Thursday, May 21, 2009

Side replies to bishops post 

There were many great comments made on my reflection on the bishops' letter. It's not an easy thing to discuss, and I would point out that those who disagree with many of my posts are on conventional ground in arguing against me there. Let me add a couple of points made to me from outside that chat.

My former producer Matt Reynolds pointed me to the story of Zacchaeus (from Luke 19.) Worth remembering that Jesus called him by name and asked to stay with him without any demands made. Zacchaeus was a tax collector (a private function in the Roman empire; Zacchaeus probably was a subcontractor for one rather than one himself: on this the Bible isn't so clear) but who wants to hear Christ's teachings. When called he repents of his sins of his own volition, consistent with the observation I put forth for the rich man in Matthew 19.

An ELCA pastor notes for me Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms; I'd heard of this before but not spent much time reading it. The kingdom of the left is the worldly kingdom, ruled by law and man's reasoning powers. The kingdom of the right is God's, ruled through faith and His grace. Government is therefore divinely ordained, but operates in a world where the Devil also roams. We can't just accept every government action as being the result of God's left hand. So we should ask the bishops: What is it about requiring non-Christians to pay taxes that allows us to preach Christ crucified and resurrected and the grace of God?

He also tells me to look at Philippians 4:17, in which Paul thanks the church in Philippi for the gifts they send him, which had been the most generous of all of his churches. "Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account." Paul clearly is laying out how he is not collecting the money for himself (Paul too having the experience of tax collection is certainly sensitive to the perception!) but that it develops a generous heart in the people who give. Is it possible that paying taxes creates character in the citizenry? I dare say not.

Many thanks to Mitch for his notice of my earlier article; their discussion was equally enlightening.

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