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January 10, 2010

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Ok, so pay your taxes. Don't cheat but take advantage of all allowable and legal deductions and minimize what you pay by making sure you do it correctly.

I wonder what God would think about our gov't giving away billions to the banks to go into bonuses. Does that mean that Hell is undergoing some expansion for all the new souls that will come in from our gov't?

-Mike

FMF,

I was surprised that you wrote ministers aren't taxed and thought "what a great benefit." :-) However, when I checked the IRS website (http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc417.html), I found out that ministers are expected to pay taxes, but certain parts of income, e.g. housing allowance, are not taxed.

Did I misinterpret your post or the IRS information? Thanks.

I am happy to pay taxes. I am proud every time I see one of our men or women in uniform defending our country and promoting democracy. I appreciate our union every day I send our kids to school or see a police officer helping another. We should pay what is due...

However, it could easily be argued that significant portion of every dollar we pay in taxes today is being wasted in poor spending decisions, interest on our national debt and pork for political reasons. At what point is the bible going to say it's too much?

I have no problem "rendering unto Caesar" for legitimate services (defense, police/fire protection, etc). But when the government tries to fix other social problems, problems that are not specifically afforded by the Constitutiion (education, social security, bailouts, etc.), I have to wonder. Does the Bible require me to "render unto Caesar" for these things as well? What if I could stipulate what my taxes should be earmarked for, and what I don't wish to support? Maybe all goverment programs should be structured this way.

It seems to me that these other social problems could be better served, not by the government, but by free enterprise and market forces. After all, the Bible does command Christians to support the widows, orphans, and elderly not by a goverment program, but through the church.

FMF,

Jesus' first answer isn't "straightforward". If they'd asked "should we pay taxes?" and he answered "of course; render unto Caesar..." it would be. But first he asks to see the coin. The denarius -- the official coin for the tax -- had a blasphemous inscription "Tiberius Caesar, son of the deified Augustus" and an image on the back of the emperor's mother Livia as the goddess Pax.

So when he gets to the statement "render unto Caesar", he's already shifted the conversation away from the question of taxes and onto the inscription. The original question, "is it lawful", takes on a whole new meaning, as the Law of Moses opens with "you shall have no other god". He doesn't say explicitly to pay the tax or not to pay it; the only thing he makes explicitly clear is that the coin is rendering to Caesar something which is not his. One might even argue that "what is due Caesar" is death for blasphemy. The audience leaves "wondering" or "marveling", because Jesus' answer was not a straightforward command to pay taxes, but a statement about the authority of Caesar that had clearly rebellious undertones.

We should pay our taxes, as many other passages make clear. But we should not make the mistake of thinking that Jesus' answer to that specific question had anything to do with taxes.

(Responses from the Author of Dollars and Doctrine)

Dear Mike: Of course, make your tax bill as low as you can within the bounds of tax law. This post is more addressing the lowering of our tax bill along with the lowering our integrity.

Dear Super Saver: the notion of "ministers exempt from taxes" could use a bit of clarification. All that I meant by that is that there are differing tax laws (such as the ability to opt out of social security) for ministers. And such distinctions have their root in Scripture. Nobody has ever raised this question before. I have to agree, I guess the wording is a little misleading. Thanks for your input, I will be more cafeful of my wording in the future.


Dear LotharBot: You bring up some interesting points. However, I am still having trouble seeing seeing the difference between: "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s" and "of course; render unto Caesar". I think the question of lawfulness was to (trap) see if Jesus would say Yes (thus they can say He does not follow the Law) or No (then they can go to Ceasar and say He does not follow Ceasar and is to be punished-as they do at his trial). Jesus' answer shows that giving to the Lord does not make you exempt from paying taxes and paying taxes does not make you exempt from giving to the Lord. That is my best crack at the passage. You do bring up some interesting points for me to reflect upon.

Dear Everyone: I think the best answer I can give to the complaints against Washington DC's, shall we say, "spending problem" is this: Jesus said to Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." (Jn. 18:36) Be proactive, vocal, intelligent, dynamic forces for change in our country, but remember "[Your] kingdom is not of this world."

Thanks for your thoughts
Rob
dollarsanddoctrine.com (my blog)

What about taxes you consider immoral and unjust? (e.g. taxes used to fund abortion and offensive war)?

I'm guessing that Paul's doctrine of divine appointment of rulers will be cited, but I have concerns and doubts, as do the historical many who have taken arms against a sea of injustice, and by opposing ended* it.

* or merely replaced soneone else's injustice with their own

Rob, thanks for your response.

Let me clarify: the difference is in the sequence of events leading up to Jesus' answer.

(A) "Should I pay taxes?" "Yes, render unto Caesar..." is a clear statement to pay taxes. It's an immediate, direct, simple response to the question, and would easily fit your comment that paying one doesn't make you exempt from paying the other.

But Jesus chose to complicate the answer with all that stuff in the middle:

(B) "Should I pay taxes?" "Let me see the coin." *Looks at inscription declaring Caesar to be divine* "Whose inscription is this?" "Caesar's." "Render unto Caesar/God". By the time Jesus gives an answer, he's changed the question. It's no longer about taxes, but about Caesar's claim to divinity. Jesus makes a statement that I think his audience would recognize as rebellious, but phrased in such a way that he couldn't actually be brought before the authorities for it.

Great post. It does not cost us anything to pay our taxes because when we do the right thing God will reward us and provide for us. I never concern myself about taxes going up although I feel for other people.

Of course, Christians should pay their taxes! It's the price we pay for living in a civil society, which I, for one, am very happy about.

I think it's odd that anyone would debate that.

I think public funding for education, healthcare, and a reasonable economic safety net for people down on their luck are important for the functioning of a civil society.

No I don't agree with all the wars, nor do I agree with government barging into people's private lives and trying to regulate couple's and women's healthcare decisions etc (I am a pro-choice Christian).

But in a democracy you can't pick and choose what part of the government to support. Everyone in a democracy agrees to abide by the decisions of duly elected officials, even if they personally didn't vote for them or if they disagree with them. That's in the constitution, by the way.

If you want to do whatever you want to, feel free to go off and form your own nation somewhere else and good luck with that!

This thread reminds me of the importance of NOT funding abortion with tax dollars.

If abortion funding IS in the final HC bill, are we doing the right thing by paying our taxes? If paying our taxes if the Biblically-correct thing to do, what is to stop government from imposing and collecting immoral taxes?

Couple of thoughts-
1) 'render unto Caesar what is Caesar, and God what is God's' sets up a clear dichotomy between the things of God (which go to God) and the things of Caesar (which go to Caesar), and then we have to decide, when in competition, which things are Gods and which are Caesar's. Whenever we give offering at church, we acknowledge that everything is God's, and we give back only a tithe as part of our larger commitment acknowledging that all we have is a gift from our creator, so I agree strongly that Jesus is not wholeheartedly embracing paying taxes, but rather asking people to think about how their loyalties are torn between God and country, between faith and everyday life.

I think there is a Biblical ethic to be good citizens and obey the law when it does not come in contrast with our other ethical commitments, but this text is more complicated.

2) Mikegardener, from a scriptural perspective, most of the taxes going to Rome would have been for the military which had just recently conquered Judea and would in a generation be used to destroy the temple of Jerusalem, or for coliseums and mass entertainment and food for the plebeians of Rome, not even for the poor in Jerusalem. Taxes to the emperor was more or less tribute from a conquered party toward the conquerors. The heart of this question is should we rebel against Rome. This tax money was going to a causes much worse than bank bailouts or feeding the elderly, and it was a tax system that was not in anyway chosen by a democratic or representative government. I think that probably means that 'legitimate functions of government' do not really work as the foundation of the Biblical commandment to pay taxes-that had to do with being good citizens, not being seen as rebellious, working to change society from within rather than using violence to try to fix things.

3) it would be interesting to see what would get funded if people got to choose where their taxes went. I'd love to see my tax money spent on social programs rather than farm subsidies and massive military overspending.

4) yes, there are some tax breaks for being a pastor (our housing is deductible from income but not social security taxes) but we definitely pay taxes (I file as self employed).

Terry --

See what StL Pastor said. The government Jesus said to give taxes to was waaaaaaaay worse than ours in programs that went against the beliefs/wishes of the believers.

Yes, I agree. Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar's but I think everyone should take advantage of every tax break they are eligible for. This year is especially important to save your money as much as possible and get ready for future inflationary costs.

Thanks for the post! good stuff as always!

I fully support giving to Caesar what is his.

However, the reckless and irresponsible spending of the current US presidential administration is disturbing at a minimum. This really falls into two issues from a biblical perspecitive - being good stewards of our resources and not being enslaved to debt. The funny thing is that besides being sound bibilical practices, they are also fantastic from a practical standpoint. Think of how much better our country would be if we were debt free and if we used our resources responsibly.

It's deeply saddening how far we've fallen fiscally as a country in the last year. Looking back it seems Bill Clinton was our most responsible president in recent memory from a fiscal standard. I believe this is because he was supported by a Republican House & Senate. In other words the country was working together and united in power.

They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When one party has absolute power we see that corruption (ie, now). That's why our founders wanted a system of checks and balances. Unfortunately we don't have that now.

IMHO, it seems our country runs best in a Democrat prez and Repub house/senate situation.

...anyway, thats my two cents.

I was raised Catholic and do not know what I am now, but I strive to be as good of a person as I can in life. Lies and deceipt, whether in taxes or any other part of life, are wrong. I would think this would be the same for Christians, Jews, Muslims, people who worship shoes, and everybody else...if it feels wrong or sneaky, it probably is wrong. You don't need a religion to know that.

If you feel that our government doesn't deserve your money, then move to a different country. Pay taxes to a government you would like to support. I think the government wastes a ton of our money, but I like the USA more than any other country that I know of...I'll pay my taxes, take what deductions I'm entitled to, and move on. I'll use my right to free speech to disagree with policies I don't support. If I ever hear of a country that I'd like to support more than the USA, I'll move there.

texashaze,
you may be right, (republican house, democratic senate) is the best situation, but Bush senior also did a good job along with Clinton. Bush Jr.'s unfunded wars and the Medicare prescription drug bill put us in a serious hole, and the loss of revenue from the great recession made it worse. But in the end, we'll be OK if the economy picks back up, and medical costs stop increasing so quickly. We've dug out of bigger holes.

@StL Pastor - thanks for the encouragement... I hope you are right but we sure need a miracle to get out of this one. China may have to foresclose and repo the country. We're like a child who was given a credit card but has no clue there is a bill coming.

You mentioned that I may be right on repub house and dem senate. Actually what I meant was dem prez and repub senate and repub house. But you bring up an interesting point, how did an administration do when they owned the prez and just the house or just the senate but not both. I was always under the impression that today's gerrymandering prevented that - if one party owned the senate they would typically own the house.

One final point, I agree that Bush Sr did a good job fiscally. So looking back over the last 35 years it seems only Bush Sr and Clinton were able to be fiscally responsible. Note that both of those had a senate & house from the opposing party.

The reason you guys are having such a problem with the whole taxes thing is that it doesn't make any sense to pay taxes when certain people we all know don't pay any. I'm referring to ministers in particular. Let's check out one example. A minister makes 150,000 per year. He pays 100,000 per year for his mansion. He doesn't report that as income like the rest of have to do. So now he only makes 50,000 per year. But on his deductions he gets to claim the housing again as a deduction. He ends up paying no taxes. He doesn't pay social security either. He is very much a leach sucking on society. Rick Warren is a fine example of this and Congress made sure he got away with it. Wake up America.

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