The discussion about what constitutes governmental theft is most important — because an awful lot of it is going on these days, and an awful lot of Christians do not appear to have the principles straight on how to identify it. The Scriptures are clear — qualification to rule must include a hatred of covetousness. This is obviously because the rulers have guns (part of their job, right?) and if they don’t hate covetousness, then the natural tendency will be to use their power to feed their lusts. So much is self-evident. If this is not recognized as a basic civic problem (rulers share in the depravity issues, remember), then it is time to return to basic Calvinism 101 stuff. If you can’t see Calvin behind Madison, then you probably can’t see Paul behind either one of them.
But what about the passage in Hebrews (Heb. 10:34) that says Christians joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property? A basic distinction has to be made here. Accepting the confiscation of your property is not the same thing as accepting the lies that the confiscators tell about what is happening. Every Christian is responsible to rejoice at all times, and in all things (Phil. 4:4). Every Christian is to give thanks for all things (Eph. 5:20). We are to be content in every circumstance (Phil. 4:11), even if that circumstance is that of having no food — and this includes those occasions where we have no food because somebody stole it all. So, if the IRS comes in and takes all my stuff, I must thank the Lord. But, I might add, I am supposed to do the same thing if pirates take all my stuff also.
But rejoicing in God’s sovereign control over all things does not mean that I have moral obligation to be blind to the existence of pirates. Nor does it mean that I cannot resist them, within the parameters that God has set for this kind of thing in His law. The same deal with thieving magistrates. I may resist them the way God says, and I may not resist them in ways contrary to His Word, and if my resistance is insufficient, and I lose, I must rejoice in God, He who does all things well.
Now what do we call it if the rulers are not godly, are not free from covetousness, and are running around the country with guns, taking people’s stuff? What sin is it? It is not adultery. It is not making graven images. It is not dishonoring father and mother. To remove private property from someone’s possession when you have no authorization from God to do so is theft. That is what theft is.
Murder is not taking a life. Murder is taking a life contrary to the revealed will of God. Rape is not defined as sexual intercourse. Rape is sexual intercourse that is contrary to the revealed will of God in a particular way. So theft is not the government removing property from someone who doesn’t want them to. That is not the definition. Theft occurs when property is transferred from an unwilling “donor” without the express authorization of Scripture.
Put another way, I don’t have to show that a sixty percent tax rate is theft, just like I don’t have to show that the fire-bombing of Dresden was murder. The burden of proof lies elsewhere. If we understand the nature of man and the nature of coercion, and the subtlety of the serpent, and the greasy covetousness of rulers who do not fear God, the burden of proof is on the magistrate who supports such a proposal. He has to prove to us from the Bible that his exorbitant tax rates aren’t theft. He is the one that God requires to hate covetousness, as a prerequisite of holding his office in justice.
And one quick comment about “redistribution.” All tax monies that are gathered are redistributed to somebody. So in line with the principles above, that element is not what makes the process theft. The question is whether it is a scripturally authorized redistribution. If we are redistributing the money to the sheriff to catch bad guys, it is not theft. If it is so that some lazy bum with thirty-eight tattoos can cash in his Federal Plasma HD Television Voucher, it is theft. And in between those two clear examples, there is a line somewhere. At some point it has to become theft, right? If governments can steal, then there has to be a point where what they are doing would be stealing, right? That should be a simple point.
When we are close to the line, whereever that line is, the questions are more difficult, admittedly (which is why we need wise men as rulers, instead of our current cowards, thugs and punks). So let’s have a civilized debate about things that are more problematic. But we are not going to be able to have a civilized debate about any of that unless we stop pretending that civil governments cannot break the tenets of the Decalogue, that they cannot legalize plunder. As we have done in this nation, some years back.