Denizens of the Empire, Not Necessarily Citizens of the Kingdom

“But our citizenship is in heaven . . .” (Philippians 3:20).

I recently visited a number of Amish businesses in Holmes County, Ohio, to look at furniture. I was impressed by the variety and craftsmanship, saw that they did take their work seriously, and enjoyed talking to the young men and women from both Amish and old order Mennonite backgrounds. I was also impressed by the number of scriptural phrases and other Christian themes in the decorations that they had hanging around their shops. Certainly there would have been a witness to many who may have visited their businesses who were unfamiliar with the actual words of scripture. I found myself wondering, though, whether it would become old hat to many inside their businesses and organizations, and whether they might become insensitive to what was actually being said. Even more, I wondered how much someone could simply learn and repeat the accepted words and phrases and behaviors and seem to be genuine even while never having received the truth and reality into his or her heart.

But it’s not as if the young men and women that I met never had a choice. Those from an Amish background were old enough so that they might have had a chance to go through rumspringa. This would have been where they had a chance to view what the outside world had to offer and make a choice for themselves. A few months ago, when I was taking the Jet Express ferry from Put-In-Bay to Port Clinton, Ohio, I met with a group of Amish adolescents who were probably on such a foray into the outside world.

What I just wrote was in no way to criticize the Amish or Mennonites, though. Rather, I can see a tremendous parallel in the world of what we call evangelical.  With our church day cares, Sunday Schools, home schools, Christian school, Christian colleges and universities and Christian seminaries, ministries and organizations, it may well be that many of our young men and women are growing up as denizens of an evangelical empire perhaps as insulated as those who grew up in an Amish school and worked in an Amish farm and business, and who view going to a college or university as their chance for an evangelical rumspringa or escape from an environment which they found suffocating and in which they had no other choices than to say the words and participate in  the activities.

I personally didn’t grow up in that environment, and I don’t claim to have much of what goes on in the thoughts, emotions and motivations of those who have. Often enough, those who try to treat me as if I had – who try to push the buttons of the customary evangelical influence by preaching, lecturing, scolding and guilt trips – find that they are trying to press buttons in me which were never installed, and they get very frustrated with me. Occasionally I get some honest accounts of what it was like during private conversations with my brothers and sisters in Christ who grew up and eventually made their decisions to live as conscientious disciples of Jesus Christ – perhaps even after a time spent living apart from Christ. But the most complete account of what this is like I found in, of all places, Jeff VanVonderen’s book Good News for the Chemically Dependent. His account of how he grew up was that he found himself scripted not in following Christ in the grace of God, but in people pleasing behaviors, and thus he found himself falling into the partying lifestyle when he went to college through peer pressure.

I think that Jeff’s story of his being raised within the evangelical empire and doing all the accepted things, and then going off into the partying lifestyle is a typical face behind many of the statistics that are now being put forward. Apparently 20% coming through as denizens of the empire go on to follow Christ as adults, according to the exit polls. My own first impression when I heard these stats was: do we think that the parable of the Sower (Mark 4) did not apply to those who come up through the empire?

First, it should never be a surprise to us if false conversions are found among those who have come up as denizens of the empire but have not become citizens of the kingdom. I don’t thing these situations are less than rare, or any reason for a witch hunt for false conversions among us, but I do know of these kinds of situations. They include a pastor’s son, a Bible college student and even a fellow pastor – and they all confessed openly to playing the game before they really found the Savior by faith, and they shocked everyone around them when they truly did come to Christ.

Second, there needs to be a greater understanding among us that eternal life is the relationship with God through Jesus Christ: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, King James Version). I don’t think that we hear enough preaching and teaching that mentions that it’s not saying the  things approved within the evangelical empire and participating in the activities of the evangelical empire that save, but the heart relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. And even more, growing in Christ is growing in that relationship, not in getting better at repeating the language of the evangelical empire and taking on more ostentatious activities within the evangelical empire. Rather, here it is: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7, King James Version).

A scriptural example of someone who was showed the outward signs of godliness only when under the godly influence of another is King Joash of the southern kingdom of Judah: “And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the LORD all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (II Chronicles 24:2, King James Version). The story of how he showed all the outward signs of being faithful to God when he was under the guidance of Jehoiada, but quickly led the nation into idolatry after the death of Jehoiada under the influence of his idolatry and peers needs to be mentioned in these days.

Last, when the denizens of the evangelical empire go out to their lives in the secular world of work and university study, I personally would keep them reminded of this passage from Romans: “And that, knowing the time, that now is the high time to wake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:11-14).

‘WWJD’ and By-Path Meadow

“Now the way from the river was rough, and their feet (Christian and Hopeful) tender by reason of their travels; so the souls of the pilgrims were much discouraged because of the way. Wherefore still as they went on, they wished for a better way. Now a little before them  there was  on the left hand of the road a meadow and a stile to go over into it, and that meadow is called By-Path Meadow. Then said Christian to his fellow, if this Meadow lieth along by our way-side, let’s go over into it. Then he went to the stile to see, and behold a path lay along the way on the other side of the fence. ‘Tis according to my wish, said Christian; here is the easiest going; come, good Hopeful, and let us go over.”  — John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress.

A few years ago there was another resurgence of interest in Charles Sheldon’s book, In His Steps, and it’s ethic of the Christian considering his own conduct from the perspective of, “What would Jesus do?” The book was an inspiration to my own youthful passion for Christ back in 1977, and it inspired another generation of Christians from the late 1990s onward. It resulted in the ‘WWJD’ bracelets and some other fashionable ways of bringing the question to a believer. Unfortunately, I think that the fashionable, hip and trendy path has become a kind of threadbare and possibly deceptive ‘By-Path Meadow’ for many.

One of the considerations that led me to a much diminished consideration of the question, “What would Jesus do?” was the lack of scriptural support that I could find for that question being a guide to Christian conduct. Rather, as I read the gospels and the rest of the New Testament, I found a lot more explicit instructions on what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection and living for him as Lord and Savior. Even more, I found that Jesus and the apostles were much more concerned about his people following his commands as Lord than in contemplating his example and following our speculation about what he would do in our situation.  For example, the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke represent what Jesus actually expected from his disciples: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them – I will show you what such a person is like. He or she is like a man who is building a house who dug deep and placed the foundation upon the rock. When the flood came the torrent burst upon it but it was not able to shake it because it was well built. But the person who hears and does not do is like a man who had built a house without a foundation, which the torrent burst upon, and immediately it fell apart, and great was the ruin of that house” (Luke 6:46-49). So, it was passages like this that drew me more to consider and follow what the Bible actually taught rather than my own speculation about what Jesus might do.

This, then, is how the WWJD ethic can become a ‘By-Path Meadow’: if it leads at any point to anyone neglecting to learn, believe and follow the Word of God in its explicit teachings. Recently I heard a pastor of a church which I visited and which seems to have some connection to the ‘Emergent Church’ movement say something to the effect that it’s not really that necessary to seek to learn the Bible that well, and that he seemed to say that knowing some of the stories about Jesus – he mentioned the story about the woman at the well from John 4 and the rich young ruler – and following the WWJD ethic was enough to get by with as far as knowing the Bible. I pray that he reconsidered (or will reconsider) what he said and corrected it before his congregation at some point. The truth is that churches and denominations already went down that path at one point in the past. It was called Modernism and 19th century theological Liberalism, and it ruined many Christians, churches and denominations. It resulted in a preaching and teaching about a merely human Jesus who set some vaguely good example, a Bible treated as if it were error filled and thus ignored, a deadening of spiritual vitality, missionary service and evangelistic fervor and a severely dumbed down social ethic of following mere speculation about the example of Jesus.

Personal Accountability to Jesus Christ and the Judgment Seat of Christ

There is one recurring theme in scripture that is rarely heard today in the preaching and teaching of the church: the judgment seat of Christ. Yet I think that many in our congregations need to hear it clearly. It may be mentioned from time to time in churches when there is preaching or teaching on the end times, but generally it is more put into place on a timeline and rarely mentioned during the normal preaching and teaching of the church as the genuine motivation to godly living that it really is. A fresh recovery of the significance of the judgment seat of Christ is essential, I think, to making the understanding and application of the Word of God as more than another kind of self help teaching.

Here’s why I think the peculiar absence of mentioning this in preaching and teaching contributes to a lackadaisical attitude toward believing and obeying the Word of God among many believers: their working standard by which they choose what they will think, say and do is based more on their own estimation of what will make them satisfied, happy and comfortable than on the written Word of God. They will disobey the Word of God in what they think, say or do if they believe for some reason that they may lose anything related to their satisfaction, comfort and happiness.  And secular self help is based on thinking, saying and and doing what will supposedly bring a person satisfaction, comfort and happiness. When the preaching and teaching of the church attempt to emulate secular self help, it often does neglect this scripturally significant motivation to follow the Word of God: personal accountability to Jesus Christ

Here is the basic summary from scripture about this coming event and its significance for the believer.

Every believer will appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give account for everything that he or she has thought, said or done.

“ . . . For we must all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written:

“As I live,” declares the Lord, every knee will bow to me,
And every tongue will confess to God.”

Therefore each one of us will give an account to God.”

(Romans 14:10-12, Dale’s sight translation)

Here are some further statements of scripture on the final judgment of each believer.

At the judgment seat of Christ we will give account to him and receive our just treatment for both our good deeds and bad deeds.

“For it is necessary for all of us to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one will receive our reward for everything that has been done in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:10, Dale’s sight translation).

Justification by faith in Christ through the propitiation of the cross of Christ does not, according to the plain words of scripture, mean that no believer will ever have his or her bad deeds – sins – mentioned in the final judgment. Rather, it does mean that a believer will not face the eternal penalty for his or her sins and that he or she can live in fellowship with God because of the blood of Christ.

Believers will give account for everything that they have said at the judgment seat of Christ.

“But I say to you that men and women will give account for every idle word they speak  in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36, Dale’s sight translation).

Here Jesus is telling about the personal responsibility that people have for what they say. It’s not, ‘Just talking.’ He obviously means something more wicked than small talk and chitchat about the weather. It’s the careless slander and reckless words that are let fly without regard to their truth or their effect (Ephesians 4:29-30). Sometimes even professed believers seem to have a definition of sin that is no higher than not having committed murder lately, or not having openly committed sexual sins that receive the disapproval from church people. Loose tongues receive little attention and talk is treated as something that is cheap. Yet even the words of believers will definitely be something that they give account of before Jesus Christ personally.

This will include everything that believers think will remain secret and hidden because it is not open and evident to other people.

“Therefore judge nothing before the time when the Lord comes, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make known the thoughts of their hearts; and then praise will come to each one from God.” (II Corinthians 4:5, Dale’s sight translation).

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be made manifest, and nothing secret that will not be made known.” (Mark 4:22, Dale’s sight translation)

This means that no one will ultimately get away with anything that breaks the moral law of God. This reality should drive believers away from any idea that their standard of conduct can remain as anything that trying to get away with before man that they can. This low standard of right and wrong is most likely part of the mentality of anyone who is trying to keep up a religious reputation but continues in thinking, saying and doing things which that person knows are contrary to the Word of God. Sometimes it seems as if some professed believers seem to think that their actions are OK if God does not immediately swat them down. Rather, the truth is that God may and most probably does allow some things to wait until he has a final day in court with each one of us.

The standard of judgment will be the moral law of God, whether received through the written Word of God or through the less reliable light of conscience.

“The person who rejects men and does not receive my words has something which judges him; the word which I have spoken judges that person in the Last Day” (John 12:48, Dale’s sight translation).

For those who do not have access to the Word of God, through being in an isolated part of the world, the moral law as reflected in the lesser light of conscience, as the apostle Paul wrote: “. . .  for when the Gentiles who do not have the Law do by nature the things set down in the Law, they who do not have the Law are act as a Law for themselves. They show the deeds set down in the Law written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness with them, and their own thoughts either accusing or excusing them, on the day when God judges the secrets of mankind, according to my gospel, through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:14-16, Dale’s sight translation).

Moreover, this means that ultimately the only winner in the universe will be God, and he will ultimately have his own way in every situation.This reality should likewise drive believers away from thinking and acting as if simply “getting my own way” in a situation is the ultimate goal and satisfaction in a person’s conduct.

This should be a constant motivation to seek Christlike purity in one’s life, far beyond any kind of social acceptability.

This should incite believers to seek for entire sanctification, as holiness, righteousness, and Christlike love in all that they think, say and do. The ultimate motivation for this would then be to bring glory to God and demonstrate the power of his salvation in the day that he opens up the thoughts, words and deeds of everyone before the entire universe. For the person who has truly experienced salvation by faith in Jesus Christ and has come to love God with all his or her heart, soul, mind and spirit, this is motivation indeed. And this would then not be a standard and a coming reality that that person would seek to hold over the heads of others to try to keep them in line, but rather a coming reality that would motivate a believer himself or herself first of all. The apostle John put it this way: “Dearly loved brothers and sisters, now we are the children of God, and what we shall be has not yet been made manifest. We know that when it is made manifest, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure” (I John 3:2-3, Dale’s sight translation).

There is clearly more that could be written on this from the simple statements of scripture. A simple look through Nave’s Topical Bible, a concordance or a systematic theology would most likely show much more. I would encourage anyone who preaches and teaches the Word of God nowadays never, ever to skip over or minimize the clear statements of scripture about the final responsibility of every person, and especially, every professed believer in Christ to him.

Something Unfashionable From an Unfashionable Old Evangelist . . .

“Listen, if I heard shrieks and cries coming from a house and I ran in there and I found a great big broad shouldered whiskey soaked Joe weasel, dragging his wife about by the hair, and over here, two children are unconscious from his blows and kicks and another one screaming in terror, do you think I would apologize for being there? No! I’d knock 7 kinds of pork out of that old hog.” —Billy Sunday

I recalled having read this quote many years ago, and it brought to mind that the memory that verbal and physical abuse of others was at one time more soundly confronted in the pulpits of churches and in evangelistic campaigns as a terrible sin. Certainly Billy Sunday is more a figure of caricature to the few believers nowadays who remember his name; his blunt preaching and physical dramatics tend to be the kind of thing that many preachers now may try to avoid. His personal war on alcohol seems quaint nowadays, but in context, it was also a war on family violence and verbal abuse as well. There’s also a well documented connection of family violence and abuse to alcohol abuse and alcoholism  in modern times, so Billy Sunday wasn’t all wrong in what he was seeing and what he was confronting, however unfashionable his style and emphasis may be now.

I’m not a prohibitionist on drinking alcohol, and I’m not advocating a return to  prohibitionist preaching or preaching on total abstinence. I’m totally unconvinced by the linguistic and historical arguments of some that wine in the Bible was actually grape juice. Rather, I’m showing that the avoidance of one unfashionable and probably unBiblical emphasis in preaching may have also meant neglecting another very Biblical emphasis in preaching for a very long time.

“You’re Not a REAL MAN If . . .”

Over the past twenty or so years, first starting with the growth of the Promise Keepers movement, and then continuing onward, there has been renewed interest in men’s ministries in many evangelical churches. There has been some well intentioned recognition that the Bible does call for, at some level, some of the traditionally ‘masculine’ virtues such as courage and perseverance. There has coincided with a recognition that the Biblical pattern of following Jesus does not include the immaturity, irresponsibility and hidden abuse that characterize the lives of many men. Nevertheless, I think that there are three dangers in the way the approach that some take.

The first danger is that some may take some male-dominated activities and cultural stereotypes hold them up as part of what make someone a REAL MAN. These unBiblical intrusions do not provide a Biblical solution. For instance, in some parts of the United States, especially more rural areas, hunting and fishing is a more male dominated activity, and some may disdain a person who does not hunt and fish as someone who isn’t a REAL MAN. Or, in other parts of the United States, participation in high school football programs, or other sports, may be esteemed as part of the coming of age process for a male, and thus anyone who didn’t participate in that program for whatever reason may be disdained as not being a REAL MAN.  Or, someone from a military background or family, where ownership of guns and marksmanship and physical endurance and physical combat skills are esteemed, may disdain someone else who does not display interest or participate in those activities as not being a REAL MAN. In other words, characteristics which go along with a person’s background or regional culture are added onto the Biblical portrayal of manhood.

After all these years of reading the Bible, I think that the Biblical portrayal of manhood is this: a male is created male (Genesis 1:27), and nothing any human being can say can contradict that. Certainly being male can mean that either godliness or ungodliness can make a man mature, compassionate and responsible or immature, irresponsible and cruel, but that the Bible does not put those characteristics in terms of being a REAL MAN or not being a REAL MAN. Pastors and leaders go into unBiblical territory when they address manhood  in that way, and they may unwittingly reinforce a man who excuses his cruelty as toughness or his workaholism or sports idolatry as fulfilling his manly responsibilities.

The second problem then arises from this. Nowhere does the Bible use being a REAL MAN as being a major motivation for faith in the promises of scripture or following the commands of scripture, or give any justification to disdaining anyone for any kind of immaturity or irresponsibility as not being a REAL MAN. Rather, Biblical motivation is based in being a new creation in Christ and having been freed from the bondage of sin (John 8:31,34,36, Romans 6:1-23, 12:1-2, Ephesians 4:17-24, among others), love to Christ (John 14:21-14), and responsibility to Christ as Lord, Savior and Judge (II Corinthians 5:17). I think that this simply becomes another form of guilt or shame manipulation, and it ultimately doesn’t differ much from a statement like, “You’re a REAL CHRISTIAN if you do << some unBiblical standard>>” or “You’re not a REAL CHRISTIAN if you do not do << some unBiblical standard>>.” This type of guilt and shame manipulation may achieve a temporary change of behavior, but it loses its effect over time because it is ultimately using carnal means to try to restrain the sinful tendencies of human nature.

The third problem with this is that it feeds the backstabbing tendency among many men to try to make themselves look good by parading the faults of others around behind that person’s back – man gossip and man slander. Sometimes this does take the form of “He’s not much of a REAL MAN because he <<falls short of some unBiblical standard which I’ve set up, which I may conveniently happen to fulfill, or perhaps, not, in which case this slander is also hypocrisy>> ” They may try to justify this by claiming good intentions afterwards, but ultimately according to the Bible it’s still slander (James 4:11-12).

There was once a time when, in a conversation with a couple who were close friends, I mentioned someone who spread a rumor about me in rivalry for the affections of a girl, and the wife immediately responded with the statement, “Coward.” I think that we need to recognize that this kind of man-gossip and slander is compounded by an unBiblical cowardice as well, and that Christlike moral courage and Biblical obedience, for a man or a woman, is found in being willing to take responsibility for one’s own actions (part of self control, which is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit – Ephesians 5:22-23), to provide a gentle, private correction to our brothers and sisters based upon scripture (II Timothy 3:16-17, Galatians 6:1, Matthew 18:15-17), and to be willing to be found wrong if someone has misunderstood or misjudged the conduct or behavior of another believer (James 3:1-2).

Four Ways That Many Professing Christians Pay Lip Service to Hindu Beliefs

It’s amazing how some people who will claim to know Jesus Christ as Savior nevertheless display a working assent to some beliefs that are actually from Hinduism and not characteristic of Christianity, and may especially be contrary to Christian belief as based in the Bible. These mannerisms have crept in from the New Age movement and from popular culture. Here are some ways that some professing Christians act more like Hindus:

When they call God, ‘the Universe’.

God is not the universe! He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and is separate from his creation. The simple statement of Genesis 1: 1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” establishes that God has created the universe and is separate from it. The identification of God with the universe is actually a belief called pantheism, and it is part of the belief system of Hinduism. This does make a huge difference, of understanding that the all wise, all good, all powerful God of the Bible is a real person, and not the impersonal universe.

What do we lose when we show this belief? The reminder that even the vastness of our universe is in the hands of a loving God who has made us and has all things under his control.

When they talk about, ‘karma.’

Karma is a concept borrowed from Hinduism also. It refers to the retribution of good and evil actions over the cycle of lifetimes, and implies reincarnation, although John Lennon sang about, ‘instant karma.’ The word does not appear in the Bible. This phrase may be bandied about as flippantly as the sitcom character Maude used to tell people, “God will get you for that.” The Bible does talk about the justice of God, and his absolute fairness, although not in the terms of karma, but in terms of the omniscience of God and the second coming of Jesus.  “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10). “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).

When they profess belief in reincarnation.

Surveys have consistently shown that a sizeable minority of professed evangelicals believe in reincarnation. Hebrews 10:27 speaks to this definitively: “ . . . man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment . . .”  Reincarnation is, along with the belief in karma, is actually a belief in salvation by good deeds, only this salvation is not achieved in a single lifetime but over the course of more than one lifetime. This belief in reincarnation is as contrary to the orthodox Biblical teaching of salvation by grace through faith as any other way of salvation by works, and is contradicted by the normal Biblical texts such as Ephesians 2:8-9.

It may be also that those who claim to have a faith in Jesus Christ for their eternal salvation and yet believe in reincarnation may be falling for such occult or spiritistic testimonies of past lives such as Bridey Murphy which have recounted in some popularized paperbacks which have long since been historically refuted. It may be that they have never been taught not to accept occult or spiritistic teachings because they are contrary to Biblical prohibitions such as Deuteronomy 18:9-13.

When they say that all religions say the same thing except in different ways.

I’ve heard this myself from Hindus, and some professed evangelicals may say this simply because they have never really come to terms with the exclusive claims of Jesus in scripture as the only way of salvation (John 3:36, 14:6, I John 5:11-12, Acts 4:12, Romans 10:9-10). It’s something they’ve heard and repeat without examining it according to the scriptures.

The implications of these statements drives home the continued need for Biblical preaching and teaching in our churches. There is a sizeable fringe of people in our churches who may give the right replies if they are asked about having made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, but whose practical working theology is an extraordinarily unBiblical mish-mosh of things that they’ve heard on TV shows, heard from others in casual conversations, and read in cheap paperbacks.

Bureaucrats and Solomon’s Last Rant

“If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others still higher. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields” (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9).

One of the biggest arguments against any kind of idealization of government redistribution of incomes is the Old Testament itself and the writings of the prophets such as Isaiah and Micah in particular. It should be noticeable that while the prophets do decry wealth, the wealth that they decry is not all wealth, but wealth from illegitimate means – wealth taken from others through fraud and oppression – in other words, ill gotten gain. And they definitely do have no illusions about the integrity of government officials in their own time.

Solomon himself included a terse and apt description of this in the book of the Bible that might be entitled, “Solomon’s Last Rant.” The passage in Ecclesiastes above is the general experience of the middle and lower classes under the empire states of the ancient Near East. The empires of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians, as the later empires of the Macedonians and the Romans, exacted taxes, tolls and tributes through a series of officials that went all the way up to the supreme ruler – the king or emperor. The tremendous sums that were exacted came from the taxation of the subject peoples. For Israelites, this would have meant additional levies beyond the tithe that they normally gave to the support of the Temple, the priests and the Levites. Depending on the honesty and rapacity of the officials of the empire, these taxes could be quite onerous, and result in a tremendous transfer of wealth from the small farmers, artisans and merchants that were a large part of the peoples in an ancient empire-state.

This is something that is definitely mentioned in Biblical accounts: that poverty can result from government oppression, and especially, a corrupt government where the officials exact their cuts from the productivity of the population. The corruptibility of government officials, due to the corruptibility of their human nature, should be a definite caution to any Bible believing Christian that would see governmental redistribution as a solution to human need and poverty. That governmental officials might find the money that they exact in the course of their office something that they would skim off for their own advantage rather than something that they might use for the good of the population should not be something that Christians find either astonishing or even improbable.