Can a Return to our Founding Principles Help Revive America?
Was Jesus a Libertarian?
Comments | Print friendly | Subscribe | Email Us
Was Jesus Christ a libertarian? Of course it is unfair to ask whether the founder of Christianity would agree with a political movement developed over a thousand years after His death. But it is not unfair to inquire if Christ’s beliefs would be in agreement with this movement.
The Libertarian movement is initially tied into John Locke’s writings which strongly influenced the ideas of the Founding Fathers, and focuses upon constitutionalism, protection of property, Natural Law and Natural Rights. It presumes a government of basics, doing only those necessary things which individuals cannot reasonably do themselves—like building an interstate highway system or fielding an army.
The real question is what did Jesus teach upon the proper role of government in an ideal world? To sum up, while Christ recognized government as a necessary evil, nowhere in the New Testament does He glorify the concept of the state, nor cast upon it any great faith. Instead, Jesus continually extols the efficacy of His Father and His grace and Holy Spirit in terms of meeting the needs of His followers. Likewise, the Bible in such passages as Psalm 2:7-9 and Isaiah 9:6-7 describes the ever-expanding growth of the Messiah’s divine government where it is clear that God’s Kingdom supersedes man’s. This, then, is a splendid focus for the Founder’s Natural Law which focuses upon the higher law of God’s Kingdom, the only fit model for mankind’s own rule-making.
In this sense, Christ might have been more interested in a smaller-government regime in which His Believers might be more able to express their virtuous ideals of Christian living which could never have been mandated by pagan or secular governments.
I. Christian Libertarians?
It is a shocking notion for most conservatives to ponder the idea of a “Christian Libertarian.” From this viewpoint, the Christian is seen as a dogmatic reactionary—a doctrinaire, blinkered, legalistic, highly unoriginal and uncreative thinker. Critics oppose this to the classic cliche’ of the libertarian—being a rule rejecting radical accepting only the most basic outline of government duties and societal restraints upon members of society. And yet, there is much more to this issue than at first meets the eye.
Let’s first give a definition to Libertarian, from the Free Dictionary:
1. One who advocates maximizing individual rights and minimizing the role of the state. 2. One who believes in free will.
For starters, is a threadbare replica of Jesus that insists He and His followers were unthinking dupes merely attempting to update stodgy Jewish conservatism. Instead, Christ started a revolution so radical that it revives itself every few generations, all around the globe. In defining Christian libertarianism, the WA Post says,
A Christian libertarian is generally aligned with the core moral beliefs of Christian conservatives but emphasizes free will to the extent that they are considered socially liberal.
Another Post article adds this:
The core of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle: that the initiation of force against person and property is immoral, and it is in many respects a kind of political corollary to the Golden Rule. Thus, Christian libertarians think that government power should be limited, sound money and truly free markets should return, aggressive war must cease and civil liberties must be preserved. Libertarianism treats man’s sinful nature realistically. James Madison famously quipped that if men were angels no government would be necessary. Christian libertarians take this a step further, saying that it is precisely because men are not angels that government must have extraordinarily limited powers. God does not show favoritism nor does he give special privileges of position. Everyone is accountable to the moral law in the same way. When governments and politicians extend their power so that they can abridge people’s natural rights with impunity, they have crossed the line into immorality. True, lasting change can only be found in reducing the power of the federal government.
One Christian libertarian lists four primary reasons they feel called to this belief system:
- Christian libertarians are libertarian BECAUSE they are Christian.
- Christian libertarians believe in individualism because of their own salvation.
- Christian libertarians believe that social engagement is a voluntary, but imperative of our Christian faith and the course by which we develop individual virtue.
- Christian libertarians take a very literal position on Christ’s message of liberty.
II. Politics of Jesus—Kingdom Rules
Jesus Christ is the most influential person in history, regarded as God by a billion and a half souls, and is the founder of Christianity. Most Western leaders claim to follow Him, but what were His political beliefs? He is regarded as a pacifist, a political realist with an other-world politics which gave his statements a diffuse quality. Jesus Himself addressed that by pointing out His Kingdom was not earthly in John 18:33-37:
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”Yet, of course Jesus did have ideas on politics which were in agreement with the great themes of the Old Testament. Jesus did insist on a separation of religion and state (Matt 17:24-27):
When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”Overall, since Christ did not aspire to an earthly kingdom, it might be best to focus on his frequent calls to liberty and freedom as a foundational Kingdom ethic, as He states in John 8:34-36:
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, geveryone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; ithe son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
III. Christian Libertarians
A. John Locke
Puritan-influenced English philosopher John Locke has made an enormous impression impression upon his fellow Europeans. He is considered the father of Empiricism, Constitutionalism, radical Property Rights, Freedom of Religion, and the Enlightenment. It would be difficult to find a more influential thinker for the modern age.
John Locke is one of the heroes and most influential sources of libertarian thought. In addition, Locke is one of the most vocal defenders of the Christian faith in such works as The Reasonableness of Christianity. Locke is a much more radical and libertarian minded author than we think of him today. Consider the following excerpts:
The end of the law is, not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.
Whenever the legislators endeavor to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any further obedience.
The people cannot delegate to government the power to do anything which would be unlawful for them to do themselves.
Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. The labor of his body and the work of his hands are properly his.
B. J Gresham Machen
J Gresham Machen was a biblical professor, Reformed scholar, apologist and one of the most formidable religious minds of the 20th century. He was also a radical libertarian. He stated he was…“old-fashioned in my love of freedom. I am opposed to the attack on freedom in whatever form it may come.”
While this might seem a contradiction, perhaps it is modern American Christians, who seem to read and think so little, who really have not seen the bigger biblical picture. In an excellent article by Daniel Walker, entitled, J. Gresham Machen: A Forgotten Libertarian, Historian George Marsden was quoted on Machen’s political views…
...radically libertarian. He opposed almost any extension of state power and took stands on a variety of issues. Like most libertarians, his stances violated usual categories of liberal or conservative.
In his highly influential Christianity & Liberalism, Machen wrote:
Personality can only be developed in the realm of individual choice. And that realm, in the modern state, is being slowly but steadily eradicated.
Machen detested every form of government intrusion into private life except for that considered unavoidable and he detested tyranny:
Everywhere there rises before our eyes the spectre of a society where security, if it is attained at all, will be attained at the expense of freedom, where the security that is attained will be the security of fed beasts in a stable, and where all the high aspirations of humanity will have been crushed by an all-powerful state.
Walker claims Machen everywhere saw the all-powerful state as an oppressive colossus:
Machen minced no words. Of the “dreary regularity” of one of his favorite nature preserves after the federal government made it a national park, Machen wrote, “I almost feel as though I were in some kind of penal institution. I feel somewhat as I do when I am in Los Angeles or any of the over-regulated cities of the West, where pedestrians meekly wait around on the street comers for non-existent traffic and cross the streets only at the sound of the prison gong.”
Machen also despised the state directed socialist economics that robbed men of their ability to be free in the marketplace:
...the same tendency exhibits itself today even in those communities where the name of socialism is most abhorred. When once the majority has determined that a certain regime is beneficial, that regime without further hesitation is forced ruthlessly upon the individual man. It never seems to occur to modern legislatures that although “welfare” is good, forced welfare may be bad…in the interests of physical well-being the great principles of liberty are being thrown ruthlessly to the winds.
Unsurprisingly, Machen also disagreed with the state taking children and incultating them with secular lore:
Machen set forth his position regarding school and state in no uncertain terms:
Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist.
In an era of considerable federal and state control over schooling, with powerful teachers’ unions and their fascination with method rather than substance, Machen’s words ring just as true today as when he wrote them over 60 years ago.
IV. Other Bible Texts on Government & Liberty
A. Babel—God’s Opposition to Human, World Government
God was utterly opposed to mankind making a one world government based upon a single language, so He disrupted this plan (Genesis 9:1-11)
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
B. Various Liberty Oriented Verses
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.
But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.
V. Argument Against Christ as Libertarian
Some of the foreseeable arguments against claiming Jesus could be termed a libertarian are as follows, with some answers against them.
A. Christ Came to Fulfill Law, Not Break It
It will be argued that Christ Himself claimed he came to fulfill the law in Matt 5:17:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
So doesn’t this teach that Christians are supposed to fulfill the law of their countries and not seek to get rid of laws? Actually, what this verse teaches is not so simple. First, the “law” which Jesus mentions is God’s biblical law, which was not legislated by the ruling Romans. Second, in “fulfilling the law” what Christ meant is that He had come as the Messiah to personally fulfill God’s law as the divine sacrifice to take away the sins of the world. So this does not teach that man must always embrace all human laws.
B. New Testament Supports Government
Many Christians believe that the Bible teaches blindly supporting the ruling government, citing 1 Peter 2:13-14:
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
Again, while the Bible certainly teaches Christians should follow all reasonable laws, it does not teach that all laws are reasonable. For example, consider the Apostles before the Jewish authorities in Acts 5:27-29:
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Various arguments can be made for and against the idea of Christians being libertarian. But in a day of increasing political corruption and government incompetence—returning to less law and smaller government is the way to return ourselves to the virtue-based democratic republic our Founders designed.