Abraham’s nephew Lot separated himself from Abraham and went to live in Sodom. His decision soon got him in trouble. Genesis 14:1-16 describes how a coalition of kings led by Chedorlaomer overcame Sodom and its allies and took as prisoners the people of those cities, including Lot. When Abraham heard of this he called out his followers and rescued Lot and the other captives.
After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). (Genesis 14:17)
But before the king of Sodom met him he encountered Melchizedek.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”
And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20)
Since Abraham had to go after Lot without having much time to prepare, it is likely that he and his men were tired and hungry. Melchizedek first met their physical needs by giving them bread and wine. He then blessed Abraham in the name of his God and Abraham gave him a tenth of all that he had recovered. It was only after these things had happened that he finally met the king of Sodom.
And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.”
But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’” (Genesis 14:21-23)
Abraham acknowledged that the God whom Melchizedek served, God Most High, is the same as the LORD whom he served. He had learned that God is the possessor of heaven and earth and it was this knowledge that motivated him to reject the king of Sodom’s offer of a reward. If God owns everything then all that we receive really comes from him and we can trust him to give us everything we need.
Many churches and other Christian organizations have failed to follow the example set by Abraham. By accepting financial aid from sources that are not dedicated to serving God they have allowed these donors to take credit that really belongs to God. In many countries they have done this by allowing the government to establish a state church that is supported by the government. Taxpayers, many of whom are not Christians, are forced to support the church. When this happens Christians learn to look to the government for support rather than to God.
In the United States we do not have an established church but the government does help churches by its tax laws. Churches are exempt from some taxes and donors are allowed to deduct what they give to churches from their income taxes. This policy produces three evils.
The first is that we are indirectly taking money from unbelievers. The message of the gospel is that salvation is a free gift from God. We undermine that message when others are forced to pay more in taxes so we can carry on our work.
The second is that we are forced to financially support ideas that we think are wrong. Churches that support unbiblical beliefs and non Christian religions are all entitled to tax exemption so Christians have to pay more taxes as a result.
The third is that the government can use its power of determing who is eligible for tax exemption to coerce churches and other relgious organization to adopt policies that it approves of. For example, Bob Jones University, in Greenville SC, once had a policy of not accepting black students and of advocating racial segregation. This led the IRS to revoke its tax exempt status, which eventually caused the school to change its racial policies. In this case the government’s action was good, because racial segregation is wrong, but what might happen in the future? The growing acceptance of same sex marriage could lead the government to only allow tax exempt status to organizations that approve of it. If this ever happens we will be faced with the choice of giving up tax benefits or of disobeying God.
The best solution to this problem would be to eliminate tax exemption of all relgious organizations. We might have to spend more to carry on our work but we would be freed from the threat of government interference. It would be difficult to accomplish this because so many Christians have come to consider tax exemption a right and would oppose any effort to make changes.
We might not be able to change the government’s policy but we can follow Abraham’s example by not deducting our contribution to the church when paying our income tax. I did this for a long time. I allowed myself to be persuaded to change this practice but I now believe it was a mistake for me to do so. I don’t pay income tax now because I am retired and my only income is social security but I have decided that if I ever have to go back to paying taxes I will go back to my former practice.
Posted on February 19, 2018, in Bible study, government and tagged Abraham, established church, God Most High, Lot, Melchizedek, Possessor of Heaven and Earth, Salem, Sodom, taxes. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.