Jun 21, 2012

Should Christians avoid paying taxes

I enjoyed a twitter debate earlier today with a couple of friends on the issue of whether Christians should avoid paying taxes. Here’s my   conclusion:

Should Christians avoid paying tax?

It really depends on what we mean by avoid. In some senses the answer is ‘yes’ in others ‘no’.

1. Yes because the government encourages us to pay less tax by, for example, offering tax-breaks to encourage us to save for retirement through personal pensions and tax-free savings investments such as ISAs.

2. Yes because it raises more money for gospel work. For every pound we give to the church the Government gives back the tax!

3. Yes where expenses are legitimately incurred that are tax deductible

4. No where an unintended tax loop-hole is being exploited to avoid paying tax especially if this is being aggressively exploited to avoid paying any tax.

5. No where we simply don’t like the way our taxes are being spent.

What did Jesus mean when he said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” in Matthew 22:21?

R.T. France notes that the verb Jesus chooses to use for ‘to give’ is the verb ‘give back’ apodote in v.21b.  It is a different verb from the one his accusers use in v.17.

Jesus’ word ‘give back’ ‘indicates either the return of something borrowed or the payment of what is due. The tax is thus presented not as an arbitrary imposition but as due payment for the benefits received from the imperial government, which they have acknowledged by using the imperial currency.

Craig Blomberg makes the same point about Jesus’ choice of the verb ‘give back’ and his conclusion is that according to Jesus’ teaching  ‘Reasonable taxation is a legitimate function for all governments, even totalitarian regimes; how much more so with more democratic governments!

What does it mean for the Christian to recognise that the state is a servant of God?

It must mean being a dutiful citizen as part of our worship of God. Blomberg argues that Jesus’ teaching makes clear that ‘Christians who avoid taxes, or who avoid paying the full amount of their taxes,sin against God even just as surely as in more obvious ‘moral’ arenas.’

For Montegomery Boice ‘they should obey the speed limits, pay their taxes honestly…’

For the Christian is there then a fundamental distinction between tax avoidance (where unintended but legal loop-holes are exploited) and tax evasion?

It seems to me therefore that Jesus would say (and see also Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17) a deliberate attempt to get around the law and avoid paying taxes –even through legal means – is sinful because it is immoral for two reasons. It is a failure to love God who has put government in place for our good. It is a failure to love our neighbour who has to meet the shortfall in tax created by my dodge.

A deliberate attempt to evade paying taxes – through illegal means – is both a crime against the state and a sin against God.

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