Caring for the poor, the magistrates role?

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by Puritan Sailor, Mar 5, 2008.

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  1. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    We would all agree that the magistrate should protect and ensure the right of the poor to justice. But what about caring for the afflicted among society? If there are people in his domain starving to death, what is he to do, as God's ordained agent to preserve order and life in society?
  2. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    :think: Good question. Since the rulers of Israel are condemned for their treatment of the poor. I wonder how the general equity would apply here.

    I think we do need to make sure we really focus on what your question was here: the afflicted in society and not the slothful or criminal but truly afflicted.
  3. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Semper Fi I agree with your line of thought. I wonder what the intention of the original post is towards the "poor".

    (By the way I went through Jungle Warfare up at Camp Gonsalves)...
  4. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    What is the magistrated obligated to do to relieve the afflicted in his domain?

    For example, how much should he meddle with the economy? Can he justly raise taxes to help the afflicted? I'm sure we could think of other areas. And yes, by afflicted or "poor" I don't mean lazy, but those in genuinely harsh conditions.
  5. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Well for starters it would depend on whether or not the magistrate was God-fearing. Secondly I would not want to take too much pressure of the Church to care for the poor.
  6. Amazing Grace

    Amazing Grace Puritan Board Junior

    I have much more tolerance for a lazy afflicted person than one who is financially able to help. Desperate people do not act rationally. Believe me, I have been there and am not lazy one bit. I hear situations like this with the soup kitchen I fascilitate in our congregation. The people who complain the most are the most affluent blue bloods in our assembly. Always worried about someone beating the system. One person almost punched me during a meeting when I said he is the person james condmens.

    James 2
    The Sin of Partiality
    1(A)My brethren, (B)do not hold your faith in our (C)glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of (D)personal favoritism.

    2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in (E)fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in (F)dirty clothes,

    3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the (G)fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,"

    4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges (H)with evil motives?

    5Listen, (I)my beloved brethren: did not (J)God choose the poor of this world to be (K)rich in faith and (L)heirs of the kingdom which He (M)promised to those who love Him?

    15(AA)If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,

    16and one of you says to them, "(AB)Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

    As far as the magistrate, do you mean the govt? Have not given much thought because I find it is the chrch's responsibility too, and that is what I am involved in. But the community should help wherever they can.
  7. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    Deuteronomy 14: 28-29:

    "At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates:
    And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest."

    Note that this is a moral obligation, grounded in covenant, to put aside 10% of your income for welfare. It looks more like a civil function than a religious one.

    Contrary to my free-market libertarian leanings, it looks pretty much like an income tax for the poor and the landless.
  8. JBaldwin

    JBaldwin Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    This is an interesting discussion because it follows that the next question is, should the government tax to care for the poor? In the USA it's turned into a welfare state which is no more biblical than ignoring the poor. So often, the real poor are the ones begging at the food kitchens while the "cheats" are living off the hard-earned income of the middle class.

    Here's an idea, what if the government required that everyone set aside a percentage of their money for the needs of the community. Hmm, isn't that what my church already does with the monthly deacon's offering?
  9. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    It shouldn't matter whether the magistrate is godly or not. The moral obligation is universal, whether you are pagan or Christian. My question is, what is that moral obligation on the part of the magistrate (i.e gov'ment)? It's impossible for the church to care for all the poor, unless you had a majority Christian nation with a sizable upper and middle class. Perhaps a situation like this is foreign to us Westerners, but to the rest of the world, this is a real concern. That's why socialism is so popular in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Just trying to work through this. Where's the theonomists? I thought they would have jumped on this.
  10. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Well depends on how many tithes you think that there were in the OT. It there is just one, then I am not sure I would qualify it as an income tax. It would just be money out of regular required giving. Also if you want to call it a tax, then you would need to show where the magistrate is given power to "enforce" this tax.

  11. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    As there is no civil penalty attached for disobedience, then it is not the civil magistrate's function to force people to help the poor.

    Remember, the magistrate is forbidden to be partial to the poor (Lev. 19:15), this obviously forbids him from appropriating the money of the rich(er) and giving it to the poor. The state is only entitled to claim taxation for its legitimate functions of administering justice (Rom. 13:1-7).

    Moreover, the idea of "cradle to the grave security" seeks to provide men with insurance against God's providential judgments upon a nation.

    For more on this issue (sorry I can't expand on it now) see chapter 6 "Christianity versus Statism" (especially the sub-section "Christianity and Statist Welfare") of my next book A Conquered Kingdom: Biblical Civil Government, which should be out in the next few weeks.
  12. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    The OT law about leaving some grains left in the field (you know, Ruth and then later Jesus and his disciples plucked those grains on the sabbath)....does that have anything that is well "generally equitable" today?

    Would that mean that a hobo could grain an ear of corn off the ground as he passed by..or something similar?
  13. Amazing Grace

    Amazing Grace Puritan Board Junior

    Daniel, this has nothing to do with helping regarding the welfare of the poor. This soley is about being in a court of justice. If a poor destitute is guilty of a crime, he is to be shown no partiality becasue of his economic condition.

    To claim that being poor is God's judgment is as ridiculous as being rich is God's blessing. External circumstances are not a barometer in the new cov.
  14. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    I agree with the first statement. But since the magistrate is not to engage in welfare redistribution as welfare is the duty of the church and family, then the state (when it engages in redistributive welfare) is using its coercive power to appropriate (i.e. steal) money from one group in society to give it to another, thus it is showing favouritism to the poor(er).

    I do, however, believe that poor nations, not poor people individually, are poor as the result of God's judgment upon them. But that is :offtopic:
  15. Blueridge Believer

    Blueridge Believer Puritan Board Professor

    Eze 22:25 [There is] a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof.
    Eze 22:26 Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed [difference] between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.
    Eze 22:27 Her princes in the midst thereof [are] like wolves ravening the prey, to shed blood, [and] to destroy souls, to get dishonest gain.
    Eze 22:28 And her prophets have daubed them with untempered [morter], seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord GOD, when the LORD hath not spoken.
    Eze 22:29 The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully.
  16. crhoades

    crhoades Puritan Board Graduate

    If we all agree that it is primarily the church's role and not the states (not debating if there is or is not a role for the state at this point)..
    And we saw that there were people going without food...
    And we saw churches that weren't taking care of the poor...
    And they were building large multiplexes/cathedrals with the money instead...

    As a magistrate they should call a meeting of the pastors or a synod and exhort them to begin taking care of the poor.

    But alas, by our confessional revisions and the general attitude reigning today that would break separation of church and state even though it is only the classically reformed/presbyterian distinction of being circa sacra.
  17. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    If advocating the cause of the poor is a legitimate function of the magistrate, then taxation for that purpose would also be legitimate. The state has no other way to fund it's obligations.

    I do agree that the magistrate could ask the churches to help. But if the Christian population is too small, then that won't help much.

    I'm trying to drive this back to what the magistrate is obligated to do, when people in his domain are afflicted by poverty, not because of laziness but because of genuine hardships (famines, recessions, disease, etc.).

    If he's suppose to preserve life (6th commandment), doesn't that include ensuring his people don't die of starvation, just as much as it does protecting them from murderers?
  18. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I think we can agree that the commandment was a moral obligation directed toward the physical welfare of the poor and the Levites. The "base" of the levy was their increase. The rate was 10% for this particular fund. That's why I said it looked like an income tax.

    But is enforcement an issue? Suppose we had a tax code that said everyone must pay 10% of their income, but nobody would be thrown in jail if they didn't. Instead, we will rely on social pressure for enforcement. Would it not still be a tax?
  19. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    I think tithing is a valid principle today. I do not call tithing a tax. We are morally obligated to do quite a few things. I see no reason to call them a tax if there is no government enforcement.

  20. Timothy William

    Timothy William Puritan Board Junior

    It looks like this is part of the 10% tithe paid to the Levites. As they made up 1/12 of the people, there would be a small amount left over, if 10% were paid and it was distributed equally, though the amount would be less than 2%. More likely things were not calculated so finely, and whatever was tithed was distributed to those who were in need, Levites and others.

    As far as today goes:
    we are not in a bronze age agricultural society which has little technological change for a millennium. Nor do we have a priestly tribe which necessarily makes up one in twelve of the population. I can't see a figure of 10% of income exactly being the required contribution. But the principle, that we should give generously from what we have been blessed with, remains.

    If I can be blunt, and make a judgment call with which you are all free to disagree, most churches are appalling at giving or lending money or other aid to those in financial distress in our covenant communities. There are exceptions, and some care must be taken to ensure we are not duped by the lazy or dishonest, but too often we are unwilling to give any but token help to those in need, and even then it is done grudgingly. I have seen people pray greatly that a family will have improvement in its finances, but be unwilling to do anything to assist. How is this different to saying "go, be warm and well fed" but doing nothing? Why should God listen to our prayers in such circumstances? Especially those of us who are opposed to government welfare should be gladly generous and looking to be able to make a real difference to the poor and oppressed.

    That the church is incapable of looking after all the poor is no reason for the church to support government welfare. Churches are capable of supporting all of the church community, and could probably do a great deal more. It is not our role to try to force unbelievers to be generous to each other, via the civil magistrate instituting taxation and welfare payments. Historically the main result of this has been everyone, Christians included, being vastly less generous to the poor in their voluntary giving.
  21. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Should the magistrate force feed people to ensure they do not starve? No, the magistrate is to punish those who would dare take away the life of others, not steal the money of some people in order to feed others.
  22. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

    Just because someone has a responsibility to do something, does not necessarily give them a blank check to do whatever to make sure that it is done.

    Both individuals and the government are obligated by the 6th commandment. That does not imply that either can do whatever to make sure that life is preserved. You have to make a positive argument that when X happens then Y is obligated to do Z because it is within their sphere to do Z.

  23. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Exactly, the welfare state has virtually killed Christian charity. People nowadays expect the state to look after them and their family from the cradle to the grave, thus destroying the church's social witness.
  24. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I agree that tithing is a valid principle. I'm trying to work out whether the idea of a tax has any moral grounding in the concept of a civil covenant community (as opposed to religious covenant community). That's why I thought it is interesting that the proceeds of this tithe went to a civil sort of function--feeding those in need--as opposed to a religious function.

    So I'm trying to figure out the boundaries of what is legitimate for a government to legislate civilly. As I said at first, I'm not at all enthused about a government using force to take the proceeds of our labor for redistribution. But are my personal philosophy and adherence to self-responsibility sufficient to say that the government is precluded from entering this realm?

    Seriously, I'm working through this stuff for a purpose. I'm all ears (I'm going to steal these ideas for a paper I'm working on).
  25. JBaldwin

    JBaldwin Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I have been thinking about the OT gleaning laws. Isn't this a situation where the magistrate has created an environment where a poor person (one who cannot find a way to provide for themselves) can provide for themselves with some dignity.

    Rather than taxing the hardworking to pay for the needs of the poor, perhaps, the government should be making it as easy as possible for people to create their own work.

    I am watching a metamorphasis in my own community. The folks who have lived in this area and provided for themselves for 200 years by living off their land and working doing odd jobs around the community, etc. are being taxed out by greedy real estate investment corporations. The real estate investment corp. wants to build a 'gated' community for the ultra wealthy (fine, nothing wrong with that). They buy up Mr. Jones' neighbor's property for $2 million. (Last year, the property was appraised at $20,000). The county comes in for an upadated tax appraisal and sees that x piece of land sold for $2 million. So when they appraise Mr. Jones' property which appraised at $30,000 last year, they put a value of $2.5 million. Mr. Jones' who is living on a fixed income, scrapes together all he can to pay the taxes on his newly appraised property. The extra tax (we're talking thousands of dollars now instead of a couple hundred) makes it difficult for Mr. Jones to feed his family, so he decides to put in a greenhouse so he can grow food year round. However, the county has recently zoned that property, and it doesn't allow for greenhouses (this has happened by the way). The next year, Mr. Jones doesn't have the money to pay the taxes, so the county takes his property. The real estate investment corp. comes in and picks up the property for next to nothing at a tax sale.

    If the tax laws were amended so that property could not be re-appraised until it was sold into new hands, and the neighboring property had no effect on the value until that time, it would be one way the government could ease up on the poor.

    The government is responsible to make it EASY for those under their care to provide for themselves. How much further that responsibility goes, I am still not sure.
  26. Puritan Sailor

    Puritan Sailor Puritan Board Doctor

    I'm not arguing for a blank check. I'm not arguing anything. I'm just asking the question. Is there an obligation on the part of the magistrate to help the afflicted? Obviously, if there is, then to gather taxes for that legitimate function is not wrong. Therefore it would not be stealing but giving to Ceaser what is Ceasers. The Church cannot help everyone. And in nations where there is no Church, they are still obligated to obey the law of God. We would all agree that the government is not allowed to take more than is lawful to perform their legitimate function. My question is, again, is there a legitimate function for the magistrate to help the afflicted? Can we derive that from Scripture? Or by good and necessary consequence? Particularly, if he is to preserve and promote life in some capacity?
  27. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Basically, no. People are to trust in God's providence, not state providence. The Lord's appointed means of helping the poor are private, family and church charity, not state welfare.
  28. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    A little too facile, I think. If God's providence puts a wise young ruler over a pagan country and providentially lets him know that future circumstances are bad, and that young ruler then has the government store food against a coming famine, it's still in God's providence yet in the end it is state welfare. I doubt we can clearly say the ruler was acting immorally.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not arguing that Joseph's approach was normative, but it was providentially directed and right for the ultimate aim: providing a haven for Israel to increase in number and strength. Jacob trusted in God's providence as applied through state imposed confiscation and welfare.
  29. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I actually lean towards Vic's first example, but here is the other side of the coin. Whenever the state subsidizes something, it gets more of it. If the state just starts giving handouts to those who don't work (and who are usually poor), then lo and behold, we will start getting more poor people.
  30. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Joseph's work was the means of enslaving the Egyptians; it was a welfare state, thus it led to slavery.

    How exactly does God "providentially" let someone know what is going to happen in the future?
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