The Optimistic Christian
The Role and Scope of Government: Property and "Redistribution"
Jesus never prescribed any particular size or scope for temporal government. All theories about what Jesus would propose on these matters are derived from other things: comments tangential to the subject, ideas implied in the Old Testament, the political philosophies of the individual theorists. On the question of holding property, for example, the God of the Old Testament clearly favors it. It is one of the chief blessings He bestows on His people. Jesus never suggests that property ownership is a bad idea, and we can assume he was aligned with the Father on that matter.
On the question of government's role and scope, Christianity has a unique heritage, in that the meaning of Jesus for the individual eventually prompted Christians to reconceive the purpose of government. Where once temporal governments were involved in every aspect of justifying the people before a deity and keeping them on a moral path, Jesus changed the basis for establishing righteousness before God. Corporate coercion and punishment—the specialties of the state—no longer figure in the Christian's relationship with God. In founding the United States, the American revolutionists took this to mean more than that the state need not be empowered to enforce forms of corporate righteousness on the people. They took it to mean that the individual has certain rights before God against such enforcement—and that the sanctity of property is one of those rights.
Political opponents who dispute this philosophy today must also acknowledge, however, that Jesus' life and teachings do not imply his favor for their preferences for government either. At most, it can be said that Jesus encouraged his people to cooperate and live peaceably under whatever form of government they found themselves in. This is by no means an endorsement of everything any particular government may want to do. Jesus was also very astringent on the topic of the ruling authorities heaping heavy burdens on the people.
Ultimately, the point of Jesus is the heart-to-heart relationship of each one of us to God. Jesus is all about the attitudes of our hearts. It is not self-evident that he would have advocated any particular form or function of government. That is left for us to do, and our political disputes boil down to the fact that we disagree over precisely these basic questions.
J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air's Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.