty and the love of God. The coin is Caesar's coin, with Caesar's face on it – and Caesar wants it back, so Christ says, "well, give it to him."

For Christ, it was a sin to make the money the question – because frankly, God didn’t invent money: man did. You guys are creationists – look it up. On the 8th day, God didn’t say, "aw darnit: I forgot banks. Let there be financial institutions to process the coins of the realm ... dangit, let there be coins and precious metals by which these little nippers can have an economy, and let there be banks to put them in." Certainly, where your treasure is there shall your heart be also. But where were the Pharisees putting their money? Were they mad because the Government was stopping them from helping the poor, or were they mad because Caesar was cutting into their bankroll and they couldn’t buy this year's Phylacteries for mad-cash (because we all know it's a sin to buy on credit, right?)?

So the problem with taxes is not that they are levied: it is that you don't want to pay them for selfish reasons. You want to put obedience under profit. It was ugly in Christ's day, and it's even uglier today when the least of us pays more in taxes than any of the Pharisees took home in a year, and we get to keep what is frankly an opulent and wildly-prosperous amount after taxes.

And I'm sure somebody's going to object to this, but I say "bring it." Your view of money is too jaded, and your view of God is too materialistic.