Foundations: Why Should Christians Support Limited Government?
The easiest answer to this question arrives in two words: Original Sin. Mankind fell. Our reason skills were darkened and our wills became bent away from our Maker. The first human society on record? The family of Adam and Eve. Despite their intimate contact with God, with unfallen wills and intellects, they still chose sin. One of their sons murdered another. In Genesis we read of an early civilization, that of Babel. No sooner had it organized itself and gotten prosperous, than it dared to build a tower to try to reach Heaven, and challenge God.
So God scattered its inhabitants and fragmented their languages. Hence our first clue about God’s will when it comes to government. America’s founders, reflecting on millennia of tyranny all around the world, adopted a comparable solution. The separation of powers, which James Madison crafted, seems almost modeled on God’s answer to Babel. Our Constitution slows down, frustrates, and counters the hot ambitions and heaven-scaling schemes of powerful politicians.
The Social Gospel, Progressives, and Socialism
Many have found this separation frustrating, even infuriating. Woodrow Wilson, who’d traded the genuine Gospel for the Social Gospel, denounced the Constitution. Even before he took office, he called on Americans to substitute Darwin for St. Augustine, and adopt a “progressive,” “scientific” government. In other words, one that would grant the executive branch almost unlimited powers. He took advantage of the First World War to grab such power, throwing anti-war critics into prison — the First Amendment be damned.
Of course, the long history of man between Babel and Wilson yields countless governments agglomerating power and kings mistaking themselves for gods. In the process, they rode roughshod over the one truly sacred thing we know on earth: the individual person, as the image of God and the brother of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we’re taught to revere our fellow man, to treat him as we’d have him treat us. But layers of government block our perceptions of people as people. We learn to see them as digits and statistics.
Instead of reaching out and serving the poor, we vote to have the state forcibly seize wealth from us and from others, to solve “social problems” far away from us. Worse, when we are seduced by glittering images of Utopian reforms or national glory, we stop thinking of individual human beings at all. We imagine ourselves as tiny cells of an earthly god, which is remaking Creation according to new, “improved” human models.
Reversing the Fall by Force
Socialism offers us the promise that we can reverse the fall of man, by granting the state almost God-like powers to dispose of our work and wealth. Communism, put simply, promised to lash, brainwash, and starve the human race till it beat the selfishness out of us. It kept its promise to use violent means, all right. But it delivered on none of its impossible, science-fiction visions.
Democratic socialism, still inspired by Marx, promises to accomplish the same results by slow-motion coercion, a vise turned gradually but inexorably. Its outcome usually doesn’t entail concentration camps. Instead, you get huge, sclerotic, non-responsive government agencies (like Britain’s National Health Service). And slow or stagnant economic growth, since hard work isn’t rewarded and laziness doesn’t get punished.
Worse than any of its economic effects, socialism teaches adult free citizens to think and feel like perpetual adolescents, dependent for their well-being on the all-provident government. In turn, they come to lean on it instead of themselves, and trust in it rather than God.
A Monopoly of Violence
We must remember what government is, at its very essence: an institution with permission to use violence against our fellow men. We license police to do what, if one of us tried it, would amount to assault and kidnapping, under the threat of death. Since our fellow man is the image of God, redeemed by Christ, in what direction should we err when we think about how much of his life we want to control using such coercion?
It only makes sense to say: We should control and coerce our neighbors as little as possible. No, we don’t embrace anarchy, since that just hands over power to local warlords and gang leaders. We’ve seen in 2020 what happens when mayors handcuff the police and let mobs rule the streets. But the far, far greater danger comes from the organized violence of governments.
As genocide scholar R.J. Rummel documented, some 170 million human beings, images of God, were murdered by their governments in just 90 years — not including tens of millions of casualties of war. Most of these civilians had previously been stripped of their firearms, and hence the power of self-defense. Clearly the modern state is the worst pandemic that has ever faced the human race.
It only makes sense — both common and Christian — to impose on our governments strict limits. To oppose one power center to another, so no one branch of government, or pack of bureaucrats, or legislating judges, can do too much damage too quickly. And to cling to the Second Amendment’s guarantee of our own power to defend ourselves and our loved ones against aggressors’ violence — whether it’s the momentary madness of a disorganized mob, or the Tower of Babel fantasies of a government that mistakes itself for a god.
This article is part of a new Stream series called Foundations. As we approach this year’s election, it appears that the most fundamental principles upon which the American republic was founded are being called into question. Foundations is a tool for pastors, teachers, leaders and all people of faith to learn why, from a Biblical view, we should continue to support the Constitution — with an emphasis on the First and Second Amendments and wise policies that promote freedom. Visit the Foundations page to see all the articles in this series.